I grew up dancing. If you know anything about the dance world, you’ve probably heard that dancers have pretty big issues when it comes to body image. I can attest; standing in front of a mirror in a leotard for three hours a night makes you very conscious of your body — especially its flaws.
Every art form requires the artist to notice flaws and correct them. Painters might correct the perspective of their painting. Sculptors might correct an uneven base.
For dancers, our bodies are the medium with which we create our art. Dancers learn to notice incorrect alignment, droopy arm positions, slightly bent knees and awkward head tilts. But there is a fine line between correcting technical positions and trying to correct our bodies themselves. The fact is, every person’s body is limited by its design. What is physically available or attainable to some is not to others.
In ballet, there is a body type that is considered more visually pleasing and better suited to the movement of that dance form. My legs are too short and my muscles too bulky to fit the ballerina “type.” I can lengthen my knees and point my toes, but I can’t make my legs any longer or leaner than they are. This is where body image issues quickly start to invade. I know many girls and guys who mentally and physically beat themselves up in an effort to fit a mold that they weren’t designed to fit.
Body image issues aren’t exclusive to dancers. Things like social media, advertising and movies have propagated an ideal body type in our culture. If you eat dessert and don’t spend at least four hours in the gym each day, sorry, you probably don’t match that ideal. If genetics haven’t given you a waif-like figure and a perfectly even skin tone, sorry, you’re probably also outside of that ideal. Of course, logically we understand that these arbitrary ideals aren’t realistic, but that understanding doesn’t often compute. Error 404.
In many Christian discussions on body image we’re told, “You are made in the image of God!” then sent away as if this statement alone will heal us from all negative self-image. This statement does have massive healing power. But its power is lost on those whose image of God is also skewed. Undoing years of media’s and culture’s indoctrination of what bodies should look like will require more than just a context-less phrase.
Let’s return to the truth that we are made in the image of God. Out of everything that He created, He chose to make humans in His own image. We are set apart from the rest of creation. In Matthew 6, Jesus points out the care that He gives to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Yet we are of more value than they in God’s eyes. You – in your entirety – are inherently valuable.
This value is confirmed by Jesus’ work on the cross. By assuming flesh and fully participating in the human experience, Jesus redeemed every bit of it. By living a perfect life, He became the perfect and final sacrifice for sin. When we are resurrected at the end of time, we will be resurrected body and soul because both have been redeemed by Christ.
Jesus’ time on earth provided eternal redemption, but also an example of what an embodied life should look like now. The Bible calls us to be imitators of Christ. Jesus is my new “ideal”; His embodied life on earth is the example that I follow. I don’t know what He looked like or what His skincare routine was, but I do know that in all that He did, He glorified God. So that is what I desire to do. As His image-bearer, I aim to reflect His image of love, peace and holiness, carried out in bodily acts.
At this point I figured I’d be past the body image issues. I figured that after going through the tumultuous teen years of comparison and discontentment, I’d have grown into myself. Yet there are many days when I still feel frustrated by the confines of my body. I’m not pretending that the truths that I’ve written about here have magically and fully healed me of all body image issues. But they do remind me of how the Lord sees me. They remind me of how to live in my embodied state.
These days I am part of a dance group where body image is talked about nearly every time we gather to dance. The women in this organization are committed to speaking truth over our bodies, actively fighting against comparison and the lies that threaten to destroy. Truth, accountability and vulnerability are our primary tools. Our goal first and foremost is to glorify God in our bodies.
Do you struggle with body image issues? How are you actively working to follow Jesus’ example of what an embodied life looks like?