Wii Fit, the Venus de Milo, and God’s Standard of Beauty

For my birthday, I got a Wii Fit, which has been on my gift request list for awhile (so Dan isn’t in the doghouse for getting me exercise equipment as a present).    I’m enjoying the workouts and games, but one unexpected downside is that every day, the thing weighs me and tells me my BMI and whether I’ve gained or lost weight.  While some might think the checkups are a nice addition to their entertainment system, I rank them down there with water boarding.

Having a less than satisfactory BMI, and getting reminded (nagged) about it each day, the Wii Fit has become the “Wii Downer.”  The little animated trainer on the screen shouts encouragements, but more often than not, she’s also telling me that I’m unbalanced, needing work, and other lovely, less than flattering sentiments.

I’ve been studying a lot of art lately, and I’m getting a lot of mixed messages.  On one hand, I have my nagging, annoyingly svelte, Wii Fit trainer, telling me to trim down, and on the other hand, thousands of years of classical art is telling me “big is beautiful” (okay, so that’s a modern paraphrase).

I’d like to give you a little historical tour de beauty, as depicted by Venus, the “goddess” of beauty, through the medium of art. I’m going to make the photos optional (if your kiddos are around, I don’t want to introduce the birds and the bees conversations sooner than you’d prefer it to happen).  

22k B.C.  Venus of Willendorf

The roundest example of them all, the “venus” of Willendorf is a fertility symbol and as the nickname implies, quite possibly a symbol of physical beauty to the ancient culture that crafted her.

100 B.C. Venus de Milo

We’ll forgive her for not having arms.  I’d like to see what the Wii Fit says about her BMI, being that she’s made of stone! But seriously, she is a little scrawnier than the others. Those Greeks must not feed their gods very well.

1614 A.D. Toilet of Venus by Rubens

Venus doesn’t seem very self conscious at all.  In fact, she seems rather pleased with her appearance.  Can she do that?

1916 A.D. Venus Victorious by Rodin

A 20th century Venus, still ample and lovely.

And today, 2009, we have my spandex laden, scrawny as can be, Wii fit trainer, telling me that I’m not up to snuff.

Okay, here’s what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying that I’m going to forget about physical fitness and the importance of maintaining a healthy weight (which may or may not be represented by that “all encompassing” BMI).  But I am saying that I can’t let my self worth and my sense of beauty get dragged down by our culture’s current obsession with a particular body type.

As evidenced by classical art, standards of beauty change.  I can’t constantly feel sorry for myself that I wasn’t born in the 1600s (even though I’d love to meet Milton and Bunyan, but that’s another story).

Instead, I need to look to God’s standard of beauty, which is more about my heart (Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 2:9) and less about my BMI.


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What is inside is what makes a man. However, if the external appearance is an index of how well we are taking care of this vessel in which we live on earth, then we should do what we can for that as well.

    But you are right… the greatest beauty is that which lies in the soul!


    AL: Well said! I totally agree. I don’t mean to undermine the role of good, healthy body habits. Heavens, I’m married to a doctor! But is beauty greater than health? Is it greater than passing ideals? Is it more steadfast than the fleeting pounds?

  2. Perfection is always a moving target…and miserably hard to attain.

  3. A study of historical fashion, or description of fashion in literature is equally revealing. In Little Women, Meg’s beauty is affirmed by the fact that her hands were dimpled…in other words, quite chubby. My grandmother proudly stood on the beach in a bathing suit and a fox stole (!) with massive thighs glowing in the sun. The literature of the time included reference to women with large backsides and thighs as being very erotic…and little mention was given to breast…in fact the flappers were busy binding their breasts to appear flat. Now it is the exact opposite-skinny backsides and huge breasts win the admiration of the males!

    The current boyishly thin preference for women began with the homosexual fashion designers of the 1960’s, which was noted back in the 1970’s when I was studying the history of costuming and fashion design. Oscar de la Renta was one of the few heterosexual designers and his designs played up the graceful curves of women, while the homosexual designers sought to flatten the curves to boyishness.

    Hugh Hefner and the man who designed the Barbie doll are responsible for the big breast/scrawny body look, achieved via medical intervention and lingerie. Mature women of the 1950 still wore slips instead of bras, refusing the un-natural “pressed up and out” look.
    How funny that the young women of the ’50’s bought into the look, their daughters of the 70’s burned their bras, and THEIR daughters in the 1990’s flocked to Victoria Secret for cleavage enhancing bras.

    Women body builders often have breast enlargements done to balance their form…so what exactly is the most desirable shape, aside from non-natural enhancement?
    How about being able to do what is needed daily without getting winded, and eating only when truly hungry? And instead of hours at the gym, how about caring for others, working to keep one’s home and garden tended, and one’s mind fully engaged with useful meditation and observation.

    Oh…and I think a read through Song of Songs would make for a good grounding on physical shape…including the need for sunscreen.

    AL: I think we’ve touched one of your hot buttons here. =) Always a pleasure to read your well informed rants. Love Meg’s “dimpled hands”!

  4. Thanks for the reminder that inner beauty counts much more in God’s eyes. That’s why I’d rather be reading than… running. I’ve just been to a huge used book sale and that jump-started my summer reading.

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