Authored by T.M.
Once upon a time, there was a little bunny named Rufus Rabbit, who had soft, fluffy fur and a velvety nose. He was perfectly proportioned according to rabbit standards, and all his rabbit friends had generally the same body shape and size as he did.
One day, however, Rufus Rabbit wandered far from home and encountered a family of hares. These hares were larger than he was, and seemed stronger too. Rufus Rabbit felt a stirring of envy in his little rabbit heart.
He began to search for ways to become as large and strong as the hares he had seen. After some deliberation, he concluded that his normal fare of carrots and lettuce would not do, so he started to search for other foods that would help him to increase his size and strength. After rummaging around a few camp sites, he found various morsels left lying around, which he quickly consumed.
Soon, he encountered a beaver with remarkably large and sharp teeth. He liked his own teeth, but surely these tusks of the beaver were far grander. He observed the beaver’s traits, and saw that the beaver chewed trees. “Aha!” Maybe this was the secret to longer, sharper teeth! Rufus Rabbit added “tree chewing” to his to-dos list.
Very soon Rufus Rabbit was not behaving like a rabbit at all. He had adopted an odd lifestyle that was not really that of a beaver, or of a hare, and certainly not that of a rabbit, but something different altogether.
While he had been obsessing about his looks, his other rabbit friends—who weren’t aware of how they looked from non-rabbit eyes—had married and started families of their own. Rufus Rabbit became a disillusioned rabbit and lived a very unhappy life. The End.
Fortunately, this story pushes the limits of believability, as animals have better sense than to try to adopt physical characteristics that are unnatural for them to attain. But take this same story and put it in a human setting, and it becomes sadly familiar; along with a rational mind comes strongly impressionable notions of body image.
Encarta defines body image as “self-image of body; someone’s own impression of how his or her body looks.”1 Psychology Today says, “Body image is the mental representation we create of what we think we look like; it may or may not bear a close relation to how others actually see us. That is, it is subject to all kinds of distortion from internal elements like our emotions, moods, early experiences, attitudes of our parents, and much more. Nevertheless, it strongly influences behavior.”2
In my adolescent years, I used to ignore things that had to do with body image. I thought it was very girly to talk about wanting to be beautiful, and frankly, I considered myself a more highly evolved kind of female; I didn’t want to be beautiful in order to be liked.
In later years, I felt that I was treated differently based on how others viewed my physical appearance, and didn’t like that either, so again I did my best to not care what others thought of my body. I mean, really, it was my own, right? What others thought shouldn’t matter. Of course, all of this self talk was based on a tiny part of me that felt that what others thought about me did matter, even though I didn’t want it to.
Fast-forward to the present day, and I find myself again evaluating issues of body image, and what it means to have a healthy perspective of one’s own body. After all, the way we perceive ourselves can positively or negatively affect our behavior. For instance, I know that the times I’ve succumbed to being overly concerned with my body were times that I was more likely to obsess over food and feel down on myself when I thought of how I wasn’t attaining some airbrushed ideal. And while this hasn’t happened to me, in extreme cases, those with unhealthy body image issues may venture into eating disorders.
Enter the Pink Fairy Armadillo.
The Pink Fairy Armadillo is a tiny armored mammal that lives in central Argentina and grows to be about 3 to 4 inches long. This guy is a pale pink and would fit on your hand, and when frightened can bury his body in the sand in seconds flat.
I’m conjecturing here, but I think that if the Pink Fairy Armadillo could express what his self-image was, I don’t think he would compare himself with other animals at all, or even other types of armadillo. He probably isn’t aware of himself outside of what his body does for him. He might say he’s glad his head is pointy in shape, because it allows him to burrow underneath the ground. He might even say that he’s glad he’s a pale pink, as it’s a good color when you’re living in the grasslands and need to look like a pale pink rock, for example. But I’m decently sure he wouldn’t talk about his thighs, or his chest width, or needing longer legs. Of course, comparing humans to those in the animal kingdom isn’t entirely fair—we are the only creature on earth capable of language and higher reasoning. But we are, however, united by a common Creator; a Creator who made both the Pink Fairy Armadillo and the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitethroat Sparrow and the stunning redwood forests—and each of us too.
In a stirring talk recorded in the book of Isaiah, God speaks of the perfect knowledge He has of all His creation, and how He does all things well. He proclaims, “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.”3
We humans have legs to walk with, feet to take us places, hands that help us create a livelihood for ourselves, and a mind and a soul that helps us make life’s many choices; we’ve been given all we need by an all-knowing God. I think I would be happier with myself if I could introduce a little “Pink-Fairy-Armadillo” thinking into how I see myself—simply being grateful for the gift of my body in which I get to experience life. To do this, I need to change my focus from the creation—my body—to the Creator—God. It’s a change in perspective: Do I place more value in how I or others think of my body, or in what God thinks of His creation?
Perhaps you’re familiar with the story in the Bible where the prophet Samuel is commissioned by God to find the next king of Israel, after the disappointment that King Saul turns out to be. God tells Samuel to take a look at Jesse’s sons, and Samuel is first introduced to Eliab. Now here’s a fine-looking man! One glance is all it takes for Samuel to feel that this could be Israel’s next king. But then God says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”4 Judging from this account, even in Bible times people were rather caught up in appearances, and I like to think that this story is in the Bible for the express purpose of reminding us humans that God looks at things quite differently.
In a society obsessed with body image, it seems to me that there is an inordinate priority placed on how we look on the outside over what’s going on inside of our hearts. I think it’s too easy to care more about how we or others look, and in comparison, care less whether we are people of integrity and character.
Here are three questions I’ve come up with to keep my perspective in check, and to prevent myself from wandering into a negative body image phase.
First, whose idea of beauty am I measuring myself by? If God made me, and all creation glorifies God,5 I am beautiful to Him.
Second, how do I want to be remembered by others? Generally, this has less to do with wanting people to remember me as a physically attractive person and more to do with qualities that I have. It’s nice remembering that lasting friendships are rarely based on one’s looks and have more to do with a person’s character and who he or she is.
Third, what does God see when He looks at my heart?
Of course, it’s important to take care of the body God’s given us, and it is possible that a person’s negative body image issues have to do with neglecting to care for oneself. There are also certain physical things that one can do, and thought patterns that one can adopt and/or shun that help one be positive about his or her body shape. But fostering a healthy body image, while tied in to a healthy self-esteem, primarily has to do with accepting that one’s body is the creation of the Creator, realizing the limits one can go to to change the physical appearance of oneself, and then doing one’s best to be a steward of this body that we are given to inhabit during our human experience.
I know that as long as I live in this body with the short legs and the slanty eyes, a part of me may always think of how I look to others. But I’d like to hope that the greater part of me will fixate on how God sees me—another of His perfectly crafted creations, right next to the Great Barrier Reef and the Pink Fairy Armadillo.
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2011 by The Family International