How many of us have had a conversation with God similar to this one?
"God: Do you know that I made everything you see?
Michelle: Oh yes, Lord, and what a great job you did! Down to every last detail --- bravo! Standing ovation, even.
God: Do you know that I made you too?
Michelle: Right. Good job. The human body is pretty amazing. And so is mine, well, all except for my hair. It's a little limp, and the color needs some livening up. But other than that --- and my thighs don't look exactly swimsuit-ready. And now that I think about it, you could have improved slightly on my chest. It's not just like everyone else's. Oh, and my skin's too freckly, and there's the matter of my height, and my hips, and my eyes. Actually, God, I have a short performance review I've typed up for you that might help in your future people making. I mean, really great job in general with humanity. But my particular body could have used a better design."
The Michelle half of the equation here is Michelle Graham and the conversation can be found in her book, WANTING TO BE HER: Body Image Secrets Victoria Won't Tell You. If you can relate to her insecurities about her physical appearance --- and really, what woman can't? --- then you'll appreciate this biblically informed look at the basis of a healthy body image.
Few would argue with Graham's proposition that we're more likely to view our bodies through culture-informed glasses rather than through the eyes of God. And the facts of which the culture is informing us --- via airbrushed magazine covers and television shows like "The Swan" and "Extreme Makeover" --- often lead us to a pervasive sense that we fall short in the looks department. Why else would we Americans spend $20 billion on cosmetics, $2 billion on hair products, $74 billion on diet foods, and $7.4 million on cosmetic surgery each year? We're obsessed with the way we look.
But it would be too easy just to blame the media. "Though a sea of media-promoted beauty surrounds us, it is actually those closest to us who do the most damage," writes Graham. "We pass on our body obsessions to each other like a nasty strain of influenza. New research shows that feelings about body image start very early, long before the media play a significant role in girls' lives. A survey at Kenyon College discovered that elementary school girls who were more concerned about body shape and weight were more likely to have mothers who made weight-related comments. The study quoted Ira Sacker (coauthor of DYING TO BE THIN): 'Some of my patients, who are just out of nursery school, tell me that they're fat. Turns out that their moms are saying the same things about themselves.'"
Graham combats these negative messages with nuanced commentary from Christian thinkers like Lillian Calles Barger and, more importantly, with Scripture. She advocates a balanced approach to our bodies --- neither denying nor elevating their importance --- that's steeped in the stories in the Bible. If that sounds stodgy, or predictable, it's not. There are no sermons here. Just stories of women, including Graham, who have lived and learned a thing or two about what it means to look in the mirror. Reading this book is like getting good advice from a wise, older sister --- you're a bit surprised you're still listening, but you don't want her to stop talking.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on March 23, 2005