Faith Played Out: Body Image
My main battle as a Christian in sport has, without a doubt, been my body image.
It may sound weird that you can play sport and still worry about what you look like. Surely most people who play sport have great figures and don’t need to worry about what they look like or what they eat?
To some extent, that is true. But sometimes you are required to play in revealing clothing; to fit in, you feel like you have to be a certain weight or that your body has to be a certain shape. As a netball player I wear a netball dress that shows a lot of leg. I am often left thinking, “If only my legs were as tanned as hers, as toned as hers... If only I had a thigh gap like hers.”
I also look at the current women representing sport, such as Jessica Ennis, Maria Sharapova and Eugine Bouchard, who look beautiful on and off the field. Girls are fed unrealistic standards that they feel they have to meet. This can also be seen in the Nike adverts with girls being glamorized in their sports bras with flat, taut stomachs. This reaches even to the exercising craze and body images amongst celebrity stars such as Sam Fairs (TOWIE), and Vicky Patterson (Geordie Shore).
This pressure has made me feel that unless I looked a certain way, I would always be negatively compared to the teammates around me. Were my thighs too big? Were my leg muscles on show? What size kit was I ordering in comparison to other girls? I would get out the Women’s Fitness Magazines in our library so I could read, ‘How to lose 5lbs in a week’ and, ‘What to eat to get a flat stomach’.
I thought by achieving these goals that I would be happy and that it might even improve my sport, but it just made me miserable and self-centred. I was always thinking about how I looked or what I wanted to look like and how I was going to achieve that.
The obsession with how we look can become consuming. Rather than thinking about how I could best serve my teammates, ways in which I could set myself apart by not gossiping about the other team or umpire, or how I could put God into my sport, I was thinking about myself. I lost focus of the fact that I have been blessed with these sporting abilities. I had such a narrow perspective, and needed to step back and look around and realize the wider perspective God has not only for my life but for everyone else’s too.
I think it really helps me to remember that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. I wonder how it makes God feel when I say that I look ugly? Do I doubt his power? He knitted me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) and made me in his likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). How could I offend the very person that created me this way with these unique gifts? Someone once told me, “Your life is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift back to God.”
Through our sport we are capable of serving and honouring Him in active worship.
I also take comfort in the fact that God looks at the inside of my heart. He knows my worth, even if at times I am blinded by society’s values and cannot see it for myself. In 1 Peter 3:4 we are reminded that we ‘should clothe ourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.’
To God, I am worth the Cross and the death of his one and only Son. This has given me great strength to say, “Yes God, I am going to play for your glory because you created me. I am beautiful because you made me and I want to use these talents to honour you.”
I don’t want to be the girl that looks good whilst playing sport. I want to be the girl that openly and honestly honours God through her sport. Which do you think is more important?
I’m Elphie, and I have just graduated from studying Sports Sciences at Durham University. I have thoroughly enjoyed my three years at Durham getting involved in as many things as I can from sports teams to bar committee and helping out with Kings Church toddler group on a Wednesday morning. I will be extremely sad to leave this beautiful city but very excited for the plans, adventures and purposes God has lying in store for me.