Bodies. The flesh, the muscles, the bodies that both fuel us and pain us. The bodies that drive us to conquer amazing feats, yet need days tucked up in bed to recover from flu and illness. Can we ever be free?
I was thinking about this recently and concluded that, while we’re on this earth, we are trapped in these bodies. Perhaps not a particularly remarkable conclusion you might say, but notable that I would perhaps be asking the question in the first place.
I was asking these questions because, so often I have felt the burden of my body being judged. I’m not blaming anyone else, I know the judgement is largely self-directed most of the time, and happens inside my own head. To an extent, it reflects the culture we are absorbed in, in which our knowledge of people is informed overwhelmingly through visuals in social media.
But how far can we really judge someone by their body?
A friend of mine recently gave a talk about body image. Something she said really related to me, related to the struggle that we can often feel when we identify with our bodies. When we ‘feel fat’ we feel sensations of sadness, and when we feel fit and toned, we feel happy. Generally speaking. But thoughts like this end up directing your emotions along a mad rollercoaster at every ‘fat’ and ‘toned’ day. So where do these thoughts come from, and should we be entertaining them?
I think I could probably sit here, as we all could, and point fingers all day… at the media, at people in our past, at ourselves perhaps. One of the biggest contributors perhaps in this age is social media. So often we see the skinny toned figure, the countless likes and followers, and we make the connection. Body = social acceptance/ favour/ love (perhaps even happiness). And before you know it, we’re on the way to seeing bodies as means of gaging how much one is loved, or deserving of love and happiness.
This is so so wrong! Anyone who has tried to live their life keeping a certain figure for the purposes of gaining approval and love will know the disappointment and even the anxiety that this kind of thinking can cause. The constant comparison always leads to disappointment and at it’s worse self-hate, and the constant fear of coming up short can lead to stints of anxiety and panic. And surely this isn’t the type of life that we want to live… right?
So how can we bring change here?
I think it all starts with you – with me – with each one of us.
Because the way we think about ourselves will often shape the way we think about others.
Two major principles that Jesus lived by were grace and love. He met for dinner with the hated tax-collectors, he showed favour and love to prostitutes, he healed the outcast and the diseased. He saw beyond the outward appearance, and into people’s hearts. He saw beyond what the religious leaders of the time saw (the way people dressed, the rituals they followed, their reputation, upbringing, health, or promiscuity) and saw into the core of who people were, loving them through God’s eyes, and seeing past their faults and failures.
What would it look like if we treated ourselves, and our bodies, with this kind of radical love and grace?
If we understood that the core of who we are is far beyond appearances. If we understood that a loving, godly heart is of far more value than can ever be gaged through a number of likes. And that a toned, slim body is a temporary state, that many might pass into and out of, and that ultimately will fall beyond the reach of us all with time.
It’s so easy to let our bodies take over our thinking when the messages are all around us, telling us that they are to define who we are, now for guys as much as girls I’m sure. But how amazing is it that we can seek peace and rest from these worries and concerns through taking a further look at what Jesus taught. A man, a leader, a son of God, who showed the value of the human heart, over the temporary and fading value or appearances, rituals, and reputation.
God’s grace and love extends to each one of us.
And I find, that when you accept, and meditate on God’s love for you, it frees you to love others and see the beauty in everyone else too.
So I would encourage you (as much as I am encouraging myself!) to be strong, KNOW that God’s love and grace covers you in spite of what is visible on the surface, and allow this knowledge to empower you to change the lens through which you see and understand bodies… for yourself, and for others.
Romans 12:2 ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’.
A special thank you to Hannah Fox for being a radiant beautiful beam of love, inspiration and hope in this area (and in many other ways too!)