I’ve heard and read plenty about why and how to love your own body. And for the most part, I’ve thought to myself, “Okay, I’ll listen, but I don’t struggle with this.” Often I’ve left not feeling particularly inspired by the arguments made for self and body-love.
But it’s not quite that simple — not for me. I’ve had my own moments of hating my body — some parts of it in particular. Because I don’t want to trigger any of you who especially struggle with body image and low self-esteem (etc., etc.), I won’t mention specifics here. Just trust me on this one — I struggle, too.
So this is an exploration of what it might mean to love your own body from a specifically spiritual perspective. Dubious sounding? Yeah, I think so, too.
It will come as no surprise that those of us who identify as Christians struggle just as much with body image issues as anyone else.
As a Christian myself, I don’t want someone to tell me to “just do it.” Just love yourself and your body because…why? Because you’re beautiful just the way you are? How do I know that? Because you were made just the way you are supposed to be? What if I don’t agree? What if my body is malformed in some way? What if I’ve been teased all my life about some aspect of my body? Am I supposed to believe you — one random person — telling me I’m beautiful, when no one else has said that before?
You get the picture. I’m a skeptic, a dissenter.
But I do think there are some compelling reasons to accept and love your body. Here’s why, from a specifically Christian angle.
FIRST: At the center of it all, is a God who is Love itself. Love in it’s fullest, deepest, most complete form. There is so much of the Christian God that is difficult to pin down. But there’s one thing that’s particularly clear, if we assume for a moment that the Bible is indeed a uniquely important way we know anything about this Higher Power. And that is, that “God is love” (I John 4:8). John has a lot to say about love, in fact. For example: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not [yet] made perfect in love” (I John 4:18).
ALSO: Christians believe that God not only created us humans, but also intends only good for us. Anything that is evil, that causes lasting damage to our bodies and souls is NOT of God — plain and simple. End of story. On the flip side, we believe that everything that is good — that is truly good — comes from God because God is goodness itself. We believe that God loves us — every single human individually.
SO THEN: When God brought us into existence, God put us — the essence of who we are — inside human bodies. Most of us have heard at least bits and pieces of the so-called “creation story.” If so, we’ve probably also heard arguments about whether the creation story is meant to be taken literally or not. Maybe we’ve heard the creation story ridiculed. One of the main take-aways from Genesis 1, however, is this simple statement at the end: “God saw all that he had made [including humans], and it was very good” (vs. 31).
ALSO OF NOTE: Christians believe that our bodies will one day be resurrected and will be perfectly complete and whole. (Crazy, I know!) So our bodies aren’t our enemies or something to shed or get rid of. Instead, they are good in and of themselves — even if they are often damaged or malfunction in this imperfect world.
GETTING TO THE POINT: Along with believing that God loves and accepts us right where we are, we also believe God wants to move us toward a more whole version of ourselves that’s in trusting relationship with Him. The hard part comes when we REALLY try to believe that! Like for reals. Because if we do believe that, it means we have to change how we feel about ourselves, too. God tells us to be like Him, and of course, that means viewing others AND ourselves the way God views them and us. And that’s freakin’ hard! A lifetime journey, in fact.
REALLY GETTING TO THE POINT: If we are supposed to view ourselves like God views us, that means that we learn to accept and love ourselves WHERE WE ARE AT…right NOW. And if our bodies are good, created by a God who loves us intimately and “counts the hairs on our heads,” then dang — that means we have to accept and love our bodies, too. Not our bodies after we tone our thighs or [insert the change you want to make to your body here], but our bodies as they are now. Dang is right!
THE BOTTOM LINE: Even if we legitimately need to improve how we treat our bodies (which could include gaining or losing weight, exercising, eating healthy and regular meals, etc.), we should accept our bodies the way they are right now, before we do anything else. True, healthy, and lasting changes we may make around caring for ourselves should flow from this initial acceptance of our bodies — not the other way around. If God’s unconditional love for us is what enables us to become “our best selves,” our unconditional respect and love for our bodies will increase our chances of keeping our bodies healthy.
Clear as mud? I thought so.
In closing, I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on how you are learning to love your own body! And that goes for each of you — whether you feel more or less satisfied with your body, whether you struggle with an eating disorder, or anywhere else you may find yourself.
Wherever you are, here is a starting point: come up with something that’s both true and kind to tell yourself about your body. And say “no” to the mean thought that’s trying to drown out what’s true and kind. That’s it! That’s all you gotta do right now.
Preacher to the Choir