Books on Culture: The Life of the Body, Week Three

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She’s only a girl—a girl with fire engine red hair and a thousand freckles. She limps on shrunken legs across the commons room and slides weakly into a chair at a glass table. Glancing around the room, she looks at those of us in scrubs like she’s figuring an escape route and when her eyes land on me, I notice the prominent cheekbones, the sunken eyes, the weariness.

Behind her, on the TV, a sultry, skinny lady eats yogurt and she murmurs with each bite like she’s making love.

I pray the young girl doesn’t notice.

At the tender age of eleven, she has been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, a condition in which the individual obsesses about their weight and the food they consume.

And now, sitting at a glass table so we can see if she sneaks food away, she struggles to eat 300 calories. She pushes food around on her plate and she says over and over that she’s full, that she will throw up if she eats another bite.

And I feel my stomach lurch as well, when—later—she whispers, “I just want to be skinny, like mom. Maybe then dad will love me too.”

When her parents came to visit, concern shows in bags under their eyes and in their worried smiles and I think about how they’re so nice; how they’re so…beautiful. And I wonder about their slim physiques—the perfectly toned legs, the bulging arms—I wonder what their daughter sees when she looks at them.

In The Life of the Body Valerie Hess writes:

We are bombarded everywhere with the “ideal” man or woman. Men are told to be “Ralph Lauren tough” while getting in touch with their “softer side”. Despite years of feminist ideals, most women’s magazines still focus on weight loss and diets that include all the chocolate cake you can eat. Men’s magazines use sex appeal to sell everything from cars to suitcases.

After the parents are gone, I think about the girl and how all she wanted was to be thin like mom and when she became thin, she wanted to be thinner. And every dessert she turned down was one desperate step taken toward love—and we do this too, as adults, don’t we?

We look at those ads and a little part of us who says we aren’t enough wishes for more. And when we measure ourselves against culture’s perfection, we subtly succumb to an unrealistic belief that if we achieve that six-pack or that bikini body, we’ll finally be worthy of love.

Really, all we’re doing is trying to fill a void, an emptiness, and it’s bigger than food or the absence of food. It’s bigger than the advertisements. Although the root of many issues, it’s even bigger than our culture’s message.

It is not, however, bigger than our God. When we can accept the worth of ourselves in His eyes, we can finally accept our worth in our eyes. This acceptance plays out in our lives and the scales and the mirror become a guideline, not a lifeline to measure our worth. Our diet becomes balanced with warm brownies, carrots and a lot of God’s love.

As Valerie writes:

By surrounding ourselves and the children in our care with influences to counterbalance those that popular culture presents to them, we ensure that culture’s images do not subtly hijack the gospel message.

“For God so loved the world…” that gospel message ushers me into humble appreciation that He loves me—love handles and all—and when He looks down, what He sees instead of my flawed exterior are the things that really matter… that which is within.

On Mondays in May we'll be discussing The Life of the Body: Physical Well-being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold. If you've posted on your blog about the book, leave your link in the comments. Or, just jump in the discussion! This week we're giving away two copies of this lovely book! Just leave a comment below and you'll be entered for a chance to win. Winners will be announced on next Monday's book club post. Join us next week as Sandra Heska King finishes up our discussion with chapters 9-11. Our June book selection is Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath. Get your book and join us in June.

Image by Greg Annandale. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Duane Scott who blogs at Scribing the Journey.