Body Image: Finding True Beauty
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Body image can be defined as “a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance,” or someone’s own impression of how his or her body looks.1 Psychology Today says, “Body image is the mental representation we create of what we think we look like; it may or may not bear a close relation to how others actually see us. That is, it is subject to all kinds of distortion from internal elements like our emotions, moods, early experiences, attitudes of our parents, and much more. Nevertheless, it strongly influences behavior.”2
In a stirring talk recorded in the book of Isaiah, God speaks of the perfect knowledge He has of all His creation, and how He does all things well. He proclaims, “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.”3
We humans have legs to walk with, feet to take us places, hands that help us create a livelihood for ourselves, and a mind and a soul that helps us make life’s many choices. We’ve been given all we need by an all-knowing God.
I think I would be happier with myself if I change how I see myself by simply being grateful for the gift of my body in which I get to experience life. To do this, I need to change my focus from the creation—my body—to the Creator—God. It’s a change in perspective: Do I place more value in how I or others think of my body, or in what God thinks of His creation?
In the Bible, the prophet Samuel is commissioned by God to find the next king of Israel, after the disappointment that King Saul turns out to be. God tells Samuel to take a look at Jesse’s sons, and Samuel is first introduced to Eliab. Now here’s a fine-looking man! One glance is all it takes for Samuel to feel that this could be Israel’s next king. But then God says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”4
Judging from this account, even in Bible times people were rather caught up in appearances, and this story serves the express purpose for all time of reminding us humans that God looks at things quite differently.
In a society obsessed with body image, there can be an inordinate priority placed on outward appearance over what is going on inside of our hearts. It can be too easy to care more about how we or others look, and in comparison, care less whether we are people of integrity and character.
Here are three questions I’ve come up with to keep my perspective in check, and to prevent myself from wandering into a negative body image phase.
First, whose idea of beauty am I measuring myself by? If God made me, and all creation glorifies God,5 then I am beautiful to Him.
Second, how do I want to be remembered by others? Generally, this has less to do with wanting people to remember me as a physically attractive person and more to do with qualities such as kindness, respect, empathy, and consideration. It’s nice remembering that lasting friendships are rarely based on one’s looks and have more to do with a person’s character and who he or she is.
Third, what does God see when He looks at my heart?
Of course, it’s important to take care of the body God has given us, and it is possible that a person’s negative body image issues have to do with neglecting to care for oneself. There are also certain physical things that one can do and thought patterns that one can adopt and/or shun that help one to be positive about his or her body shape. But fostering a healthy body image primarily has to do with accepting that one’s body is the creation of the Creator and then doing one’s best to be a steward of this body that we are given to inhabit during our human experience.—T.M.6
Made in the image of God
Why are we always our own worst critic? We’ve all had moments of self-doubt, our insecurities rearing their ugly heads, aiming for us with gut-wrenching accuracy as they pierce our carefully placed armor in just the right spot to make us crumble. We all struggle with nagging feelings of insignificance, inferiority, and self-perceived weaknesses.
But what does God think about our self-critiques? Would He agree with all you have to say about your intellectual or spiritual flaws, and your less-than-perfect body?
You can be sure that He absolutely would not.
God would tell you that there is nothing wrong with your intellect, or with your body. You see inabilities and big thighs—God sees His own perfect creation. God made you to be exactly as you are, and He does not make mistakes.
Regarding the verse7: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” The psalmist could not understand how the God who made the stars could have any interest in a mere human being.
This is healthy humility. Then the psalmist caught a glimpse of God’s perspective: We were made just a little lower than the angels. When we recognize that God bestows on us this kind of honor and glory, we begin to understand our value. The healthiest self-image is produced from the merging of humility and God-given honor. …
God made us in His image or likeness. This is the first sign of the value He places on us. No other creature on earth is made in the image of God.
God doesn’t want you to wrap your identity up in false notions of inferiority. Your negative thoughts about your body or your abilities can be thought of as offensive to God’s design. You are created in the image of God, and He made you the way you are for good reason. Embrace it and start thinking about what the reasoning behind His design could be.
Did He give you a particular quirk that you could use to connect with others and bring them to Jesus? Are you able to offer support and advice to others like you, that could shine the light of Jesus’ love on their lives?
There are so many possibilities when you start to recognize and accept God’s infinite love for you and the precise way He made you.—Unfolding Faith Blog8
For a long time, I struggled to understand the biblical meaning of beauty. I looked to society to affirm my worth, but this failed. I then looked to God to affirm me in my physical appearance, and this also failed because it turns out that physical beauty and outward appearance are the least of God’s worries.
A common theme in scripture is that the heart is more important than outward appearance. In Genesis, when God made us in His likeness, it had nothing to do with our physical appearance because … we don’t necessarily resemble Him physically. Instead, our souls and hearts are continuously being sanctified in this life so that one day we will fully resemble Jesus—pure and without sin.
Psalm 139 tells us that the Lord formed our inward parts, knitted us together in our mothers’ womb, and saw our unformed substance. There in the secret, He loved us, called us His, and wrote our life’s story before we were even born and fully developed into our physical bodies. Did this have anything to do with our physical appearance? No!
In fact, that same verse says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Many like to apply this to physical beauty, but it turns out that when considered in the Hebrew context fearfully means “with heart-felt interest and reverence,” and wonderfully means “to be set apart.” Therefore, what this verse really means is that God made us with deep interest and to be set apart. …
When He made our physical bodies, His work was detailed and well thought-out. Science, anatomy, and physiology point to this. When He was done, He called it good. …
Jesus was God in human flesh, and the work of salvation could not have been completed any other way. In order for us to function with eternal purpose, a very practical step is to care and be good stewards of the bodies we have been given. Therefore, the major takeaway here is that biblical beauty is a matter of the heart.—Hanha Hobson9
Published on Anchor November 2021. Read by John Laurence.
3 Isaiah 45:12 NIV.
4 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV.
5 Psalm 145:10.
6 Adapted from a Just1Thing podcast, a Christian character-building resource for young people..
7 Psalm 8:4–5.
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