I may come across as confident, but let me tell you, I’ve been scared about writing this post all week. Weight is personal. Very very personal. The only time it’s okay to ask a woman’s weight and age is when that information is going straight into a medical file.
Weight affects us every day. All humans weigh something. Earth’s gravity pulls us all and keeps us grounded (quite literally). And since humans are living creatures, our weight changes constantly. Usually the changes are tiny and imperceptible, but our cells stay constantly busy. Over the course of seven to ten years, almost all your body’s cells will be replaced by new cells. Isn’t that amazing? The human body is like New York City – there’s construction going on all the time. Old buildings are being replaced or repaired, new buildings are going up. It’s mind-melting complicated and amazing and humbling and definitely not something that I consider every day, but I should. With all the internal turnover going on, it’s amazing that my lungs and heart and muscles keep working so well that I don’t even think about them. Occasionally, I’m concerned about my how brain functions (or how it doesn’t), but that’s mainly a perception issue.
Weight is a by-product of being alive. That’s a happy thought, isn’t it? Always start tough conversations with gratitude. If the tough conversation takes place in person, start with gratitude and a cup of tea. Or a glass of wine. Since this conversation is happening over the internet, we’ll at least start with the gratitude. That’s one of the major drawbacks of the internet – I can’t offer you a cup of tea while we talk through all this stuff. (Feel free to take a tea or wine break. I’m making myself a cup of tea right now.)
Let’s face it. When we talk about weight, we aren’t usually referring to the specific amount of pull that this planet’s gravity exerts upon us. If I’m talking about my weight, I’m referring to my body, how it looks, how I perceive it, and how I think others perceive it. We all have body issues. Humans have had body issues since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. When their sin shame kicked in, they tried to cover themselves with leaves. One of the very first changes after sin was how Adam and Eve viewed their bodies. It was only one of the symptoms of shame, but it is such major one. Our bodies are the closest thing we have to worry about and we’ve been worried about them ever since. Everything changed at the point of that first sin. For all of history, humans have been trying to get back to the Garden of Eden, back to that pre-sin, pre-shame, pre-curse life. We want perfect lives, perfect bodies, perfect environments.
One of the most common body issues is misplaced shame. We’re ashamed that our bodies are not perfect and that we don’t have perfect control over our bodies. The second issue is more damaging than the first, because we want the godlike power to make ourselves “perfect”. That was the appeal of the forbidden fruit in first place – the serpent sold Eve on the sin by telling her that she would be like God.
Most of the time, we keep our body issues fairly low profile – out of the way, out of sight, but not out of our minds. For example, many women I know want to lose five or more pounds. I include myself in that list. For many of us, chasing a smaller body is a default state of being, like dogs chasing cars. What would happen if we actually got what we are constantly chasing? Would we suddenly be content and stay the same size forever and ever? Of course not. If I suddenly lost five pounds, I would probably automatically want to lose to five more pounds. Then five more and maybe an extra five after that. I’m so used to wanting it, that it has become a habit. Being content at one size seems too self-satisfied, doesn’t it? Distrust anything that makes contentment seem wrong. When I’m talking about weight, I always feel the need to state (to anybody that will listen) that my body isn’t in the exact state I would wish it to be in. That’s embarrassing to even admit. But it’s true. Of course my body isn’t perfect. It never will be. But I still feel the need to apologize for the general state of things, as if at some future date (when I have worked hard enough), my body will finally perfect, living up to all my exacting standards and expectations.
That’s like a new home owner leading a tour around the house in the middle of remodeling and constantly apologizing for the unfinished state. The implication being that the house will be perfect once it’s finished. Until then, the flaws are an embarrassment. The problem about thinking that way is that our bodies will never be perfect and we can so easily fall into misplaced shame and into the trap of control issues. One place I see this all the time is when new moms say (or imply), “Sorry – I haven’t lost the baby weight yet.” There’s no need to apologize for that! You brought a baby into the world! There are many physical and emotional results of having a baby and every one of them is a testament of how you sacrificed your body, your time, your blood, and your energy to bringing a baby into the world. So please, don’t feel shame over those physical changes. Even if your body changes forever, even if you never lose the baby weight you very much want to lose, your kids are more than worth it. I love you, moms. I am especially grateful for my mom – she had five c-section procedures to have us all. Thank you, mom. So to all the moms out there – I know that it is emotional and difficult when your body changes drastically and it is so hard when your pre-baby clothes don’t fit how they used to. Childbirth is a sacrifice that doesn’t end with labor and delivery. It is a very real reminder of something that is easy to forget – life is sacrifice.
Our bodies are poured out on the altar, either in sacrifice to the one true God or to a false god. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”(Romans 12: 1-2) In the words of Eric Liddell, missionary and Olympic runner of Chariots of Fire fame, “It’s complete surrender.”
There’s an easy test for seeing if you have idolatry going on in your life – an idol is anything that you are willing to commit sin for to get or to keep. While this seems like an easy test, it is very easy to misdiagnose. Sin is slippery. Keep an eye out for common sins that can go hand in hand with body issues – envy, discontentment, covetousness, pride, complaining, forming factions…the list goes on. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s thigh measurements. It can be easy to think that the ideal body you want for yourself is a happy, harmless dream or just evidence of your high standards for yourself (it’s a good thing to have high standards, right?). But when you see somebody else who already has that ideal body, the body you wish was yours, does a little envy spill out? Do you tend to form friendships with women at or below your own “attractiveness” level, because you are afraid of being in direct comparison with really beautiful women? In sin moments, I have shied away from friendships with beautiful women, because I didn’t want to be compared with them. Pride is so debilitating. It keeps us from doing so many things. Another classic move is to assume that beautiful people are shallow, unintelligent, or unaware of what life is all about. That’s pure pride speaking right there, because it’s trying to set up a competition with such specific rules that we think we can win. (I may not be beautiful, but at least I’m smart, which is more than I can say for Person X.) These are pretty egregious examples, but there are all the little things as well. When a tiny sigh of comparison escapes as you scroll past an Instagram post of a friend looking outstandingly beautiful. When you assume insincere motives, like when a friend gives you a compliment and you immediately assume they don’t mean it. When you turn to the very attractive idea of “body positivity” for validation, because if we can’t make ourselves perfect, the next best thing is to pretend that we are perfect already. How insecure ARE we? The answer to that question: when we’re sinning, there’s almost no limit to our insecurity levels. And keep in mind that insecurity doesn’t just pounce on the chubby. Envious Insecurity, a.k.a. Pride, is an equal opportunity pouncer.
But knowing a problem isn’t enough – how do we address the problem? What should we DO?
Put your trust in God, not in yourself. Read your Bible and pray and draw near to Him. Insecurity doesn’t go away through self-belief. True security and confidence can only be built on Christ, the true Foundation. Trying to build security on self-confidence is building a house on a sand dune during mudslide season.
Confess sin as it comes up. Call it what sin what it is, not what it calls itself. Sin blinds us to what is really going on. Envy is so fundamental to how the fallen world works that sometimes it doesn’t even look like a sin to us – it seems perfectly reasonable. (See René Girard’s works on mimetic desire and scapegoating for a much better treatise on this subject.)
Thank the Lord for the body that He gave you. Contentment isn’t a static state. If you are actively pursuing losing weight, pray for contentment in the midst of transition and the discipline to keep going. Losing weight in theory is very simple – cut down on daily caloric intake and be active. Losing weight in real life can feel like a second job. But trying to lose weight in a desperate attempt to perfect yourself, or out of envy, or out of of any of the various forms of body idolatry will make the process almost impossible to maintain and even when if works, it is unfulfilling. That’s why starting with a prepared heart is so important. Rely on God for the strength you need. Don’t try to draw it out from deep inside yourself. Work in the knowledge that you can’t make your earthly body perfect. Christians can take comfort that we are a part of Christ’s perfect body now and we also can look forward to the day when we have new incorruptible bodies. Until then, serve the Lord with all you have – mind, body, spirit, strength. It’s total surrender.