In the Whirled: The Olympics and the beautiful body

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 1 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Ben Cross in "Chariots of Fire."

Warner Bros.

Our family is riveted right now by the Olympic games. For two weeks, we gather with fervor around the telly, mesmerized by the competition, the celebration and yes, even the great commercials.

I love the stories and triumphs of defeat. But what keeps me glued to the Olympics is witnessing the beauty of the human body at its prime.

The human body has always been revered. It was the reason the ancient Olympic Games in Greece began this sort of thing. Slicked down with olive oil and devoid of clothing, the athletes competed to highlight and honor the Greek man.

To watch the human body in action, the speed, the endurance and the precision, is truly something to be celebrated. A personal favorite is the gymnasts. I love watching them twist, contort, flip head over heel, wind their body, uncoil and muscle their way across the floor. Wow, my kids say. That’s magnificent, I think.

I’ve often wondered: If I were watching a robot do the same thing, would I be as amazed? I don’t think so. Watching a metallic robot do a triple back-handspring would be brilliant, but it would not take my breath away. It’s that human body, with its strength, flexibility and rippled muscle, that is truly beautiful to watch.

It’s the same reason my kids love to watch “Chariots of Fire,” that iconic running movie from the '80s. The boys have developed a sort of “good parts version,” in which they fast-forward through all the boring dialogue right to the good stuff: the races. And again, it is sheer marvel to watch the actor portraying Eric Liddell sprint in front to break the string and win the gold. Watching a fleet of airplanes jet across the sky, or a herd of antelope run through a field, is nice, but it doesn’t make me scoot to the edge of the couch like watching a herd of runners straining for first place.

I don’t think it's shameful that we find the human body beautiful. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we understand that our bodies not only make us human, they also make us divine. Because we are created in the image of God, it makes sense that we would look to people with a stunning physique and a well-proportioned face and say, “That is beautiful. That right there is beautiful.”

Yet we live in a time when body image is ever before us. It is an obsession, an epidemic. Especially for girls, the pressure to look a certain way is as crushing as a trash compactor. If you’re not thin as a whippet, olive-skinned and thick-lashed, with a head of full-bodied hair, you are doomed.

I know, because I was one of those doomed girls. I used to stand sideways around cute guys because I was certain I looked thinner that way. In junior high, I recorded in my journal that my legs were nothing but fat, white sausages. (At 13! Now I would give anything for those lithe, 13-year-old legs!) I was well into my 20s before I finally came to terms with my own unique, highly imperfect body type.

A lot has changed since the ancient Olympic Games. Women are allowed to participate. There are vastly more sports in the arena. Thankfully, the athletes wear more clothing than they did back then. But the worship of the human body persists.

In ancient times, the purpose of the Games was to honor the Greek god Zeus. As we watch, cheer and marvel at the human body for the next two weeks, it is good to remember that, unlike the Grecians, we don’t need to posture our bodies for a false idol. Instead, we can reverence the human body by remembering that God created each of us in his image. He sees past our imperfections because as much as he cares about the treatment of our mortal frame, he cares even more about the state and beauty of our soul.

The conditioning of that is more than just a game. It is a lifelong process.

And that, too, is a torch worth bearing.

Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is tiffanyelewis@gmail.com

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