While the beginning of the year is when body image is especially prevalent, every other advertisement or conversation is about what diet to go on to “tame those trouble spots” or how to find a “quick fix” to whatever it is that has been plaguing our conscience regarding our looks. This is the time of year, though, when everything we set out to do and change brings with it questions. Is this really working for us? If so, for how long can we keep it up?
Our culture dismisses the idea that the simplest thing might be the best thing for our bodies. We make it so that if you’re not doing something extreme and 100% of the time, and you’re not in pain at some level (hungry all the time, sore muscles from too hard of a workout, headache from all the meal planning and constant decisions around food you’re making to be sure you’re within your ____ *insert popular diet of the day and its daily limitations: macros, ketosis, scale weight, calorie count) then you aren’t making progress. The reality of it is: our bodies are continually changing. We are dynamic bodies in a dynamic universe that, whether we like it or not, are constantly influencing and impacting each other. Whatever you’re measuring (weight, calories, macros, etc.), it’s biologically and physiologically imprudent to assume that what you needed yesterday is exactly what you’ll need today.
We’ve found so many ways to disconnect from our innate needs and defer to technology or science when, the more research we have, the more we learn that our bodies are incredibly complex. When given the basics: nutrients from real food, water, rest, and regular movement, they do know best—even if the number on the scale doesn’t change. Shocking to discover through science what God told us all along: your body is really good!
Girls, are we healthy or obsessed?
Aside from the obvious problem we as women face when it comes to the ups and downs of the scale or our dress sizes playing with our minds and emotions, the main problem with this obsession was highlighted for me when I sat down with a friend last week who admitted she had to talk her daughter out of a corner one day where she was crying about how fat she was. Her daughter is five years old.
We may think of the culture as merely being “health” obsessed, but the reality is we use “health” to cover up a body image obsession. The impact of which is not lost on kids, who haven’t yet learned that constantly assessing your body in terms of scale and dress size or cultural relevance is “normal.” This is starting younger and younger, according to research, to go on diets and obsess about their physical appearance based on what they’ve gleaned from their parents and the subliminal messaging around them. We cannot simply blame social media and continue to pretend that this is just a way of life, because the diet culture is pervasive. This is an issue where to simply say that you don’t “see” different body shapes as a negative thing but still worry and criticize your own body, is to continue to be part of the problem much like those who claim to “see no color” are denying the real issue with racism.
So, how should women of faith view their body image?
If we truly believe the Gospel, we believe that in spite of our brokenness we are loved and given a new set of eyes to see ourselves and those around us because of what Christ has done for us. We are called to actively pursue and speak the truth about body acceptance both for ourselves and for those around us: male and female. Old and young. The message that humans are beautifully and wonderfully made, regardless of appearance or perceived utility of our bodies, for such a time as this, has been stifled in our culture. As women of grit and grace, we are called to proclaim the Gospel and it starts with preaching it to ourselves every morning as we look in the mirror, get dressed, choose to feed and nourish our bodies and declare through each of these acts redemptive love.
Many people assume that the “body acceptance” movement is about accepting the status quo and giving up on your health when in fact it’s much more like grace. It starts with appreciation of what you have—regardless of how it appears or how culture may deem it “useless”—and then, just as grace meets us where we’re at but doesn’t leave us there, appreciation leads to the loving question: “What is one thing I can do to better love and appreciate my body today?”
Maybe it’s something simple like drinking more water to ensure my muscles, organs, and brain are hydrated or giving it one more fruit or vegetable than I did yesterday to give it the nutrients it needs to work synergistically the way God intended. It could be to move it in a way that makes me feel more alive than I did yesterday. Maybe it’s to let it rest and go to sleep since I’ve been pushing it past its limits under the guise that I am being “productive.”
This Gospel-centered idea of body acceptance is counter-cultural because its basis is not in self-promotion or narcissism but rather, choosing to believe what the Creator said when He formed you in your mother’s womb: you are very good…just the way you are.
It’s cliché to use the Bible verses “Man looks on the outside but God looks at the heart” and “Beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is blessed” but it really is true when it comes to healthy body image. Numbers on a scale or in your calorie counting app and dress sizes do not indicate the strength, character, wisdom, or function in society any more than the color of someone’s skin. This is not to say that you shouldn’t care about your body. On the contrary, give it thought, care, concern, and compassion. When you start with the basics of what human bodies need: for you to eat, move, sleep, and manage stressors appropriately, then you have the freedom to live abundantly as God intends for you to do. And that is winsomely attractive to any and all who encounter you as you live out the gospel of body acceptance.
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