winter at the lakeI don’t like my body.

You think I would. I mean, I’m almost 36. Aren’t people my age supposed to have this body image thing down? Instead, All I notice when I look in the mirror is my gut and my untoned muscle mass. That and all the parts that jiggle. I don’t like what I see.

It’s my own fault for being this way. I don’t work out, I don’t eat the healthiest, I spend too much time sitting. If I really wanted to change things, I could. It would take a lot of sweat and tears, but I guess I could change myself, sculpt my body into… what exactly? My ideal? The ideal man’s body: some mythical creature that I am chasing because I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. It’s this ideal that I compare myself to, this ideal that I use as the standard to judge myself. And judge myself I do. There are no two ways about it: I have self-worth issues, and some of those issues are tied to body image.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that guys don’t have body image issues, or, at least, we shouldn’t. Body image is a girl’s thing, something shoved on them by magazines, Playboy, movies, and supermodels. Men were comfortable in their own skin, not bothered by cultural standards and media portrayals. And yet here I am, a full grown adult man, constantly comparing myself to Brad Pitt in Fight Club, looking to the next issue of Men’s Health to tell me how to get the body I’ve always wanted in the quickest amount of time. Body image and its accompanying issues are not gender specific, and apparently you don’t grow out of them like teenage angst. My gut and I know that far too well.

At this point a good Christian may start in with the “fearfully and wonderfully made” rhetoric, pointing out how God has made each of us in his image so we should get our worth from Him rather than from some cultural ideal of the male physique. Now I don’t disbelieve that we are all created fearfully and wonderfully, but that doesn’t really help me like what I see when I look in the mirror. That talk doesn’t help me stop comparing myself to 22-year-olds and Calvin Klein ads. Maybe I’m just a bad Christian, but that rhetoric doesn’t make the slide into middle age any easier or acceptable. We fight for our youth in so many ways, eating and drinking kale, going to the gym to work out in front of God and creation and those awful mirrors, even making sure that our clothes are in fashion. Hey, if my body isn’t the Adonis I want it to be at least I can look cool as I cover it up.

The cool factor. That’s what we are really talking about here. We want to be accepted and thought of as cool. We don’t want to be defined by the flaws we see in the bathroom mirror. We don’t want others to point out the wrinkles we are developing, the gray hairs, the double chins. We don’t want people to think of us as anything but the epitome of youthful health. But it’s not normal to make the ideal of youth into an idol. Or maybe it is normal, but it’s defiantly not healthy. We are made to age, to grow old, and to die. From dust we came and to dust we will return. We are not marbled statues or movie frame stills. We are living breathing creatures who are subject to change. And that change is not always toward that cool, youthful, fit ideal/idol that American culture and media worships.

As we get older, we age, but it’s not all downhill. See, maybe this 35-year-old body is more normal than I think. Maybe it’s normal to lose some muscle mass with age, gain some weight, get more wrinkles and gray hair. Maybe it doesn’t mean my body is falling apart. Maybe it just means I’m getting older, getting past my youth. We don’t peak in our 20’s, no matter who tells you otherwise. There is a whole life ahead of us. We can stay healthy, sure, but we don’t have to keep striving for that perfect body because we will never reach it. It’s just not the normal.

Here is the truth: I’m a fairly healthy guy. Sure I eat pizza and drink beer, but I also walk places to get exercise. And I do eat pretty healthy. I gained some weight due to some medication I was taking, and I haven’t been able to get rid of the extra pounds. I don’t go to the gym, but I’m still in decent shape. I’m not just some sloth of a man, some slobbish blob of being that my body image issues tell me I am. I am a normal, mid 30’s guy. I need to be ok with this body, this normal body. I’m not ever going to live up to the ideal idol I have in my mind. I need to get rid of that standard of body and love and care for the normal body I have.

We are not made to be youth forever, and there is no fountain that will keep us young. Maturity comes with age, and with age comes all the thing we don’t want to think about: extra weight, gray hairs, wrinkles, etc… These things don’t mean that our body is rebelling against us and that somehow we need to fight back the clock. It just means we are getting older. It’s normal to get older, normal to age, normal to move past the youthful stage of life and into older, wiser, more mature phases. Heck, at 35, I’m still a young guy. I have a lifetime left to live, and it’s going to be in this body. It’s time I embrace what God has fearfully and wonderfully made, even if I jiggle in a few places.