It’s not only girls who worry and wonder about their bodies. Boys and men have body image issues too, although they often express themselves differently than girls.
When my young son says, “Dad, see how fast I run,” or “Dad, look how strong I am,” I’m hearing his version of the question my daughters frequently ask: “Do I look pretty?” Right now, he defines his body’s value by what it can do rather than what it looks like. As time goes on, I know he will become more aware of what his body looks like, and how it affects the way others treat him. In my years as a college pastor, I spoke with numerous young men who were insecure about their bodies and their limitations.
Girls are expected to struggle with body issues, but boys don’t really talk about it much. As a result, I think most young men lack a biblical framework for thinking about their bodies.
As my son grows, here are a few concepts about his body that I plan to tell him:
1. God made you, your body included, to reflect His image (Genesis 1:26-27). God designed your body, your mind, and your spirit so that those around you can understand Him better. His creativity and love and power are reflected in your physical body, just as they are reflected in your mind and your heart. That means the way you treat your body matters. More importantly, the way you treat others with your body matters. You have the opportunity to use your body to help, encourage, and serve others. By doing so, you represent the One who made you in His image.
2. Your body’s value isn’t primarily found in its appearance or athletic ability. When I was a kid, sports team selection, in gym class or on the playground, was a scary and humiliating ritual. Two team captains would choose the strongest, fastest, and most coordinated boys first, leaving the rest of us to wait nervously for our turn. To be chosen last was more than a statement about your soccer ability — it was a devastating statement about your worth as a man.
As a teenager, I often wanted to be taller, faster, or better-looking. I wanted straighter hair and clearer skin, and spent hours fretting about whether girls found me physically attractive. One day, you might struggle with those issues also, believing that your value is found in how others appraise your physical body.
But appearance and athletic ability are poor measures of one’s worth. Physical training and sports do have some value (1 Tim 4:8), but they aren’t nearly as important as knowing God and loving others. When you’re old, few will remember how well you played basketball, even if you’re a star. Everybody who knows you will remember your character, though. They’ll remember whether you used your body to help or to hurt, to smile or to scowl, to draw near or to be distant. Reflecting the fruit of the Spirit with your body is a great deal more important than running fast or throwing far.
Your body matters because God made it. Your body will make an impact on others if you submit it to His purposes.
3. Physical strength is a stewardship that requires you to protect the weak. At every school, in every class, you’ll know kids who are too weak to defend themselves. Because most people judge a man’s value based on his strength, people will make fun of the weaker kids. They might even physically attack or bully the smaller boys. They do it because they can get away with it, and because they hope to validate their own worth by undermining the worth of others.
Never participate in that sort of bullying. Don’t even laugh at it. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Defend the unpopular, weaker, and uncoordinated kids. I wish I’d done a better job of that in school. When you take care of the weaker kids, you’re reflecting the heart of God (Psalm 82:3-4) and using your strength for His purposes.
4. Nobody should be defined in purely sexual terms. One day you’re likely to notice young women and their bodies. You’ll be attracted to some and not to others. You’ll face a great temptation to treat women differently based on their looks. It’s a selfish tendency: Sinful people like you and me treat others better when we think we have something to gain from it.
But you and the women around you are much more than sexual beings. Your sexuality matters, but it’s not what defines you. And it shouldn’t define how you treat other people. I hope you’ll treat every woman with respect and kindness, regardless of her appearance. Look her in the eye, speak to her kindly, offer her a helping hand and a listening ear. Just like you, every woman has value because she’s made in the image of God. Despite what you will be tempted to believe, nobody’s value begins or ends with their appearance or sexuality.
5. Bodily self-control is a supernatural discipline (Gal 5:23). Self-control is listed last among the fruit of the Spirit, but it’s not the least important. You’ll be tempted to use your body in all kinds of inappropriate ways. At times your sexual desires will seem uncontrollable. You’ll want to eat to excess or punch somebody in the face or shove your sister down the stairs. That’s when you need prayer and dependence on God’s Spirit. When you rely on Him for self-control, He’ll provide ways for you to use your body well. It’s not easy, and it’s a lifelong journey, but I pray you’ll trust Him along the way.
Use your body to express God’s love, to know Him better, and to serve others. Don’t worry so much about what you look like or what you can do. You have limitations and strengths, just like everybody else. Instead, focus on how you can use the resources and gifts God has given you to reflect His character.
Here’s a question for my readers: What would you add to my statements above? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts here?
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