Body image burden
Obsession with perfection takes a toll on health
By Christina Quick
Last September, Heidi Montag announced to the readers of Us
Weekly that she had undergone plastic surgery.
The 21-year-old reality television celebrity told the
magazine that she got breast implants and a nose job because she had “always
been very insecure” about her body.
Montag confessed she was nervous about having surgery, but
suggested death was a price she was willing to pay for bigger breasts.
“Right before I went in, I was like, ‘What if I don’t wake
up? Oh, this is scary,’ ” she said in the interview. “Then I thought, ‘I don’t
care. If I don’t wake up, it’s worth it.’ I just wanted it so badly.”
The magazine’s cover featured a smiling Montag in a low-cut
top, showing off her enhanced chest.
Montag’s example illustrates the obsession with physical
appearance that permeates today’s culture.
“We are completely self-focused,” says Constance Rhodes,
author of Life Inside the “Thin” Cage and founder of Finding Balance, a
Christian ministry that promotes eating disorder awareness.
“We’re constantly seeing images of ideals that are
unattainable for the most part,” Rhodes says. “But the pursuit of physical
perfection doesn’t bring peace. In fact, the more you strive for it, the less
at peace you are.”
Rhodes should know. As a teen, she considered her naturally
thin build her best quality. During her first year in college she developed an
eating disorder, triggered by anxiety about gaining 15 pounds.
“My obsession with being a particular weight began to impact
my health,” Rhodes says. “I was tired, cranky and isolated. I finally came to a
point where I realized if I was so busy basically worshipping my body and
thinking about me then I couldn’t grow relationally and spiritually.”
Rhodes, who ministers in churches and has developed programs
for Women of Faith conferences, says Christians aren’t immune to debilitating
“This is the biggest secret in the church,” Rhodes says.
“Pornography and other subjects that were once taboo are now being discussed.
Yet body image issues, including eating-related problems, are something almost
every woman struggles with to some degree and almost no one talks about.”
Surveys reveal at least 56 percent of American females
dislike their bodies, according to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an affiliate
of Harvard Medical School. Other experts estimate a much higher percentage.
Those who constantly critique their bodies and examine
themselves in mirrors are at a higher risk for eating disorders, according to a
study conducted at Ohio State University.
“Women who do this tend to ignore their internal feelings
and emotions and concentrate on their outward appearance,” says Tracy Tylka,
the study’s author. “They think of their bodies as objects.”
Women aren’t the only ones prone to obsess over their
“Surprisingly, men are becoming increasingly preoccupied
with their body image,” says John Sargent, professor of psychiatry and
pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Anabolic steroid abuse, once associated almost exclusively
with athletes and body builders, is now cropping up among adolescents and men
determined to look like the pumped-up models they see in magazine ads.
An increasing number of males are also developing eating
disorders. Leigh Cohn, co-author of Making Weight, believes such disorders
afflict about 2 percent of men versus 4 to 5 percent of women.
“It’s hard to know because men have been so reluctant to
seek treatment,” Cohn told the Associated Press. “And men, in many cases, are
unaware that they have an eating disorder. For example, they may exercise
obsessively and just think that’s regular guy exercise behavior.”
Rhodes says the desire for perfection is misplaced when it
is focused on physical qualities.
“There’s something innate in our humanity that is projecting
us toward perfection,” she says. “But the real problem is our spiritual
condition. We should be drawn toward holiness, being perfect before God. Yet
it’s easier sometimes to focus on the perfection of our outward bodies.”
Rhodes says television shows like Extreme Makeover present
the idea that physical perfection is easy, necessary and the key to happiness.
She says follow-up episodes should be shown five years down the road to see the
impact of what took place.
“Did that person’s breast enlargement truly enhance her
marriage?” Rhodes asks. “Did it make her happy? My guess is it was a momentary
fix, something to get excited about. Then they get back into real life and
realize they’re still the same person.”
When Rhodes shares her testimony, she emphasizes her life
changed when she stopped trying to impress others and started living to please
“That’s not to say I don’t still struggle with body image,”
she says. “It’s hard to detach your identity from your body because that’s how
you present yourself to the world. But we shouldn’t let that define who we are.
We should be defined by our relationship with God, the only thing that truly
makes us complete.”
CHRISTINA QUICK is staff writer for Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at cquick.agblogger.org.
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