“Mom, why would anyone want to worship an object?” My son, Zach, yelled from the seat behind me.
Idolatry seems puzzling, doesn’t it. I tried to think of an appropriate answer for my ten-year-old. I couldn’t help but think about my personal battle with body image and the frequency with which I must confront my own struggle with body image idolatry.
“Well, Zach, the enemy lies to them. He tells them that the object will make them happy or give them what they want or what they think they need.”
“Were people just stupid then, mom?” He asked. “Did they seriously think that a golden calf was going to do something to make them happy?”
It did sound pretty dumb. Internally I wrote those foolish Israelites off as a group with weak IQs. Did they really believe their melted earrings were going to rise up and make the desert a better place for them?
“Zach, the devil is a good liar though. He tells us things that aren’t true about God and tells us things that aren’t true about the things he encourages us to worship.” I tried to explain.
“Wow. This was a really long conversation.” He replied.
I laughed. Three minutes of going deep wore the lad out. But, my mind couldn’t stop thinking about the truth we were discussing, and calves. Not just golden calves, but calves in general.
At seventeen years old I learned that there were pretty calves and not-so-pretty calves. Before then, I didn’t know. In fact, I naively assumed that my calves were one part of my body I didn’t have to worry about fixing. My thighs needed thinning, my abs needed flattening, my arms needed toning. But, my calves? I thought they could just hang out down, overlooked by all.
But a meat-head, blond guy with a long pony tail, too much energy, and bright blue spandex shorts, Tony Little, told me otherwise.
As we did our calf raises during his “Target Training” workout, Tony explained that I needed to get “heart-shaped” calves. Apparently just rocking on my toes, forewards and backwards was not enough to achieve the heart-shaped look, I needed to point my toes together and then away from each other and do additional sets of calf raises if I ever wanted calves that would “get noticed.”
I really didn’t need any other body parts to add to the “needs improvement” list. Alas, if I started doing calf raises in the shower, then maybe I’d feel better about my body.
Pursuit of an Idol
The concept of idolatry permeates scripture, yet it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I first understood how I could be a modern day idolator.
I didn’t have a Buddha statue in the house, nor did I even have a garden gnome just in case it’s statue like quality put it in the idol category.
I was not an idolator. That fact I was certain of. Idolators, as already established, were foolish people who looked for inanimate objects, like calves, to save them.
Or, do I?
Why did I want perfect calves? A hot body, in general?
So I would be saved. Hmm. . .that sounds a bit like idolatry, doesn’t it?
Now, obviously it wasn’t that simple in my mind. In fact, had I thought about it in those terms at all, I may have found rescue earlier. Instead, my paradigm looked like this math formula:
Beauty + More Beauty = Happiness
Happiness = Love
Therefore: Beauty = Love. More Beauty = More Love.
And, I wanted more love. (Who doesn’t really?)
Beauty would rescue me from feelings of insecurity. Beauty would assure me a happy life. Beauty would promise me that I would always have love.
(And, by beauty I really meant being thin. That’s what beauty was all about.)
What happened when I finally got the heart-shaped calves Tony Little told me about?
Pretty much nothing. (Though I do think my college roommate April once told me I had good calves. Thanks for that!)
What happened when I finally weighed the amount that would qualify me as “thin”? Did my math equation kick in and change my life forever?
Though, decades later, these “successes” and “failures” taught me a lesson about idolatry.
You see, I prayed the Lord would give me the body I longed for. I also prayed that he’d help me stop obsessing over it. I knew that my cycle of dieting and stressing over my appearance wasn’t healthy. But, I had no idea how to stop. I thought I just had normal girl problems.
Little did I realize I was a calf worshipper.
In Jonah 2:8, God’s word tells us that, “Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.” When I discovered this verse I thought, “How ironic!” What I really hoped my good calves (better body) would give me is more love. The kind that would last. The never-ending kind that we all long for.
Instead, by clinging to an idol, I was “forsaking my hope” for that kind of love. How could this be?
Ending Body Image Idolatry
Many women who have discovered this blog have been surprised to find out that body image idolatry was at the root of their body image issues as well. Contributor Mindy eloquently writes about her experience here. But, many other women have written me notes to express how surprised they were that idolatry was part of their challenges.
So, how do we up root this idolatry? How do we fight against all the voices in our culture that tell us that happiness (and love) come from looking like a cover model? How do we release ourselves from the pressure of having perfect teeth, hair, skin, abs, and . . .of course, calves?
We bow before our Lord and say, “I’m sorry.” We acknowledge the ways we’ve replaced his truth– that our value is through Him alone–with the lie of idolatry. We ask Him to forgive us for the ways we’ve sought out a false salvation through trying to look like culture’s standard of beauty.
Idolatry lies. Beauty lies. Worshipping calves never gets us the love we desire. This year, seek freedom, friends. Seek true freedom.
Listen to the Compared to Who? Podcast to hear Heather Creekmore talk about this issue and more.
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God uses you and your podcasts EVERY time!! Thank you for sharing what God has given you to teach with others on so many platforms.
I am so thankful I joined a group coaching session this spring! It has helped me to go deeper with God.
Aww. Thanks, Jean! It’s been a joy to walk with you on this journey!!
This caught me off guard. Yes it is so easy to judge the Israelites for their golden calf worship, but then when I see how I have made body image into a ‘golden calf” wow. Confess, yes. I can feel the change the Spirit is bringing, something I know that the golden calf could NEVER give. Thank you LORD Jesus
This is so true! I definitely fell in this category but thankfully have been freed from the body image idolatry. Someone commented about grey hair and it’s so true we shame women for it. I’m 36 and started getting greys I decided I’m not going to dye my hair and wear it boldly. I’m not going to conform to our society but prove that you can be in shape, dress trendy, and be filled with God’s love. It’s great to want to do those things but not be a slave to it.
That’s such an awesome testimony Kristal!! I thank you for sharing it!! I love your perspective and your boldness! Thank you for chiming in!
I’m tired of dying my hair. At 62 I think it’s time to let it go. There is lots of hair idolatry. The Lord reminds me following the crowd has never worked for me. Thanks for your words of wisdom. Donna
That’s awesome Donna! My Mother-in-law made the same decision at 69. When did gray hair become a thing of shame instead of a crown of wisdom? Thanks for chiming in!
Thank you for this! I needed this today. I have very thin calves and have struggled with it for years, and it really is nonsense to think that I obsessed over my thin calves..my goodness..out of all of the things in life that God has blessed me with, my calves being one of them, I feel so silly and know that this has to stop..thank you for the reminder 😉 God bless you!
Oh, Kim! You are certainly not alone in your obsession. Prayers for your journey towards freedom! Thanks for chiming in. 🙂