Category Archives: Body Image

True love waits is dangerous and damaging to kids

When I was eleven, I signed a contract with God to remain a virgin until I was married.  It was an actual piece of paper that I was handed by one of the youth pastors in my church.  I said a pledge and signed my name at the bottom, probably with a heart or a flower over the letter _i_ in my first name.  At the time, I had no real concept of what I was promising with that paper.  All I knew, was that the worst thing I could do was become one of “those girls” who ruined herself before God and gave away the most precious gift she could give her husband on her wedding day.

The adults knew what I was signing.  They probably thought they were doing something good in my life. They also gave it to me at such a young age simply because I was too young, naive, and sheltered to understand the meaning of such a promise.  As soon as I put my name on that paper I committed myself to years of additional guilt and shame.  All the normal pieces of growing up, the flirtation, dating and discovering who I was going to be as a grown woman were all shadowed by the promise to never have sexual thoughts, desires or actions until I was properly married.

Sex isn’t wrong, it’s a part of being human

Sex is a basic biological drive.  All of us are driven to find food, shelter, safety, and to reproduce.  It is hardwired into us as creatures of this planet.  To tell a person that these urges are wrong, sinful, and shameful is simply ridiculous.  Trying to convince someone to not want sex is about as logical and useful as telling them not to want food and water.

Most every person on the planet has an interest in sex and most of the adults have it on a regular basis.  To pretend that our teen children are somehow exempt from this basic drive, and expect them to ignore it in the name of God is cruel.  You can’t ignore your body when it is hungry and cold, you also cannot ignore your body when it has a desire for sex.  To destroy sexuality is to destroy something fundamental about who we are as humans.

Many adults slap a childs’ hands when they dare to touch their own genitals.   I was taught that bodies were created by God, beautiful and perfect, in his own image.  Except for that part between my legs, that part is dirty, and disgusting and sinful and never touch it.  No one had to explicitly tell me this, it was inferred through conversations about women, and as a girl becoming a woman, I listened.

A penis is called a penis, a vulva is “down there”

As women, the name of our genitals is almost never even spoken except in euphemism and whispers.   The vulva is the Voldemort of a women’s body, the she-that-shall-not-be-named, or seen, touched, or explored.  Male sexuality is discussed in mainstream culture as a given. Masturbation is a common comedic joke in many forms of film and media.  Female sexuality has two options, virgin or whore, with nothing in between, and we had better choose the virgin.

When I was old enough to know a bit more, I discovered that I, as a daughter of Eve was responsible for all the sin in the world and that painful childbirth is my reminder of the damnation I, as a woman,  have brought into the world and unto men.  My periods,  make me even more unclean and dirty, adding another layer of shame that emanates from the space between my legs.

I could watch television on any day and a commercial for a feminine hygiene product would tell me my body was always in need of additional freshness and a clean feeling.  I never wanted anyone to know I had my period, even other girls.

I also learned how my body further creates sin in the minds of men.  I was told in many different ways that it was my job, as a women, to not tempt men with my clothing, actions or words.  Men they said, are no more than walking sex crazed maniacs, a veritable penis with legs who cannot be held responsible for their actions if I was perceived to be dressing or acting too provocatively.

If I did get touched/assaulted/raped, I would likely have asked for it, and would be partly responsible.  I spent years in fear of men’s eyes on me, aware that I was constantly in danger, striving to be as unattractive as possible so that I would be seen as a thinking person and more than a sexual object. I had conflicting desires to be a sexual person, to be pretty and attractive but the lack of autonomy made me hate my body for making me weak, vulnerable, and afraid.

Becoming fully sexual seems impossible

Purity-Rings
Purity ring via Bible Knowledge Bookstore used unchanged in accordance with Creative Commons 3.0 license.

My virgin sexuality became the most important aspect of my image, or at the very least being able to portray myself as a virgin, even if it was a lie.  The inability to keep my pre-teen contract as an adult woman created a double self. A secret, unacknowledged sexuality shrouded in shame and denial, and the external false purity constantly in need of prayer and grace.    I showed the world a woman that was  pretty but not sexy, smart yet accommodating,  until I was so far into the act of upholding expectation, that I had no idea who I actually was.  My one hope was resting on the promise that my imposed asexual child-state was temporary and that one day I could  float into adult sexual bliss within the confines of a marriage bed.  Except it didn’t work that way.

I got married at 27 only to find it wasn’t possible for me to transition from being a shamed, quasi-sexual child in an adult body, to a fully sexual, well adjusted woman in a single thirty minute ceremony by the magic contained in the exchange of rings.

Now I am the adult, raising a child of my own.  I am over a decade into the process of healing my own sexual self,  learning to love my body, and now I find myself on the other side.  I look at my daughter and I want none of this for her.  She asks me questions about her body and I refuse to instill in her the shame and guilt and grief that consumed me for so many years.

The cycle stops with me.

The Truth About Being Fat

How many times have I looked into the mirror and told myself I was disgusting, gross, fat, and many other terms that denote being less than. You pick your favorite.

I’m sure you have too. Maybe you did it today.  You might not have been near a mirror when you said it. How many times did you say the words? Can you even count?

All of that chatter is a way we tell ourselves that we are not enough, that we don’t deserve love or abundance or happiness. It’s a lie.

It took me a long time to see the lie for what it was, and even longer to believe that it was possible to love myself and to be loved in whatever body I was wearing at the time.  Even now, there are days I find myself slipping back into the mind of “I’m not enough” and all the negative self talk that goes along with those thoughts. I have to actively change the way I talk to myself.  Every. Single. Day.

sumo wrestler
Photographer Ivan Hernández via Flickr. Used in accordance with Creative Commons license.

I don’t need anyone to tell me what I look like

No one who was ever overweight missed the memo. I have mirrors and scales and doctors and family and random strangers to tell me what I look like, but you know, I was aware of it long before anyone ever felt the need to have a discussion with me about it or make an off-hand comment.

There are a myriad of reasons why bodies have more or less fat that than others. There is a lot of evidence that weight is not a direct indicator of overall health.  The bottom line is that you have no idea what is happening in the life of the person whose body size you are evaluating. The only person for whom it is relevant to discuss it, is the person and their doctor. I promise this fat person in your life doesn’t need your opinions or advice. What they do need to to have friends and family who treat them as whole people, instead of fat people.

Sometimes it’s not about food

In my own life I needed to be able to feel my body again.  I needed to learn to trust my body to know if it was hot, or cold, or tired, or hungry, or full and not have to turn to an outside source to tell me what I was feeling.

After that, the question for myself became; why am I you eating what I am are eating? What, if anything, am I covering up? Not talking about? Avoiding? Ignoring? Looking for? Wanting? Believing about myself?  Food, for me, is the arrow that points to the issue inside.  It points to what I am really hungry for, the emotional and physical hunger that isn’t being met and is, instead, being filled with edible things that fill me up.

When I started addressing these issues for myself. When I started acknowledging the thing(s) I really wanted, and really needed, and the things was ignoring in my life, food became irrelevant.  Weight started leaving and I didn’t need a diet.

I am enough

When I followed the food long enough I discovered a bigger truth.  I am worthy of love and affection and joy from myself and from others.  When I finally got this into my head and into my heart, my body and my life began changing in ways that were bigger than numbers on a scale.  My outlook changed, I received compliments, I wanted to be more active and creative and involved in the world. I felt joy as a regular experience. I even got smaller.

I love myself as I am

I am still a Botticelli, but I don’t cringe when I look in the mirror.  I focus on the things that I love and appreciate about my body.  I treat it kindly and with love, that includes what I eat and how I move.  Things are changing but I’m not waiting for an arbitrary finish line to love and appreciate myself and you shouldn’t either.