Today’s guest post comes from Anne Hansen. Anne is a mother of boys, wife of Wade, English teacher on extended sabbatical. gardener, reader, and modestly paced runner. She loves naps, flowered dishes, cookies, and light blue. She writes weekly for Hey Nonny (http://www.hey-nonny.com).

Is it my recent foray into the painfully early “Body Attack!” class at the gym? (That’s a lot of plastic surgery in one room.) Maybe it’s because my husband and I just watched What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Whatever the reason, lately I’ve been preoccupied with our culture’s unhealthy extremes in body image.

Regardless of where we fit along the container continuum, I’m pretty sure at some point we all take issue with the way we look. My son Thomas (4) hates that his hair is boofy. Another son, Scotty (7), is stressing over a new mole. I’m convinced I’m aging straight towards a horse face.

So I thought my friend was wise when she told me that at every opportunity, she’d say to her three-year-old daughter, Your body is special. She knew the message was sinking in when her daughter took to blithely tearing open the shower curtain on the unsuspecting man of the house and squealing, “Daddy! You body is-a special!”

And really, our bodies are special. Take the small maroon birthmark on the inside of my right calf that looks just like the old Skaggs Alpha Beta logo and disappears under pressure, then magically refills. My husband has a BB pellet permanently lodged in his left cheek, the battle scar of a four-year-old which has enlivened many a dental x-ray. My brother has a patch of hair (now gray) that for twenty years stayed his baby red in defiance of the brown locks he grew as a boy. My sister’s legs can run a half marathon in 1:46. My baby niece’s belly button holds a tiny balloon of air that replenishes after every tummy tickle.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and five years ago this fall my mom was diagnosed with the disease. Today she’s in a beautiful remission, and my family is thankful for her healthy body every day. Mom had her own version of Your body is special while raising my three sisters and me. Every morning before school she’d tug our hair into braids, curl our bangs, and in a haze of Aqua Net recite: You are beautiful, inside and out.

It was a strange reversal of roles, then, when I sat my mom down in front of the bathroom mirror to shave off the thick red hair which had begun to fall out in response to her second round of chemotherapy. She took off her glasses, and we made nervous small talk while her hair littered the floor. When she put her glasses back on and looked in the mirror she yelled, “WHY did you do that to me?!” We laughed, we cried, and—eventually—her hair grew back.

I don’t want to sound simplistic. I realize there are cancers which do not remit, physical irregularities going far beyond curiosities, self-image diseases that plague. But doesn’t that suffering make it more important to celebrate the parts of our bodies that are operational?

That’s why I’m sticking with the theme that works for a three-year-old. Your body is special. That’s also why I’m not getting up at 5:30 anymore to go to the gym.

So, dear readers, what’s special about your body?

22 Comments

  1. Sage

    June 5, 2011

    I love your choice of special things about bodies! So funny!

    I feel like I’ve had a pretty healthy body image, but did always think I needed to lose a few more pounds back when I was thin (20 lbs. Less than now).

    I am a little obsessed right now with wanting to get in shape. I see many older people (and I’m becoming one of them) who can barely stand up without pain and that motivates me to get up (7:15) and do yoga in my living room (I don’t have the desire to go to a gym). When I do work out I feel better, so for me, a huge part of recognizing the great gift God has given me is to take care of my body by exercising and eating healthily.

    But if my boys ever say a girl is fat or tease their sisters about their bodies I lecture til I’m blue in the face. And I also try to tell my three daughters how beautiful they are.

    I think there’s an important difference between taking good care of your body as a gift from Heavenly Father and caring whether your body fits the media image of beauty. Sometimes we can lose sight of that difference.

  2. Sharon

    June 5, 2011

    When my oldest was three, we had a family home evening lesson on “our bodies are special”.

    It must have made a huge impact on him, because the next day I overheard him asking our little neighbor girl, (non-LDS) – “Hey, Marcie – do you want to see my really special body that Heavenly Father made for me?”

    I invited him quickly home for Part II – “we don’t show everyone our special bodies”

  3. Rosalyn

    June 5, 2011

    Thanks for this post–I think I’m going to borrow the message! I have a 3 year old daughter who thinks she is beautiful (and she is), but as someone who’s always struggled with body image, I like the idea that we don’t have to be beautiful in worldly terms to appreciate that our body is “special.”

    For me, I think it was carrying a baby for the first time that really helped me appreciate how incredible the human body could be. That doesn’t always mean I continue to appreciate it the way I should–so thank you, again, for this reminder.

  4. Tay

    June 5, 2011

    As my boys have grown and I’ve watched their little bodies miraculously stretch and fill and grow new muscles, I have been amazed by the body. How beautiful and wondrous our bodies are! They can do so many things and while no two bodies are the same each is individually amazing and blessed with different abilities. My oldest is not a fast or very balanced runner, but he hand-eye coordination is keen and his dexterity is precise. My second, so far, is strong and his body lives up to the desires of his brain, quickly adapting to the new developments that allow him to be more in line with his brother’s abilities. (He is quite determined to do everything his brother is doing)

    It’s interesting the spin motherhood puts on how I look at the body now. Particularly those of my children. I helped give them form, so of course every part of them is beautiful. Then I realized that my mother feels the same way about myself and my siblings. Then realized how much more intensely Heavenly Father feels this about us. How fantastic.

    Thanks for this post – it’s so nice to think of our beautiful bodies and feel gratitude for them.

  5. Judy

    June 5, 2011

    I like the sentiment expressed in this article, but I do take issue with the last line. People of all shapes and sizes go to the gym. In part to look better, yes. But there are plenty of people who are heavier/bumpier than me who are way more fit than I am. The real purpose of a gym is to get people healthy. Heavenly Father wants us to take care of our bodies so that we can enjoy life to the fullest. When I exercise I feel good about the goals I have set for myself, and I also get a boost of endorphins as a little bonus. I don’t see any reason to quit going to the gym just because we feel we don’t need to fit a certain mold.

  6. Anne

    June 5, 2011

    Sage–It sounds like you have a healthy and balanced approach to body image, one you’re doing a good job to pass on!

    Sharon–hilarious.

    Rosalyn–I agree, there’s nothing like the total transformation of pregnancy to realign your perspective and priorities!

    Tay–I’m constantly amazed at the differences between my boys–another testament of the infinite beauty and variety of our Heavenly Father’s creations.

    Judy–You are absolutely right. I still go to the gym, just not at 5:30… I was shooting for a little humor/perspective with the last line, but I can see how it could be read differently. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Heidi

    June 5, 2011

    I’ve spent this year growing my fifth baby. It has been a very difficult road. But now, at 28 weeks, I am awed at the miraculous things that my body has done to protect itself and to nourish the baby. I am profoundly grateful for the miracle of physical creation and appreciate in a new way the millions of tiny steps, completed in perfect order and symphony, that produce a human child. It is a privilege to be part of the process.

  8. Shelly

    June 5, 2011

    I grew up in a home where body image is important. Eating disorders affect my sisters and mom. It has affected me…I am overweight, but my body is wonderful. It nourished 4 boys, not at the same time, until their births. I work hard to be healthy.

    I have 1 son who was born with birth defects that great affect his height and his arms, and affect the inside of his body even more. I am thankful for the human body and what it can do! I have seen miracles granted to my son throughout the 12 years he has been on earth.

    We need to be healthy, but we do not to focus so much on it. Are our spiritual bodies being cared for and we focus as much effort on them as our natural bodies?

  9. Carla

    June 5, 2011

    I always talk to my boys about their “amazing” bodies . . . they like to show me tricks their bodies can do, like how fast their amazing legs can get them up. They truly are remarkable, especially when they’re working well.

  10. JonJon

    June 5, 2011

    I recently started dabbling in yoga and I’ve loved the consciousness and awareness of my body that has developed. I love seeing what my body can do, the ways it can stretch, the difficult poses it can hold, noticing the subtle changes when I slightly tweak a pose, always remembering to breath and paying attention to what my body tells me. I love how it also informs my spiritual journey and brings more awareness to the connection between body and soul.

  11. michelle

    June 5, 2011

    Interesting timing … I’ve had this topic on my brain, too…just posted something on it today! With chronic illness on top of the usual aging, sometimes I have a hard time not resenting my body.

    (Mona at Mormon Mommy Blogs also wrote about it, which is what spurred me to write.)

    I think I want to be more deliberate with this and my girls…I like what your mom did.

    Thanks for the post.

  12. Anne

    June 5, 2011

    Heidi–Congratulations to you and your baby-to-be!

    Shelly–Thank you for sharing this. I know I need to increase my focus on spiritual nurturing.

    Carla–One thing that constantly amazes me about my boys’ physical abilities is the serious amount of noise they can produce.

    Jon–You’ve made the modern dancer in me so happy. I remember years ago being back in a yoga class after some time away, and standing in “parallel position” and taking a few deep breaths made me weep.

  13. Laura: The Sushi Snob

    June 5, 2011

    My mother-in-law has some major body image issues, and tends to project them onto me by always reminding me how “tiny” I am. I keep telling her that she looks wonderful! She really does, especially for having had five children. I would send her this, but I don’t know how if she would really appreciate it.

  14. kim

    June 6, 2011

    oh boy- is this ever a timely topic for me!
    I’m here in the middle of the night, because I can’t sleep due to recent surgery that’s got me still really uncomfortable. This surgery has me facing a long period of rehab and I’m already discouraged.
    About a year ago, I decided I wanted to get healthier- I have beautiful grandbabies that I want to enjoy for many years to come. I went from a total couch potato to exercising and eating healthier. I felt fantastic, lost weight, and, frankly, was proud of myself. Now I’m sidelined for quite awhile, in pain, and just not loving my body right now. Hopefully, in a few weeks, I can at least get back to some walking.

    I know, I know… I should be grateful that I live in a time and place where good medical care is available. I keep telling myself that 🙂

  15. Selwyn aka Kellie

    June 6, 2011

    My body is special because it’s carried me to where I am. It’s surprised me with what it’s capable of bearing, and attempting, and succeeding at.

    It’s what I dance in the kitchen with, hug my sons with, and the gorgeous wrapping of my soul.

    All that AND I’m a natural redhead!

    Thank you for your post – I’ll be thinking of you when I start running again at whenever o’clock.

  16. suzi hansen

    June 6, 2011

    When I was newly married I heard a neighbor pay tribute to her very aged mother whose hands were old, arthritic and spotted. The world viewed them as ugly. She, on the other hand, saw them as monuments of love and service. They had cooked for her, cleaned for her, comforted, caressed and wiped away tears for her. They had tended her children, opened books of knowledge and were always there to lift her up when needed.

    The world viewed these hands as ugly. She, on the other hand, viewed them as beautiful – and was overcome with gratitude each time she saw them.

  17. Melanie

    June 6, 2011

    My mom has always been very body-conscious, and as a result I was unhealthily obsessed with my own body image all through high school and college. Not too long ago my sister lost a significant amount of weight, and when I was home for a visit, my mom chided me for not telling her that she looked great. She did look great, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to send the message that she was worth more as a thinner person than she was at her previous weight.

    I know that our physical bodies are important, but I don’t think that I’ve yet worked out how to best emphasize that our bodies are gifts without putting too much emphasis on physical appearance/beauty. I think the message of “your body is special” rather than “your body is beautiful” is a good start.

  18. Anne

    June 6, 2011

    Michelle–I think in our culture we can’t help but have body image heavy on the mind.

    Laura–You’ve got me feeling all sorts of curious about sushi . . . why is it our feelings about our own bodies always get tangled up with our feelings about other people and their bodies?

    Kim–Wishing you a strong and healthy recovery.

    Selwyn–Maybe you could give me a call to help me wake up.

    Suzi–So beautiful. I feel the same way about my grandma’s hands.

    Melanie–I like the distinction you make. I think it’s a process; one we’re all working on!

  19. michelle

    June 6, 2011

    17 – Melanie, you have echoed my thoughts and experience on this.

  20. Barb

    June 7, 2011

    Great post! You can’t start them too young on a healthy image. I know it is so important to avoid talking about weight issues around children as they may pick up on the negative body image information themselves.

    I gained a lot of weight on my mission, which I lost a couple times. Then, I became too thin and gaunt without trying. I did have a bought with flu and possibly worse that made me even thinner. I was too thin for years. I think I am at a healthier weight now.

    The sad thing is that I would rather have people ask me if I was ill from too rapid of weight loss than to be at a heavy weight like I was in past years. I used to think I was pretty but don’t feel pretty anymore most of the time. I think I may be looking better as I am getting to a healthier weight. While I want to be at a healthy weight, I hate to think of people judging me if I gain back my former weight.

    But that is not a good attitude. I need to be grateful for my body. I think people are pretty in different shapes and sizes. But when you think of the marring of some people through fires, birth defects or other reasons, it is humbling and you realize you have to just be grateful for what you have.

  21. Jewel

    June 8, 2011

    I am someone who uses the gym as a means of stress release, social time, and weight maintenance. I thoroughly enjoy early morning jogs or bike rides, and although I sometimes receive promptings during these {panting} times of quiet revelation, I wonder what would happen if I worked on my spiritual self during those break of dawn hours every once in a while. It is hard for me to take an exercise break. Albeit “healthy”, it is an addiction. But my Sunday mornings are always spent in pondering, study, and motionless meditation.

  22. Sue

    June 17, 2011

    It gets me where I want to go and helps me do what needs doing.

    And it’s mine to keep!

    😉

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