Body image. It’s an ‘in’ word, and means different things to different people. It’s also an easy word to pin onto someone else. They struggle with body image because they are… a teenager… female… overweight… underweight… single… In reality, however, we all struggle with body image.
Body image is (wait for it!) how we view our body. And as we all have opinions about the image we present to others and to ourselves, this post is applicable for all of us.
Just think, if we truly did not care how we are viewed, then we would all buy 5 shirts of the same colour, and 5 trousers and that would be our shopping done for the next five years. If we weren’t concerned about how we present ourselves to others, there would be no need for male or female clothing, and every hairdresser would be out of business.
And you know what? It’s okay to think about our body image. What we look like is part of who we are. There are many different colours of skin, hair, eyes and various body shapes, sizes and stages for a reason: God decided it was important. Who are we to claim otherwise?
And yet, it’s not that simple. We all know this, and have felt this…
Body image is complex, because we are corrupted people. Instead of pure hearts, we have sinful ones that seek many things, which turn from God, which pursue false happinesses.
And so body image becomes all-consuming.
Instead of looking at others and figuring out how to love them, we spend time looking at ourselves, and wondering how we can fix our bodies.
Rather than using our bodies as a billboard to proclaim God’s beauty and love, we wrench them into a reflection of our shallow hearts and prideful desires.
Concern about our body image turns our gaze inward. It feeds our selfishness, and also our pride. It lays love, service and holiness by the wayside.
This is wrong.
The second problem
It seems obvious that if we hold body image too close to our hearts we will neglect others. After all, body image is about ourselves.
And yet, it’s not that simple. If we idolise body image we can also spend too little time looking inward – and this is also a problem!
If we are in love with our body image we want to improve it. And the act of improving is always an act of comparison. In seeking to perfect our body image, we measure ourselves against others and adjust.
This corrupted sense of body image changes our relationships with others. It means we spend far too much time judging and assessing. People become test subjects against which we judge and affirm ourselves.
In one sense, this is always the case. After all, we were created to live in community, and part of that is participating in the joys of belonging. Waves of fashion ebb and flow over the years and we subtly change our wardrobes or our hairstyles, and that is natural.
Even individuals who seek to be ‘counter cultural’ or ‘alternate’ can be picked out by the length of their skirts or the number of their piercings.
And yet too much looking at others, too much adjusting to the Joneses, can whither our hearts. How are we supposed to cultivate Godliness if we don’t even have time to look at ourselves?
Again, I don’t have a neat solution. I can only write down the steps I take to hold my body image lightly, and pray that they will be of use to you also.
I refuse to become defensive about comments on my body. It’s hard, my friends, it’s so hard. When the people closest to you have a negative opinion on your clothes, your weight, your hairstyle and voice it aloud, the last thing we want to do is listen humbly. Personally, I’d much prefer to stand up and rebuke them, or explain my choices, or tell them exactly what I think about their own clothes. It’s a pride thing. And yet, I don’t need to indulge my pride. How important is my body image? More important than relationships? Far better to pick my battles, and say “that’s alright. It’s just my body image. They can have all the opinions they want, but it doesn’t change who I am”.
I assess my reasons for change. Like I said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dressing appropriately according to the fashion. I think it’s wiser, in many senses, than calling needless attention to myself. I also think we are allowed to enjoy the pleasure of being one of many, of fitting in. I also believe it’s fine to dress differently, or to not buy the latest clothes. I think there are healthy elements to each and it’s all to do with motive. Why do I want to wear what others are wearing? Why do I want to dress differently? We need to be aware of our reasons, resist the urge to make blanket rules, and love others in the way we dress.
I cling to the reality that my body image does not matter. In the end what is important? What will last? Not my earthly body, and not other people’s opinions of myself. My own opinions of myself don’t even matter! It is of no eternal consequence whether I feel comfortable in my own skin, or whether I know I look like an idiot. What is eternal is love. Love for God and for our neighbour. And we don’t have to feel lovely to love.
I attempt to pray two prayers frequently:
let others look at me and not see me at all, but You, God.
if the occasion arises or the situation occurs, make me willing to completely sacrifice my body image for You and your kingdom plans, Lord.
And so I live and struggle to hold onto my body image lightly. Not because it is not important, but because I want to hold onto God strongly, and there is only room for one love in my life.