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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?