Mental Health Awareness Week in UK ran from May 13-19 this year, and the focus was on body image. According to research by the Mental Health Foundation, which spearheaded this awareness-raising initiative in 2001, "one in five of the 4,505 adults surveyed (20 percent) felt shame over their body image." It may be argued that the choice of theme only serves to undermine the thrust of the campaign because it suggests the body's primary purpose is as something to be seen. We need a shift in the way we think of our bodies, such that we consider them more in terms of functionality than presentability.
This runs counter to the current cultural pre-occupation with the following body trends:
Instead of striving to maintain health, which directly correlates with our bodies optimal functioning, we tend to focus more on how we look in our clothes or how we look naked. The diet and fitness industries are trillion-dollar, booming industries because they feed on our insecurities primarily about the way we look. Ironically, though in recent decades we have become more body-conscious, this has not translated into improved health and well-being. American actress Jennifer Garner recently garnered the title of, "People magazine's most beautiful woman of 2019." What was refreshing about her interview was the fact that she confessed to never thinking of herself as beautiful, never wearing a bikini, and avoiding the mirror because she has noticed she's a lot happier without this constant self-evaluation. She embraces and exudes the ethos that beauty is more than skin deep.
The media coverage of the MET Gala 2019 illustrated the extent to which fashion has gone crazy and we go crazy for fashion. It was a huge dress-up party which involved a lot of time and effort in organization and preparation, and raised substantial funds for the costume institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This headline-grabbing event showcased an endless array of attire that most ordinary people would neither be able to afford, nor want to wear. The subtle message was that if we can afford these costly outfits, we too will have the body confidence to show them off. This does not promote a healthy logic because what we wear should never be viewed as fundamental to self-esteem and social value.
Sexualised poses and practices
Porn has infiltrated mainstream media to such an extent that it is now accessible on social media sites such as Snapchat and Instagram. Pornography demeans the men and women who take part in it. It depicts them as objects or fetishes for the sexual titillation of others. We need to resist its normalization by reminding ourselves of the truth of God's Word that, "But you can't say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies" (1 Corinthians 6:13, NLT).
Why has there arisen in recent times a cultural fixation on how our bodies look? A clue may be found in the fact that we are living in turbulent times where unpredictable and shocking global events are happening at a relentless pace. A perversion of truth has sprouted within the human mind – "perhaps if I can control the size, shape and features of my body, life will seem less overwhelming and out of control." Do we labour under the misconception that if we lost weight, we would be less anxious? Do we entertain the twisted notion that if we sculpted our body to be as chiseled and finely honed as Michelangelo's David, we would inspire more people to love us and might love ourselves more? Do we lend credence to the myth that if we change our bodily features, our lives would automatically be more fulfilling?
A Paradigm Shift
The best use of the body is to serve ourselves and others. To be able to walk or run, excrete harmful substances through your kidneys and liver, think in your own unique way, are aspects of our bodies' functioning which we tend to take for granted. We forget how intricately and precisely are bodies were created to function. The psalmist provides a much-needed wake-up call – "You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!" (Psalm 139: 13 – 14, NLT).
We are souls with spirits who live in bodies. The Apostle Paul likened our physical bodies to tents – "For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands" (2 Corinthians 5:1, NLT). Although our physical bodies have an expiration date for this earth, God promises a heavenly body to those who are clothed in the spiritual cloak of righteousness, which Christ offers. The most crucial question is not "how do I look?" but "what did God create me to accomplish on this earth while I inhabit my physical body?"
Our bodies were not made to be objectified, sexualized or adorned. As long as we fixate on these false values which lead to misuse of the body, whether through sexual abuse, eating disorders or body-shaming, we will be dissatisfied with our lives and prone to mental health problems. In the final analysis, what's the best thing we can do with our bodies? King Solomon summed it up best in the following injunction – "fear God and keep His commandments..." (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NLT).
– Dr. Carla Cornelius is a Director and Editor-in-chief at Jesus Joy Publishing. Her Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling has equipped her to trace humanity's problems back to faulty thinking and values which fly in the face of the Maker's instructions. She has a passion for exposing the distortions of truth spun by the media and popular culture which leave sick souls in their wake, souls desperately in need of spiritual detoxification. She is the author of five books including Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking, Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains and No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide.