I’ve still been thinking about body image. A lot. I just can’t shake how important it is that we declare war on the superficial, appearance-based value system that our world so loves and promotes. I’m burdened with how all-consuming this thing gets if we let it take root in our hearts, and how drastically it impedes our ability to love and to receive love (from God and others). I feel more strongly than ever that, especially as believers who value the fasted lifestyle, we have to be clear on this in order to stay safe. We daren’t spend the fast either hoping we lose a lot of weight, or else worrying that it might slow down our metabolisms and make us fat.
This is not only important for those people with diagnosed eating disorders. This is not just for people who are already “just fine” and shouldn’t worry about their looks (“unlike MY tubby/pale/pimply/wrinkly/otherwise ugly self,” we might think). This is for any one of us who ever looks in the mirror and sighs unhappily about what we see.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about. King David wrote a lot of great songs that God liked so much, they ended up in the Bible. One of them is Psalm 139. In this Psalm, David exults in the nearness of God (vs. 1-12). We usually do okay with that part. God is omnipresent, and He will never leave us or forsake us. Yay.
In verse 13, David speaks of how God formed him in his mother’s womb. We (rightly) use this scripture to oppose abortion. We can totally deal with how it pictures God as the Creator of each of us, individually, knowing who we were even before we were born. That’s kind of cool.
However, the ante is upped verse 14. “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” This is David, talking about himself.
I’ve read commentaries try to pass this off as David marveling at the complexities of the human body, and the intricacies and delicacy of the various systems (i.e. “Our life contains a thousand springs and dies if one be gone; Strange that a harp of a thousand strings can stay in tune so long”). While, sure, I think it’s valid enough for us to look at it that way, I don’t believe for a second that that’s what David was mainly talking about. David was not a doctor. When you think about it, even ancient doctors had only a pretty tenuous grasp of what was happening inside of real living people. They had never heard of a blood cell. They had no idea how the respiratory system worked, apart from the fact that being able to breathe in and out generally kept people from dying. The eyeball — one of the most complex and fascinating pieces of the body — was to them just a nifty orb that either worked, or didn’t work, for reasons they might or might not understand. The incredible human “blueprint” of DNA was way beyond their resources to comprehend. And David, the not-a-doctor, would not have had even as much anatomical knowledge as they did.
Does that mean he couldn’t go, “Whoa, this is cool”, with whatever little knowledge he possessed? No, not necessarily. But I strongly suspect that it would not be at the forefront of his mind. Because when considering his own body, all David really had to go off of was what his senses could detect — the stuff that was happening on the outside.
So when he says, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and “great and marvelous”, he’s mostly talking about what he can see. In more casual language, this might be, “Dang, I look good!”
This would be cute if it was just a snippet from David’s journal, but it’s not. This is in the book of Psalms, which means that it was meant to be sung by the people of God. And ideally, to be sung and meant by the people of God.
Now, hang on, this is getting uncomfortably personal. I mean, it’s all well and good for David to say that. After all, David is David. Doesn’t the Bible somewhere say he was handsome? (It does: 1Sam 16:12.) Doesn’t that mean he can get away with saying stuff like this? But for us “real” people, isn’t saying “my body is marvelous” — and singing it in a hymn, no less — a bit presumptuous? Isn’t that, like, the epitome of pride?
Actually, it isn’t.
We think of pride as the strutting-peacock mentality, the rock star who knows their awesomeness and nicely tolerates the homely plebeians swooning over them. And while that certainly is one manifestation of it, that’s not the only one. Pride can also look at God’s Word and say, “I know myself way better than this Bible verse does. David wasn’t looking at this disastrous pile of flesh and bones when he wrote that.”
The Holy Spirit inspired and validated every one of those Psalms. He’s not cringing over verse 14, going, “Well, what can I say? David got a little carried away on that one.” Nor is He wishing that ordinary people would just skip over that part when they sing it themselves. It is His truth.
All too often, when God says, “Your body is great and marvelous!” our pride answers, “Actually, I’m too fat / too short / too tall / too pale / the wrong race / awkward looking / squinty / pimply / freckled / frizz-haired / too hairy / too bald / and basically ugly. I certainly should not be admired, and in fact, I would prefer not to be looked at. I mean, it’s sweet of You to care, and I know you say I’m awesome, but You have to say that. You’re God. If You really knew the pressures and expectations of this society like I do, You would totally agree with my self-loathing.”
Humility means looking at that verse, and saying to the Lord, “You know what, You’re right and I’m wrong. Help me to see me like You see me, spirit, soul, and body.” Even better, humility looks in the mirror, and goes, “WOW! I really am fearfully and wonderfully made!” and overflows with praise to the loving, wise, and skilled Creator who knit us together in the first place.
That doesn’t mean self delusion, like, “Wow, I could be on a magazine!” You probably couldn’t — but not because you’re not beautiful enough. We all know how horrible and unrealistic the Hollywood beauty ideal is. At least, at some level, we do. At another level, we still loathe ourselves when compared to the airbrushed-beyond-recognition models that grace its magazine covers. But the solution is not to get all huffy about how real women aren’t airbrushed to perfection.
It’s not that we should quit playing the Hollywood beauty game because they cheat at it with stage makeup and Photoshop. We should refuse to play the game in the first place because it’s stupid. It’s unbiblical. It’s sin. Who on earth decided that secular media got to decide the definition of beauty for the whole western world? And what is it about our pride that aspires to that image, rather than gladly and humbly receiving the testimony of our Creator Who declares ecstatically over us, “Great and marvelous!” We don’t brainwash ourselves into thinking we meet and exceed the dictates of creepy cultural body standards. We throw those standards out the window and actually believe what God says about us.
I digress, but I get ranty about this. Anyway, here’s what I’m proposing:
For the next 30 days — or, I guess you might schedule it for later, though I don’t know why you’d want to — do not say anything negative about your physical appearance. This includes your weight, your complexion, your hair (or lack of it), your voice, the size of your feet/nose/thighs/anything else. Ask your closest friends, and if you’re married, your spouse, to call you on it if you start talking trash about yourself in front of them. If you slip, repent before the Lord, and confess the truth of what He says over you (“fearfully and wonderfully made… great and marvelous”).
This also means that if someone compliments you, you can’t:
- Argue with them (e.g. “Are you kidding? In this picture, I look like something the cat dragged in!”)
- Deflect the compliment (e.g., “Naw, you look awesome today!”)
- Downplay it (e.g. “Well, actually, I’m having a really bad hair day and my face is breaking out, but thanks anyway”)
- Dismiss it (e.g. “You HAVE to say I look nice; you’re my husband”)
And I’m talking about saying any of that out loud, typing it on Facebook, or ruefully thinking it to yourself.
If someone compliments you, you smile, swallow your pride, and say, “Thank you.”
During the thirty days, talk to God about how He made you. Meditate on Psalm 139. Ask God for help and breakthrough in your heart. Agree with what He says about you. Thank Him for His wisdom in making you exactly the way you are. Your eye color. Your height. Your natural body shape. Your skin tone. Your features. Your hair texture. He’s totally unsurprised by how your body changes shape, size and color with age and/or life circumstance. He didn’t just grab a random fistful of genes and stick them together, saying, “Well, let’s see what this does.” He thought about you. He delighted in you. He designed, in His wisdom, the body that you would live in as you learn to lean on and love Him. And He didn’t do so in ignorance of the pervasive beauty ideal that would take over your culture by the time you were old enough to care about it. He wants you to learn to trust Him in His making of you. He wants you to learn to love His kindness and wisdom as is manifested in your physical frame. He wants you to be able to to see that complete package, and have real awe awaken in your heart at His goodness towards you, and worship Him for the tender and masterful Creator that He is.
Looking in the mirror should not be a window of darkness and depression. It should be a springboard into worship and experiencing the pleasure of God over your life.
So that’s the challenge. And yes, I unabashedly hope that at the end of thirty days, you will become hooked and make it a goal to agree with truth for life.