A few weeks ago, after an especially frustrating moment in my struggle with infertility, I sat on the edge of the tub with my head in my hands and cried aloud, “My body hates me.”
In the very next moment, I heard a gentle whisper as if it were my body speaking back to me. It said, “I can’t love you if you don’t love me.”
The tone was not one of accusation, but of explanation. My body is a great blessing with the potential to bring joy and fulfillment. But if I don’t care for it the way that I should, its hands (figurative, if not literal) are tied. My careless stewardship of my body has far-reaching effects on my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It may even play a role in my fertility issues.
But while the words may have been mildly chastising, they were also accompanied by a feeling of hope. If my body couldn’t love me without me first loving it, then the opposite was also true: the better I am at loving my body, the better it will be at helping me find joy. A healthier body means more energy to explore, a clearer mind for study and creativity, a lighter spirit for worship, and increased strength and stamina to serve others.
When I shared this experience with Brett, he offered another inspired insight: in addition to taking better care of my body, I could also work on loving my body the way that it is right now. He fully supports my desire to be healthier, but stressed the importance of seeing my body as beautiful and worth loving regardless of the number on the bathroom scale. This has long been a struggle for me, and I am eternally grateful for a husband who sees more in me than I see in myself.
As I’ve pondered those life-changing words and my husband’s loving input, I find myself wondering how to reconcile the righteous desire for improvement with the also righteous desire for contentment. Can we pursue physical health without tramping on the tenets of body positivity? And is there room within the framework of a healthy self-image to acknowledge the need for healthier habits?
God's Greatest Creation
The human body is an incredible thing. What a blessing it is that God gave us a vehicle to house our spirits that can move, see, smell, hear, feel, and taste, and love. Bodies are part of our soul, and God Himself reminds us that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” God gave us a code of health to inspire the proper care of our bodies. Clearly, our efforts to care for and protect these bodies matter to Him.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “As God and Christ are deserving of our reverence, so Their works are deserving of our respect and reverence. That of course includes the marvelous creation that is this earth. And yet as wonderful as this earth is, it is not the greatest of God’s creations. Greater still is this marvelous physical body. It is in the very likeness of the person of God. It is essential to our earthly experience and key to our everlasting glory….
“How are we to preserve the sanctity of this most important and sacred of God’s creations? At a minimum, we would not in any way defile our bodies.”
The Perils of Body Positivity
Let me be perfectly clear: I believe that beauty is found in bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. I don’t believe that we’re all supposed to look the same or that worth is in any way correlated with appearance. Nothing I’m about to say is meant to shame or disparage anyone.
But one thing that has always kept me from fully jumping aboard the body positivity band wagon is the worry that it fosters disrespect for the bodies God has blessed us with.
The adversary gave up his right to a physical body when he rejected God’s plan. Elder David A. Bednar said, “Because a physical body is so central to the Father’s plan of happiness and our spiritual development, Lucifer seeks to frustrate our progression by tempting us to use our bodies improperly. One of the ultimate ironies of eternity is that the adversary, who is miserable precisely because he has no physical body, entices us to share in his misery through the improper use of our bodies. The very tool he does not have is thus the primary target of his attempts to lure us to spiritual destruction.”
Satan is also a master of extremes. We know he is behind society’s obsession with stylish bodies, but I also think that he’s behind the idea that we’re all perfect just the way we are. Such thinking enables us to make unhealthy choices that put our bodies at risk. And worse, by convincing us that we don’t need to change our unhealthy habits, Satan denies us the opportunity to exercise our agency to make good choices, accept the perfecting influence of the Savior’s Atonement, and become more like God, who does have a perfect, sanctified body.
We are invited to “come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.” We are also taught that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all that we can do.” This doesn’t mean that we buy our way into heaven, in whole or in part. We are not saved without Christ’s grace, regardless of our own actions. It does mean we have a responsibility to do our very best to live the way God has asked us to live—and that includes the way He has asked us to take care of our mortal bodies.
Just as we will never find perfection by chasing worldly standards of beauty, we will never find perfection by refusing to acknowledge that we’re not yet perfect. Progression is an eternal principle. There is always potential for improvement, and we need the Savior’s help. His Atonement helps us overcome all challenges—spiritual, temporal, and physical. Let us not confuse the peace of His Atonement with license to stop striving for progress.
Consider for a moment the parable of the talents. In this story, the master leaves each of three servants with a different amount of money. While entrusted with their master’s goods, two of the servants work to improve upon the money left in their care. The third, however, leaves it exactly the way it is. He makes no effort to improve it. When the master returns, he is pleased with the work of the first two servants, but so dissatisfied with the unprofitable third that he takes away the talent he had left in his care. 
We often think of the monetary talents in this parable as symbols for the talents or abilities we’ve been blessed with, but they’re a symbol for any kind of stewardship. We have been given a stewardship of our bodies, and God expects us to care for them in a way that’s in line with the eternal principle of progression.
Like the servants, we’re all blessed with different levels of ability and health. Notice how the scriptures make no mention of competition between the three. The good stewards simply did the very best with what they had, and the servant with two talents didn’t have to match the final tally reached by the servant with five. They both approached the master with confidence and satisfaction when they returned to report on their success. To both of these, the master says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” They may have started out with different sums, but the final reward was equal.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “We are all different. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are round, and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or other wants to be something they are not! … We should all be as fit as we can be—that’s good Word of Wisdom doctrine. That means eating right and exercising and helping our bodies function at their optimum strength. We could probably all do better in that regard. But I speak here of optimum health; there is no universal optimum size.”
The point is to do the best we can at caring for the stewardship the master has entrusted to us.
Temperance in All Things
I know all too well how easy it is to let the need for improvement overwhelm us. We all have so much on our plates, and the constant need for improvement can turn into self-loathing.
But remember, if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must first love ourselves. This is what body positivity gets right. Your body and my body are worth loving even if—maybe especially if—they are not perfect. It’s that love for our bodies and gratitude for the gift that they are that can motivate us to treat them with proper care and respect.
So how do we find that balance between loving ourselves the way we are and striving for improvement? A scripture that often comes to mind when I’m starting to feel myself getting overwhelmed is Alma 38:10: “I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things.” Diligent and temperate. Careful of what we eat, but not obsessive about counting calories. Exercising regularly, but not panicking over the number on the scale. Prayerfully identifying parts of our lives that might need improvement, but not letting ourselves confuse perfection with divine worth.
I’m also a wholehearted proponent of the idea that God wants us to have joy now. He wants us to be happy now. He doesn’t want us to wait until life is perfect or our bodies are perfect. He wants us to love this beautiful, miraculous, imperfect-but-working-on-it creation of His now.
He loves us now, so why do we feel like we have to wait?
In my reading and pondering about this topic, I was blessed to find many excellent resources. Here are some that I found especially useful or inspiring:
- Health Advice from a Neophyte by my dear friend, Jenny
- Your Body: A Magnificent Gift to Cherish by President Russell M. Nelson
- More than a Body: Seeing as God Sees by Lexie Kite, Ph.D. and Lindsay Kite, Ph.D.
- To Young Women by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
- Respecting the Gift of our Bodies by Elder D. Todd Christofferson
- Feeling “Good Enough”: 3 Ways to Overcome Negative Self-Image by Marcus Paiz
How do you balance health and body positivity? I would love to hear what has worked for you. Share in the comments below!
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 I recognize that many do not enjoy all of these abilities, but each body is miraculous, regardless of physical limitations. President Russel M. Nelson said, “Some of the sweetest spirits are housed in frail frames. Great spiritual strength is often developed by those with physical challenges—precisely because they are challenged. Such individuals are entitled to all the blessings that God has in store for His faithful and obedient children.”
 D&C 88:15
 D&C 18:10
 D&C 89
 “A Sense of the Sacred” (Brigham Young University devotional, Nov. 7, 2004)
 “We Believe in Being Chaste,” Ensign, May 2013.
 Moroni 10:34
 2 Ne. 25:23
 Matt. 25:15-29
 Matt. 25:21
 “To Young Women,” October 2005 General Conference