About two weeks ago, I mentioned a post by Paul Maxwell in which he questioned male body image problems. Maxwell suggested that we’re trying to impress five different people/groups/entities for five different wrong-headed reasons. Here are his five headings:
- To our selves, we want to be confident.
- To the opposite sex, we want to be sexy.
- To our peers, we want to be intimidating.
- To our fathers, we want to be competent.
- To God, we want to be superhuman.
I’ve been letting Paul’s ideas float around in my mind since I originally agreed, and I have to say that I’m now convinced he got it wrong. Yes, these five reasons to want to have chiseled bodies are wrong, but they are not an exhaustive list.
A couple of years ago, right about the time I started to get my diet and exercise house in order, I taught at a church children’s camp. My lessons used the idea of masks as a metaphor. Recently, I saw a photo from that camp and–I kid you not–asked this question: “Who is that fat guy in the mask?” It was me, fifty pounds ago. With that in the background, let me tour the five audiences above.
I want to look good for myself, because looking good …well, looks good. I’d rather look in the mirror and see a healthy-looking me than the one in that camp photo. I’m not particularly vain, but I know that a less flabby, more muscular body translates to health and energy and other good things. (Proverbs 27:19)
I want to look good to the opposite sex, or at least one member of the opposite sex, my wife, because I love her and I care about her and I want to demonstrate that love and care by keeping my body healthy and reasonably attractive. (Proverbs 5:18)
I want to look good to peers, but not to intimidate. I’m not going to intimidate anyone, but by having an unfit, unhealthy body, I become a distraction. When I speak with my peers, I do not want them to be thinking of me as the fat guy or the wheezing guy or the guy who is probably going to have a heart attack. (Judges 3:17-23)
I want to look good for my father, but not really. My father passed over a decade ago. However, since I carry his name, I believe that my appearance will reflect on him. It’s a matter of honoring my father when I take care of my body. (Exodus 20:12)
I want to look good for my God. But actually I don’t want to look good so much as I want to have a functional, healthy body. God will never be impressed by how I look, but He can be pleased with how I treat the body He gave me. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
When I look in the mirror, I see a body that could stand to lose 10 pounds but that is in the acceptable range of fat and muscle. My wife is pleased. My peers are not distracted. I believe that my appearance mostly honors both my father and my God. These are sufficient outcomes, and they are worthy reasons to pay attention to that image in the mirror.