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Why Pastors Should Preach About Body Image


Jul 16 2014
Our obsession with appearance has theological ramifications for both women and men.

Have you ever heard a sermon about body image?

Aside from the occasional side comment, I've never heard body image given substantial treatment from the pulpit or serious attention from leaders in the church, which is surprising since body image is not a marginal issue in our culture.

Statistics vary, but research shows that somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies. Although the percentage of women with severe eating disorders is between 0.5 percent and 3.7 percent, roughly 3 out of 4 engage in some form of disordered eating.

And in 2013, women had more than 10.3 million surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures, signifying a 471 percent increase since 1997. The top procedures were breast augmentation, liposuction, tummy tuck, breast lift, and eyelid surgery.

Although body image is a predominately female struggle, it does not affect women alone. Approximately 43 percent of men report body dissatisfaction. Among adolescent boys, nearly 18 percent are highly concerned about their weight and physique. Men also had more than 1 million cosmetic procedures last year, contributing to a grand total of $12 billion spent on such surgical and non-surgical procedures in 2013.

These statistics are alarming for two reasons. The first is health-related. Many women—and even some men—are starving themselves and mutilating their bodies to conform to a particular standard of beauty. The second cause for alarm is spiritual. When Christians are preoccupied with their bodies, it inhibits their worship.

To understand why body image is a matter of worship, consider an analogy from Tim Keller's The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. In it he compares spiritual sickness to a broken limb. When your leg is healthy, you don't give it much thought. You walk, run, and jump on your leg without a care in the world. It is only when you break your leg that you give it much attention. In fact, your entire body must compensate for the wound.

Keller goes on to explain that when some part of yourself is injured or unwell, it consumes your attention. In the case of self-image, a broken view of the body results in a preoccupation with the body. Rather than live a life oriented toward God, many women (and men) are oriented toward their appearances. And until that view of the body is healed, they will forever struggle to focus on anything else.

Countless women prepare for worship on Sunday morning, not by quieting their hearts and minds before the Lord, but by putting on makeup, curling their hair, and squeezing into a pair of Spanx. These women then walk into church, distracted and insecure, comparing themselves to the women around them, and wondering if they measure up. Focusing on God is a battle.

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