When the Body You Have Isn’t the Body You Want

Christian Life & Theology

I will never have a “thigh gap”.

My body is physically incapable of producing this cultural phenomenon. My hips are too narrow, my quads are too big – and no amount of working out and eating well can change that. If anything, working out makes my already-big quads even bigger, my already-broad shoulders broader, and the whispy, ectomorph body that much more unattainable for my athletic build.

This bothered me for a long time. In college, I was determined to find a workout that achieved the Instagram results other girls were getting. And while I never took my workouts or eating plan to extremes, I was definitely discontent with my appearance.

Since then, I’ve married, had one baby, and am currently in the third trimester with my second. Almost ten years after my thigh-gap epiphany I am far more content with my body – a body “ruined” by having a baby. I’m healthier and more fit than I’ve ever been. But even now, even at my most secure, I have days where the body I have isn’t the body I want. I see the Pinterest thinspiration and the fitness posts on Instagram and think, That’s my new goal.

Goals are great. But not if they destroy our worth in the process.

Here Lies Phylicia: She Had a Hot Body

A few years ago I read a blog post by a girl who made an awesome point: at the end of our lives, will our tombstones have anything to say about the bodies we attained? Will our legacy be nothing more than a physical one? Do we want people to say, “Well, there’s one thing I can say about Phylicia: she sure had a great body!”

In light of eternity, our physical goals seem trivial and small. Now, I do think that physical fitness can be a spiritual discipline in many ways – and that training our bodies also trains our minds to persevere through discomfort. But if we only pursue fitness for a physical, visible goal, we’re not doing so for the right reasons.

Believe it or not, the body of your dreams won’t make you happy. It won’t make more guys like you. It won’t even make you confident – contrary to what we constantly hear on Instagram. Confidence, happiness, security, and contentment are states of the spirit. If we’re only confident and secure because of how we look, we’re not actually confident – because the confidence we have can be taken away when our bodies change or die.

We’d never make our life goal the attainment of a hot body. So why do we act as if that’s our truth?

Your Body is Not Yours

We’ve overheard the phrase “Your body is a temple,” to the point we no longer know what it means. My friend Madison broke this down in detail in her post on my blog, but the basics are as follows:

  • Solomon’s temple was the most glorious building on earth, worthy of housing the very Presence of God.
  • Under the new covenant in Christ Jesus, God’s presence no longer resides in temples built by man (Acts 7:48).
  • After Christ’s ascension the Holy Spirit came to indwell each believer upon conversion (Acts 2:1-31) and continues to do so today.
  • Thus, WE are now temples of the Spirit of the Living God – who lives and walks among and within us (2 Cor. 6:16).

Our bodies are the vehicle by which we glorify God in this world – our eyes, hands, feet, tongues, and minds allow us to execute His Will each day. So when we glorify our bodies to the position Christ alone deserves – focusing more on our six pack or thigh gap or BMI than we do on the purpose our bodies are meant to serve – we’re serving an idol.

Our bodies are not ours. When we accept this, giving of our time, energy, and even physical ability is much easier to do. We’re less put out by changes to our bodies because we know they’re here to serve a purpose – not to bring us attention or glory.

Bodies Change from Inside Out

This said, we also have the responsibility to steward our health and bodies well. This is not a contradiction. When you have a biblical view of your body’s role, you’re more likely to treat it with respect.

Too often, women work out and eat in order to see change in our external bodies. We want results – both physical and emotional – and when those results are slow to happen, these same women give up on healthy habits because those habits weren’t pursued for the right reasons. But bodies change from the inside out. Before we ever change how we eat, implement a workout schedule, or beautify our external self, a heart change has to take place. From the heart, a mental shift must happen. And once both of these have occurred, physical habits are likely to stick.

The inside-out transformation isn’t isolated to our spiritual and mental capacities. Dieticians will tell you that the single best way to reach optimum weight for your body type is to eat well. Eating a balance of whole foods is the single best thing you can do for your body. This is how God designed our bodies to work! When we eat processed, high-sugar foods on the regular, we’re hampering our body’s natural design. Weight gain is just one symptom of a much bigger problem that many people know nothing about.

Like most people, I knew very little about what I was eating for most of my life. When I was pregnant with my first child I began to study these concepts through resources on Trim Healthy Mama and Weston Price. What I discovered surprised me and changed everything about my diet. Over the last two years, Josh and I have moved to a mostly Paleo, gluten free, sugar free meal plan (with some dairy). We’re able to do this on a very modest budget and have been blown away by how this simple change has impacted our family for the best.

But we don’t eat this way in order to achieve a certain “look”. If we did, we’d have given up long ago! There was a lot of trial and error, finding out what worked for our bodies, and accepting our current state before we saw progress. Since finding that balance, both of us have maintained our optimum weight – and my second pregnancy has been even healthier, with half the weight gain of the previous time. When we eat the way God designed and pursue a balanced, active lifestyle, our bodies naturally respond.

(Your diet also affects your fertility. Read more here.)

Antidote to Body Shame? Selflessness.

So we know the end goal isn’t to have a hot body. Our bodies aren’t ours; they are vessels of God’s Holy Spirit. And any physical goals we do have should start on the inside – hearts, minds, and diet – before they work their way to our exterior.

Even so, how we do look at our bodies positively in the meantime? It can take months or years to find a healthy balance for your body. The solution is quite simple – but it’s not easy.

The antidote to body shame is selflessness.

Body shame and insecurity walk hand in hand, and insecurity – little known fact – is simply another version of pride. When we’re consumed with how our bodies look, how they compare to others, and how people perceive us, our minds are completely focused on self. We don’t have the mental space to consider what God is calling us to do with our bodies because we’re consumed with what our bodies can do for us.

Jesus promises us a light burden. This is not because life is easy; it’s because He carries the burden for us. But if you hold onto the burden of body shame, refusing to give yourself over to Him and allow Him to change your view of yourself, you’ll continue to bear the weight of insecurity. That’s not God’s intention for you!

When I am tempted to body shame (and I am), I do three things:

  • Remind myself of my purpose. This body has a sacred calling with a limited time to live that out. Right now, my body is sustaining the life of my second baby within my womb. That’s pretty incredible! But my body has to change for that to happen, so I need to embrace a purpose beyond my physical shell.
  • Fix my eyes on Christ. Christ allowed His physical body to be destroyed in order to make us His. We’re called to walk in His steps. That may mean I don’t get a workout in one day, or that my outfit isn’t as cute as usual because I had to serve my family. Christ is my identity, not my body.
  • Recognize selfish thought patterns. If I’m analyzing pictures of myself, allowing my mood to be dictated by the scale or how a pair of pants fits – I’ve lost my kingdom mindset. I’m being completely self focused. I ask God to shift my mindset to how I can serve the people in my immediate vicinity – whether through this blog or in my home.

It’s not easy. But it’s simple. And Jesus bears the burden – if you let Him. For many of us, these steps will be a daily choice and pattern until they become habits. You have to be consistent! And this doesn’t mean you stop making physical changes in the meantime. But put your priorities in the correct place, pursue the kingdom, and allow Christ to show you that the body you have is the body He can use, even if it’s not the one you want.

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