Body image, it’s a monster of a topic—A concept that’s processed in no less than 9 areas of our brains. Because of this, many dietitians and therapists are hesitant to broach it. But if we aren’t talking about it, who is? We can’t ignore the elephant in the room, we have to address it. In that vain and since Christ’s grace is the reason I do this work, here are 4 thoughts on body image, Jesus and everything in between:
Body image is closely tied to our sense of self, our confidence, our belief in our own abilities, our perceived value, and our worth.
Because the culture we live in emphasizes bodies as the currency for health, worth and desirability—we almost can’t help but walk around thinking about them all the time, blaming them for the bad—the failed relationships and the missed business opportunities and feeling proud of them for the good—the attention we get, the jobs we land, etc., etc..
But the truth is we are NOT our bodies. We are spirit, soul AND flesh. Our worth does not come from how our body looks, the number on the scale, or frankly, the approval of other people. Our worth is inherent, given to us by our creator—because who can say how much something is worth except the one who made it?
God says, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).” In fact, the bible tells us he loved us and valued us so much that he sent his one and only son to die for us while we were still sinners, still imperfect - a.k.a. unworthy by all reason and standard (Romans 5: 6 - 8). Believing this truth has more power to transform our view of self, and thus our body image, than any other thing.
Positive Body Image and Humility both result in us thinking of ourselves a whole lot less.
The result of a proper view of self and a positive body image is not walking around with a false sense of humility, denying every compliment and thinking poorly of ourselves. The result of real humility and a positive view of our self and our body results in a joyful, care-free spirit truly focused on God’s goodness, living life, and loving others well.
CS Lewis wrote it best in his book, Mere Christianity:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
We all have a little pride in us, let’s be honest. And like CS Lewis wrote — if you think you don’t, you definitely do. This isn’t to make us feel condemned or terrible, but rather to show us that humility and a helpful, accurate view of self aren’t natural to us. We tend to vacillate between extreme pride over our own accomplishments (or body or weight) and shame over what we lack or seem to lack, like when we don’t meet culturally mandated standards for what our body “should” look like. Neither is God’s best.
The answer is not to beat ourselves up, but rather to take our eyes off ourselves and look to Jesus, to look to the one who calls us dearly loved, accepted and forgiven (Colossians 3:12, Romans 15:7, Ephesians 4:32) —To the one who took all of our shame away and no longer condemns us (Romans 8:1)
When we see ourselves as He sees us and refuse to believe any other narratives, it frees us up to focus on what matters in life: relationships, faith, family, purpose, having fun, etc, etc.
We can proactively work to improve body image in our culture by choosing our words wisely and loving the marginalized
How we talk to people, the way in which we complement them and what we say behind closed doors in front of children about bodies all have a significant impact on both our own body image and self-worth and that of our children and other people.
And because we can’t do better unless we know better, here are a few simple switches I’ve had to make in the past as my understanding of body image, health, worth and disordered eating has expanded:
Stop complimenting people on weight loss! You don’t know why a person lost weight — it may have taken extreme disordered behaviors to do so, alternatively they could be sick or stressed or depressed. Besides that, complimenting weight changes communicates the idea that the person has more value at a smaller body size (NOT TRUE). It can be the very thing that triggers an eating disorder or perpetuates fear and shame over a body size. Instead, let’s use our words to build each other up, focusing on what IS valuable about that person’s soul — their character, giftings, joy, etc!
Stop making assumptions about people in larger bodies or smaller bodies. A person in a larger body is not lazy, lacking in self-control or unhealthy. Explore the perspective of people in larger bodies who are willing to share. I recommend reading J. Nicole Morgan’s book Fat and Faithful for this!! Health is not weight. Neither is a person in a smaller body necessarily healthy, more self-controlled, etc. Likewise, we can’t assume people in a smaller body have eating disorders. Get to know people, assume the best of them and it will stop coming out of your mouth that fat is bad, less than, etc. in front of your children. This is huge. Kids internalize the little things and our biases become theirs, driving them to dislike and micromanage their own bodies.
Instead talk with your children about how all bodies are good bodies—how God created each person uniquely and we are all loved equally regardless of size, color, gender, etc. Talk about your own body positively or at least neutrally in front of them, emphasizing the good qualities God gave you as a person and call them out in your children as well! Again, I know we all desire to do this, but the biggest gift we can give our children is to do this work for ourselves first—everything else will follow.
WE can foster body acceptance by gaining perspective on what our body does for us.
Body image has a lot to do with having a right view of our self and our body. See points one and two. The goal of body image work is not to constantly think hunky-dorey proud thoughts about our body’s appearance, but rather to think about it less. When negative or proud thoughts do pop in (as they will) we can put them in their right place by reminding ourselves of the functions our body DOES perform for us along with the things it DOESN’T do for us.
First what it does:
Our body was created by a God who loves us and plans nothing but good for us. He calls this creation good—therefore we can trust it, care for it and generally get on with our lives, because it’s made well. We can remember that our body serves some pretty great functions like it allows us to walk, serve, run, dance, cook, EAT, make babies — or practice doing so ;) Our bodies allow us to take care of our loved ones, they carry us to our jobs and get us through the tasks we need to accomplish. Our bodies work to keep us healthy, fighting off illnesses signaling to us when they’re hungry and tired and need a walk. Our bodies are awesome.
Next, what it doesn’t do:
Our bodies do NOT save us, give us more value, define our character or give us unconditional love. Those functions belong to the Lord. He and he alone is our savior (Isaiah 43:11), the lover of our souls, our father who deems us valuable and worthy of his blessing NO MATTER OUR SIZE. Our bodies do not bring us deep relationships (at least not the kind that we want and need). And while culture tells us that our bodies are THE answer and THE problem, we have to look to God and realize that He is so much bigger than your body. And HE calls you redeemed and whole in Christ (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 2:10)
These are just a few thoughts, I have on body image—they certainly don’t serve as an all-encompassing discussion on body image. But they are things that I’ve learned from my own experience, from my training, from the experiences of my clients, but most of all from the Word of God —the author and perfecter of our faith—the one who gave his BODY so that we could be whole - Jesus Christ (Luke 22: 19 - 20).
I hope that they’ve encouraged you. I hope that they’ll help us take our eyes and our minds off our own bodies and put them on Him.
Until next time, stay nourished, spirit, soul AND body :)