Does Body Image Have Any Connection to our Souls?

 

Does body image have any connection to our souls? // jessconnell.com

One thing I’m super thankful for is that my mom and dad gave me a healthy perspective on food and body image. The more I look around, the more this seems to be increasingly rare in our modern world.

  • My mom’s weight fluctuated over my growing up years, and I remember her working to be healthy and active (Jazzercise classes and walks with friends were on-and-off parts of her life). I knew she wasn’t always 100% thrilled with the number on the scale and yet she still smiled and had fun and didn’t lose her sparkle or joy. She worked at being healthy and didn’t beat herself up over imperfection.
  • My dad always pursued her, hugged her, and showed physical affection for her. His affection for her did not (to me, as a child) seem to decline or increase in relation to the number on the scale or the number of bites in the mouth.
  • I don’t remember ever feeling like “I shouldn’t be eating this.” I don’t ever remember thinking about calories. Aside from a health-class/digestive-system understanding of food, this wasn’t something I thought about. As kids, we ate. And we were active.

In contrast, a good friend of mine was raised in an environment where every bite was suspect.

  • Was it healthy enough? Did it have too much sugar?
  • Didn’t she just grow out of those pants?
  • She would be asked, regularly, and in front of others: “Do you really think you need to eat that?”
  • Questions from her parents like, “Why did you get such a large piece of pie? Why did you add the whipped cream? Wouldn’t pie alone have been enough?” became part of the guilt-riddled soundtrack of her mind.

You probably can already guess which of us fought an eating disorder and felt like she never measured up. I suspect she and I were consistently within 5-10 pounds of one another, and yet I consistently felt fine about my body, and she (despite being a gorgeous blonde with an electrifyingly beautiful smile and a hilarious personality that surpassed her physical beauty) felt hideous and disgusting.

More than the actual facts about our bodies (which were more or less similar), our mothers’ attitudes and words shaped our perspectives.

As a mom, I’m convinced that one of the best ways we can bless our children with right views of their bodies is for us to have right views of our bodies.

selfie-489119_1920

TRAINING THE BODY = LIMITED BENEFIT

When we lived in Turkey, we had the privilege of visiting Ephesus, perhaps the best-preserved Roman city of its time. The gymnasium, colosseum, and baths, centers for physical training, competition, and care, were massive forms on the Ephesian landscape.

EB column writing Ephesus

Like our modern age, the Ephesian culture had a commitment to the training and beautification of the physical human form. Much like our modern age, the culture around this growing church had a delight in health and beauty.

Paul wrote to Timothy, at work as a leader in the church at Ephesus, so that he might combat errors creeping in to the church.

“Train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

In the church today, especially among younger women, there is an out-of-balance focus on bodily training. It seems like we don’t see these things as “of limited benefit.” Special diets, training regimens, cleanses, organic foods, extreme workouts, fad ingredients, and toning exercises fill the minds of many Christian women — far more than the Word of God. We– as a culture– increasingly fight food addictions and eating disorders.

We have an unhealthy emphasis on the physical form.

Here in 1 Timothy, Paul directly confronts this attitude as an extremely limited perspective. Instead, he offers a direct challenge to this mindset: “train yourself in godliness.” While training our bodies benefits us in the here and now, training ourselves in godliness benefits us “in every way,” not only in this life, but also in “the life to come.”

GODLINESS = BENEFICIAL IN EVERY WAY

Wanting a healthy body is not a wrong thing; the problem is when it eclipses and/or exceeds our desire for a healthy soul.

In evaluating my perspective, I want to regularly consider these questions:

  1. Am I as disciplined in training my soul as I am in training my body?
  2. Am I as disappointed and intentional to fight against my flesh when I sin, as I am to workout/eat better after seeing a disappointing number on the scale?
  3. Am I as intentional about what I put into my mind and heart (books, music, TV, movies, images) as I am about what I put into my body?
  4. Would others around me be more likely to notice my focus on and commitment to physical beauty or soul beauty?
  5. What am I teaching my children about which I care more about– the beauty of my body or the beauty of my soul?

As women, our bodies are as frail as we are– we fade like grass.

  • Despite Botox treatments, wrinkles come.
  • Despite supplements and exercises, bones grow more brittle.
  • Despite a carefully chosen diet and wardrobe, gravity will ultimately have its effect. Our bodies grow more droopy as the decades pass. No one makes it to 90 without the effects of age.

Our hope can not, ultimately, be in bodily training.

Growth in godliness, on the other hand, is something that the decades, and even death, can not take from us. And in fact, with godliness, we can actually be MORE beautiful at 90 than we are at 20.

This can give us great hope!

Rather than hoping in bodily training, put your hope in the Lord. Lean in to Him– let Him bring about long-lasting changes in your heart.

IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE:
  • How do you keep the pursuit of a healthy body from becoming MORE significant to you than the pursuit of a healthy soul? 
  • How are you TEACHING YOUR KIDS about these things?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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2 Responses

  1. Katie says:

    In my own childhood, food was a HUGE thing because, as a fact, my mother was addicted to eating. It was an emotional thing for her, and I grew up with her being extremely overweight/suddenly losing a lot of weight due to diets. It was a clear problem between my parents from early on, with my father often angry and wanting to know why she couldn’t “just stop” overeating.

    I was 9 years old the first time I wondered if I was fat (I wasn’t even slightly fat- a healthy, active, ballet-dancing child). But I convinced myself that I was, and even though it would be ten more years before my eating reflected my inner turmoil, I spent the entirety of my adolescence far too consumed with body image. However, instead of turning to anorexia, I followed in my mother’s footsteps, and by the time I was 20 years old I was 30 lbs overweight and felt hopeless. Six years and four children later I finally allowed God to open my eyes to the bondage I had placed myself in due to my sin of overeating. For days I sought Him on my face, asking to be released from this bondage that I hated having such control over my life. And He set me free. He truly set me free. I no longer worry about what I eat, I actually enjoy food for the first time in years instead of hating it. I’m focused on being satisfied with God, and as I am, I have absolutely no desire to search for satisfaction elsewhere- be it overeating or the opposite, obsessing over my health. My satisfaction and contentment come from Him alone, and as a result, I’m healthier than I’ve been since I was 19. Not just spiritually but physically too. I’ve lost weight, gained tons of energy, gotten rid of some minor health problems- and instead of it being from MY efforts to balance body/spirit, it’s from my QUITTING striving and resting in Him- His yoke is easy and His burden is light. As the number on the scale went down it was simply a testimony of the change He did IN MY HEART. That is what matters. And that’s what will last.

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