I preached a sermon several weeks ago about body image and how God sees us. Since then, the sermon has been quoted back to me by many people. At their request, I'm writing about it so it can be shared with a larger audience.
Psalm 139 uses poetic imagery to show how we were knit together in the womb. The psalmist declares to God, "I praise you because I am remarkably and wonderfully made; your works are magnificent, I know that full well." (vs 14) I think it is God's hope and expectation that each of us praise God because we know that God's works are magnificent and that we are wonderfully made.
There is a problem, an entire multi-media industry is at war with the psalmist's declaration. As a father of two girls and the chaplain of a school, I can tell you from experience that magazines, television, and movies are trying to convince our girls that there is one beautiful body type. And, if you don't have that body type, you are not beautiful. Also, if you are not actively working towards becoming that type, you are lazy and prone to an early death that you most certainly deserve.
It's not just girls that are caught up in this. Boys are inundated with negative self-images as well. I was shocked at the action hero plastic toy Elijah held in his hand at the store. It was Superman and reminded me of the action figure I had when I was six. Forty years later, however, it is clear that Superman has been to the gym and has been taking substances that would get him banned from professional sports. His biceps and pectoral muscles are extraordinarily gigantic and so are his legs. His waist has shrunk and his unnatural stomach is what they call "cut." What does this image say to our boys about being super?
The Chinese used to wrap the feet of girls to keep them smaller. I'd like to think that we've moved beyond that but in reality, we probably have not. Instead, we wrap our minds to feel guilty about how we look in the mirror. Many cage themselves in with unrealistic expectations and unhealthy dietary habits. But, that is not what God has in mind for us. Jesus wants us to be free. We are beautifully made. Each body is different and magnificent because God made us that way.
There are more than 2,700 different types of earthworms. Earthworms! If God loves diversity that much in worms, would he have in mind only one body type that is beautiful? Some people can eat what they want and never gain weight, others not so much. Yet, God never ever considers one better, or more beautiful, than the other. We are all precious in the sight of the Lord.
I am reminded of a breast cancer survivor who, at the advice of her doctor, forced herself to stand unclothed in front of a mirror every day and tell herself that she is beautifully and wonderfully made. This action freed her up for unhealthy expectations of the perfect body. She was able to go back to work and to have a social life again.
You are God's work. God makes things beautiful and wonderful. You are made in God's image which is unique and diverse just to you. You are wonderfully made.