Whenever I work out at the YMCA, I am reminded of a great scene in Mean Girls. The “plastics” are hanging out at Regina’s house when they start taking turns standing in front of the mirror, criticizing their bodies. They complain about their huge hips, fat calves, man shoulders, weird hairlines, huge pores and imperfect nail-beds. Lindsay Lohan’s character, Cady, says to herself, “I used to think there was just fat and skinny. Apparently there’s a lot of things that can be wrong on your body.” I sure know how she feels.
I would never consider myself fat. In fact, because I’m fairly tall, I actually look pretty slender. But if you asked me what I don’t like about my body, I’d have no problem rattling off a long list: my arms aren’t toned, my chest is too flat, my nose isn’t cute enough, my cheekbones are practically nonexistent, my teeth are more ivory-colored than white … somebody stop me please.
Is this self-criticism healthy or profitable? No, I know it’s not. Jesus clearly states: Do not worry about your body (Matthew 6:25, TNIV). But do I do it anyways? All the time. I criticize myself when I can’t keep up with the seasoned YMCA veterans. I criticize myself when I look in the mirror in the morning and see my Chickenpox scars again. I criticize myself when I can’t fit into my normal jean size. I don’t even bother to think that maybe that brand just runs small. I immediately assume there must be something wrong with me.
The only thing that can stop me when I get on that ever so familiar self-critical path is God’s undeniable truth. In Psalms 139, the psalmist writes, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” If God put so much respect, love and thought into making me, shouldn’t I be grateful and love everything about myself? The obvious answer is yes. So, if I know that God didn’t make any mistakes when He created me, then why do I still go on those self-critical rants?
I think I finally know why. It’s because I’m a stubborn, selfish human being. I love to plan and control. I like my life to have order and reason. But the ways of man and the thoughts of man are not like the ways and thoughts of God. His plans are so much bigger than mine. So when I try to take my life into my own hands, the only thing that can come of it is disappointment and a lack of fulfillment.
While deep down I know I cannot alter certain aspects of my appearance, I do work hard to change the ones I can. I exercise and try to eat healthy—although I cannot give up sweets for the life of me. Living in this world of immediate gratification, however, I am disappointed to find that the road towards a great body is not a quick one or even a definite one. A friend of mine recently showed me her now toned arms, explaining, “Only a year and a half with five-pound weights, and look!” A year and a half? In a year and a half, I’ll be out of college and most likely struggling to find a job in the journalism world. That seems like a long time from now, and I want faster results. So I up my weights to seven pounds and increase the number of days I work out from five to six.
I find the days that I feel best about myself, however, are the days when I simply enjoy working out instead of worrying about how hard I’m pushing myself. I love feeling my muscles tighten and release with every bicep curl and triceps kick-back. After a great workout, I feel renewed, not exhausted. But on the days when my mind is preoccupied with the physical features I don’t like, my body truly suffers. I can’t make it through all the shoulder presses, and I feel out-of-breath after the step aerobics. My experience speaks to the truth of Proverbs 3, which talks about how wisdom bestows well-being.
The author writes, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” I am amazed by those words. They literally say do not rely on your own faulty wisdom. Instead, listening to God’s wisdom and meditating on His truth will bring health to your physical being. That is a promise that I can keep in my pocket and take out whenever I start to lean on my own understanding of beauty and health. I need to start meditating on God’s truth—He made my body perfect and continues to work on me and in me daily. I have no doubt that gratitude and peace will naturally emerge from that meditation.
Ultimately, it’s about time that I let go of my media-fed, fashion-magazine-crazed wisdom. I get plenty of sleep, I eat well and I workout. I am taking care of my body, but I’m abusing my heart and mind. From middle school on, we are taught to stop self-negativity and promote positive self-thoughts. Girls especially are encouraged to release the bad thoughts and replace them with good ones, but I rarely follow that well-meant advice. That mantra actually reminds me a lot of my yogilates classes. One of the things we focus on is breathing in the good feelings, and breathing out all the tension and bad feelings.
Proverbs 14 reflects the wisdom of that yoga mantra. The author says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Those words are powerful. By envying this woman’s nose or that woman’s calves, I am actually causing more harm to my body. Worry, anxiety and envy deteriorate my bones, but a peaceful heart nourishes my body. I would imagine my worries also grieve my Father who knit me together carefully in my mother’s womb.
Next time I’m at the YMCA, when I begin to nitpick all my imperfections, I will remember just to breathe and to reflect on how fearfully and wonderfully God made me.