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.”
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?