The ‘B’ Word | Thoughts on Body Image

We have all, at one point or another in our lifetime, looked in the mirror and gone, ‘ugh’. For some, it might be once in a blue moon, like waking up after a bad night to eye bags the size of France. For others though, that ‘ugh’ is a frustrated sigh. I have tried everything in the book, and I still just don’t look right. If only this was smaller, or that was bigger. If only I looked like this, then everything would be okay.

Unfortunately, this internal monologue has become the norm for so many people. We’ve been swept up by a hurricane of messages telling us to look a certain way and as a result, we have become accustomed to placing a debilitating amount of our worth on the way we look. We scrutinise, pinch, tweeze, squeeze – all in the hope of fitting a mould that we have been told exists.

Thing is, that mould is constantly changing, so we’re never going to fit it. Imagine trying to pour hot, liquid jelly into a shape-shifting mould that just won’t stay still. Well, it would be a jelly-massacre and that would be a major shame, for everyone involved.

But even when we know that it is nigh-on impossible to fit the mould, why are still plagued with anxiety and frustration at the way that we look? As a Christian, this can be a tricky topic to navigate. We read in scripture that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and that we are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). Whilst this is wonderful to read, it can be more of a challenge to believe. Why is it that when I look in the mirror, I see a reflection that is messy, imperfect, not this enough, not that enough, too this, too that – a reflection that is far from a ‘masterpiece’?

In all honesty, I think we have lost sight of what being a ‘masterpiece’ means. I know I often do. I think living in the culture that we do where so much emphasis is placed on aesthetics, we have created a habit of seeing things at surface level. We easily forget that our bodies are just the casing, the packaging, for the masterpiece that lies inside. 

See, the verse in Ephesians 2 says ‘we are God’s masterpiece’ (in other translations it is described as God’s ‘handiwork’ or ‘workmanship’ – the product of an incredible amount of skill and design) and then it goes on to say, ‘He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago’. We are created for something greater. We are created anew, when we accept the gift of grace from God, to be like Jesus. To be kind. To be bold. To be gentle. To be courageous. As far as I’m aware, the size of our thighs or the bushiness of our eyebrows doesn’t really have a part to play in that.

There’s a freedom that comes from remembering that our bodies are just a shell. Allowing ourselves to walk in that freedom is the challenge. But by doing so, we are able break the mould. 

We might think that the opposite of negative body image or even body shaming, is body positivity. But this still places the emphasis on what we look like. Celebrating and loving the skin we’re in is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but it is not achievable for some people, and so shame sets in once again. But breaking the mould doesn’t need to mean suddenly looking in the mirror and mistaking the reflection for a piece of Botticelli. Breaking the mould can mean daring not to let what we look like define who we are. Our bodies will change, and so will societies expectations. So, instead, we can respect and take care of our bodies, all in the knowledge that they are simply what carry our person through life. 

We are more than a piece of art that sits on a wall and gathers dust. We are a masterpiece, God’s handiwork, His workmanship. We are created for more, let’s not fall for the lie that we must settle for less.