When you look into a mirror, what thoughts run through your mind about your body? If you experience a flood of disparaging thoughts, you are far from alone. Recent studies find that approximately 63 percent of women and 50 percent of men in the United States are dissatisfied with their body and view it negatively—statistics that are reflected in the Latter-day Saint community. 1
In my practice as a psychologist, I have seen talented, righteous Latter-day Saint women who despise themselves because their bodies do not look like what they see in movies or magazines. Many say they are no good unless they look good. Other clients have been so seduced by pornography that they view the body as a thing to be consumed and exploited. Often they eventually feel duped, trapped, and degraded themselves, since along with a loss of respect for the body and for others comes an inevitable loss of respect for oneself.
The world teaches that bodily appearance determines individual worth and desirability. The more “ideal” one’s body type, the greater one’s worth and the greater one’s chances of leading a happy, fulfilling life. Those without ideal bodies are often criticized or ignored, while those with ideal bodies are sought after, envied, or given authority.
Is this the way God intends us to regard our bodies? In the scriptures God reveals a perspective on the body that is radically different from that of the world. The scriptures and other revelations offer unparalleled truths about the body that free us from worldly ideas and practices that weigh us down.
The Body Is Godlike and Helps Us Progress
One foundational gospel truth about the body is the principle that having a physical body is a godlike attribute—you are more like God with a body than without. Our religion stands virtually alone in believing that God has a tangible body of flesh and bone and that our bodies were literally created in His likeness. In the Pearl of Great Price we read that “in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them” (see Moses 6:8–9). To become as God is requires gaining a body like He has and learning to correctly comprehend and use it. Those who chose not to follow God in the premortal state were denied mortal bodies. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated that Satan’s lack of a body is a punishment to him. 2
The body then is necessary for progression and for obtaining a fulness of joy. Having a mortal body indicates that you chose righteously in the premortal state. Inherent in the mortal body are powers and capabilities that enable you to continue to progress toward godhood. The body is not merely a mobile unit for the head nor a carnal vexation for the spirit, as some believe. Rather, it is an integral, powerful component of the soul, for “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15). Being privileged to know about the literal embodiment of God and the progressive nature of the body gives us a rare vantage point from which to comprehend and enjoy its tremendous capabilities.
The Body Is a Sacred Gift
A second truth the scriptures offer about the body is the clarification of its nature as a sacred gift from God. Though in mortality we will all die, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ we will all be resurrected and united with our bodies forever (see 1 Cor. 15:22). Indeed, one of the essential purposes of Christ’s Atonement was to give us the opportunity to overcome death. In sharp contrast to the world’s definition of a “perfect” body is our belief in a perfected body—a body together with a spirit—that has overcome both physical and spiritual death. A perfect or perfected body can ultimately be obtained only through Jesus Christ.
The scriptures warn us not to trifle with sacred things and to be wary of treating the body disrespectfully. Alma asks:
“Can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world … ?
“Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another[?]” (Alma 5:53–54).
Such scriptures beg us to consider how we regard our bodies. If you become preoccupied with manipulating or adorning your body, for what purpose are you using your gift? If you do not properly care for your body, to what extent are you limiting your gift? If you use your body in direct opposition to the commandments of God, what ends will your gift serve? The scriptures ask a pointed question: “What doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” The sobering reply is “Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33).
The purpose of the body is to help us learn, progress, serve, and glorify the Giver of the gift: God. Too often, however, people mistakenly presume that the body is intended to glorify the self. Disrespecting our body in any manner—flaunting it, disparaging it, participating in immoral behavior, or neglecting it—constitutes rejecting the gift. A wise and loving God counsels us instead to be grateful for our body and to become a wise steward of it.
To become a grateful and wise steward of the body often requires giving up something worldly to gain something heavenly. For some, such an offering may include giving up a quest to become model-thin, while for others, it may include giving up excessive grooming habits and the wearing of costly or immodest apparel. For still others, it may include giving up the short-term pleasures of overeating, the avoidance of proper exercise, or the viewing of others’ bodies as objects for self-gratification. With such forsaking of worldly practices come tremendous spiritual gains. Realizing and following the truth about the body brings freedom—freedom from the tyranny of vanity, fashion, envy, superficiality, self-criticism, backbiting, the ill effects of overeating or under eating, lust, pornography, substance addiction, tattooing, and a host of other forms of worldly weight and oppression. Developing an understanding of the true purpose of the body enhances our ability to use our agency, to progress, and to find joy.
The Body Is a Temple
Another truth the scriptures teach about the body is that it is a temple (see 1 Cor. 6:19). A temple not only is sacred, but it also radiates light and truth.
When the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king from among the sons of Jesse, Samuel saw one of the eight sons of Jesse named Eliab and assumed, based on Eliab’s physical appearance, that he was to be anointed king. But the Lord informed Samuel that his judgment was mistaken and counseled him to “look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; … for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
We must learn, as Samuel did, that the body and the person are not to be judged using worldly criteria. A person’s worth is not dependent upon his or her appearance. What makes a temple precious is what it allows us to learn and to do. Many buildings are outwardly beautiful, but only within the temple can the splendor and magnificence of God’s eternal truth and promises be found. Likewise, the worth of the body is great in the sight of God, but the preciousness of the body comes from what it allows us to learn and do and from what it radiates from within. We must enable our temple-bodies to radiate the light, love, and truth of Christ. Alma asks: “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances?” (Alma 5:14). A Christlike countenance that radiates truth, charity, and hope constitutes true beauty—beauty in the eyes of the ultimate beholder, God. True beauty comes from who and what an individual is. Such divine beauty is felt more than it is seen and is not bound by culture, age, or other worldly criteria.
Relying on God versus the Arm of Flesh
Because he was denied a mortal body, Satan understands all too well how precious bodies are. He seeks to confuse and tempt us to misuse the body or even to reject it so that we might be miserable as he is (see 2 Ne. 2:27).
Ways of mistreating the body abound in all cultures. Amid such influences, treating the body properly requires deliberate thought and effort.
If you find yourself preoccupied with the appearance of your own body or those of others or if you struggle to feel at peace with your body, you might ask of God what you can do to remedy this. If you ask this question with real intent, the strength and assistance you need can be given to you through the scriptures, the Holy Ghost, and other means. Our Father in Heaven will help us with the struggles we face with our mortal bodies. He created us and our bodies and pronounced all that He had made as very good (see Moses 2:31).
If your struggle is particularly significant and you have a problem such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, morbid obesity, or substance addiction, you may require assistance from mental health or medical professionals. However, seeking to understand the divine nature of the body and accepting the healing that comes from that understanding are the most powerful means by which you can overcome worldly weight associated with the body—whether that weight is physical, ideological, emotional, or behavioral.
As Satan would conspire to have you be discontent with and disrespectful of your own and others’ bodies, God will inspire a different view. Through the Atonement, Jesus Christ can heal your mind and heart concerning your body, if you so choose. As you treat your own and others’ bodies in a manner consistent with the scriptures, your vision of the body will be transformed. You will recognize the illusions of the world, and you will experience a release from worldly views and practices. Faith in these principles about the body shall help make you whole.
Tips for Parents
These suggestions can aid you in helping your children develop a healthy body image:
Teach your children that God values us because of who we are, not how we look.
Help your children understand the differences between the worldly perspective on the body and the gospel perspective.
If your children criticize another’s appearance, teach them that this behavior is inconsistent with gospel teachings.
Teach your children that God created our bodies to help us be able to progress and become like Him. Ask them to identify what their bodies allow them to learn and do.
Teach your children that we can show God we appreciate our bodies by caring for them and using them as they were intended.
See AnnMarie Carroll and Diane L. Spangler, “A Comparison of Body Image Satisfaction among Latter-day Saint and Non–Latter-day Saint College-Age Students,” Journal of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, fall 2001, 6–18.
See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 181.