Body image is a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It seems like it’s always a hot topic and there are many twisted perceptions of what a healthy body is, what an attractive body is worth to our society, what real beauty is and whether there is a subjective body type.
Someone who has been addressing this issue in a very heartfelt and personal way is my dear friend Natalina of Beyond Extraordinary Radio. In a recent podcast, she shared how she is often contacted by women who struggle with body image and wish they could be more like her. Nat explained that she struggles as much as any woman, and shared her own experience with weight. She addressed both the varying reasons why one might struggle with weight loss beyond simple gluttony or lack of self-control, as well as the changing beauty standards over time and the misconceptions about what the ideal female figure should be.
I tend to be a gung-ho advocate for healthy diet and lifestyle, and I also struggle with weight and body image as much as the next woman. I am a tiny woman who is built rather slender, so this means not only that people just assume I’m at a healthy weight even if I’m not in good shape, and that only a small amount of extra weight can be kind of a big deal on me. And after two kids and drastically changing hormones, I’ve had a lot of extra weight going on and off and on again. I might be small but I also struggle. And so, just because someone is large does not mean they are lazy or not getting enough exercise, and just because someone is small or skinny does not mean they are healthy or have good self-control. I honestly struggle a lot with gluttony and self-control when it comes to food, and while compared to the average American woman I may be smaller in stature, this does not mean I don’t struggle with weight too.
But all that being said, the point Natalina went on to make was that big or small, it’s not body type that matters when it comes to spiritual beauty, and I could not agree more. We are beautiful in the eyes of God, our Creator.
Our bodies are temples to the living God. However in our culture, our bodies often become our own idols. Whether it is guilt that they are not healthy enough or vanity that they are, the more we focus on our shape and type and whether or not it is attractive, the more it becomes about us and the less it becomes about God.
I wrote awhile back about the importance of fitness for our spiritual and physical preparation for the end times. And I believe when it comes to diet and the way we view our bodies, the struggle is just as spiritual. We get stuck in these ruts of self-hatred as Western women, surrounded by perfectly airbrushed, impossible beauty standards. On the flipside though, we also have a hard time breaking out of the lifestyle of the SAD (standard American diet). I also wrote about how important it is to address obesity and over-eating as the church and I stand by this.
Big and curvy may be beautiful to many cultures, as may bony and skinny to others. But no matter what shape you are, if your body reflects a lack of self-control or poor health choices such as eating too much, unhealthy ingredients or a voluntarily sedentary lifestyle as opposed to a genuine health condition, that is a physical and spiritual problem. You are still beautiful, you are still precious to God, and He knows your struggles. And you can, through Him, make better choices for your body.
My point is this: if you are chasing a better figure for the wrong reasons, you will always be disappointed. There will always be someone thinner, prettier, fitter, curvier, bustier or…happier. When we use worldly standards for self-improvement, we will always fall short.
We make idols out of our bodies when we try to “normalize” any superficial body type. Standing in the subway in your underwear asking people to tell you you’re beautiful is still just superficial. Our bodies are fallen and mortal and they will sag and plump and hold fat in a way we wouldn’t like. We may be born with different shapes than some kind of societal standard but demanding to be seen as beautiful no matter what we look like is, at the end of the day, haughty and prideful and just replaces one standard with another. Encouraging women not to try to lose weight despite what doctors tell them is irresponsible. But on the other hand, stressing and fretting about our bodies and their shapes-whether they are smokin’ hot or not-makes an idol out of our body too.
Beauty truly does come from within, both spiritually and physically.
My workout motto is this: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Yes, I want to maintain a healthy weight and have a figure I’m not embarrassed about. But when I get thinking about my figure and its imperfections and-most toxic of all-how I compare to any kind of standard or ideal, it makes me depressed, not motivated. Just as focusing on your sin or believing you are not saved might be the very thing that causes you to stumble. We need to have faith, in all things, but most importantly, that no matter what we were created in God’s image and we are beautiful to Him.
Our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit, and when we use them to serve Him and to grow spiritually, practicing self-control and discipline and faith in His ways, we will be healthy. We may not look like models, but if you treat your body well and stop worrying so much about some standard for what it should look like, you will be more confident and you will be more beautiful because you are choosing to cast aside worldly standards and put on Christ.