No one should feel less than because of the way they look. That’s a pretty powerful statement and not one many believe as I have come to learn in my last 25 years in the fitness industry, including myself.
Our self-worth seems to be very much tied into our body image for both men and women. For many years that is what the fitness industry was all about and it still very much seems to be all about, the way we look. We get wrapped up in thoughts like, am I skinny enough? Am I too fat? Do I have too many wrinkles? How can I lose more weight so I can feel good about myself?
For many years my identity was wrapped up in being an athlete and then being a bodybuilder. When I blew out my knee playing football in college, I was completely lost because I was known as Troy the star football player. That’s just who I was. That was my identity.
When that was stripped away I discovered bodybuilding. My identity was all about the way I looked. How big and ripped could I get without taking steroids? I would thrive on what people said about my physique. My identity was determined by external validation from others. It was a very surface way of living.
As I have started to evolve and grow in my faith, I am learning how to integrate my faith and fitness. I don’t have it nailed yet, but I am learning that it’s not really about my fitness or the way I look. It’s about glorifying God with my body through movement and exercise.
This morning as I was on my way to the gym, I was praying and thinking about how my workout could be different. What would make it better and more meaningful? This scripture came to my mind, Colossians 3:23-24 which states, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
What a huge shift in perspective when we think about why we get to workout. It’s to work for the Lord and glorify him by taking care of our body, our vessel.
Body image issues are rampant in our society. One statistic estimated that as many as 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal shape. Surveys on male body image found that 20-40 percent of men were dissatisfied with some aspects of their looks, including physical appearance, weight, and muscle size and tone.
Clearly the vast majority of people are disenchanted with the way they look. Let’s take a look at what God wants for us. Genesis 1:27-28 states, “Then God said, Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
God’s truth is that he loves all people unconditionally regardless of their body shape. This unconditional love builds the foundation for our Christian life, but it is up to us to believe that truth. People who don’t accept this love can’t accept Christ, others or themselves because God is love. 1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Christ ultimately wants us to be focused on Him and not obsessed with our body. The world tells us we need to be thin to be beautiful if we are a woman and it tells us that as a man we have to be muscular with a V shape in order to have a sense of self-worth.
But God is the ultimate source of our self-worth. Your personal relationship with God, not the way you look or a number on a scale, should mean the most to you as a Christ follower.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t important to take care of your body, it just means that you should do it because our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. He created us in His image and he expects us to take care of our vessel. It’s more of a matter of the why behind why we exercise and eat healthy without the obsession of the way we look.
I want to challenge you to really think about how you can integrate your faith and fitness, your body and your soul. Pray about how you can glorify God through your body and take pleasure in the amazing gift He has given you with your one and only body.
If you are struggling with body image and self-worth, I would welcome an opportunity to talk to you more about this. Please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary consultation.
Troy Ismir, MS