Caitlin Connolly – “Is there something on my back?”

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16


I remember a woman over six feet tall speaking to us in a church years ago.  I’m sure she shared a great talk, but all I remember is a story she told about how she began to stand up straight and have good posture.  As a girl who was a little over six feet tall in jr. high she constantly slouched, scrunched, and tried to blend in.  She said a professional volleyball player came to talk to their class one day and as her jr. high self exited the door the volleyball player lightly grabbed her arm and said, “my goodness girl, stand up straight and let your beautiful self be seen!”  She said she never slouched again. I’m not tall, but on some level I knew I was slouching, weighed down with unnecessary expectations, desires, and deficits.

I recently read a statement hours after a phone conversation with a friend bemoaning jean shopping.  I mean, not fitting your thighs into a great pair of jeans can absolutely destroy your day.  Our conversation lead down the path where yet again we slipped into traitorous words against our bodies.

“As a child, I never heard one woman say to me: ‘I love my body.’ Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. Not one woman has ever said: ‘I am so proud of my body.’ So, I make sure I say it to Mia, because a positive physical outlook has to start from a very early age.”  – Kate Winslet

I feel like my roots are maternal. When I think of my relatives, my family experiences, and the genealogical stories ceremoniously told to me they are all female rich. I have women warriors behind and beside me.  Dimensions of their force however include stories of self – criticism and disapproval.  I view them as powerful portraits of strength, generosity, and personality, but the external haunts we women feel were planted generations before me.

I remember my grandma, mom, and aunt hovered around a box of old pictures as I sat and watched.  I was young.  Many pictures were of my great-grandma who had cut out her hands of the picture (I was told she never liked how they looked).  She had won a full scholarship to the University of Utah in Piano Performance, which she forfeited to have a family. Years later, her hands taught many children how to play the piano. In a few of her family pictures, she even cut out her face. “It seems gruesome”, my grandma assured while laughing, “but my mother had such a sense of humor, but what a pity she did this to her beautiful self.” They laughed and shook their head and their sentence “see, it’s in the genes!” bounced through the air.

Other anecdotes trail down my female line to my own grandma, mom and myself displaying similar themes. These threads of disapproval are seemingly innocuous.  There was no physical self harm, psychiatric attention, or life inhibiting scars left as I know many other women warriors endure, but perhaps it is a even more dangerous disconnect between soul and body because it is the carbon monoxide of our gender. Seemingly harmless, but when it goes undetected or even used for validated bonding, irreverent damage to our mind and bodies ensue.

It is so easy to recognize the wasted potential and energy in other women who seem so flawless and beautiful in our eyes, but it is so easy to self criticize ourselves.  Would we ever say the things we say to ourselves to a young child? We’ve been told that tobacco, drugs and the like defile our bodies. What about the great defiling of our spirit and light of unrealistic expectations others and ourselves push on us through hidden curriculums around us? I see disconnect in our dialogue and doctrine amongst friends, mothers, and in our church.  We esteem the Word of Wisdom and the law of chastity, yet hate our bodies – which we are told is our temple. Do we preach self-acceptance and worth alongside virginity? Do we connect our divine potential to loving patience of our physical differences? If not, we should start.

Like the painting, we become so accustomed to having something weigh us down that we don’t even realize we are hunched over inhibiting our life and light with something on our back.  It is our job as women to perpetuate the grandeur in our bodies and souls instead of the “never enough” school of thought. We must start a vaccination of discussion, and thought, allowing our body to become a temple of peace.  Light always shines out of temples.  Mothers will shine outward for their children, friends to friends, spreading a more holistic doctrine.

Do you relate?  Is it worse now with media all around us?  What do you do for yourself and your family to combat such expectations? 


  1. Haybay

    June 3, 2013

    Great post!

    I think hand in hand with this is the way we talk to ourselves and about ourselves. While I don’t remember many in my family being quite so vocal about how they disliked their image (though somehow I knew they did) I often heard very negative self talk. I remember my mother and grandmother oftentimes telling themselves how stupid they are or how they can’t do anything right and suck at everything. One memory in particular still is with me. We had learned about spiritual gifts in seminary. I came home and told my mom I didn’t know if I had any spiritual gifts. She scoffed and said “I dont have any spiritual gifts either. Our family must’ve been absent the day The Lord handed those out.” I felt my mother had affirmed what I feared and instead of explaining that we all had spiritual gifts, she convinced me not only that I didn’t have any, but that no one in my family did either—no doubt because we were ‘too stupid’.

    Negative self talk is almost second nature for me. I have to really focus on what I’m saying to myself and how cruel it is and have to try even harder to stop it. I am often times surprised at just how negative I am toward myself all. day. long. I would never say such terrible things to even a stranger, let alone someone I love. And i would be devastated if I ever heard my children not only say them, but believe them.

    Sorry, I know that was a different direction to a very great post. The scripture king Benjamin so wisely gave comes to mind of the warning to “…watch yourselves and your thoughts and your words..”

  2. Jenny W.

    June 3, 2013

    OH! I LOVED this post! Well written, well thought-out… BRAVO. I immediately shared this with my husband. On too many levels, I would venture a guess that MOST women suffer from being weighed down with all kinds of unnecessary baggage. I could easily relate to that junior high girl who slouched and scrunched to fit in. Junior High is over, and I still find myself figuratively slouching. I vow to be better and see the divine physical gift that I’m living in as just that–a gift to be treasured and treated with loving care.

  3. luckytobemomof3

    June 3, 2013

    I love this! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. After many years of dance and gymnastics, I had a body that I was pleased with and took care of even after having children. Over the last few years, I have had some life-altering experiences that have also altered my body, greatly, to the tune of about 100 extra pounds greatly. It’s kind of strange though, I am so very happy with myself. I have weathered storms that I never thought I was going to face or would be capapble of handling. I still take great care of myself with by eating healthy and exercising regularly and surprisingly, I still carry myself as a dancer would, with my head held high.

    I would love to shed the extra weight and maybe in time, I will. In the meantime, I will continue to take care of myself, look good and be happy when I look in the mirror. I am so much braver and stronger than I ever gave myself credit for and if people are uncomfortable with my weight, that’s okay because I’m quite happy with my life and body.

  4. Jennie L

    June 3, 2013

    Haybay- were we in the same family… because I’m pretty sure my family (especially women) are great at negative self talk! That is definitely a part of my thought process and a part of this post. Is is amazing how influential mothers and grandmothers are when we are young. I don’t think how destructive negative thoughts are. I’m trying to change that pattern – one thought at a time :).

    Jenny W. (yay for a fellow Jenny- Jennie, tomato, tomato). THANK YOU! I have so many thoughts and unarticulated
    feelings (dare I see even shame) associated with this topic that I didn’t even know how to start, so I’m glad some of it resonated with you. What an epidemic we woman have to combat. Here’s to sluffing off our baggage!

    Luckytobemomof3- YES! You give me hope! This is the kind of attitude and thought I believe we should all feel and have – with our head held high! You reminded me that acceptance and joy in our gift of a body doesn’t have to mean we don’t want to change or become better. But in the mean time we need to lovingly accept ourself. Your journey sounds trying and enlightening. Your kids are indeed lucky too:)

  5. Sage

    June 4, 2013

    I am not sure why the negative talk is (mostly) gone from my life (because my mom had a tendency to speak negatively at times), but I have never had a bad body image. I’ve always appreciated that my body was a temple. We used to dance and box with old leather boxing gloves for family home evening…maybe that helped. I also took a lot of dance lessons, but not the type to make me feel too fat (at BYU the ballet teacher told me I didn’t have the ballet look, but I preferred modern dance anyway).

    Now I do a lot of yoga. And I tell my 12 year old to sit up straight to be beautiful. She is very shy and I am not.

    I think being active helps you appreciate yor body, whether it’s tennis or hiking, dance or gymnastics young girls gain a better sense of their marvelous bodies through an enjoyable activity.

    I love that painting!!! Thanks for this thoughtful post!

  6. Cassandra Hopkins

    June 4, 2013

    as a dancer, I was always taught to maximize my body’s use, health, and potential. I have always fought against people telling me it has to be “normal” or “like everyone else’s. No, it has to be the best ME, not having one thing to do with anyone else’s body or how anyone else sees me. I dress for me, I work out for me, I compare myself to me and answer to my God for it. Now I encourage girls (like my own) who are forming their own self-images, to get in touch with themselves. What are the things they LIKE about themselves, and to go from there in positivity. I remember my grandmother telling me how skinny girls really struggled in the 30’s-50’s because they didn’t have figures, and then after the sixties, everyone who has a figure has been struggling! Aren’t human bodies healthy or unhealthy? These other classifications are nill. I loved this post. I love my body. I show love to my body.

  7. Rebecca Stay

    June 4, 2013

    I am six foot two inches tall. Barefoot. At the age of 14 I was taller than everyone in the building at Wasatch Jr High School.
    But I do not slouch. Why? Rebellion.
    My mom, my aunts, my grandmother, my aunts’ friends were all appalled at my ungainly height.
    One even suggested an operation to remove some bone in my legs to make me shorter, more acceptable.
    Being a teenager, I went out and bought boots with 4 inch heels just to annoy them all.
    I guess there is some virtue in the teenage “I’ll show YOU!” attitude.
    But, the second question I am asked – can you guess what the first one is? – is “How tall is your husband?” Is there a rule somewhere that husbands HAVE to be taller than their wives? While we are bemoaning our own self image, let’s also let go of our measuring men by unreasonable standards as well.

  8. Inari

    June 5, 2013

    I’m a visual artist and I’m currently working on a self-portrait project (slash self-image therapy?) about all this kind of stuff, so THANK YOU very much for all the research help 🙂

    My problem – with the project and with life – is kind of the reverse: I am exactly the sort of looking person that media/society portrays as beautiful: young, tall, slim (but not flat), blonde etc… I twigged to the point that I was what society considers beautiful quite early on (around 19ish?), and that actually makes it quite hard to try to be vocal about and celebrate my body or beauty because it would look like enforcing the status quo. One feels almost guilty for having this perk in life (and lets face it, it is a perk, albeit a nuisance sometimes too) after having done nothing to earn it. It’s that concept of “checking ones privilege” in action.

    So the idea to stand up taller and say “hey you know what, I’m beautiful” is actually extra frightening for me, And it’s making this portrait project of mine scary too, because they are, well, very pretty, in the conventional sense (and art school taught me nothing if not that pretty is not as interesting as “challenging” 😛 Not that I care). The obvious solution would be to juxtapose the pretty images with negative words (point out that even conventionally beautiful women have self-image problems) but I don’t want to do that because they are meant to be more like portraits of the inside or of my spirit, and I’ve come a long way from the negative talk since I joined the church five years ago…

    ((Side disclaimer: just because I know with my brain that I am what society thinks is beautiful, doesn’t mean that I feel that way about myself. And for a while now I’ve been very interested in the idea of feeling beautiful as opposed to looking beautiful…))

Comments are closed.