Question: "What does the Bible say about having a poor or healthy body image?"
Answer: The Bible has a lot to say about our physical bodies. Genesis 1 describes the unique ways in which God designed the first man and woman. God spoke the entire universe into existence (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9). But when God created man, He took the dust of the earth and formed Adam’s body. God then breathed into Adam’s nostrils “the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). God later formed the first woman, Eve, out of a rib from Adam’s side (Genesis 2:21–22). The physical bodies of the man and woman were created to contain the spirit that God then breathed into them. They were designed specifically by the Creator Himself to reflect His own image. So Scripture is clear that God cares a great deal about our physical bodies and how we treat them (Romans 12:1).
A problem arises with “body image” when we disagree with or take credit for God’s design. Striving to keep our bodies healthy and functioning is a worthy goal. However, when we place too much focus upon the appearance of our bodies, it leaves little room for diversity. Our body image is a direct result of the attention we pay to our particular culture’s ideas of what is acceptable. Every culture has its own ideas of beauty. Most twenty-first-century Americans would disagree with the African Zulu warrior’s concept of physical attractiveness. And what Hollywood now calls beautiful would have been rejected by European aristocracy five hundred years ago. To despise our bodies is to despise the gift God has given us. However, to overemphasize our beauty or physique is to become prideful, and pride leads to destruction (Proverbs 16:18; James 4:6).
Psalm 139:13–14 sets the standard for a healthy outlook on body image: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” If we are fearfully and wonderfully made, then that leaves no room for disagreement with our Creator’s design. Isaiah 45:9 says, “Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’” Even those with bodies that do not function normally can be thankful for the body they do have, knowing they can also bring glory and pleasure to God with their bodies, just as anyone can. We were each created for His glory and His pleasure (Colossians 1:16). Our physical bodies are part of His plan for us, and a healthy body image sees the physical being as a gift from a loving God.
When we give our lives to Jesus, our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19–20). As followers of Christ, we are to treat our bodies with reverence and respect, as belonging to Him (Romans 6:12–13). We are told some specific ways we can do that: by avoiding gluttony (Proverbs 23:20), abstaining from strong drink (Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 20:1); remaining sexually pure (1 Corinthians 6:18; Ephesians 5:3); and controlling our words (Proverbs 12:22; Colossians 4:6).
Our body image should be based on only one factor: does the way I present my body indicate that my life is dedicated to the glory of God? When God’s glory is our goal, we can have confidence and pleasure in our physical appearance, regardless of society’s standards, knowing that we are pleasing the only One whose opinion matters (Psalm 37:18).