About 20 minutes into one of my favorite workout videos, the trainer asks, “Are you out of breath? Hurting? Remember, you started this video so you would get a good workout—and those things are part of it. You chose to do this. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s how you grow.”
I think it was my sister who got me started on Popsugar/Fitsugar workouts, which are offered free on Youtube. (Don’t worry, this is not a commercial for Popsugar, nor is it a plug for exercise!)
The vast majority of the workouts feature Anna R, a fitness expert. One of the things I appreciate about Anna is that, though she looks exactly as our culture would expect a fitness expert to look, the other women in the videos with her do not, and she always treats them with the utmost respect. Her goal for them is fitness, not the “perfect” figure, and she doesn’t seem too terribly focused on the fact that she herself pretty much has the perfect figure.
The other day, though, I got a new perspective on Anna R. I pulled up Youtube in the early morning, typed in Popsugar fitness, and all the little squares came up, each a video choice. The human figures in the little squares were about an inch high. Intrigued by the caption on one—which promised a full-body workout in 20 minutes—I clicked on it.
When it popped up in full screen, I was surprised. When it had been limited to a tiny square, I had assumed the thin, athletic figure in the middle was Anna, and the figure to the left, who was still shapely but not quite as svelte—was one of the “other women,” the “normal” women, the ones I identify with when I follow the workouts.
But no. The woman in the middle was the very tall, very thin fitness expert Astrid M, and the woman to the left was Anna. Since Astrid’s thighs are probably the size of my upper arms, Anna didn’t look quite so thin next to her, particularly when their images were shrunk down.
And I suddenly wondered if “perfect figure” Anna plays the comparison game, too.
After all, most of us women do.
I do it, but I grow increasingly frustrated with myself for engaging in this body-comparison game. It’s a waste of my energy; it’s ridiculous; and I see clearly that no good comes from it. More and more I also understand that obsession with or subtle shame for the appearance of my body is connected to a twisted view of sexuality. Deep within I believe my worth is tied to my attractiveness, and this view is linked to the curse.
I was reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope when he made an almost offhand comment about one of his students hoping her resurrected body would have a different nose. I identified immediately (except I happen to like my nose; perhaps my ears, though? My thighs?)
But then I wondered, Why would she have a different nose? What is wrong with the one she has right now? I understand our resurrected bodies won’t bear the effects of sin and the curse (no heart failure, cancer, blindness, missing limbs, aching knees, etc.) but do we really believe that God looks at her nose—or my ears/thighs or your hips—and says, “No, that is not good”?
After all, our justification for calling parts (or the whole) of our bodies “not good” is generally in comparison with others’ parts/wholes. If my thighs are strong and get me places and can climb mountains and walk trails, why do I care that they might jiggle a little in the process? Why would that make them “not good”?
Answer: because they don’t look like Anna R’s or Astrid M’s thighs.
We have a terribly skewed version of “good.” It must mean “perfect,” we think, and we then imagine “perfect” to be uniformity, complete symmetry, fitting within a narrow definition of beauty and perfection.
But with this view, Eden becomes a very sterile garden. Did every piece of fruit have to look exactly the same? Were funky shaped pears forbidden? Did all the tree trunks have to be straight?
Or did it include lumpy fruit and gnarled branches, and were these considered GOOD because they showed in unique ways the beauty and creativity of God?
Did God rejoice in their distinct, individual beauty?
Does God do the same with that woman’s nose—and my ears—and my thighs—and your hips?
I’m reminded of the verse that often ends wedding ceremonies, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9)
I’m not trying to wrongly use that verse to speak to our body image (it’s clearly referring to marriage), but there is a principle here. God put my body together. I must stop denigrating it; stop ripping it apart with my words and attitudes and thoughts. And I certainly must never denigrate someone else’s body.
We should feel free to work out and eat well to allow our bodies to serve us better, to serve God better, to serve others better, but we must love them in the process. God loves our bodies; God made them. He will eventually restore the damage done to them by sin, but they are still his creation.
Who knows—my resurrected thighs may jiggle just as much as my current ones.
And my resurrected mind and spirit will fully agree with God’s assessment: they are good.