A Positive Body Image Can Be an Idol

Throughout history, humans have worshiped idols instead of the God of the Bible. At times, those idols have been blocks of wood, stone, or metal shaped into a god. In modern times, idols frequently take the shapes of cars, houses, and bank accounts. Concepts and ideas can be idols, too. For example, many people worship their political ideology. Many others worship specific ideals about what constitutes a beautiful body.

For some, much time, energy, and money is sacrificed to the god of physical beauty. Many more allow their emotions and their self-esteem to be determined by their ability or inability to meet the demands made by the god of physical beauty. Like all forms of idolatry, this specific idolatry has created much pain and heartache. Eating disorders, bullying, and the objectification of certain body styles are just a few of the consequences of society worshipping the idol of physical beauty.

To combat the harm wreaked by this idolatry, positive body image campaigns have swelled in recent years. Encouraging people to be accepting of their bodies and not allow others to define what’s beautiful for them, body image activists are making a large impact on society. All body types are being featured in ad campaigns. This summer, Target is using “real “women” in their swimsuit ads. Sadly, though, the cure has the same sin at its root as does the problem. More often than not, positive body image campaigns promote idolatry, too.

With platitudes like “unconditionally love your body” and “all bodies are beautiful,” much of what is taught by positive body image activists traffics in contradictions, denies the reality of sin, and teaches people to place their identity in the way they look.

All bodies are not beautiful — to say so is tantamount to saying that a circle is a square. The word “beautiful” is a value word; by definition, it acknowledges a comparable standard. Claiming that all bodies are beautiful denies the word’s definition. If all bodies are beautiful, then no body is beautiful because there’s no standard. Take me, for example.

I am a middle-aged man who is out of shape and overweight. My body is most decidedly not beautiful. To say otherwise is laughably patronizing or demonstrates a warped aesthetic and the inability to understand how language works. Or, worse, it reveals that the speaker denies that God created the world as good, but that sin has marred His good world.

A standard of beauty exists because God desires beauty. This is seen not only in creation itself, but also in the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-27. We value beauty because God values beauty. Don’t believe me? Take a trip to Yosemite National Park.

Sadly, though, because of sin, the world is now cursed. God’s beautiful world carries the ravages of sin, and that includes humans. My non-beautiful body reveals the effects of that sin.

God’s final and just sentence over sin is death. In this life, everything decays and dies. One day, apart from repentance of sins and faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans will be formally sentenced to eternal death in hell. My non-beautiful body is a reminder of that sentence of death. The claim made by positive body image activists that all bodies are beautiful denies that God has a standard that has been upended by sin. Even more dangerously, it calls people to find their hope and identity in their physical appearance.

The number one problem for all of humanity is the separation from God that sin creates. Even if we were to convince every person in the world that they are beautiful, the real problem still remains. To make matters worse, a false solution has been offered.

From before He spoke the universe into existence, God’s plan of salvation from sin has been the Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Taking on the weakness of human flesh, Jesus came to earth, lived the perfect life that none of us can, died on the cross as the punishment for the sins of His people, and was raised back to life by the Holy Spirit, vindicating His claim of divinity and signaling the final defeat of sin and death that will come on the day of the Second Advent.

Those who are repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus have been adopted into God’s family and have been made co-heirs with Jesus. On that final day, when those who are still rebelling against God will be cast into hell, the children of God will be included in the making of all things new again. On that day, God will restore His creation to perfect goodness.

Christians have no need to place their identity in their physical appearance. I don’t need to think that I’m beautiful to understand that I matter. Being in Christ means that an individual is a child of God, and that reality is all the “self-esteem” that anyone needs.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has freed Christians from the curse of sin and death. Even as the mirror reveals that sin and corruption are causing our bodies to decay and become less beautiful, those who are in Christ can rest in the knowledge that Jesus is coming back to finish reversing the curse.

Our worth isn’t determined by the insults or compliments of others. It is determined by our standing in Christ. Allowing ourselves to be ping-ponged back and forth by society’s worship of physical beauty reflects the desire to find our salvation in something other than faith in Jesus.