Body Image in the Body of Christ: Week 1
This blog series is written for a Christian audience looking at the Bible as it relates to our physical bodies. As always, I invite anyone who is struggling with body image to join us!
As a dietitian and pastor’s wife, I think a lot about nutrition, our bodies and how they relate to the life of the believer. When it comes to body image, diet and nutrition, I can honestly say that Christians look a lot like the culture at large. We’re taking our cues from diet culture more than the Bible and so we see the same idolatry of the body happening in the church as we see anywhere else.
When it comes to our bodies, what the word of God says to a Christian should always loom larger than social media, the interwebs and the cultural trends of the day. So, what does the Bible have to say about our bodies and their purposes. Turns out a lot.
Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to blog weekly on body image from a Biblical perspective. I hope you’ll join me as we do a deep dive into what the Bible says about our bodies as members of His body.
Week 1: Intentionally Designed
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:13-14
As a swimmer in college, I savored the time I spent in my small group Bible study every week. It was the one time each week that I was not surrounded by the pressure of college athletics. The small group was a reflection of the diverse church I attended. While not diverse in age, our ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and yes, our body shapes and sizes varied greatly. I had been struggling with an acute awareness of my body and it's flaws directly related to some disordered eating behaviors that were "normal" in the world of college athletics. As we read through Psalm 139 together, I was stunned to hear other women confess that they too obsessed over parts of their bodies they did not love. But there was something even more incredible to me. There were also women who appreciated the bodies they had and truly valued their unique designs.
I quickly started to make tallies in my head. The girls who lamented their sizes, shapes, figures on one side and those who loved, appreciated and accepted theirs on the other. And I was dumbfounded. Both sides where as body and size diverse as the group as a whole. I found myself, in the best shape a young woman could possibly be, dissatisfied with my body. And right before me, this was contrasted with women of all shapes and sizes who where content. It occured to me for the first time that perhaps my body image had less to do with the size and shape of my body and more to do with my understanding of the One who created it.
So much of what I see in disordered eating and chronic dieting comes down to the desire to manipulate the bodies we’ve been given to fit the cultural expectations that arebplaced on them. We are dissatisfied with our size and shape and are trying to force our bodies to be something they are not. But what if we truly believe what Psalm 139 says? What if we trust that not only are we “not an accident” but we are intentionally designed by a Creator. That we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made and when we mock that design, what we say and feel is a reflection of our trust in our Creator?
I want you to take a second and think through the parts of your body that you have battled with. Maybe it’s the size of your body, or the shape of your nose. My guess is that you won't have too difficult of a time coming up with a few things. Is it possible that you’re treating God’s intentional design like a mistake? Now, take a minute and, like the Psalmist, praise God for His unique, thoughtful design of your body. Ask Him to give you peace where there isn’t. How'd that feel? If you're like many people, the "mistakes" part is easy but the whole gratitude for your body part takes a little more effort.
Many of us have spent a large amount of time, effort, mental capacity and money trying to change God’s unique design for us. Now, this is entirely different from stewardship of the gift you’ve been given. We are to care for our bodies as gifts with a kingdom purpose, not treat them as things to manipulate towards the culture’s standards of beauty. Your body was given to you, uniquely designed by the Creator for his purposes for you. Can you trust Him with that and feed yourself and exercise in a way that respects that today?
Some questions to think through:
Are there parts of your body that you treat like design flaws or mistakes?
Think through how you feed yourself and exercise on a daily basis. Are your motivations more grounded in trying to manipulate your body into something else or to nourish and care for the body you have today?