My Life

Body Insecurity Isn’t Just a “Girl Thing”

Body insecurity is not just a girl thing, I promise. Often, when we talk about loving our bodies, we focus our words mostly toward young women, encouraging them to see the beauty in themselves and to be wary of comparison against others. But, the message here looks a little different when we speak it to young men.

Because we are body and soul composite in our created nature, to love ourselves as God loves us must include a love for our bodies, not just a love for our hearts, minds, and souls. Our physical nature is just as essential to our identity as the immaterial pieces of our nature — the angels don’t have physical bodies, but we do.

The culture surrounding men’s health can be destructive, but sometimes even more subtly so than the culture of women’s health. Many messages communicate that men aren’t “real men” unless their bodies are perfectly chiseled, especially from the waist up. We hear that to “be a man” means to have big muscles and no body fat, to be “strong not skinny,” and to be “swole” and never lanky. Moreover, many cultural phenomena anchor the value of a man in his ability for physical performance: playing sports, lifting weights, being physically attractive. Through many popular lenses, there’s a narrow window of what a man can do to “look good” — either you look like a professional athlete, or you’d better get yourself to the gym right away.

Now, if we follow that professional athlete example through just a bit further, we’ll notice that athletes, even at the highest level, look really different depending on what they’re training for. A pro soccer player needs a different set of muscles than an Olympic swimmer or an NBA all-star. Here, we see that there’s more than one vision of health, more than one vision of fitness, and more than one vision of success.

If we men hold ourselves to impossible standards of health and fitness, then, of course, we’ll fall short. We’ll keep disappointing ourselves and struggling to love our bodies if we tell ourselves that we have to be people we aren’t. But, we can be grateful that our Christian faith pierces through lies about our self-worth.

God declared us to be very good from our creation, and, whether we like it or not, there’s nothing we can do to change that truth. I can’t claim to be an authority on cultural analysis or on fitness, but I can share what I’ve learned. So, concerning how to love your body as a man, here are a few lessons I’ve taken home from the gym.

Scales are for Fish

I have a scale in my bathroom, and I have a target weight too, but the measure of weight can be so subjective. Two people that make a scale display the same number might have totally different body types, fat and muscle distributions, BMI’s, etc. It’s so tempting to bend how I lift or do cardio or eat to hit a certain weight (gaining or losing), but that misses the real point of fitness. Instead, when I focus on strength or endurance or building muscle, achieving a healthy weight comes (way more effectively) as a secondary result.

There’s Strength in Community

I’m rarely at the gym alone—usually, I go with my friend Christin. Being together helps us to challenge one another, to stay focused, to get form right, to remember which set we’re on, and to share ideas about how to move forward. We definitely aren’t competing; if anything, we’re working together toward a common goal. And we remember each other’s goals too!

You Aren’t Always What You Eat

Unfortunately, our culture has a pretty negative relationship with eating. We can often see eating unhealthy food as a reward for something good (“cheat day”) and eating healthy food as a punishment for unhealthy behaviors (“diet starts next week” or “must drink protein”). Neither of these models fit within a true vision of health. Instead, I think eating is like prayer. I pray because I need to, and if I don’t do it I know I’ll miss it, later on, having gone too long without talking to God. Similarly, I eat because I need to, and I know that I’ll feel bad later on if I don’t eat or if I eat something unhealthy. Neither prayer not eating is a reward or a punishment; rather, both are essential parts of what it is to be a happy and healthy person.

Go for Gains, Not Losses

This sounds like a joke, but I’ve found it super helpful at the gym to focus on gaining something, not losing something. Example: I’m aiming to gain muscle in my upper body, not to ditch skinny arms. Or, I’m aiming to gain muscle and strength in my core, not lose belly fat. I’ve found that when I aim at gaining the things I need, losing the things I don’t need comes as a bonus feature.

It’s Not Strong Versus Skinny

When training with weights or for a sport, we sometimes think that to gain strength must mean to have giant muscles. Accordingly, for men who have a thinner build, gaining volume in muscle can seem impossible. But, there are different ways to train, and different bodies work in a variety of ways. Runners train to gain lean muscle — powerlifters train to gain big muscle. Being skinny doesn’t mean missing out on being “swole,” but instead points to having a body type that supports leaner muscle. Strength looks different in different people.

I return again to the truth that you are good to the very core of your identity, and your body is included in that goodness! Your body is a gift for which you can give great thanks. It allows you to eat, sleep, run, jump, dance, sing and so many more good things — things that are so good to do that Christ was made incarnate so that He might do them too! So, in light of the goodness of your identity and especially of your body, give God thanks today for the gift of yourself.

About the Author

Nick Bernard

I once played a character named "Jim" on an ad for my city's local Catholic radio station, and my friend Kelly played "Kathy." Unfortunately, my career in radio was pretty short lived (maybe twenty minutes total?). My relationship with Jesus is simultaneously beautiful, raw, intimate, and wild, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The Lord continues to invite me deeper into His love, and I can't wait to see where He'll take me next. If you'd like to follow along with me in my journey with Christ, you can find me on Instagram @n1ckb3rnard.

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