The Burden of Image Management

How often do you catch yourself thinking about how you look to others?

This COVID season has led to lots of Zoom meetings. These types of video conferences often yield some funny moments. But I have found they also make us very conscious of how we look. 

Our culture currently spends an inordinate amount of energy managing the perceptions that others have of us. In 2017, Australians spent $1 billion on cosmetic surgery.

But I am not just talking about our physical appearance, rather perceptions of image in general…maybe you tend towards constructing an image so that others will perceive you as ‘rich’, or ‘smart’, or ‘funny’, or even ‘godly’. As the stages of life change, so too does the image we want to present. I must admit my current temptation (with the recent arrival of our first child) is to try and manage my image towards ‘mature’ – see how weird this is!

Image management is an age old exercise for humanity. Underlying such an endeavor, are insecurities. For instance – the insecurity I am trying to meet by my ‘mature’ image, is ‘am I going to be a good parent to my child?’. Cosmetic surgery meets the insecurity of ‘am I really beautiful?’.  

Managing our image, is a way to try and ‘secure our insecurities’ by the praise of others (even ourselves). This is why we have that hit of adrenalin when someone notices the image we are going for…“Oh Matt, you are so mature.”

Two things that are ironic here: firstly, no one even really knows who sets the ‘benchmark’ for the images we try to create (i.e. who even defines what beauty is?). And secondly, generally people are so busy managing their own image, that they don’t really even care about how anyone else looks. Picture a room full of people all looking at mirrors throwing the question out to everyone else looking at their own mirror: “do I look OK?” Everyone is so busy asking the question, no one even answers.  

Is there an exit from this seemingly futile roadway of image management?

Let me lay out some principles of God’s kingdom that we see in the Bible:

1. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matt 16:25)

2. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:34)

3. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matt 6:26)

Living in the Kingdom of God, frees us from our insecurities, and therefore the burden of securing our own image, because our concern is no longer for ourselves, but rather for God. We are no longer the object, nor ruler, nor cause of our existence: God is.

If SELF is no longer our life, but rather God is our life, then we are freed to live and love authentically without a constant regard to how we are being perceived. It is GOD who justifies us, not us.

This is how Jesus lived. With total abandon unto the Father. It meant He could live totally free of the need to defend his own personal honour when persecuted, totally free to have no possessions, totally free to take actions that would be perceived by so many as dumb or wasteful.

The elements that were previously the basis for our insecurities don’t change (i.e. I am still a parent), but our understanding that we are now in the kingdom totally reshapes the way we understand such an insecurity: if I am living in the Kingdom – God will give me what I need to do what He has called me to (i.e. parent). I have the ability to be real about situations, but not be crippled by these situations. This isn’t to say I become slack or ignore God given responsibilities – but I don’t need to act out of the fear that comes from being in things on my own.   

Take our other example of cosmetics. Nothing about our physical appearance changes, but if I am in the Kingdom, the power that insecurity had over me has been broken…my worth is not tied to my physical appearance. (And not only that, but I also know that God has created me beautifully!) We don’t need to deny how we look, nor do we need to try and change or cover over it. My worth, my life, is Jesus – not me.

So, what action can we take, to step into the freedom that comes with this new reality of life in the Kingdom? Maybe we could start simply… Next time you are pretending…just notice. And then once you have noticed – make this simple prayer to God ‘Lord I want you to be my life’. I think if we take this simple step – God will lead us from there, with all the subsequent steps to move into the wide open space of authentic living in His Kingdom.

Written by Matt Sweetman