Body Perfection will Fail You

In college I bought into the pursuit of body perfection. I achieved goal after goal of shaping my body, thinking that if I looked better on the outside, something on the inside would feel complete. But nothing changed in my relationships, and the inner part of me felt frustrated and confused. “Why am I not meeting the right guy? I mean, I look pretty darn good. Why do I still feel lonely? Why do I still lack confidence?”

This is a great myth in our culture. There is a body equation many of us buy into. The equation goes something like this: “If I can be thin, then I will be happy,” or “If I can get a six pack, then I will receive attention and affection” or “If I can make myself look like that person, then I will become beautiful, successful, and loved like him/her.” It is a simple equation, but it never truly works.

After all I had done to change my body, I was still lonely, still imperfect, still hungry.

If somebody had only explained to me then that our bodies were not meant to be the avenue of gaining love, acceptance, and belonging, I wouldn’t have wasted hours running and watching what I ate. I would have directed my efforts at the inner problem. I looked to my body to fix all my issues. I pushed myself harder and harder until I truly became sick.

I developed an eating disorder, became extremely rigid in my schedule, and lost time for relationships. I was riddled with guilt and shame about my life choices, and left in a deep sorrow — all while maintaining a pretty facade of having it all together.

I remember having a clear moment with God when I realized my goals of body perfection had failed me. They had promised happiness and love and a good life. Only the promise was a lie. I had looked to my body to supply what it could not possibly give.

This is the scary part of using our bodies as a way to achieve our self worth. We can get so caught up in numbers, figures, tape measures, scales, schedules, and work outs that we lose sight of reality. We can begin to live life in one dimension, obsessed with our looks. This is a major factor in the development of mental illnesses like anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphia.

Love, affection, and belonging are part of our basic needs. But when we attempt to pursue physical body image changes to receive these things, we will come up empty handed.

I see this everyday in my work as a counsellor; men and women are obsessed with their bodies, but are starving for love and relationship. Our bodies are not made to be manipulated into particular image preferences. They are not made to work tirelessly, in pursuit of the demands to look like so-and-so. And even if we make our bodies our slaves and shape our bodies in that manner, it is still not a guarantee that it will bring confidence, self-assurance, love, relationships, peace, happiness, or power.

Our bodies are a gift, each one unique and shaped as God intended. It’s okay to pursue health and wellness, but if we try to meet desires by altering looks, there’s a good possibility that we’ll get trapped by the myth of the body equation. Body perfection is not only a dangerous pursuit, it’s also an empty one.

I’m not saying it’s easy to keep healthy mentally when we’re bombarded daily with images of body excellence, whether it’s the wafer thin model that graces the fashion editorials of Vogue, or the abnormally fit male model wearing underwear on the bus stop sign. It is no surprise that so many of us struggle with feeling “less than” when we compare ourselves to these extremes.

It doesn’t help that these people generally seem happy, confident, successful, and content in life and in love. I often forget they are paid models and actors who have full time chefs and fitness trainers. These are real people with real problems. But with perfect bodies and perfect smiling faces on display, it can be easy to trick ourselves into thinking that by achieving such body excellence, we too will have what we desire.

In my counselling practice I ask my clients, “What are you hungry for?” They often answer with glazed over eyes imagining delightful treats, “Pizza, donuts, ice cream, chocolate … ” My follow-up question is always, “No, what are you really hungry for?” Pausing, usually a little confused, they eventually realize what I am asking. With great ache in their expression the response then becomes, “love, peace, connection, purpose.”

At this moment of revelation, a moment free of bodily pursuits, the heart can be heard. And that’s what is needed for us to move past chasing vain pursuits of bodily perfection.

So ask yourself, “What are you really hungry for?”


Flickr photo (cc) by nathália carpenedo ferrari