I made a mistake this week: I stepped on the scale. After being stuck at home for the past six months, I’ve started to notice changes in my body. Along with these changes comes the negative body image and harmful self-talk that is very familiar to many people. I’ve been hearing more and more about it online. We’re struggling with our bodies, even as we’re doing our best to keep them safe. We care what we look like, when while no one is seeing us.
(Content warning: if you suffer from an eating disorder or similar challenge, this post may not be for you.)
Why Is Everyone Talking About Bodies All the Sudden?
We’re six months into this pandemic. (A little more? A little less?) Suddenly, everywhere I turn it seems that people are talking about their bodies. How much weight they have gained, how their exercise routine has gone out the window. How all they do is eat. If I had to guess, this has a lot to do with where we are in this crisis. A second wave is upon us. Something we all thought was temporary is looking more and more like a long term predicament. The light at the end of the tunnel keeps receding.
Meanwhile, we’re waking up to the fact that our temporary means of coping were not in fact so temporary. My husband and I starting out this pandemic eating very healthily and going on daily runs in Central Park. Then we got sad, for obvious reasons, and starting allowing ourselves more comfort food. Our activity become more and more restrictive. But all this was fine, because it was temporary. Until it wasn’t. Now we have yet another reason to be anxious.
Body Image: The Only Thing We Can Control
We don’t know when this pandemic is going to be over. Many of us don’t know when our jobs will resume, what our financial situation is going to be like, and when our children will return to school. We don’t know if our elderly relatives are going to be okay. Much of this stuff is beyond our control. Our bodies, however, are something we can do something about. Or, at least, they’re something we think we can do something about. We can obsess, try to make them perfect, while the rest of our lives are so very imperfect. I think this is at the root of much of our physical obsessions. But thinking of our body this way – as something to be controlled – has serious repercussions. This manner of thinking leads to shame, guilt, and not loving ourselves the way God loves us.
Seeing the Image of God
There’s only so much we can do right now. My husband and I have decided to start eating like we used to. No more takeout or late night snacks. We’re also getting back into exercise. But it’s getting too cold to go running, and we live in an apartment building without a gym. So that means working out at home – but only in ways that won’t bother our downstairs neighbors. There are limits to what can be achieved. But that’s okay. The most important thing is keeping ourselves healthy, which means not taking unnecessary risks. Some things will fall by the wayside. They just will.
We must try to see our bodies as part of God’s divine image. There is no moral element to physical fitness. There is no reason to feel guilty about my love handles or my belly fat. God doesn’t care. He sees only my soul. It’s hard to keep that in mind when I’m looking in the mirror, but it’s true. We are made in the image of God, and we remain that way, no matter what we look like.