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Me, My Body, and I

By Rosalyn Eves

A few days ago, C. Jane posted an untouched, full body photograph on her professional Facebook page  to make a point about body dysmorphia. Above the picture she wrote, “I’m doing fine.”

File:Antalya museum statue of a woman.JPG
Photo by Ad Meskins, wikimedia commons

I nearly wept. Not because of the message: I believe that we *should* love our bodies regardless of what size they are. But because I’m not sure I’m doing fine. That “should” taunts (haunts?) me.

Here’s a truth: I don’t love my body. I’m incredibly grateful for some of the things it has done for me—for carrying me long miles on my mission, for bearing children, for not giving up when I put it through a half-marathon last fall—but I can’t say I love it. When I look at it, really look at it, all I see are the thighs that have always been too wide (CRTs, or “charging rhino thighs” as we call them in our kids. It’s cute, for a 3 year old. Not so cute when you’re almost 40), the breasts that are too small, the wrinkles starting around my eyes.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. It’s hard to grow up in our society without having complicated feelings about received ideas of beauty for women and men.

In recent years my body and I settled into an uneasy truce. Most of the time, I try to act disembodied—like my body is simply a vehicle for my head and my heart. But I know it doesn’t work that way. My body influences how I experience the world: it filters outside stimuli, its health influences my productivity, hormone fluctuations alter my moods.

And then there are those moments, where I’m caught out of my head into awareness of my body, into noticing the way my thighs brush together, into wondering if the students in my class are thinking about what I said or how I look.

I wish I didn’t care—but more than that, I wish I knew how to train myself to see differently. I’ve heard countless reminders that, as God’s children, we are all beautiful (I have, ironically enough, written one such reminder myself ). But it’s one thing to believe that about other people, it’s another to believe it about myself. Or maybe, it’s one thing to know something, another thing to believe it.

I watch my 7 year old daughter, who still knows she’s beautiful, and I want to keep that for her for as long as possible. I don’t want her to hear me saying disparaging things about myself, only to wonder, in turn, what’s wrong with her. (One of my traumatic memories growing up was making my mother cry after complaining how much I hated my thighs—the ones I’d inherited from her, and from generations of women who had needed those strong thighs to work their farms.)

My attitude isn’t fair to her—or to my husband, who tells me I am beautiful, and deserves better than my typical flippant, “I’m glad you think so.” Come to that, it’s not fair to me either. I *should* think I’m beautiful.

We all should.

But how do we do this? It’s a genuine question. There are so many different sizes and shapes and colors of bodies that it’s ridiculous that we think certain types have more value than others. And yet we continue to do so. I suspect some of this has its root in insecurity–if we don’t believe firmly in our own value as people, how can we see that value reflected in the way we look? I still have a long way to go to believe in myself, but I am trying.

For those of you reading who have learned to embrace who you are—how did you do it? How do you learn to see yourself differently? To inhabit your body differently?

About Rosalyn Eves

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework. Her first novel comes out Spring 2017 from Knopf.

16 thoughts on “Me, My Body, and I”

  1. This is such a hard thing for all of us. Some women find working out/losing weight empowering, but I have chosen to love my body where it is. I used to be very thin and somewhat trendy; now I dress for comfort and rarely wear make up, and I love my body so much more than I did when I was more conventionally attractive. Not that there's anything wrong with being dressy, but I found I was doing it for the wrong reasons at this season in my life. I don't know exactly what changed for me, but it was a combination of getting angry about the messages our culture sends women to keep them down so we'll buy more stuff, of having children and being in awe of my body, of focusing more on sensation and function and experience than worrying what I looked like while living my day. I have two daughters, and I love that they don't see me as anything but what I am to them: for them, my body equals home and comfort and love. Loving your body is a radical act–good luck to you.

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  2. I don't think you have to like every part of your body now to love and accept your body. Example: I love my husband but I don't like how he drives or how he snores at night.

    Likewise, I accept and usually love my body, but I also use wrinkle cream and sigh a little every time I look at my stretch marks.

    The key for me has been to enjoy my body and how I look and feel for my OWN benefit and not just to please my husband or impress other women.

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  3. My mother is in her late sixties and still struggles with perpetual dieting/body image issues. It makes me so sad when I think about the time, money and energy she has spent on yo-yo dieting and crazy exercise fads over the course of her entire life. So what she's considered overweight according to the BMI? She's in her sixties and can still get on the floor and play with her grandchildren and has had no major medical problems thus far. She's pretty healthy compared to lots of women her age! I just want to shake her sometimes and say, "Your children love you! Your grandkids love you! Losing 20 pounds will not change one thing about how your family feels about you! Give it up!"

    So, please, let this be a cautionary tale to so many of you out there who struggle with this. Yes, we want to be healthy so we can live the life we desire, but at what cost? I hate the thought of looking back and realizing I spent so much precious energy and time on nitpicking my body and feeling disgust for myself.

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  4. Good point. Maybe part of the trick too is to focus on the things I *do* like instead of the things I don't. The same thing works in marriage . . .

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  5. I just wrote a blog post talking about the archetype of the wicked stepmother and how her quest for beauty (which I think is a symbol for power) is a product of damaging cultural expectations.

    I think beauty in our society is equated with power. The only way to counteract that, in my opinion, is to recognize the genuine power or skills we possess and utilize them for good. I think when we hate our bodies or obsess over dieting and exercise, what we are really trying to reclaim in a sense of power. I don't mean power in the dominion sense–although many people do seek that kind of power. I guess I mean it in the sense that there is power in recognizing our true worth–and then moving forward with purpose and strength.

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  6. As someone who started on my love/hate relationship with my body as a young dancer, my own road to acceptance and loving myself has been long. After having my three children I found a love and acceptance of what my body is and the amazing things it can do (and that was at my fattest–and yes, I'm using that word because it's true and I can write the word "fat" without any self-loathing)! Just because I love and accept my body, and truly think I am beautiful regardless of my weight, doesn't mean that I should abuse it with overeating and unhealthy habits. I try to walk the road of love and self-acceptance, while being honest about my habits. I truly feel better about myself when I eat whole, nutritious foods and exercise vigorously for at least 30 minutes 5-6 times a week. This makes me feel great. When I overeat I feel sluggish, self-loathing, withdrawn. When I eat well I feel powerful to make choices that benefit my body, my mind, my emotions. I don't care about cellulite, wrinkles, or the crooked cesarean scar that my belly fat hangs over–I've EARNED those things, but I know when I'm not taking care of the glorious being that I am, and that makes me sad.

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  7. When my mom was in the final stages of cancer she told me she wished she could write a book about the things she hadn't done that she wished she had done. I expected her to follow up with something profound about loving more, forgiving faster, or something along those lines. Instead she said she wished she had just gotten a boob job and a nose job like she had always wanted to do. I was surprised and sad for her. I knew she always had issues with those areas, and to be fair her cancer-related weight loss had made her nose a little more prominent and her breasts smaller than before. As her body turned on her perhaps she thought she would look and feel better if she was happier with those areas. But I wish she had come to love herself and her body more. I have tried to learn from this negative example to be kinder to myself. I think being kind to ourselves relates to loving our bodies. No one has a perfect body in this life, and everyone who lives long enough will see their bodies break down with age. But I would never look upon my children or best friends and pick apart and hate on their bodies, so I try to with varying levels of success to look upon myself in a friendly way too.

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  8. I remember, when I was a teenager, doing Christmas caroling for bedridden nursing home patients. As we piled back into a car, one of the girls in our group said "Oh wow. I hope I never look like they do."

    And I immediately knew that there was a good chance that I every one of us in that group would look just like they did someday.

    I realized, then, that I could live my life fighting and fearing the facts of deterioration and imperfections in my body or I could simply look at them as basic and neutral facts of life. So I made a conscious decision to do just that.

    That decision was one of the most liberating body choices I'd made in my life up until then and it continues to be so.

    Fifteen years later I began to understand that the things I fight hardest to create and maintain in my life are the things that are hardest for me to see change. Knowing that change in my body was inevitable, I decided that though I would take generally good care of my body (Word of Wisdom and all that) I would not fight, all my life, to make it reflect something it was not, or some "ideal" or something that it had once been but was no longer.

    I have other things in my life that I work and fight to create and maintain, but a more youthful, athletic, or "better" or more attractive body is not one of them. As a result, for me, each change (wrinkles, gray hair, shape changes, structural changes, ability changes etc. etc.) has been interesting, and a learning experience, but not a reason for dismay.

    I have a body! That's amazing! For me the key has been gratitude that I even have a body. Bodies really are amazing things.

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  9. When it comes to body image, I think I have a different perspective than most—due to a life-altering experience I had as a teenager (many many years ago). Ever since that dangerous moment, I've been utterly grateful for every cell in my body! 🙂 I absolutely love caring for my body (exercising, eating well), and I sincerely try my best to follow the Word of Wisdom. I love being physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally strong! 🙂 If you'd like to know more about my experience that helped me truly love my body, here's the link to my blog post:
    http://www.enthusiasticfantastic.com/2013/11/love-every-breath.html

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  10. A practical thing to do that has influenced my attitude towards my body is life figure drawing classes. Especially the kind of exercises where you draw for just 15/10/5/1 minutes with your eyes locked to the model and never picking the pencil off the paper (and you do some with your right and some with your left hand) You do a million of these fast squiggle drawings just following the contours of the body with your eyes and trying to create the same free flowing line with your pencil. Learning too see the body in an art context just… I don't know, flips some switch in the brain and everything becomes "interesting" instead of "beautiful" or "ugly".

    Similarly I used to think my belly (which will not be flat no matter how fat or thin I get, I just always have a pot) is ugly but after drawing and drawing I sort of lost the judgment and got to a point where it just is. And now I sometimes can even do like Bruce Willis's character's girlfriend in Pulp Fiction, look at myself in the mirror and think that pot bellies are cute and that I have a cute tummy.

    But I'm kind of similarly not in a place where I love my body. It just is, I have no feelings either way – and I kind of never really understood why we'd have to love our bodies. It's just a weird concept for me. I obviously understand it's bad to hate your body but I don't know why you should have feelings like that for your body at all. I love myself, the body doesn't get separate special treatment aside from that. It just seems to encourage mind/body separation and they're not separate.

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  11. My body image fundamentally changed when I was diagnosed with PKD. There are so many things about my body shape that I can't control, and that's really frustrating. No amount of exercise or dieting will make my PKD belly go away. But j have found a fundamental gratitude for my body that it still works—kidneys at 50% capacity and I can still run 6 miles? Wow, thanks body! I find that when I push myself physically and feel strong, I appreciate my body lots more than when I'm treating it badly. Our bodies are AMAZING, and when you open yourself up physically and see really how far your body can take you, whether it's running a 5k or getting through a tough exercise video or whatever it is that is hard for you, there comes a profound sense of self love and gratitude that is much more powerful than anything else I've been able to discover. And shape feels like confining when you also feel strong. It's when I feel physically out of shape that I hate my body the most.

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  12. My husband was diagnosed with PKD ten years ago, at the age of 62. He'd been a pilot in good health throughout his military career, and always passed his flight physicals. Some eight years after retiring from the Army, he developed high blood pressure without anyone discovering it was being caused by PKD. Once it was discovered, immediately he was checked for a brain aneurysm and found to have a small one very close to the optic nerve, the repair of which could cause blindness in one eye and loss of short term memory. We have been blessed to have awesome medical care specialists from Wash U med center and now, at nearly 73, while in 3rd stage kidney failure, his creatin score is still on the high side of normal (l.55)—-His docs call him their miracle patient. All of this is to say as a man who grew up thin, and was thin (6'3" 175 lbs) and married me, a formerly "willowey" tall blond, whom he loved thru thick and thru thin, mostly thick, tho recently 50+ lbs thinner following the positive advice of the Word of Wisdom, he never once complained about my weight, and tho he now struggles with his weight and recently loss 25 pounds, still 25 pounds from his former weight, he takes it all in stride. He's still the handsome 25 year old I married to me—-and he seems to embody a great sense of a "this is all part of the trials of life and our job is to do our best with what we have" attitude. I wish I'd adopted that a lot sooner but at least at nearly 74 I think I finally have learned to love my body.

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  13. Linda, why does it take us so long to realize what really matters in life? Like many women, I struggle with body image, especially having grown up super thin and not very cute. Unfortunately, I soon became a lot "thicker" and not much cuter! I was shocked, however, when my grown daughter and mother of two young boys, recently told me, after listening to me complain about my weight,etc., that MY poor body image had affected her, AND my younger daughter. I thought I was fairly smart, but somewhere along the way, I missed that connection. I know that children often mirror what they see in their parents, but I feel pretty lousy for that goof. Now I'm trying to figure out how to compensate for what I've done. Hopefully, by continually supporting them they will see that putting myself down had absolutely nothing to do with them. Live and learn I guess. Loved your post and wish you only the best.

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