Holiness, Beauty, and Body Image

How do we engage culture and image and dialogue with truth?

Is there anything holy to be found in our visually driven culture?

If the line between secular and sacred is truly blurred, then how do we bring the holiness of God into our cultural conversations about what is beautiful?

In my own experience, it has been very healing to speak God’s truth into the lies I received from culture about my body image that I believed for so long without even being aware of their influence. This is one reason having a holistic body theology is so important and why I have dedicated my blog to writing about it. We have forgotten who we are.  We have forgotten who we have been created to be.  Educating people about ways to deconstruct the advertising and entertainment industries can go a long way in bringing truth into cultural light.

Take, for example, Alison Jackson‘s photographs and her discussion of voyeurism in this TedTalk from 2009.  In the video she describes how photography seduces us into believing things that aren’t true or into seeing things that we want to be true even when they aren’t possible:

I’m fascinated how what you think is real isn’t necessarily real. The camera can lie, and it makes it very, very easy with the mass bombardment of imagery to tell untruths. (Alison Jackson)

Our consumerist culture buys into nearly anything these days that will feed into the need for instant gratification. Marketing and advertising firms spend their resources on finding out what we wish were true or what we wish we were and then coming up with ways to exploit our wishes by making us feel inadequate, making us feel the need of something we didn’t even know we wanted — and suddenly that need is urgent and insatiable.

In other words, we are driven by fear.

Fear — which is the opposite of faith– and sin — which certainly gets in the way of experiencing God’s holiness — are the roots of many body image issues, especially in our western culture.  There is that appealing quality about Gnosticism, for instance, which perpetuates the fear that the body will somehow hinder the soul’s search for enlightenment or perfection or completion. Or that fear of being out of control, which is certainly a known root cause of many eating disorders.

But we were given bodies, and our bodies were pronounced good — a fact we often forget in our effort to retain control.

We need to be reminded that experiencing abundant life necessitates a willingness to release control and by doing so open ourselves up to experience something extraordinary, something unknown, something beautiful — which is the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

Next time you stand in line at the grocery store and stare at all those magazine covers, ask yourself what messages culture is sending you and whether those messages are designed to send you into a spiral of fear and sin or to open you up to the quiet beauty that is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

What cultural messages have you noticed recently? Share your experience in the comment box below.  Let’s grow together in our discernment of culture and the media.

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About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on November 7, 2012, in Body Image, Cultural Discernment, Identity, Marketing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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