You are being lied to. In magazines, advertisements, television, movies, on billboards, the Internet—everywhere—you see images of what humans are supposed to look like. But it’s a lie.
Those images are of a tiny handful of people who match specific, marketable facial or body types. Those images are captured by professionals skilled at primping, applying make up, lighting and posing those people to make them ideal. Then those images are expertly manipulated to eliminate imperfections and blemishes in order to sell products.
Nobody really looks like that.
Still, many people—especially young people—believe the lie. And with those images in mind, they look in the mirror and become discouraged. They grow dissatisfied with their own faces and bodies. And as a result, they can get into some very self-destructive thinking and behavior.
How do you feel about your looks? What do you think of your body? Do you long for a bigger this or smaller that, a different-shaped this or flatter that? Do you wish you looked more like a wafer-thin supermodel or like a bodybuilder who spends hours a day pumping precise muscles? How much has your self-image been affected by false, Photoshopped images?
In extreme cases, people use surgery to change their looks. But many more change their diet and/or exercise—and not always for the better.
Thinking of food or exercise in ways that are more about appearance than health can get you in trouble.
Do you know how many teenagers try to control their weight by doing things like skipping meals, fasting, vomiting or taking laxatives? According to Project eat, it’s almost one third of teen boys and over half of teen girls. You can bet they’re not doing that for better health.
In one survey, 91 percent of college women said they controlled their weight through dieting; 22 percent said they dieted “often” or “always.” Is that bad? Over a third of “normal dieters” progress to what is called pathological dieting, and many develop eating disorders (International Journal of Eating Disorders).
People with eating disorders often struggle with body image and take on unusual eating habits to alter their looks. Anorexia nervosa is a distorted body image that causes extreme dieting and a fear of gaining weight. Binging is overeating then feeling self-disgust; with bulimia nervosa, binging is followed by self-induced vomiting. All these disorders show an unhealthy relationship with food. And they’re far more common than you might think, affecting 1 out of every 7 to 10 adolescents and young adults (Schweitzer and Choate).
If you have a problem anything like this, do not keep it to yourself. It’s not something to try to handle alone. Yes, pray about it. But also talk to your parents—perhaps your minister.
Many people do need to lose weight for better health. Being overweight or obese is common—even in young people—and it leads to many serious health problems.
If you are overweight, do not try to fix the problem by skipping meals or starving yourself. You need to begin building a healthy relationship with food. Educate yourself about wholesome nutrition and healthy eating, and start building good habits. This is not just about looking better. This is about avoiding heart problems, diabetes and other types of preventable disease and death. It is a goal worth working for. If you struggle, don’t give up. Your health is too valuable to throw away.
As for exercise, remember the goal is good health. That means doing things that make you stronger, faster, more capable, more flexible, with better work capacity, stamina and endurance. And it means doing it in balance—so it helps your life but doesn’t become your life.
Don’t worry about your appearance. Skip exercises aimed solely at reshaping this or that muscle. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is something wrong with strength. Some people seem to believe strength is unfeminine. That is false. Strength is a virtue, even in women (Proverbs 20:29; 31:17, 25). Obviously some women go to extremes. But building strength, even if it produces some muscle definition, is not bad. It makes you more capable and resilient. Weakness is unhealthy. The idea that women should avoid activity in order to remain weak is not godly.
Strive to have a healthy body and healthy thoughts about your body. Work with it. Make it stronger and fitter. Take care of it. Don’t despise it. Don’t hide it. Don’t reshape it. Don’t avoid certain activities out of fear that they will make you look less like a ballerina or supermodel. Don’t wish you had bigger this or smaller that.
Even if you have limitations, handicaps or blemishes, that can make you stronger in other ways. Have a positive approach to them. If you don’t fit certain standards of beauty or handsomeness, that can give you a clearer perspective and keep your feet on the ground. It can help you spiritually and actually make you easier for God to work with.
Do not be negative about the body God gave you! You are God’s handiwork, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Don’t despise His handiwork. Be genuinely thankful for what He gave you. And show Him you’re thankful. Work to become the best, strongest, healthiest version of who God created you to be!