Sunday, July 22, 2012

Body Talk: Health, Hatred, and Healing

 Recently a synchroblog captured the attention of the Internet, or at least, my corner of it: "A Love Letter to My Body." Women wrote letters to their bodies, apologizing for hating them. A friend of mine wrote an awesome one. About the same time, I saw this article, "Is Hating My Body A Sin?" on the Sojourners blog. I've long believed that is the case, but I never really put it in those terms before. Rachel Stone writes,
"Hating one’s body is the disrespecting of the body God has given us, which in itself is worthy of respect and honor, being made in God’s image, the fulfilling of desires in ways God not intend, to believe lies about human bodies in general and ours in particular, and to covet for ourselves a body not our own... Hating one’s body usually involves sin: a distortion of the relationship God desires to have with us, and the relationships God desires for us to have with others and with creation. And, like any sin, hating our body means a loss of freedom and liberty that God desires for us."
As Rachel points out, when we hate our bodies, it is a failure of incarnational theology, that is, it does not respect God's good work as the Creator and God's dwelling within us through the Spirit. This mistake is easy to make because we as Christians have a philosophical legacy of dualism, thanks to St. Paul. All throughout his writing, we see a divide between the spiritual and the carnal, or bodily, self. He often sets these two dimensions of self at odd with one another. Thus the "spiritual" has come to represent that which is better, or preferable, to the sinful "flesh." It becomes "of the spirit" vs. "of the flesh." This terminology is just one way of talking about our own good and sinful tendencies, but it has become a dominant mode of thought.

So when marketers try to sell us products to make us look more conventionally attractive in our culture, it's easy to buy into their lies. They convince us that we have to sanitize and starve our bodies in order to make ourselves presentable to the world. The truth is that health has little to do with outward appearance, and a healthy body can look unattractive (again, by conventional cultural standards) as compared to the rail-thin models and ultra-muscular men that appear in our TV, movies, music videos, and magazines. Impossible standards for both women and men can make it easy to fall into the trap of hating our bodies.

Rachel gives several suggestions as antidotes to this sin of self-hatred. I particularly like her suggestions of gratitude to God for one's body and kindness to oneself. Especially when we have such nice weather outside, a good start is to just sit outside and enjoy the sunshine, the breeze, and the sounds of birds or crickets chirping. Noticing our senses can help us learn to be grateful for our bodies. So can singing our favorite songs and dancing to our favorite tunes. Being kind to ourselves can be harder, because we have to reverse bad mental habits of being constantly self-critical. Once we learn to see ourselves through God's eyes, not the world's, it can be easier to give ourselves grace. God wants us to be healthy and happy, and we should strive toward health and happiness, or at least peace, for God's sake.

When is it hardest to respect your body as God's creation? When is it easier?

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