Editor’s note: This is the second article in a four part series on body image. This article tells a personal story of fighting with negative body image and examines what drives a person to think this way.
At 16, I started to not like my body’s appearance.
I was attending a performing arts high school, which developed in me a stronger desire to dance long-term. Throughout childhood, my body was lean and muscular, until puberty granted me what my Spanish genes had always promised: curvaceousness (from the hips down, at least).
But that wasn’t something the little dancer in me wanted. I wanted a better body, a body with less curvaceous legs, a flatter butt, ripped abs, and an overall sleek look.
During my junior year, I became obsessed with reforming my body (very different from what I should have done, safely training my body).
That spring, I lost 20 pounds in 2 months. A very small percentage of that gave me an edge in my athleticism and performance. But the rest was a result of having lost a sense of security and pursuing abnormality for my body. Needless to say, I was miserable, and I was hungry, all of the time.
Fast forward 2 years and I had regained an appreciation for my body. But I then faced new challenges. Not only because I had to break bad habits (like trusting I wasn’t going to gain 5 pounds from lunch and didn’t need to check the scale again). But because, initially, I started choosing other pathways that weren’t God-glorifying.
From not eating, I started over-eating. And honestly this started from a good place of finally enjoying food again! But my enjoyment of food turned into a self-justified carelessness with food.
But what was the underlying theme and motivation behind both of these behaviors?
The problem boiled down to something many of us say a lot: “I hate my body”
Theologian Beth Felker Jones shines some light on the darkness that is negative body-image and our efforts to reform the body.
She states: “The cult of the young body, the veneration of the air-brushed, media-produced body conceals a hatred of real bodies.”
The first thing we have to realize is what our body complaints and image-managing say about us. Our strivings for the perfect body “conceals a hatred of real bodies.” The cinching, injecting, and airbrushing are not acts of glamorizing. They are acts of controlling, acts of deep displeasure for what is real.
Of course, the media popularizes to us what is beautiful— the lips we must have, the waists we must maintain, and the ideals we must become— taking our eyes off of what is real to what is often unattainable and false. I get that. And I’m affected by that too. But if we’re honest, the blame isn’t just on the media and Victoria Secret ads. The culprits are also you and me.
You and I gather our gadgets and whiney complaints and with their sharpened edges begin to strip down the land of our free bodies. Whether we’re driven by vanity or insecurity, we hide what is real through filters or despise what is real by wishing for something better.
When we think we can make the body “better” and more desirable, we begin to treat the body as a commodity. It becomes this thing that we can do whatever we want with. And as we strip, alter, and hide what is real, we grow in our dissatisfaction, destroying our ability to enjoy what is good, to cherish what is ours.
This inability to enjoy what is good and the compulsion to mess with what is real, is something we Christians call sin. Sin turns us inward on ourselves and doesn’t allow us to see beyond ourselves. Sin robs us of joy and of the experience to enjoy anything good. It keeps our eyes stuck on ourselves in the mirror and from ever looking outward or heavenward. The Bible says that we are all plagued with sin. All of our hearts and minds curve in on ourselves.
I treated my body as something to conquer. Whenever I succeeded, vanity gave me a pat on the back. Whenever I failed, insecurity gripped at my heart.
It didn’t matter whether I was confident or not, whether I didn’t eat or over-ate, I had a low view of my body. It took a long time to finally get rid of the awful habits I developed concerning my body.
It takes (and has been taking) even longer to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” To redirect my thoughts and desires everyday from being inward toward myself and outwards to God and others. But there is hope.
Where is this hope found? How can we look beyond ourselves? How can we switch the belief we have of our bodies from commodities to gifts? For that, we’ll have to look at the the One who gives us our bodies and see what He has to say about them.