Letting Go of Our Obsession with Having the Perfect Body

Please permit  some musings on the obsession that many of us have with achieving the perfect body ourselves.

Let me start by saying (with all the good humor I can summon) that I do not have a perfect body. In fact, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with my appearance over the years as I gain weight, lose hair, and watch the gray eclipse the dark brown of what hair I do have left. Fatigue and sore joints are also increasingly my lot.

Yes, I am well aware that my body is far from perfect and is steadily “heading south.” Like many of you, I do my fair share of exercising, watching what I eat, etc. But I am not a 21-year-old with a 28-inch waist and dark rich hair. Trying to be this is  a losing battle. The fact is, I look just like my father, who looked just like his father. Genetics, body type, and age tend to win, and the energy required to try to overcome these is increasingly disproportionate to the results and to my other duties.

I do want to say that I love being 60. I would never want to be 25 again; I have learned too much in those 35 years. God has done important work in my spiritual life during that time—thank you, Lord! Spiritually, I am now younger, more confident, and stronger, even as my body ages—thank you, Lord. And Lord, please spare me from the obsession with having the perfect body.

Our culture’s obsession with the perfect body has terrible effects upon those who are younger as well. There are many young women today whom I regard as quite beautiful, who nevertheless struggle with low self-image; they are extremely anxious about any perceived imperfection in their hair, complexion, or body shape, no matter how minor. In our hyper-sexualized and visual culture, ordinary women often compare themselves unfavorably to famous women, many of whom look the way they do by spending thousands of dollars and countless hours on personal trainers, makeup specialists, and cosmetic surgery. And with the pervasiveness of photo-editing software, many women today are actually competing with the images of women who don’t even exist; they are “Photoshopped” (see video below).

Men are not immune to this either. Most men care more about their appearance than they will admit. I remember being obsessed for years with the gap between my two front teeth. It made it awkward for me to smile and I was very self-conscious about it. And yet when I asked people about it or admitted my embarrassment, most told me that they hadn’t even noticed it. Weight gain is now my primary irritant. My slash-and-burn diets merit only a little weight loss, which which fights to quickly return plus five more pounds. A few extra laps around the park just doesn’t seem to do the trick anymore.

At the end of the day, the older body just seems designed to carry extra weight. We should ask the Lord for the proper balance in order to legitimately moderate our caloric intake and to watch our health without the preoccupation with the perfect body.

Part of the obsession for the perfect body is a result of our culture’s preoccupation with youth. Healthier cultures esteem the wisdom of age and look to elders for answers, but ours disdains its older members as “old,” “out-of-touch,” and with little to offer. Meanwhile, the young are considered “hip” and “relevant,” and are presented as the ones who really know what is going on and whose views are both glamorous and cutting edge. Young = good, old = bad.

Thus, younger bodies have become the image of perfection. And even when we leave youth behind, we are still obsessed with looking young. If we don’t, we are perceived as having “lost our edge.” Never mind that we may have reached the peak of our life intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, professionally, etc. If you don’t look young, you’re no good; you’re washed up. This is a foolish preoccupation with mere externals that dismisses the hoary crown of wisdom. Older bodies are rounder, grayer, and less agile. But perhaps God intends this, as we hopefully become more graceful, wise, and mindful in our walk, and as our personality becomes more “well-rounded.”

I have often mused that God built in a certain protection for us as we grow older: as we age and become “less attractive,” our eyesight worsens so that we don’t notice it so much! But then we go ahead and cancel that out by putting on glasses J. With corrective lenses, our artificially “young” eyes can’t bear the sight of our actually older bodies.

These are just some of my thoughts on today’s obsession with having the perfect body.

Help us, Lord! Keep us grateful for what you are doing in our souls even if our bodies are “heading south.” Help us to remember that every passing day here puts us one day closer to being with you. Keep us faithful so that we do not fear aging or the reminder of approaching death it may bring. One day, Lord, we will be in your presence, forever young before you, the Ancient of Days.

In this video a young lady who already has a lot of natural beauty is made over through cosmetics and photoshop. The resulting picture of beauty is of a woman who doesn’t even exist. No wonder our notions of beauty are distorted and impossible.

Oh Well, try the direct link:   https://youtu.be/iYhCn0jf46U

Here’s another video with interesting insights:

 

8 Replies to “Letting Go of Our Obsession with Having the Perfect Body”

  1. Ahem; 🙂 in the case of the ‘excessive weight’ – actually excessive fat reserves – the practical* part of the solution is simple: eat less (especially unhealthy food, of course, but also healthy food), fast stricter. It doesn’t have much to do with one’s age, only with discipline. Exercising is simply not enough if the calories intake in a day is still too high for the total amount of physical and intellectual effort that someone does in that day; actually, exercising is not even at all necessary for the fat reserves to be reduced, it’s only necessary for the building or maintaining of a healthy musculature (and cardiovascular system).

    (*But there’s also a motivational part: when people are anxious and/or distressed, they tend to eat either too much – ‘binge’ eating – or too little; it’s rather difficult for someone to hold to a balanced diet, to eat healthily, while they’re in a state of inner unrest.)

    “…to watch our health without the preoccupation with the perfect body.”

    • To overcome that preoccupation, it can perhaps help if this question is taken into consideration: What would be the ‘perfect’ body for a person who’s not a professional athlete? Besides, look at how different the musculatures of marathon runners or cyclists are compared to those of tennis or soccer players compared to those of swimmers, gymnasts, weightlifters – which of them has the ideal musculature? The question is: ideal for what activity or activities?

    • Don’t think of it as dieting, but as fasting: you’re striving to live ascetically, following the examples of the saints. (What’s the purpose of fasting? Why to not eat meat? Why to not eat more than necessary? Why to suffer a bit of hunger? We have to think about that.) But, careful, herein can also be a temptation: wanting to be thin merely so as to look like an ascetic and thus to have a better reputation, gain more respect from people (“That priest is as thin as a desert monastic!”).

    And a brief remark regarding age and wisdom: people can become more or less wise – not merely learned and experienced in worldly doings, but wise – even when they’re young (we know about young saints), or remain or again become foolish even when they’re old. James 1:5.

  2. This article is Holy Spirit timed for me. Thank you for writing it. As a mom of 9 (25 yrs to 7 yrs) and grandma-to-be, I’m feeling my age. May we, the more forgiven, reflect the patience, kindness and tender mercy of our Lord in this, the second half of our lives.

  3. I give a round of applause to this article. It especially tickled “this ole lady” because yesterday I had sent a birthday message to my younger friend who turned 80 years young. I gave her some make-up tips. 1) Make-up your age 2. Make-up your weight and 3) make up with everyone you are estranged from.

  4. I would suggest you read or listen to the book “Metabolical” by Dr. Robert Lustig.

    Your response comes across as very “preachy” like you are a nice thin person lecturing the person who struggles not only with their mental image of themselves (I know because this is me) but also what they should be doing to lose weight. You don’t know anything about the other person other than what the mantra has been for too many years. Seriously, read and/or listen to the book. It explains a lot.

    1. Except that I’m old white and fat. “You don’t know anything about the other person….” Physician heal thyself

    2. Somewhat late I say:

      It seems to me that Ms Linda’s comment has been meant as a reply to my previous response here (“Your response comes across…”, not “Your article…”). To which I respond:

      I haven’t proposed any exact dietary plan (“eat this in the morning, eat that in the evening”). While I don’t deny that a person’s body’s metabolism does have a role in this (e.g., healthy elderly people need less food than adolescents), the plain logic of the proposed ‘method’ remains the same, only adapted to the person’s body’s metabolism: try to avoid ‘modern’, unhealthy food as much as possible and don’t eat more than your body needs (and eat even less than your body needs if you want it to consume its reserves of lipids). And now I add to that: don’t eat meat with dairy products or eggs at the same meal; if you’ve eaten meat, then wait a few hours before you drink milk or eat dairy products or eggs, and the other way around, because these are foods that aren’t easily digested, especially if they’re eaten together (this I’ve found out from some nutritionists).

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