Poor body image seems to be a growing problem in our culture. So many are in a state of anxious regret over the body they inherited — a body that refuses to bend and meld into the desired mold. What did Jesus have to say about the human body? And what can I do to have a healthier body image?
I’ve been watching my four-year-old granddaughter as she eats and plays and dances and bounces from one thing to another. I’m struck by two general observations: (1) she has few inhibitions on what and how she expresses herself; (2) she seems to genuinely love her body. That will change. And, that makes me sad.
My thesis — You have to be taught to despise your body.
My question — Can you find a way to love your body again?
Jesus and the Human Body
Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit” (Mal. 2:15).
Jesus placed great value on the human body. He asked, “Which is more important – Keeping the Sabbath Law or healing a man’s body?” (Mark 3:4) It was a rhetorical question. The answer was obvious – the body is more important.
He taught that God cares about our bodies. He said, “Don’t worry about what you are going to eat or wear – God knows your body needs food and clothing and he will always provide for you” (Matt. 6:25).
When speaking of his sacrifice he asked the disciples to remember that he sacrificed his body on the cross (Matt. 14:22). When he was resurrected from the dead he offered proof by telling his disciples to touch his body (John 20:27). And when the early Christians wanted to describe themselves in relationship to Jesus they used the metaphor of his body. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).
The Apostle Paul elevated the human body to the highest level when he said:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
So, both Hebrew and Christian theology place an extremely high value on our bodies.
Why then do we struggle so much with body image?
A Warped Vision of the Human Body
Although God created us with eternal beauty, sin has marred our perspective. When I speak of sin in this context I mean anything that perverts God’s original intent in creation. It is a perverted perspective that is out of sync with God that creates in us ugly feelings about our own bodies.
This warped perspective on what makes a body beautiful has a long and erratic history, dating all the way back to Adam and Eve and the fig leaves.
Today’s barrage of glossy, photo-shopped images perpetuates the myth of ugliness, when it comes to our bodies. It makes incredibly beautiful people reach for the nearest fig leaf to cover up in shame.
How can you begin to realign your perspective with God’s?
Four Ways to Reshape Your Body Image
1. Stop looking to the millions of images the world offers for “beauty.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman [or man] who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).
Your idea of beauty should come from the mind of God, rather than the minds of Fifth Avenue.
Hollywood and the global marketing empire will overwhelm you with their idea of beauty. A million images constantly bombarding you will fashion deep in your subconscious a physical ideal for beauty – it is superficial and temporal. The beauty that God sees in you is eternal.
The trick is to reject the images the world will throw at you and begin to look into the soul to find the beauty God has created deep within you.
2. Focus on what makes you feel beautiful.
… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
The broken human condition tends to drive us toward the negative in life. Life beats us down and we get cynical – even about our bodies.
What is it about your body that you like? There is something good. Your eyes, nose, hair – what is it for you?
What activity makes you feel beautiful? Smart? Valuable? Is it swimming, biking, painting, playing the piano, reading? Activities that employ a part of your body (including your brain) can bring joy to your life and make you feel better about yourself.
This includes the people you surround yourself with. Toxic people who criticize you or constantly point out the negative in you are detrimental to your spiritual and emotional growth. Consider the company you keep and focus on people who make you feel beautiful.
3. Realign your own standards and expectations.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).
See #1 above. You must not let others determine your standard for happiness. You have to take control of your expectations.
My mother is 4-feet, 10-inches tall. My dad was 5-feet, 6-inches tall. I’m never going to be six-foot-two. I’m 5-foot, 8-inches tall and I should rejoice that I made it that far! Amen! Thank you, Jesus! (by the way, height is to men what a flat tummy is to women).
Focus on your own body goals. The things you want to do for your body because they are what you want – not what everyone else is expecting.
If you want to lose weight, do it because it will make you feel healthier and stronger, not because you want to look like a Victoria Secrets model (they don’t even look like that).
If you want flat abs – work on it because it makes you feel stronger and more disciplined – not because you want to show off at the beach.
You get the point – they need to be your standards and your expectations, based on what God thinks of you.
4. Practice the “Golden Rule” in reverse.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you …” (Matt. 7:12).
What I have noticed is that we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others.
You can see a girl with a larger than average nose and you think she’s really pretty and her nose gives her a distinct kind of beauty.
But, if it’s your nose that’s a little larger than average, you’re brutal with yourself and are plagued with self-doubt.
Here’s a brief testimony from one blogger:
I thought about what it might be like to love my body. To not constantly be working towards looking different. To eat healthy because it makes me feel good, not because it makes me look good. To believe my fiance when he tells me that I’m beautiful.
This sparked a real shift in me. I cannot be in control of society, but I can be in control of myself. Instead of reinforcing and adopting the world’s unrealistic standards for women, I started creating my own. I realized that I was the one feeding my negative body image and giving it energy.
You know what I realized? I am great the way I am. I am fortunate enough to say that this present moment is the greatest my life has ever been. I had been letting a negative, nasty voice in my head keep me from enjoying that.”
Be kinder to yourself and treat yourself just the way others would want you to treat them!