Saturday, July 26, 2014

Preaching on Body Image?

It amuses, concerns, and occasionally annoys me that Facebook has become such a platform for people to "like" various articles without stating any reasons or opinions for their button-clicks. However, every once in a while someone will unknowingly lead me to an interesting article. 

Enter this piece on the pastor's role in teaching about body image. 

I read through a few of the comments (something I try to do discerningly, because I tend to get riled up) and decided it was better to air my thoughts here, in a more intentional setting, than to add a book to a Facebook comment thread. 

The article posits that body image is a significant enough issue for our culture that our pastors ought to spend some time discussing the issue from the pulpit. It cites "alarming" statistics about the over-10 million cosmetic surgeries performed in 2013 and the increase of dissatisfaction of men with their bodies as well. 

The Facebook comments tended toward (and granted, I didn't read them all) two things: claims that the Lord looks on the inward being and so our outward images are unimportant, and that there are much "bigger fish to fry" and that we should preach the gospel and let the body image issues take care of themselves. 

The article was brief, and I felt didn't fully justify the reasons this needs to be a conversation in the church. I am inclined to lean slightly towards the "preach the gospel and let the body image issues resolve themselves" simply because I'm not certain that the pulpit is the best medium for discussing body image. However, I do strongly believe that we need to be teaching explicitly what it means to truly treat our bodies as temples--and this has nothing to do with piercings, tattoos, or what have you, but more to do with giving ourselves and our physical bodies the respect and care that we ought to give to any of God's creations. This is something a pastor can do from the pulpit, or simply a friend over a cup of coffee. 

Whether by pastor or by friend, I think this is a conversation that needs to happen in the Church. We spout Scriptures about how our inward selves are more important and how we should not mark our bodies, without ever discussing the ridiculous expectations we hold for ourselves (what we weigh, how much/if any makeup we wear, what clothes we choose, and on and on). We are created--intentionally, lovingly, and wonderfully created--and that has massive implications for how we see and treat our physical bodies. 

The Church is to be a place of love and drawing inward--a place where the marginalized and unworthy find forgiveness, transformation, and acceptance. Learning to give our physical bodies honor and love is stewarding God's creation. The Church can be a part of this, without ever sacrificing the gospel or placing the emphasis on outward appearances. 

In the interest of honesty, I worry more about what I wear to church on a weekly basis than almost any other outfit. I wonder what the slimmer, prettier women in our congregation will be wearing, and I worry about whether I will measure up with my last-summer styles. I apply my makeup carefully, not wanting to look like I'm trying too hard, but also wanting to look neat and polished. After all, my husband is a deacon and I teach Sunday School--don't we want to give a good impression? 

Almost every week after these thoughts run through my head, I remind myself that people aren't paying as much attention to me as I think, and I try to tell myself that this time is for worship--it is for the Lord, and not for me to play dress-up or the comparison game (and oh how I love that comparison game). It is a weekly struggle to focus my thoughts on that gospel that my wonderful pastor is preaching, instead of that scuff mark on my shoe or how my skirt is lying across my legs. 

(Also? I call B.S. on anyone who tries to claim that physical appearances don't matter at all. I was told recently that I would make a great teacher because I have a big smile and I "sparkle" when I talk about school. I'm ok with that because it's my inward enthusiasm for education spilling outward, but don't tell me that wasn't a judgement on my teaching skills based on my physical appearance. What you look like matters--but hopefully we can overlook physical appearance in a true effort to get to know people's honest selves.) 

So yes, I think that my pastor should focus on the gospel, and we should find our identity in Christ, and learn to value ourselves for who we are and not what we wear or weigh. But we also need to realize that this body image, this sense of self, is part of who we are as believers and needs to be a part of our discussion. 

What do you think? Please share your thoughts, experiences, and perspective--this needs to be a discussion, not a monologue!