Faith and Body Image
Earlier this week actress Ashley Judd wrote a scathing rebuttal for The Daily Beast after several news and media sources went to town speculating that her “puffy face” was a result of plastic surgery or other cosmetic “work,” that she had let herself go “losing the familiar beauty that audiences loved her for,” and that she was lazy and fat and she had, “better watch out because her husband was looking for a second wife.”
In response to these accusations, Judd writes powerfully about our culture’s normalized obsession with women’s faces, bodies and overall body image that privileges the interests of boys and men over the integrity, autonomy, and dignity of women and girls, as well as “heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny men the full and dynamic range of their personhood.” She writes:
“The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too... It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings.”
It is not a new point but one that certainly bears worth repeating often and that ought to be a conversation that faith communities have a significant voice in.
As people of faith we affirm that our worth is not defined by the size of our thighs or the bulk of our muscles, but our inherent worth and value as human beings is as those who are created in the image of our Creator.
Last spring, Desmond Tutu gave a wonderful interview with NPR’s Krista Tippett in which she asked him, “Is there a story in scripture that you identify as foundational to your understanding of the Bible as a radical power?” Tutu paused, laughed, and responded, “ The beginning! Scripture begins by telling us we are children of God,” he said. Nothing can take this away as our intrinsic worth. Who are you? You are a God carrier.”
A “God Carrier.” That is the relationship that defines us, that gives each human being worth.
It is often tempting to relegate religion to the realm of the spiritual thinking that our faith has little to say about our bodies and thus about our bodily lives. We are an inherently physical faith. God, who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer became flesh. God Incarnate. The “Word became flesh,” wrote the author of the gospel of John.
I once had a friend of mine say to me, “Do you ever notice how when we see little girls, the first thing we are often compelled to say to them is ‘You look so pretty!’ ” She was right. I do it all the time. Are we reinforcing to girls that their value is not inherently in who God created them to be but in how they look?
How do we talk to and about our daughters, our sons, and ourselves in ways that affirm each persons worth as a child of God and not as an objects of others external standards and approvals?
How do we talk to our daughters, our sons, and ourselves in ways that avoid the reduction of personhood to physical appearance?
Included in her piece, Judd writes:
“The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.”
"Letting go of otheration." I like that. Letting go of "otheration" implies that we commit to affirming the value of others and of ourselves being located not outside ourselves, but in our inherent worth as creatures made in God's image.