While browsing for shoes the other day, I overheard two women gossiping about one of their family members and sharing opinions about ways she could (and should) lose weight. One said, “She uses the excuse that she just had a baby this year. I told her, ‘I know other people who have lost their baby weight a lot faster than you are.’” The other agreed and said, “Maybe she should take diet pills.”
Later, while shopping for dresses, I overheard a mother and daughter bickering. “What about this dress?” the daughter asked. “No – you don’t look good in yellow,” the mom argued. “Besides, you should be looking in the Junior’s department instead of in the Women’s.” The daughter whined, “But this is where so-and-so found her dress!” Her mom then yelled out the part of their exchange that bothered me the most. “Yeah, because so-and-so is FAT!” she snickered. The daughter then stormed off and shouted, “You’re mean!”
With conversations like these circulating so regularly, it’s no wonder our culture is so body-obsessed. It’s no wonder I encounter so many people who are willing to give up the quality of their physical health, mental health, relationships, work, etc. so they can achieve their ideal body weight, size, and shape.
What we often forget about our bodies and ourselves is Aristotle’s principle: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, if you base your body’s value solely on the appearance and function of each individual part – your thighs, your stomach, your rear, etc. – you miss the greater value your body possesses as a collective whole. Even more so, if you reduce your value as a person to the appearance and function of your body, you miss the greater value you have as a human being.
I once heard the quote, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Your body was not designed to be “the end.” Rather, it was designed to be a means to “greater ends”. In other words, your body is the vehicle through which you can engage in the world around you and do the things that really matter to you in the end.
If you spend a great deal of your time, energy, thought space, etc. obsessing over every calorie you eat, the number on the scale, how “toned” your muscles are, etc., then your body becomes “the end,” and it’s easy to lose sight of the “greater ends” your body was meant to help you accomplish. For example, I’ve had many female clients either lose their ability to have children (as a result of losing their menstrual cycle from malnutrition) or give up their previous dream of carrying children due to their current fear of gaining weight. In these cases, their bodies have become “the end” (i.e. the most important end goal), and they are missing out on one of the “greater ends” their bodies could assist them in doing.
On the other hand, if you neglect your body by regularly eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably stuffed, abusing substances, refusing to exercise, etc., then the same thing happens as when you worship your body: you miss out on the “greater ends” your body was designed to help you do, since your body’s functionality is compromised. For instance, if your size prevents you from flying on an airplane to visit your family members or if you don’t have the stamina to play with your children, then the way you are treating your body is holding you back from engaging in the “greater ends” your body was meant to help you do.
All in all, our bodies serve a vital function in helping us engage in the things that matter to us. Thus, it is important for us to take care of our bodies, while also keeping in perspective that our bodies are “vehicles” and not “ends” in themselves. We as human beings are more than merely the bodies we inhabit and our bodies are more than the appearance and function of each body part. If we can view ourselves and others in this holistic manner, perhaps we’ll hear less and less of the types of comments I overheard while out shopping the other day!