Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. Psalm 119:73 (NIV)
This news just in … “Australians are too fat!”. Wow! What a revelation. How fortunate I am to have access to a television that can tell me this almost every night during what passes as news and current affairs but is usually little more than a audio visual tabloid. If that’s not enough, almost every website that has sponsored advertising will have pop-ups or side frame adverts begging me to “train like a soldier”, “get abs like a Spartan”, “trim ‘x‘ centimeters off my waist”, “drop one dress size while I sleep” (not entirely sure why it’s always a dress size and never a jeans size, footy jersey size or King-Gee Overall size?!). The same tabloids-slash-news articles also tell me that fashion models are too thin and are causing a generation of girls to have unhealthy body image issues. To counter this they run the occasional short term campaign on plus size models, which, if I believe the tale they’re trying to spin, are more representative of the average woman than the waifs on the catwalks in Milan. So … Australians aren’t too fat then? Which is it? If size 14/16 is the average and is “OK” then why are they always telling me I’m too fat? Never mind that I’m a tall large framed middle-aged male that hasn’t the slightest compulsion to fit into a size 12 dress. If there is a body image issue with anyone in any life stage anywhere in the western world, I would hazard a guess that confusing and conflicting marketing and info-merical journalism contribute as much, if not more, than the elite designers of Milan et. al.
Do I then abandon all thoughts of being careful about my health and fitness and take up that Tim-Tam diet I’ve always wanted to try? Well no, not really. However, our culture is all about externals. Magazine covers tell the story of what we consider heaven to look like. I need to trim down, or get whiter teeth or look 10 years younger in 10 days or loose 5 kilograms or get a six pack or look like this or that celebrity. To further emphasise their ideals, every month there will be an expose of celebrities without make-up. The horror! How disgusting and unattractive they are when there is no-one with time to airbrush the photo. Alternately, there will be an edition where we see them on holidays when they “let themselves go” and grow a ‘muffin-top’! The message? If you don’t look like they do on the red carpet – you are a failure too! Yes, occasionally there will be articles about ‘inner beauty’ and sometimes a comment about the underlying psychological or emotional triggers that result in poor health, eating disorders and obsessions with fashion. These are usually the ones complimented with a full page advertisement from a Health Company or Fitness Club about how you can look just like your favourite celebrity by buying their product
Perhaps I am a tad too cynical? Lets be clear though, I do not think the answer is protesting against this culture of externals by being a lazy, careless, smelly lay-about. I do think there is wisdom in scripture. God is interested in the condition of our heart, not our externals. Religious people are also guilty of focusing on externals, thinking performing good deeds or rigidly maintaining impossibly high moral standards is a means to holiness. God making and forming us has to do more with how, in his faithfulness, through providentially ordered circumstances, He is drawing us to himself. The understanding that enables us to learn godliness and contentment comes when we put our hope in the living God who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe. This is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. Yet for some reason we prefer the tabloids. Go figure!