Stunned, I sat in front of my television. I could not believe what I just witnessed. The Today show featured a fashion consultant named Gok Wan who said he had discovered the answer for women with body image issues.
Are you ready for this?
He invites women to his studio, has them strip in front of a mirror, then stare at their reflections until they decide to like what they see. After they wave, “Yoohoo…Gok, I accept my body now!” he dresses them fashionably. Gok believes women must feel good about what’s underneath the clothes before the clothes matter. Sure, why not?
I could not make this up. (Here’s the evidence.)
Gok says,”it’s a multi-step process: Looking, learning and loving by embracing the body you’ve got, imperfections and all.”
As a woman who battled her own body image for decades, I can’t imagine how standing at a mirror (with Gok in the room!) would help me. My home contains plenty of looking glasses. Sometimes, I even glance in one before I get in the shower. I usually regret this.
I won’t sign up for Gok’s express ride to body image freedom anytime soon. (Sorry, Gok!)
Though Gok and I disagree on just about everything, we somehow agree on one specific principle. It’s a big thing. (It’s pretty much Gok and I against the world on this one.) That is: You don’t have to love your body.
It’s blasphemy in some circles to make such an outrageous statement, but I’ll stand by it. Gok has his reasons. I have mine.
Some Background on Body Positivity
The “love your body” movement also answers to the name “Body Positivity.” Its mission: make people proud of their bodies. In a four-second scan of this category on Huffington Post you can find articles ranging from “I Strip Because Too Many Women Hate Their Bodies” to “Saying ‘I Do'” to my Body” to “Mom Embraces StretchMarks.”
Their goal is to help the millions who struggle with body image to “overcome conflicts with their bodies to lead more productive lives.” (From the bodypostive.org website) They’ve made helpful contributions to our culture’s struggle such as eliminating the term “bikini body” from our vernacular. They produce memes to encourage us that we are all acceptable, no matter what our weight, shape or bra size.
That sounds like Compared to Who? right? How could I argue with such a noble cause? I’m all about helping women be more productive. We are all acceptable, aren’t we?
This is where it gets tricky. Because it sounds so close to the truth.
First, let’s settle the value question. No matter what the size tag reads in your jeans, thanks to Jesus, we are all accepted! Yes!
Women do need to be freed from body image worries to be more productive–to live out their God-given purpose. Double Yes!
But, the Body Positivity method of helping women “overcome” body image issues often leads women down a different, but equally dangerous path.
Christian Perspective on Body Positivity
Have you heard the Toby Mac song, “Lose my Soul?” There’s one line that always catches my attention, “And I pray I’m an artist who rises above, the road that is wide and filled with self-love.”
Did you read those last two words? Self-love. Love yourself, accept yourself, find what you appreciate about yourself. You will feel better about you if only you stop and meditate on how wonderful you are.
Our celebrity idols shout kind-sounding ideas from the stage. Talk show hosts applaud and tear up when women proclaim they’ve determined to love themselves. You may have even heard that you can’t love anyone else until you first learn to love yourself.
But friends, it’s not biblical. In fact, self-love reeks of something that Jesus told us to avoid. It is more rightly labeled pride (with a touch of vanity!). Thinking more of yourself, loving yourself, focusing on your own greatness. . .the Christian life calls us to something very different.
As Christ followers, we are taught to repent of that pride, to kill it. Not rename it and label it the answer to our body image problem. (I wrote more about how this here.)
This concerns me on three fronts. First, asking the woman who struggles to “like” her body to “love it” resembles you requesting I write you a check for a million dollars. I’d love to give you the cash, really I would, but I don’t have the resources to do so. Women who struggle with a broken view of their body often don’t have the internal resources to simply change their minds about their appearance. Inspiring pep talks can encourage them to “love” it for a few days or weeks, but they often retreat back to their old thought patterns.
Second, we are to walk humbly with our God. Beaming with pride over your body contradicts this type of humility. Besides, pride can never be God’s solution out of a body image problem. He can’t contradict his character that way.
Third, the same media telling you that you should “love” yourself, just as you are sells you billions in products to make you look different. Even the well-meaning Gok has a new line of shape wear. Tell me how you a woman she’s perfect–just as she is–and then suggest she wear a girdle so tight it gives her irritable bowel syndrome? Am I the only one confused by these mixed messages?
Why My Goal Isn’t to Help You Love Your Body.
As I read my Bible, we have to love Jesus and love others. That’s it. End of the list.
There’s no biblical mandate to love cellulite, cankles, bra strap flab, or stretch marks. None. These are signs we live in a fallen world. Loving them, hash-tagging a photo of your thigh dimples #Ilovemybody strikes me as ridiculous.
We don’t have to love our physical forms. Rather, we have to care for our bodies or be “good stewards” of them. Neither should we “despise” our bodies, body negativity is not an appropriate response either. We were made in God’s image, no matter what our size, color or build and our bodies are a good gift from God. There is no shame or condemnation in Christ (I wrote about how we are free from body shame here). First Corinthians chapter six further clarifies that the role of our body is to host the Holy Spirit. We serve as His temples. There is a standard of maitenance and self-care implied.
But, when the temple becomes the object of worship, body image fractures. Likewise, self-love, self-esteem, or “love your body” solutions, tend to turn our affections away from the One who is worthy of worship. Instead, of using the temple to worship, we worship the temple.
Is Your Body an Idol or an Alter?
For decades I worked to “perfect” my body. I dieted. I exercised. I wanted to make my body as attractive as possible. All to glorify God, right?
I’ll come clean. My motives were to draw worship to me. Not that I expected anyone to literally bow in my presence. But, I knew a woman who looked really good would draw two types of worship: the attention of men and the accolades (and sometimes envy) of other women.
I’m not proud of this.
It all sounds so shallow, but my reasons for pursuing body perfection weren’t really superficial. At all. In truth, I just wanted to be loved. I wanted to be accepted. I desired to be known. And, I believed that looking really great, physically, provided the only route to having these needs met.
I believed a lie. One that told me more beauty would save me. A better body would give me all the happiness, joy, and peace I longed for.
They call that: idolatry. And, when it happens in the context of perfecting our bodies in order to feel “saved” we call that body image idolatry.
I had to repent, name it as sin, and ask God to forgive me for the ways that I sought to have others worship my temple instead of using my temple to worship God.
So I ask you: Is your body an idol or an alter?
Do you seek to use your body to worship God or do you seek worship for your body?
Do you believe that a better body will save you? Or, can you lay down your body image–release your desire to have a better look–and put it on the alter in surrender to God’s purpose for your life?
Please don’t hear any condemnation in those questions. I may have never admitted aloud that I thought my body would save me, but the truth is, I still battle a voice in my head that tells me I’d feel a whole lot more freedom and joy if I weighed less and had better hair.
But, when you settle the answers to these questions in your heart, you’ll find your struggle starts to diminish. Like Roman 6 explains more broadly, it’s not that we then ignore or abuse our body, rather we understand that–in Christ–we live for something greater. Our body was intended for so much more than culturally acceptable aesthetic beauty.
My goal at Compared to Who is not to help you love your body. Rather, in our age of self-awareness, I want to encourage Christians to practice something different. That is: self-forgetfulness.
When I can take my mind, my thoughts, and my focus off of me, I find new freedom. The pressure to “love my body” evaporates while I discern the unique purposes God intended for my body to fill. I can also practice humility. No longer worried about being the prettiest woman in a room, I am freer to love others, serve others, and to stop comparing myself to others.
I want us to have honest conversations about the real struggles we have in this arena and encourage each other to surrender. Stop trying to be thin enough, pretty enough, firm enough . . .and surrender to the fact that we actually are not enough on our own. We need Jesus. Only He is enough.
Fortunately, we don’t have to love our bodies more to find the freedom he offers. We only have to love and obey Him.