Editor’s note: This article is the first part in a four part series on body image. This particular article examines how pervasive the issue of body image is and how we each need to recognize the role it plays in our lives.
As a Pilates instructor, I am daily reminded of the goodness of the human body. My clients get reminded of this, too, as they experience firsthand their bodies’ capabilities of recovery and strength.
But more often than not, my sessions are also painful reminders of how deeply dissatisfied people are with their own bodies.
One experience stands out in particular. It was only our second session and my client asked, as most women do, if I could get rid of her fat. I was astonished, since this particular woman was incredibly petite and quite fit.
Unfortunately, the professionality needed to handle this situation left me, and in my bewilderment, I actually laughed and bursted out, “Oh my goodness! But you’re not fat at all!”
“Yes, I am!” she scolded. “I am and don’t laugh at me! I need to lose weight!” She then tugged at the skin on her small hip and practically shouted, “This! I want to get rid of this!” and punched her hip 3 times. She then bemoaned her efforts at losing weight and how she’s always been “too chicken” to get liposuction. After a bit of back and forth, she finally calmed down and we began the session.
That’s an extreme example, but negative body-image is a common struggle for most women, including myself.
As a dancer and Latina woman, I grew up with one culture telling me that “lean and mean” would give me value, and the other saying “sexy and curvy” was where I’d be most appreciated. Because opinions vary strongly on what is “the perfect body”, it’s all too easy to engage in the pointless and miserable practice of body-comparison.
You know how it goes: you’re scrolling through social media wishing you had legs like one person, thankful your waist doesn’t look like that person’s, and wondering how your best friend manages to stay skinny while you gain 3 pounds just looking at the picture of her biting into a donut. Maybe we’re not all thinking of liposuction. Maybe we’re not all using Facetune or Retouch Me apps on our pictures. But dissatisfaction and insecurity tend to plague most girls and women, whether we act on it or not.
What my client needed to hear the day of her meltdown wasn’t that I thought she was perfect. She didn’t need my praises to boost her confidence. In fact, she didn’t need a confidence boost at all. What she needed was the empirical knowledge that her body is inherently good. And for once, she needed an image to look at that was not herself.
Fighting negative body-image won’t go far if all we do is try to talk positively about our bodies without addressing why we should be positive about them.
Christianity is a worldview that combats body-discontentment, because it reveals to us how we ought to view our bodies, and why we can enjoy them rather than despise them. Notice I said body-discontentment and not Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). There are therapeutic and medical treatments for body-image issues and illnesses that God has provided for those who suffer from them. I won’t be covering how we can fight diagnosed eating disorders or BDD here. Instead, we’ll see how Christianity and knowing our Creator confronts and combats the daily struggles of negative body-image. How it leads us to rejoice over our bodies and gives us a greater vision than our own image. It directs us to the very image of God.
But before we get to the remedy, we have to face the issue head on.
For anyone who is automatically thinking that they don’t struggle with negative body-image, I’d ask for you to look again. This is something we can be so easily desensitized to, especially in our day of social media where people’s bodies are constantly being broadcasted and opinions given (most likely subconsciously).
But I’d ask for us to examine the way we view the human body; examine the thoughts, attitudes, or remarks you make towards your own or other people’s appearance.
What is the standard by which you define the body as “good”? How would you define beauty and why? Is there dissatisfaction for what you have or self-adoration for what you’ve attained?
In the next article we’ll look more deeply at these questions. And we’ll do this together, as I share my own struggles in this area of body-image.