Sometimes I catch Grace lingering in the bathroom while she makes faces at herself in the mirror. I remember doing the same when I was a little girl. I was fascinated by what others saw when they looked at me.

Children think of bodies differently than adults do. Last week, for instance, we were playing a dinner-conversation game, and one of the questions was, “If you could change any part of your body, what would it be?” Halen and Grace didn’t understand the question, so I answered first in an effort to illustrate what the question meant. “I would make my neck longer,” I said. The kids laughed.

When Halen realized I was serious, he laughed, “You don’t like how part of your body looks?” Grace thought it was silly too. They had apparently never considered the idea that someone might dislike anything about their body. 

To my children, bodies are merely functional—a means to an end (which is usually play or comfort); beauty or ugliness simply play no part in the body’s value. I imagine God sees us in much the same way. A body is a blessing, no matter what form it takes. It’s a means to exalt the soul, if we’re willing to be exalted.

But as children become more sophisticated in the ways of the world, they are less likely to see their body as a vehicle and more likely to see it as a status indicator. One morning two summers ago, I buckled Grace and Halen into the stroller, and Savannah mounted her princess bike as we set off for Savannah’s friend’s house. Halen agreed to ride the bike home after we dropped off Savannah. 

Halen was fine for the first block of our return trip. But then we entered the neighborhood where many of his friends live. And they were all outside. Halen immediately bailed off the princess bike in a way that really looked like an accidental crash. The neighborhood kids expressed condolences over the crash, and we stopped for a minute to watch them finish up a funeral for a dead bird. Someone made a comment about the pretty bike Halen was now pushing, and then we continued on. 

After a few minutes at a very slow pace, I asked, “Halen, why are you still pushing that bike? You could go a lot faster if you rode it.”

Halen didn’t answer; he just glanced over his shoulder at the kids in the yard.  “Halen?” I asked again, “Why are you just pushing the bike?”

“Because I’m trying to trick the kids,” he said. 

What was this—artifice? Marveling, I asked, “Are you embarrassed, Halen?” 

“Yeah, I’m embarrassed,” he whispered.

All the way home, Halen dismounted whenever we passed other children. He had never been embarrassed to ride Savannah’s bike in our own backyard--it had simply been a vehicle for doing fun and cool stuff, just like my body was for me when I was a child. Halen lost joy in that bike when he learned to see it as other children might. And I suppose we adults lose joy in our own bodies as we similarly learn to care how others judge them.

At what age did you start becoming aware of how others were judging you?