The Battle of Body Image

By Jana White 
Staff Writer for The Daily Grace Co.  

We live in a world that is obsessed with outward appearance. Everything we look at puts forth an expectation for us—for our bodies, our faces, our hair, and our makeup. There is likely some lie that we have bought into that has led us down a road of self-critiquing our own bodies to possibly even a destination of contempt for the way we look. And so, by consequence, in this world that demands for women to look a certain way, there is also an abundance of unhealthy lifestyles fighting to attain this image of perfection. I want to offer a few thoughts on how we find ourselves in this battle and how to reorient our minds back to the gospel. 

First of all, we forget where we come from. In Genesis 1, we learn that “God created man and woman in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God has created us in His image. When we critique ourselves, we critique the God who formed our inward being—every DNA strand, every follicle, etc. We are His image bearers and there is absolutely nothing shameful, displeasing, or ugly about it. He created us in His image to reflect Him. We are to point everyone and all things to Him—to make Him look good. So our lives—whether fashionable or not— doesn’t matter because the purpose of our lives are to point to Him. And friend, you are beautiful because you have the privilege of bearing the very image of God.  

While this is true, most all of us know that is not where the story ends because if it did, then we would all be perfectly content bearing the image of God without any opposition. Therefore, what follows in Genesis 3 may help us make more sense of why this is such a struggle for many of us. In Genesis 3, we find the initiation of sin and our sinful world. And it is there, in the garden, that the struggle with our image begins. When the Fall happens, our image—being made in the image of God—became marred. We let the world inscribe its image on us. And this image no longer reflects the perfect image of God, but now bears the mark of sin and ultimately death. Our desire is misplaced and now focuses on looking like the world and what the world demands for us to look like instead of being transformed into the image of God. And this is a result of our sin.  

But thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! For believers, the story doesn’t end there either. Our beautiful image is restored through redemption in Christ. Our sin wrecked that image, but Christ came to restore it. In Hebrews 2:10 says “it was fitting that he (Jesus), for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” You see, Jesus is the image we should have been. We could not fix this image problem, but the One for whom and by whom all things exist, who “shared in (our) flesh and blood,” certainly is able. He was made “like his brother in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17) This is the gospel. The gospel enables us to take our eyes off ourselves, surrender all worldly expectations, and cling to the identity, the image that we now have in Christ. 

The truth of the gospel means that we do not have to play this game with the world. We are no longer “subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15) whereas we are so wrapped up in our outward image that we neglect being transformed into the image of Christ. When we give our time and energy to acquire approval from the world based solely on our outward appearance, we have lost our purpose and our focus. Don’t lose sight of what you are created for if you are in Christ. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We are to set our minds on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Col. 3:2-3). If we are focused intently on our looks and obsessed with trying to live up to the world’s standards, we cannot equally be focused on God. You cannot serve both the world and the almighty God.  

I know the struggle is all too real. In a world of brokenness, our image is something some of us believe we can control. It’s something that we can channel our attention to so as to not feel the pain and brokenness in other areas of our lives. But sister, we’ve got to fight! We cannot waste our lives away as we work toward physical perfection. If we work toward physical perfection, we’ll take from Solomon when he says that will be the equivalent of “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes). There will always be something you are not satisfied with. There will always be another accepted “perfect” way to look, fashionable clothes to wear, stylish make-up, and the latest haircut. You will always be chasing after one standard after another only to remain unsatisfied and displeased. Instead our “fight” should be focused on our sanctification.  

So, let us be reminded of the gospel in our fight with our body image. May God help us not be slaves to our worldly pursuit of perfection, but let us rest in the perfect image that Christ has restored to us by His own blood. May we rest in Christ who has secured us eternally to the Father where there will no longer be any battles of this world. And let our hope and strength to battle against our struggle with image even now be grounded in Christ’s victory. 

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