I’m snuggled up on the couch with my youngest, reading aloud the rhymes of Green Eggs and Ham. He’s crawling over me, jumping over my outstretched legs as if they are a skipping rope. He reaches over and pats my stomach, saying, “I love your squishy, fluffy, chubby tummy!” and continues to climb and play.
The first thing I want to do is correct him, remind him that it’s not kind to tell someone their tummy is chubby. As the words are about to leave my lips, I stop myself.
Why do I assume what he’s saying is unkind? He was being affectionate. It’s my interpretation that is unkind. I had instantly translated the words squishy, fluffy, and chubby into negatives, and I’m pretty certain it’s because I’ve lived so long believing lies about our bodies.
My daughter was in Grade One when she came home one day with tears welling in her eyes. “We’re learning about measurements and they measured everyone and I’m the shortest person in the whole school. AND they announced it in the assembly!” My small little firecracker—the biggest personality squeezed into the tiniest body, as one of her friends described her. Somehow a simple lesson about feet and inches became a way of teaching her that her size is wrapped up with her worth. “I love you just the way you are,” I told her. “I wish I was bigger,” she declared.
I know, sweet girl, I know.
So many of us have wishes about our bodies—we wish we were thinner or that our noses were shaped differently or that our fingers were longer. We wish for thicker hair or flatter abs or a complexion that didn’t remind us of our junior high years.
A Few Lies From Our Culture:
We live in a world that tells us that we are only as valuable as the shape of our bodies. Our culture spends millions pursuing the perfect body—from gym memberships, to hair and make-up, to clothes, to advertising that uses the tricks of airbrushing and digital manipulation, to supplements, to wrinkle creams, to plastic surgery, to diets.
I look at the images that my daughters are given, the images that tell them what beauty looks like, the images that say, loud and clear, if you want to experience love and happiness, you need to look like this, and I want to scream. A recent study in the US found that 50% of 9 year old girls and almost 80% of 10-11 years old girls are on diets because they think they’re fat.
We are killing our daughters and ourselves because we believe this lie that our bodies define our value.
When our bodies get old, when our breasts sag, when wrinkles line our faces, when we are no longer able to be active or attractive, what good are we?
And so we go to war with our bodies, thinking they are our enemies. We look in the mirror and see all of the things that we hate about ourselves, forgetting that God created us, body and all, and called us very good.
Say it with me: My value doesn’t depend on my body. I think we know this on an intellectual level, but what we live and breathe reveals all too often that we believe the opposite.
This isn’t a new struggle. We’ve been wrestling with our bodies and our value for generations.
God does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Samuel 16:7)
A Lie From The Church:
We might think, then, we could look to the Church to help us make sense of who we are as embodied people. But I’m afraid the messages we hear in church aren’t any better. These messages are just as damaging.
We have, in some Christian communities, this idea that our physical beings don’t really matter—that they are simply a vessel to hold our souls, and we’re just waiting to escape them.
Now, of course our bodies have been affected by the fall: we know sickness and pain and death, which were never how we were created to live. But God created us as embodied people not because God couldn’t come up with anything better, but because this is what God intended it would mean to be human.
So, yes, we do at times long for the day when our bodies will no longer carry the scars and the pain of this age. And when that day comes, we will experience God’s full redemption and new creation, which I believe includes the physical.
Here and now, we are invited to delight in our senses—to enjoy the sweetness of a ripe strawberry, the beauty of colour painted across the evening sky, the smell of fresh baked bread, the music of a symphony, the glory of cool ocean waves washing over hot, tired feet.
We are created to touch, to feel, to experience God’s creation and God’s love in and through our bodies.
Another Lie From the Church:
Another message our Christian communities often send is that our bodies are dangerous. Perhaps this is a reaction to our culture that tells us that our bodies are only good in so far as they are sexy. So where our culture presents a hyper-sexualized image of the body, the church often pretends what we aren’t sexual beings at all or that our sexuality is shameful and dangerous. The only time we can really talk about sexuality in church tends to be in high school youth group, and even that is limited. I have a friend who became a Christian as a teenager and said, “It was basically, here’s your Bible, don’t have sex.”
But doesn’t ignoring our sexuality stifle the wholeness that Christ offers? We know we don’t want to buy the message that our culture is selling, but is the answer to ignore or shame our sexuality? I don’t think it is. We are created as sexual beings.
As long as we believe that our bodies are insignificant or bad or shameful, we won’t live as whole people.
Our bodies, rather than being hindrances to our relationship with God, are part of how we can experience God more fully.
Maybe when I stop believing the lies and start living in the truth, my squishy, fluffy, chubby tummy will be one more way I notice God’s goodness in my life.
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