Body Image: Caring v. Obsessing

bodyimage-8It’s a rare person who likes every single thing about their body. Society tells young people they must look a certain way to be attractive, and the message is skewed — saying that incredibly skinny, toned and muscular bodies are the only ones worth looking at. Last year’s ad campaign from Victoria’s Secret for their “Body Bra” depicted stick thin, large-breasted models behind the words “The Perfect Body.” Men don’t get off easy either. A quick glance at Calvin Klein underwear advertisements shows toned, tanned young men with pouty faces and glistening six-pack abs. How defeating this is for women and men struggling with body image.

Made in God’s image

The truth is that God created human beings in his image. God also purposefully made each human being specifically to look unlike anyone else on Earth. The problem isn’t how we look. The problem is the way we feel when we look in the mirror. It’s the perspective on what makes a person beautiful that causes body image distortion and dissatisfaction with appearance. While it’s normal to have the occasional bad hair day or a morning when your pants don’t fit just right, it’s also common to experience feelings of inadequacy in the looks department on a daily basis.

We’d never trash a beautiful place of worship with rich wooden pews and colorful stained glass windows, so if our bodies are temples, why do we spend so much time trashing the way we look? The key to finding balance between being healthy and liking what we see in the mirror is in God’s message that our bodies are temples. Put simply, it means taking care of our bodies without going overboard attempting to reach societal expectations. Of course, it’s easy to say we’ll care less about what society thinks, but much harder to do. So, how do we strike that balance?

The problem isn’t how we look. The problem is the way we feel when we look in the mirror. It’s the perspective on what makes a person beautiful that causes body image distortion and dissatisfaction with appearance.

Caring for a masterpiece

Eating healthy is one way to take care of your body. When you fill your plate with nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy foods, you’re getting each of the nutrients necessary for a healthy appearance. Take vitamin C. Eating fruits and vegetables means that you’re getting the vitamin C your skin needs to appear supple and healthy. Vitamin C also keeps your gums and teeth healthy, and we all know that a genuine smile improves your appearance instantly.

Exercise on a regular basis, too. While working behind the scenes to keep your lungs, heart and muscles healthy, exercise also does powerful things for your body image. When you work out, you’re burning calories, which can help you shed pounds and reach a healthy body weight. Yes, exercise tones your muscles, which looks nice; but it also helps you feel powerful and strong, and that boosts your overall body image and self-esteem. Also, getting yourself moving is a research-backed way to raise your happiness level and stave off symptoms of depression.

Think about your body in the context of being a great masterpiece created by an incredibly talented artist. How would you treat a famous work of art? Most of us would treat such a treasure with reverence and respect. If our bodies are God’s masterpieces, we need to reconsider how we treat these works of art. Smoking, drinking too much, taking drugs, eating junk foods and sitting around watching television for hours a day are not ways to take proper care of such beautiful creations.

This year, make a resolution to stop treating yourself unfairly. We need to stop spending so much time striving to achieve a body that’s impossible to attain, and start taking steps toward liking ourselves the way God created us. That doesn’t mean that we sit back and do and eat whatever we want, but it does mean that we start forgiving ourselves for eating a piece of birthday cake or skipping a workout to go see a movie with a friend. Vow to stop listening to the voice in your head (or the media) that tells you you’re not good enough, and start listening for the soft whisper of God telling you that you’re wonderfully made. Take care of the temple God has created in you, but do it sensibly and with less obsession about what society expects.

Sara Ipatenco holds bachelor's and master's degrees in education, both from the University of Denver. She was an elementary Christian school teacher until her first child was born. In 2007, Sara started freelance writing and writes about education, religion, parenting and nutrition. She has been published in Teaching Tolerance and Family Fun magazines.