Health Signs

Like any other night at Barnes and Noble, I returned to the café from the restroom, and the table of diet books called out to me. Almost siren-like voices were moaning, “Eat soy,” “CRUNCH fifteen minutes a day,” “ Buy this book and look like me—fabulous and lean.”

I did a gut check as I slid my fingers across the books’ glossy covers. Maybe I could get thin via osmosis … My usual tendency is to flip through a few books and compare my body to the ones on the pages—my exercise regime to the recommended one— then praise or berate myself based on my findings.

Tonight, I hesitated a few breaths as I walked slower past the “How To” books and “Diet and Exercise” sign. I thought to myself, I am more than the sum of my flaws. And so are you. Really, we should get healthy in whatever way works best and maintain that lifestyle, but not constantly worry about the next program, wonder herbal pill or fitness guru that promises to fulfill our hearts’ deepest desires for physical perfection. This behavior is like chasing after the wind—we can never grasp what we’re searching for, and it’s exhausting work.

In Isaiah, a craftsman works to make an idol statue: “[He said,] ‘It is ready for the soldering’; then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter” (Isaiah 41:7). This idol construction takes effort, and I wonder if by meditating on fat grams, pants sizes and tan lines, we have also labored over an idol.

I’ve never met anyone who said fearing buffets, having sore muscles five days a week or sucking in their stomach in public was fun, restful or rewarding. In fact, I’ve heard quite the opposite. It’s hard work to maintain an idol of self-image. Even if this idol isn’t constructed with weights and miracle cream, I bet many of us are a bit too concerned with how hip our hairstyle is, or how anti-Abercrombie our tattoos and clothes are.

The beautiful thing is that God doesn’t want us to have to keep up the tireless work of maintaining idols of self-image. Verse 10 explains that God desires to free us of the burden of idol worship. In essence, He wants to do the hard work for us: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” We should ask ourselves if our bodies or self-images have become idols instead of tools. If that’s the case, the answer is prayer—prayer that God would change that frame of mind, that He would complete the good work He started in us.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the adage, “Wash the bad out by putting good in.” I’ve seen it on many a marquee, but it’s true. Replacing an old bad habit with a new good one just makes sense. Instead of staring at airbrushed pictures of waif-like goddesses dripping with black eyeliner or whatever cookie-cutter body-builder is on the cover of Men’s Fitness, we could focus on a talent of our own. Stir up creativity by reading literary journals or perusing photography magazines. Instead of glaring at someone’s waistline in the gym, we might thank God for our physical abilities.

I once had an accident which kept me pretty much sedentary for nearly six months. I was never more grateful for the strength in my legs and the steady flow of oxygen in my lungs as I was when I finally jogged in Allsop Park. Maintaining an attitude of appreciation for our bodies and minds will increase our acceptance of others and ourselves. Besides, our flaws add charm. Think about Amelie; she would never be on the cover of Vogue or Maxim, but who didn’t fall in love with her expressive brown eyes and the way she skipped rocks in the canal? So, in the tradition of all proper pageant queens, I tell you again: “Beauty is on the inside.”

In our effort to achieve a balanced healthy lifestyle versus an obsessive one, we can take comfort in the fact that God is a God of mercies. He understands our sometimes-neurotic hearts. We derive our English word “worry” from the German word “wergan,” meaning literally “to choke.” Always worrying about the circumference of our thighs, two-four-six pack abs or the calories in a carrot will only cause mental agony and stifle the soul (i.e. our whole person). We should be concerned for our health, enjoy exercise and utilize the artfully made machine of the body, but not manically heed the call of weight loss and self-improvement sirens. There is much more to health and beauty than measurements and weight. Let us trust God and remember who’s doing the work of transformation.

[Leslie St. John is 22, married and has one slightly schizophrenic and precious dog. In the fall, she will start the MFA program at Purdue University. She currently works at Excel Models and Talent and Dandelion, a vintage interiors store, in Little Rock, Ark.]

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