Can the Olympics Help Struggles with Body Image?

I’m sure I’m the only one who noticed this, so I’m ashamed to admit it. But, here goes.

Olympic swimmers don’t have thigh gap.

In fact, you know what else I noticed? When they shook their arms to ready their muscles for racing–their skin shook.

Yes, that’s right. It moved around. Some of these women even had a little extra flesh bulging out the sides of their swimsuit tops.

Olympic swimmers have bra bulge?

What?

I found all this very affirming. And, I’m very ashamed to say that.

These are some of the healthiest, fittest women in the world. Elite athletes. Real women.

And, yet.

They don’t match that “picture” of beauty and health that we are so often sold in the media. These swimmers have beautiful physiques. Bodies that are trained hard, fed properly, and worked out every single day. But they don’t look anything like that “ideal” of beauty I’ve been shown since I was a little girl.

I Have an Idolatry Problem

What do I do with this in my heart?

Truth is, I struggle.

You see, if there were a bunch of bikini models on the starting blocks at the aquatics stadium, I’d turn the channel, not wanting my husband to see “those bodies” as they race across the pool.

Instead, we watch swimming as a family because the suits are modest.

And because most of those women don’t meet our culture’s definition of hot. . .

I hate that I mentally rank women’s bodies in that way. I hate that my brain defaults to sizing women up. How do I reconcile the fact that I only admire a certain body type?swimming

I have to admit to being an idolator.

My body image struggle is not against flesh and blood. It’s not me versus Heidi Klum, Naomi Campbell and every woman who rocks a bikini. Rather it’s me against my own ideals.

I idolize the type of beauty that my culture has told me is best. Deep in my heart I believe that blonde bombshells do have it better and that every six-foot-tall, three inches round, exotic looking woman on a magazine cover ranks ahead of me in some imaginary beauty contest.

As much as I’d like to tell you I desire to be thinner for health reasons, watching the Olympics reveals to me that the standard of beauty I wrestle to achieve has nothing to do with health.

My flesh craves only one type of beauty and it’s not God’s.

True Beauty

I hate it when Christian body image conversations turn to “true beauty.” This is the part of the article where I’m supposed to tell you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I should also mention that God made all women beautiful and imply that this means physical beauty. Then I should throw in that your body is His temple and you are created in His image. Supposedly, in these three statements, I will cure all of your body image ills.

Malarky.

For most Christian women who struggle with body image, the problem has nothing to do with a failure to memorize Psalms 139:14. (That’s the fearfully and wonderfully made verse.) Many of these women can tell me, from their brains, that God uniquely formed them. They know they are his jars of clay. 

Yet, that doesn’t solve their dissatisfaction. Their hearts still want more than God’s assurance that he made them special.

To cure body image issues, we need to start memorizing Jonah 2:8:

“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” ESV

Vain idols. Some translations say “worthless idols.”

How to Spot a Vain Idol

Ever wanted to look more like a Kardashian? Or, if you are closer to my age, maybe you longed to have Jennifer Aniston’s hair, Jennifer Lopez’ butt, or Angelina Jolie’s legs.

Worthless idols.

Goals that serve ourselves only, not God’s kingdom.

Vanity. Fleeting vanity.

And, this verse in Jonah tells us exactly what they get us. Nothing.

Sure, those girls at the office may drool over how great your legs look after six months of spin class. Yes, your husband may tell you that he can tell you’ve been working out, and he likes it. But in Galatians 1:10 we are reminded to not seek man’s approval. Paul asks, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Wow! Not be a servant of Christ? That seems a bit severe, doesn’t it? Isn’t it okay to want to please God and get compliments on how great you look all day long?

That’s kind of what I hoped for.

Photo by the U.S. Army accessed on Flickr under creative commons license. No changes or alterations were made to photo.

Photo by the U.S. Army accessed on Flickr under creative commons license. No changes or alterations were made to photo.

Seeking a Steadfast Love

What does every Olympian ultimately desire? A medal. Preferably gold.

What do all humans ultimately desire? Love. Steadfast love. Unconditional acceptance. Peace.

Though this verse in Jonah may seem like the oddest verse you’ve ever heard used in a body image piece, let me show you how it clearly spells out the issue.

When we pursue a better body for the sake of affirmation and accolades, we surrender our hope for the kind of satisfying relationship that God desires to give us. Or, as the verse says, we “forsake our hope of steadfast love.”

We trade the real thing, the love and acceptance from the almighty God, our Creator, our deliverer, our salvation, for a pursuit of something temporary. Something that will ultimately not satisfy.

Chasing a body image idol will never end in peace, only frustration. You can reach that goal weight or get Olympic volleyball player abs. You can augment your breasts, boost your bum, and tighten your core but you’ll never get to rest.

As any athlete knows, you don’t just arrive at a place in your physical conditioning where you feel you’ve “made it.” Rather, you have to keep working, every day, to maintain it.

And, if we seek to substitute the steadfast love of our Heavenly Father with the temporary approval of our bodies by man (or woman), we remain on that never ending treadmill of working to earn love. It’s exhausting.

God invites us to something different. Something better. He invites us to rest.

His sacrifice for us, through Jesus on the cross, gives us a hope that is far better than thigh gap. Or, gold for that matter.

What do you think? Can the Olympics help struggle with body image?

 

6 Comments
  • Tricia
    August 12, 2016

    I just realized while reading this post that I have been watching swimming with my sons the last week and haven’t been worried about their purity while watching it which is SO rare these days! Thanks for the reminder that there’s still some wholesome family entertainment every now and then. And I noticed the bra bulge too which makes me feel awful but at least I know I’m not the only one. 🙂

    • Heather Creekmore
      August 12, 2016

      Ahh… If the fittest women in the world have it – I’m thinking it should no longer be referred to as “bulge” – Ya know??? 😉 Perhaps we all need a fresh perspective on this issue!
      Thanks for chiming in! 🙂

  • SadMama
    August 16, 2016

    Hi Heather! I just discovered your blog and was so excited. I struggle with body image more than any person I know. I am a Christian and I hate that I am so focused on how ugly I am. I feel guilty because I’m supposed to accept that God made me beautiful, but I look at all other women – every single one – and feel inferior. I would never wear a bikini, and I don’t even wear swimsuits anymore at all. Which is so sad because I used to enjoy the beach so much. I was a lifeguard and am quite athletic, so it’s not like I’m really, really big, but compared to the rest of the world, all those perfect looking women, I am hideous and do not want to embarrass my husband. I honestly feel like I do not deserve to swim anymore or have fun because I am not attractive enough.
    That being said, it’s hard to read blogs like his when they are written by people as perfect and beautiful as you. You’re stunning! How you could possibly have a single issue with body image is beyond me. So yeah, I don’t want to belittle your feelings, but it’s kind of hard to believe you know what it’s like.
    I am inferior to most women in every way. I only have two children. In the world today, especially Christian circles, and ESPECIALLY homeschooling circles, this make me just about worthless. Most women I know have 4,5,6,7, even 8 kids. They are so busy and have perfect families, beautiful homes, and beautiful bodies. I have two kids, a modest little home that I struggle to keep organized, and a frumpy 40 year old body.
    So I guess I’m saying, thank you for starting your blog – I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading your posts. However, it’s kind of hard to believe you know what it feels like to be “less than”. Again, you are beautiful and successful and there are those of us who will never even come close to measuring up to you.

    • Heather Creekmore
      August 16, 2016

      Hey SadMama –

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. I hope you will someday understand that I can totally relate. I really hope you can see that this issue often has nothing to do with what you (or I) actually look like. I was never even close to being fit enough to be a life guard in my younger years — so I know at the time I would have looked at you enviously thinking, “I wish I could be a lifeguard like that…I wish God made my body to do that!”

      My hope through my confessions in this blog is that you and other readers would see that perfection doesn’t really exist. And, beyond that, I am far from perfect as I wrestle through these heart issues of comparison and body image struggle. I hope we will all come to realize that our struggles aren’t really against each other–they are spiritual battles where we are idolizing certain body types, shapes, or attributes of others and missing our true purpose while chasing these idols.

      I never understood the depths of my idolatry struggle until a few years ago. I never understood how the ways I thought I would just be free and happy and feel so much better about my life when I was “thinner” were just ways I was caught up in idolatry. That sin totally bogged me down for a decade. It made my marriage miserable. I was not free. It made me crazy trying to keep in shape, keep my house perfect, find the right outfits, etc…
      It was all just a trap.

      In other words, these struggles that we all have with comparison and body image…they are just lies. You feel like I can’t understand -like my lies can’t be as true as the lies you hear. But, I can assure you they are. I can assure you that the same enemy who condemns you for the number of kids you have or what you like like in a swimsuit is the same one condemning me, showing me model thin women, showing me women who keep a better home than I do, and showing me all the other ways I’m inferior. There’s always someone “better” if we look at the world with this kind of competitive perspective.

      This is a battle, my new friend. A super serious battle. I hope I can convince you of that, if nothing else. We think the battle is between us and the super models. But, truth is, super models have body image issues. (Severely so in some cases.) It’s like Ephesians tell us, our battle is not against flesh and blood — but against the principalities and powers of darkness in this world. We have to choose to fight. Not each other, but the lies. We each have a personal battle, so we each have to fight for our own freedom.

      I’m no where close to a super model. I wear a double digit pants size and struggle not to spend too much time obsessing over ways to make that size smaller. I struggle. There will always be someone better. There will always be someone “more perfect.” There will always be someone who seems to have it better than we do in every way. And, I can make myself crazy if I focus on this. It wouldn’t take you ten minutes to list 50 women more beautiful than you perceive me to be. There’s no winner in this kind of thinking…ever.

      Can I encourage you to please not compare yourself to me or to anyone else? God gave you a unique purpose. He gave you exactly what you need to accomplish his purpose in this life. I feel like most women I know get so bogged down in comparison struggles that they never find the freedom to enjoy pursuing what God made them to do.

      I don’t want this for you.

      Hugs. I hope you’ll keep reading the blog. Reading other women’s stories of struggle. This issue affects most women. We are all in this together and we need to all be able to start fighting it together too.
      In His Love and Grace, Heather

  • SadMama
    August 17, 2016

    Hi Heather,

    Thank you for such a thoughtful reply. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts and chatting with you more. You’ve given me so much to think about.
    Yes, I realize (sadly) this can be an issue of pride or idols, but I have no idea how to actually work through that. Others have told me “you need to stop thinking this way” – but I’ve never read anybody that seems to actually UNDERSTAND what I’m going through. You seem sincere. Thank you for being real and creating the blog.

    • Heather Creekmore
      August 19, 2016

      I know – it was very unfamiliar to me too. I didn’t know how to “root it out” and I had people tell me to “just stop” thinking this way too – and it never worked!!!! I had no idea how to stop thinking that way. Yes, please keep reading and connecting here. 🙂 It wasn’t an overnight change for me…it’s been a process of figuring it out and seeing my thinking (and life) transformed in this area. 🙂 Blessings to you.

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