Summer is finally here. This week kicks off the season of warm temperatures, relaxation and sunshine. In the months leading up to summer, I’m always filled with whimsical dreams of what this year will hold. Unfortunately, my expectations usually deflate the moment I think about a pool party or the beach — you know, social settings where non-family members will witness me in a bathing suit. The thought is enough to make me hold off on swimming until August (so I can sneak in some more exercise first) or maybe only stick my feet in the water and bypass the bathing suit all together. Why would I choose to expose a body I’m not satisfied with?
This might sound ridiculous to you… or perhaps it’s all too familiar. Maybe you’ve had similar thoughts. If you listen for long enough, you’ll probably notice these sentiments everywhere you go: at work, at home, on TV, in the dressing room at the mall, in conversations with friends and more. That’s why I’m writing about this topic — because I know that my tendency to criticize myself is not an isolated issue, but rather part of an epidemic impacting women and men. We often look at ourselves in the mirror or in pictures and inevitably focus on the things we don’t like. What’s more, we can let our feelings about our appearance negatively impact and/or distract from our daily experiences. I have seen this happen with others and have experienced it myself.
As a culture, though, it seems as if we’re starting to embrace body positivity. In the past year, I’ve read countless articles and social media posts encouraging people to accept their physical imperfections and to be kind to themselves.
While I love the positivity of this movement, it has never felt complete when I’ve tried to apply it within my own life. It just felt like something was missing. One day, while wrestling with self-image yet again, God spoke very clearly to me. He was the missing piece in the situation, and He needed to be my ultimate motivation for health.
You see, I have experienced both “healthy” and “unhealthy” and haven’t found fulfillment in either one. At times, I struggled with binge eating and the way it ravaged my appearance and health. Food was my solution when stress was too high. Yet I’ve also been so addicted to calorie counting and weigh-ins that I passed up meals with friends because they would have exceeded my calorie limit. “Healthy nutrition” was not just a religion, but a prison. Both extremes were miserable. Plus, even when I had the body I wanted I still found things to critique.
Yet God, who watched me agonize over my appearance for more than a decade, spoke the words I needed to hear at the exact moment I was ready to hear them. They’re words that I need to share.
God’s hope for us is not that we would weigh a set amount or look a certain way. Nowhere in the Bible does it instruct us to eat 1,600 calories a day or exercise five days a week. Instead, the Bible says this:
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). 1 Timothy 4:8 also states, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
Through His words, I have come to realize that being “healthy” and “beautiful” means being ready and able to serve and celebrate God in whatever ways our age and physical limitations allow. You don’t have to be fit enough to run a marathon, but you do need to be active enough to get out and serve others as He did. You don’t have to restrict calories to fit a specific daily total, but you do need to maintain nutrition and moderation in order to have energy to do His work.
Since adopting this vision and living accordingly, I can tell you that it’s miraculously freeing. Do I still have imperfections I’d rather hide? Absolutely, but I don’t let them prevent me from living life to the fullest (or from diving into the water before August). We only have one body and one life. Don’t let insecurities distract you from the bigger picture: God created each of us uniquely, we are beautiful in His eyes and we need to live in a way that worships Him.