Body Metaphors

By Katie, 5:22 am

Sometimes I’m surprised by the places I learn interesting lessons about my health, by the situations that force me to look at my relationship with myself in a new light.

For example, who would have thought I’d have an epiphany about body metaphors in this environment?

At a Baltimore Ravens pre-season football game? Really? 8-O


While cheering my team on to VICTORY 8-) , I was thinking about this article I recently read about the players’ nutritionist. This woman has quite a job – making sure a bunch of huge guys get the proper fuel for all of the running, throwing, kicking, tackling, pushing and shoving that they get paid to do.

Which got me thinking: in order to be successful, football players (and their nutritionists) have to conceive of their bodies in a particular way; they utilize a particular metaphor for their bodies that influences how they treat it. I bet a lot of these guys think of their bodies as machines.


The body-as-machine metaphor is a pretty common one, but there are lots of others, too. For example, some people think of their bodies as their art form.


Others use their bodies as a display.


A lot of people think of their bodies through the Biblical metaphor of body-as-temple, or holy site.


Some people build their careers around fixing bodies that are broken, healing bodies that are bruised.


Some people use parts of their bodies as their instruments.


And some people see their bodies as a site of peace and relaxation. Their bodies become the channel through which they find rest and rejuvenation.


For a long time, I subscribed to a rather unhealthy body metaphor: body as measuring stick.


I thought my body was a measurement of my success in life; I used my weight to determine my worth, and assumed others were doing the same.

But a metaphor is only worthwhile to the extent that it is helpful and true, and the measuring stick illustration is neither of those. So I traded it in for a better one.


These days I think of my body as my home. I don’t want to get too attached to my home because I know it is only temporary, and what’s inside is what really matters. But I still want to take care of it because, well, I have to live there! A home that’s messy and malfunctioning brings with it extra stress and headaches, which takes time and energy away from all the wonderful stuff life has to offer. But a home that is clean and operating efficiently becomes a place you want to go to, a place where you feel comfortable.

I want my home – my body – to be a happy and healthy environment, but at the same time I’m not placing more emphasis on it than it deserves. That’s a metaphor I can live by. :-)

Do you identify with any of the body metaphors mentioned above? Do you have another one to share?

OR (if that question is too taxing for a Monday!)

Are you a football fan? What’s your favorite team? Have you ever been to a live game?

**Note to the English nerds out there: I realize I am actually using similes, not metaphors, but “body metaphors” just had a nicer ring to it. ;-)

59 Responses to “Body Metaphors”

  1. Joy Tanksley says:

    This ROCKS. A lot of the research I’ve read on healing body image states that switching the view of your body away from object (how it looks) to instrument (what it does) is key. But I think your view of body as home maybe even takes this a step further. The ‘home’ view feels peaceful and nurturing to me. I love it. Thanks for sharing!

    P.S. I was an English teacher for nine years. Yes, we typically distinguish simile and metaphor in the way you mentioned at the end. HOWEVER, metaphor can also be used as a general umbrella term for ANY figurative comparison. So you’re cool on this point and don’t let anyone tell you differently! :)

    • Katie says:

      Woo hoo!

      And I love that distinction between object and instrument – so important!

  2. Lauren says:

    I just love you Katie! Oh, by the way, I met one of your friends this weekend. Her name is Barbara and she said that she knew you and read my blog because she found it on yours! What a small world! Oh and I wanted to ask you if you were going to be around the first weekend in October? I think I will be coming to Baltimore for the weekend and wanted to see if you would want to meet up? I’ll be traveling solo for work so I’m looking for people or things to do in the evening. Hope you had a wonderful weekend!!

    • Katie says:

      You met Barbara?!?! That is just crazy and awesome!

      Are you around for the whole weekend? I think I’m away that Saturday (the 2nd) at a wedding in Philly, but I should be available the Friday night before or sometime on Sunday. I’d love to meet up! :)

  3. I could try to same something profound, but I’d probably just end up saying the same thing as Joy above! I am also focusing on the idea of a the body as instrumental – a vessel that allows me to feel and experience and do all the amazing things that I want to – like hug, run, play, eat, etc. etc. I love the idea of the body as a home also. I often use this metaphor (or simile?) with others as we work through what areas might need more nourishment and attention.

  4. I am beginning to see my body as a machine more so than a measuring stick. I just posted in my blog how I am seeing now more and more of a connection between what I eat and how my body functions. However, my whole life it has been a measuring stick. I measured my self-worth based on the size and my happiness was a direct reflection.

  5. I view my body as ALL those things mentioned above. Therefore, since my body has so much diversity in its significance, I must nurture it in all the aspects in represents.
    I also remind myself that my physical body is temporary and my spirit/soul is eternal. So…. WOW! How much MORE nurturing and caring our eternal spirits and souls need, than our temporary bodies :)

  6. amanda says:

    Great post! I think a view my body as a machine since I workout like crazy. I also however am trying to work on it as my home. I am working on getting it better and healthier from its compulisions.

  7. I’ve never thought about this concept before, but now that you’ve explained it, the metaphor idea makes perfect sense. I guess I think of my body as a mechanical marvel, and it’s up to me to keep it tuned at peak performance. Hummm – did I just give validity to the Transformers? Were there any female Transformers?

  8. I love this post!! I definitely used my body as a measuring stick in the past, and now see it (or are trying to see it) as my home!

  9. Tina says:

    I’ve had deep thoughts come to me in some pretty crazy places too. LOL

    I love your metaphor. It is so perfect!

  10. Simply Life says:

    Great post!

  11. Melodie says:

    This is a great post… once again :) I am having a really hard time with body image these past few weeks. I have a question for you… maybe you can answer, maybe not, but I’ll throw it out there :) How do you see yourself as special and worthy of loving yourself when you do not feel that is true? I do deal with a lot of rejection and worthless feelings and it is something God and I are battling out together, but in the meantime, how do I change how I view myself? At times, I have no trouble, but then, most times, I do. I keep hoping that if I continue treating myself well, things will come together. But, when I feel worthless and rejected, I tend to do things that I know will make me feel worse. Mainly because I feel like if I am not worth it to certain people in my life, I must not be of worth. Does that make sense?

    • Katie says:

      It does. I have found that whenever I’ve looked to other people to validate my worth, I’ve ended up disappointed. No matter how much someone loves me, that person is still human and hence imperfect; that person can still hurt me and let me down. But I do believe that God’s love for you and me is perfect, and that is what makes us truly worthy.

      Anyone else have some advice or encouragement for Melodie?

    • Joy Tanksley says:

      Hey Melodie! This belief of unworthiness is so pervasive – maybe even universal – so please know that you’re not alone. For me, it helped to work with a therapist and then transition to a working with a life coach. The most powerful tool I’ve ever used for dissolving limiting beliefs is “The Work” by Byron Katie. You can check it out at Good luck on this journey. Just being AWARE of this core belief puts you ahead of a lot of folks. :)

    • i’m so sorry melodie, that has to be a hard perspective to believe. it’s also a lie and you have to recognize that as a lie!
      God knew you while you were in your mother’s womb. He breathed life into you. Nothing else in creation was breathed into life, besides His children. He made you for a purpose and as long as you look to Him, He will validate you and show you what you’re worth (which is EVERYTHING) To Him, you are HIS treasure. That’s all that matters :)

  12. You should write a book. Seriously. I would buy it. Pre-order it on Amazon, even.

    As far as my own body metaphor… definitely used the measuring stick one… the machine one… and probably even a punching bag one for a while… when I used to work out excessively. I absolutely love the idea of viewing my body as a home. Thanks so much for this Monday morning suggestion!

  13. Shawnee says:

    It’s funny that you put a disclaimer on your post for the Englishy type. English major here and I can honestly say I didn’t even notice. It is 5:30 in the morning, but you know. I think maybe I need to come up with an image or idea of what my body represents. I would like it to be my temple/source of relaxation/home. But I don’t know if that is what I treat it like. As a teen/young adult, I used my body to get what I wanted. Now that my body doesn’t quite fit into that role anymore, I am not really sure what I think of my body. Thank you for posting this, I have a lot to think about.

  14. Oh Katie this was a great post and I loved all the comparisons. I’m sure I can think of a comparison without giving it some good thought sooo yes, I’m a football fan — but more of a college football fan (Notre Dame) instead of a pro football fan! I’ve been to a few ND games and am going to one in October :)

  15. runblondie26 says:

    Rolling your own sushi is so much fun. The hubs and I make a date night out of every few months. We challenge each to make the “perfect” roll, and then it’s also fun to goof and see what crazy concotions you can come up with. A small amount of fish goes a long way, so it’s a fairly inexpensive way to have a few hours of entertainment.

  16. runblondie26 says:

    Whoops, that was supposed to be a reply to your bucket list post :)

    • Katie says:

      No problem! Love the idea of turning it into a fun date night competition. :)

  17. brandi says:

    I love this post! I definitely used to use the “measuring stick” idea, too, but I think of my body NOW as my home, my safe place, and it’s a place I have to protect and take care of.

    PS: LOVE football. I’m SO SO excited college fb starts this week!!!!

  18. I think of it as a machine right now. It has to be slept, fed well, and nurtured so it keeps going. I need it to be at optimal level, which means I have to treat it will respect.

  19. Sarah says:

    I really like the idea of thinking of the body as a home. What a healthy perspective. I think I am wandering over to that kind of mindset:-).

  20. Jessica says:

    Great post! I find that I have really powerful realizations when I least expect them to happen. Probably because I am not worried/thinking so hard about them : )

    I love the idea of our bodies as a home – it does seem warm and inviting.

  21. i love your metaphor…but i also like the body as a temple metaphor as well. both of those make me want to care for myself the best i can!

    and I am most definitely a football fan…i’ll be on my couch (or a friend’s couch) every sunday from now til january :)

  22. Love those!

    I think I resonate with a few of them–body as a temple, body as a home, and body as their instrument!

    I think all of those are positive and beautiful!

    and yes huge football fan–Oklahoma sooners :)

  23. Julie says:

    Thanks for this post today – it was just what I needed to get my brain working in the right direction. I don’t know that I have an answer just yet, but now I have something to think about this morning!

    We’re huge college fans – Oregon Ducks!! Husband will probably watch every single game: pro and college that is humanly possible. Yep…Summer is officially over.

  24. Katie, what a wonderful post! I have for too long treated my body like a measuring stick — and I love your “my body is a home” idea. I know I will not live forever, I know my body will change over time, but it is mine.

  25. Great post, Katie! Totally agree with your Body as a Home metaphor/simlie. :) I think of my body as the outside appearance of a house…it may appear great or not so great form the outside, but there’s a lot more that makes a house “valuable”, such as a good foundation and good interior (your values and your mind). Love it!

  26. Dorry says:

    This is amazing. I love body as a home. What a perfect way to describe the relationship we have with our body. Don’t really have anything to add – you said it all. :)

    Billy LOVES sports so I’m doing my best to join in the excitement. We go to a lot of Texas Longhorn football games and have been to a number of Dallas Cowboy games as well. I love baseball games but more for the atmosphere than watching the actual game.

  27. I love the metaphor of viewing your body as your home. I’ve heard many times that you should treat your body like a temple, you only have one body so treat it kindly.

    I prefer the home example. :) You’re completely right to say that it’s a temporary home… but why not treat it kindly and patch up areas that are falling apart, protect it from the bad influences, and take time to learn how to maintain it better.

    I also could relate about seeing your body as a measuring device. I stopped weighing myself a couple of months ago because I became obsessed with what the scale said. I now feel so much better. I know if i’m doing well (exercise wise) now by how far & how fast I can run, the weights I can lift, how flexible I am.

    :) Thanks for this beautiful post Rita.

  28. Wow, this new metaphor is exactly what I needed today—I can’t think of a better way to look at your body than a home, although I have certainly spent plenty of time using the measuring stick or machine metaphors. Thank you!

  29. [...] share my thoughts with my own readers as well. Katie at Health for the Whole Self wrote a fantastic post about body metaphors. Check it [...]

  30. I’ve been working seeing my body as a machine lately, but I like the idea of a body as a home even better! It drives home the point that our bodies should be respected and taken care of!

  31. Christine says:

    Love the idea of the body as home. It really encourages a positive attitude toward your body. Thanks for the post! Really brightened my day and made me feel a little more comfortable in my own skin.

  32. I love this post Katie (do I start all of my comments to you like that??) I do think of my body as a home most of the time and not a measuring stick. I wish I could say I did this 100% of the time, but I don’t. It’s hard to break away from that thinking, but it’s a work in progress.

  33. McKella says:

    So right. I think of my body as a temple and a home, but also as a friend and partner. This helps when I don’t take very good care of my body, because I wouldn’t do that to a friend, would I? I wouldn’t say mean things to a friend either.

  34. Kristine says:

    I LOVE the body/home metaphor. I’ve never thought of it that way before, but it’s so true!

  35. Kate D says:

    YAY for the Baltimore Ravens! I don’t follow football at all, but my mom (who was a high school English teacher) had a Ravens ball cap in her classroom to use whenever she taught “The Raven.” (She doesn’t follow football either, but loved that the team was named the Ravens.)

    I used to see my body as the enemy. It would rebel and fight whatever I tried to get it to do (be on a diet, do exercise I didn’t like, look horrible.) Lately, I’m thinking my body is more of my friend. If I treat it well, it will treat me well. It gives me advice over what/when I should eat and I feel better for it.

  36. Erica says:

    I love these metaphors. Never really thought of it this. PS: the football pictures looks fun! I’m excited for football to start!

  37. When I run I always think of my body as art. I know it would make more sense to think of it as a machine at that point, but I just think that the way my muscles all work together is a beautiful art.

  38. Sarah says:

    I treat my body as a measuring stick or machine. I sometimes “beat it” into submission till it’s worn and starving. Yet it’s still there for me every moment, carrying me through my life. I like the idea of my body as a home. Where else should you be able to be that safe but in your own body? I want to feel safe and comfortable in my body not like I’m running away from its imperfections.

    I’m a huge college football fan :) GO HOKIES!!

  39. Lena says:

    Sorry…too late to reflect on my body. BUT I am so excited for football season to start. I live for the weekends to watch college football and the Steelers! I went to two NFL games. One when the Steelers were playing the Ravens. It was Halloween night in Pittsburgh and the Steelers won! The other game was a playoff game between the Colts and Ravens in Baltimore. Please don’t dislike me because I’m a Steelers fan :)

  40. Hi Katie, I just found your blog. I love the metaphor you used about thinking of your body as your home. There was definitely a time when I also used to think of my body as a measuring stick, but I have learned to love my body for what it is.

    Thanks for this post!

  41. Nicole, RD says:

    I’d love to be a sports dietitian someday! It’s so different from working with your standard, unhealthy adult. Sad, but true. As usual, great post Katie! I love thinking on Mondays…why not! :) And GO ILLINI! I’m not so much into NFL (but, GO BEARS!)…college football…I’m a fanatic!

  42. Love this! It’s a perspective I’ve never really thought of…

    And yeah, I’m a college football girl- Mizzou! Holla’! :)

  43. Kelly says:

    Love this post – I struggled with my body image for so long and it let to an ED, but am so thankful to be on the other side now.
    I have to say that I now think of my body as an example for my kiddos – especially my daughter. I want to her to see a mom who takes care of her body in a healthy way, because I didn’t have that!
    And we’re Broncos fans!!

  44. This is an awesome post Katie!! It’s a perspective that I hadn’t really put into words until now (if that makes sense). I love all the different metaphors you highlighted…and especially love your description of how you now view your body. I think seeing your body as your home is an extremely good metaphor. It’s a place you can cherish and take care of and even improve if you want to. I used to be stuck in the body as a measuring stick frame of mind, but now I think I see my body differently depending on what I’m asking it to do. Most days I guess it’s more of my home, but sometimes it’s a machine or a tool that allows me to accomplish great things, and other times it’s a vehicle for relaxation.

  45. [...] Body Metaphors [...]

  46. Meghan says:

    Such a great post! I totally agree with your thought of our bodies as “homes” but it’s so great to be reminded of it…We need to cherish our bodies and be comfortable in them, even when we are making changes to make them “better”

    Thanks for the post!

  47. Mile Posts says:

    I have used my body as a measuring stick many a time, but I try to mostly think of it now as a temple. A very sacred place/thing that needs to be respected and cared for. If I don’t treat myself right, and therefore my body – how can I expect it to treat me right or for others to respect me. I think respecting your body is the first step towards gaining the respect of others. I love this post!! My friend Jess shared your blog on hers :)

    Oh and I love the Redskins!! But if I had to pick a 2nd team – it would prob be the Ravens :)

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