This time of year is amazing, isn’t it? Maybe the humidity is a stifling 95% in my home of North Carolina, but it’s sunny, the trees and flowers are spectacular, and there are so many fun outdoor activities, from hiking to swimming to hitting the beach. But there’s a discomfort out there (other than the heat!) that a lot of people, particularly women, are struggling with it. I’m sure that if you personally haven’t dreaded bathing suits, you have plenty of friends who have. For Christian girls, this can be two-fold, because on top of anxiety stemming from being uncomfortable with your body, you might also be struggling to find your definition of modesty and choose summer clothing accordingly.
Our culture has responded to the pressures on people to have certain body types by trying to introduce the concept of “body diversity”– the very legitimate concept that having a certain BMI or figure doesn’t make you more or less beautiful. But there’s an emptiness to this idea, when there’s no higher truth or greater power behind it. Here’s my take on what the Bible and Christianity have to say about Christianity and loving your body.
Culture pressures us to have certain bodies — the Bible says your body is incredible
For centuries, there’s been a predominant idea of what the ideal body is. For whatever reason, women seem to be hit with the brunt of this, although men certainly aren’t immune. But here’s the thing about cultural beauty standards–they’re always changing! From Marilyn Monroe’s soft curves and iconic glamorous blonde hair and red lipstick to thee ’90s heroin chic to the tan, toned models of today, we see huge shifts in what movies and magazines and just typical people hold up as the standard. And that’s just in the last few decades in America! Look at ancient Greece or 20th century China or modern-day Africa and things are completely different.
The common thread? Everywhere you go, there’s a prevailing idea that certain people’s bodies are more beautiful than others. And that belief matters — check out the statistics sometime and you’ll discover that attractive people are more likely to be hired, earn more money, are promoted more quickly, and have an easier time getting loans, according to Psychology Today. But more importantly than that, your perception of how attractive you are deeply impacts your confidence and your happiness. In middle school and early high school, I really struggled with this. I was a chubby little kid, and I was extremely self conscious about it when I got older. I never starved myself to an extreme, but I did whittle myself down to 97 pounds (I’m 5’5” and not naturally particularly thin). For awhile, I felt really great about this, but then I found that there’s always something else to be dissatisfied with. I was too pale, not toned enough, I had a mole, whatever it was, I always found something to obsess over. If my teenage angst wasn’t up to it, society quickly supplied me with something else to worry over.
Now, thankfully, I’ve come to realize that how the media or even my friends define beauty isn’t what matters, because the Creator of the Universe thinks my body (and yours, and everyone’s) is amazing. He says so! The Psalmist says, in Psalm 139:14,
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well”
David doesn’t say that just one specific thing about his is fearfully and wonderfully made, so I think that means that he (a man described as after God’s own heart) believes that all of him, God’s creation, is incredible and valuable.
Some are trying to redefine beauty–but God already has
Every time I go on Facebook (which is definitely more often than it should be, I’m about due for a media cleanse) I see another article about advocating for body diversity and how we all need to come together to affirm people who are overweight for being just as valuable as skinny people. This really makes me sad, because it’s insane that this is even a topic of discussion! People are created in God’s image, so people are in the image of something unimaginably beautiful, end of story. Here’s the thing: whenever someone says that “big is beautiful” or “strong is the new skinny,” their good intentions aren’t going to do much good, because all that thinking does is add something else to the list of the culturally acceptable. Just because Target is featuring some more substantial thighs in their new bathing suits doesn’t mean that they are treating people with greater dignity.
It’s God’s radical, transcendent definition of beauty that is really coming to the rescue of all those girls and guys out there who are too fat or too skinny or too short or too tall.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:17)
In this context, God is choosing a king for Israel, and even his wise prophet Samuel thinks that all of future King David’s older bothers look more kingly, which their tall frames and lordly expressions, but God knows better. He understands that what makes David king material is what’s on the inside, his good heart. Now, we know that David isn’t perfect (in fact he later commits murder and adultery). But God sees the good in him and honors that.
It’s just the same for us. In the New Testament, God says repeatedly that it’s the inner being that matters in beauty, not the outer.
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)
How can you not love something so unbelievable?
Imagine that your dad give you a brand new, late model Ferrari, completely for free. It’s shiny, it’s fast, it’s luxurious, it cost more than your house–it’s an amazing vehicle. Would you be likely to resent your dad for giving you a 488 GTB rather than a 488 Spider? I doubt it! Or suppose it was red and you really would have preferred black. Are you going to call up your dad and ask him to exchange it? Probably not!
It’s the same thing with your body. Except your body is infinitely more amazing than any car. Your brain has about 100 billion cells, you can distinguish between 10 million colors, you can smell a trillion smells, you can laugh, cry, and love! And your body helps you do all of that.
It seems pretty petty to be put out about the color or model of a Ferrari that you got for free. But being unhappy with something as trivial as a few extra pounds or a big nose or anything is even crazier, because your body is capable of amazing things, and designed for amazing things. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t aim to be as physically healthy as possible, but exercising for the sake of keeping your heart strong or spending time in the sun to get your needed vitamin D intake is totally different from extreme diets or obsessive tanning. Know that your body, no matter what cellulite, warts, or acne it might also have, is amazing, it’s designed by the Creator of the universe, and it’s not just adequate, it’s amazing. Is it perfect in the sense that it’s flawless? No. Does it get sick? Yes. Does it have fat? Yes. Does any of that matter? No! Your body is temporary anyways, it’s just a shadow of what’s to come.
But it’s one unbelievable shadow.
**Image courtesy of stockfreeimages.com and Dreamstime.