Look in the mirror. What do you see? What do you focus on? Many women struggle with their body image and focus on their flaws. They focus on their blemishes, obsess over the size of their nose, and fixate on the shape of their eyes. Some people think their butt is too big (or too small), they think their hips are too wide, or their stomach is too large, and the list can go on.
I was made fun of for my small size and for having a flat chest and butt. Sometimes, I see other people’s bodies and I compare mine to theirs. I also struggle with acne. It makes me lose confidence and sometimes I don’t want to show my face in public because I compare myself with other people who have smooth and blemish-free skin. The point is, we all focus on the things we see as flaws and we compare ourselves to other people. We think about how much better they look than us. But, in actuality, someone else is comparing themselves to us and thinking of the things we have that they don’t.
Our culture is obsessed with physical beauty, body image, and sexuality. But, what is God’s view of our bodies? As Christians, we should be thinking more about how God sees us versus how we or other people may see us.
How Culture Influences the Way We See Body Image
Social media, influencers, and models have come a long way from where they used to be. There are many more body positivity movements and celebration of all body types, looks, and styles. Still, so much of our social media feeds are covered with people that our culture defines as pretty.
I follow an account on Instagram that demonstrates how different models pose to make their butts look bigger and their stomachs smaller. The owner of the account takes two pictures of herself at the same time but one is posed and the other is relaxed. Weight loss ads have taken her pictures and used them as “before and afters” to promote their products when the reality is, the two pictures are just two different poses. Her account also shows ways that you can pull your skin to make it look completely smooth and cellulite free. Basically, she shows how much posing, filters, lighting, and other things can change how someone looks. Since there is so much that goes into making someone look a certain way, we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to what we see online!
According to Psychology Today, “Body image is the mental representation an individual creates of themselves, but it may or may not bear any relation to how one actually appears. Body image is subject to all kinds of distortions from the attitudes of one’s parents, other early experiences, internal elements like emotions or moods, and other factors. The severe form of poor body image is body dysmorphic disorder, where dissatisfaction over a slight or undetectable defect in appearance becomes a severe obsession.”
Our body image is subject to what we see online and the comparisons we make to the people around us.
Christianity and Body Image: How the Church Views Our Bodies
Many Christian women have a poor view of their bodies. We have unknowingly held to a false belief that our bodies are bad, sinful, and evil. So, rather than seeing our bodies as a blessing from God, we often see them as merely something to put up with or worse. Where does this idea come from? It comes from a dualistic worldview. Dualism is defined as the division of something conceptually into two opposed or contrasted aspects. Plato believed that the body was an imprisonment for the soul. This inevitably made the body seem like a bad thing.
Unfortunately, dualism seeped into Christianty. Dualism has led Christians to believe that the body and spirit are opposed to each other. Therefore, there is a strong focus amongst Christians on the spirit’s importance over the body’s.
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”Romans 8:6-8 ESV
Many read Romans 8:6 and other passages in the Bible and wrongly believe that our bodies are bad. However, when Paul uses the word “flesh” here, he isn’t speaking of the body. Instead, the flesh refers to our sinful nature that is opposed to God.
Are Our Bodies Sinful? What About the Sins of the Flesh?
Galatians gives us examples of the sins of the flesh and the negative ways we use our bodies:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”Galatians 5:19-21 ESV
These are not natural things we do because we have flesh. All of these sins are a misuse of that flesh. Here again, when Paul refers to flesh, he is speaking of sin. It is not our bodies that we need to fight against, but sin.
Paul uses the Greek term “sarx” for flesh, and is referring to “natural” human existence apart from God. “Sarx is probably best described as specifically our current mortal (fallen) human state- that is the human body and its physical needs and desires that (if not controlled) leads toward selfish acts and motives.”
When Paul uses the word flesh, it is his way of describing humans’ knack for favoring sin and selfishness. Just because we have a sinful human nature, does not mean our bodies are bad and we cannot enjoy what God has given us.
Negative Effects of Poor Body Image
Many churches I have attended focus much more on the health of the spirit rather than the health of the body. Again, this can fuel the belief that the body is unimportant or bad. Thinking your body is evil can lead to two extremes. One extreme would be asceticism. Some people starve themselves and avoid anything that would indulge their body.The other extreme is over-indulgence. People do what they want with their body or don’t take care of them because they think it doesn’t matter.
If we follow culture’s trends and try to attain a certain look to match someone else, we create an unhealthy view of our bodies. We do unhealthy things like restrict our diets, get surgery to change our flaws, or take other drastic measures to change the way we look.
Psychology Today explains, “Poor body image can affect performance in academics or one’s professional career, relationship satisfaction, and overall quality of life.”
When we focus too much on our flaws, we make them bigger than they really are. We end up obsessing over them and they eventually begin to dictate how we live our lives. My acne causes me to not want to go out or talk to people because I feel that is all they will see. How can I share the gospel and the love of God if I don’t love the body that He gave me and if I’m not willing to talk to people?
Bottom Line: Our bodies are God’s bodies
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV
If our bodies are inherently evil then how can we honor God with them? With that, why would God even have created us with bodies? In Genesis, God created Adam and Eve with bodies in the Garden of Eden before they sin against Him. Our bodies are not the result of the fall. We were created with them and were always intended to have them. After the Fall, we began to misuse our bodies. However, we can bring glory to God through our bodies and the way we use them.
We will also have our bodies when we are resurrected. God created us from the dust and can resurrect us from any form we may be in when Jesus returns. Yes, our bodies will be transformed when we are resurrected but our transformed bodies are simply better versions of the ones we have now (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). If we understand that our body and spirit will be together for all of eternity, we might view our bodies differently.
How to Recover from a Negative Body Image and what should we think of our bodies?
If you’re struggling with a negative body image, you’re not alone. I’ve had my fair share of experience trying to make my body look like a photo I’ve seen on social media, exercising to look a certain way, and trying different diets and remedies to make my body better. I’ve tried so many different skincare products and makeup to make my face look better.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t exercise, wear makeup, or do things to make you feel good about your body. But, we should start looking at our bodies as good and not obsessing over what we think are flaws. So exercise if you want to but do it for the health of your body not the image that other people see. Eat healthy to reward your body but eat the junk food if you want to too sometimes. Wear makeup if it makes you feel comfortable.
When we view our bodies as good, we do good for them! Look at Jeremiah 1:5. Like Jeremiah, God formed us in the womb and He knew us. He knew us and He made us for a purpose. We should take care of our bodies and use what God gave us, but we should do so in a way that honors God. If we realize that our bodies are good and God-given we will take care of them the way we should.
Other Bible verses about our bodies
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 ESV
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:10 ESV
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.1 Samuel 16:7 ESV
“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.1 Corinthians 6:13 ESV
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV