This blog post is in collaboration with the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from #Unco14, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for December is (Un)Carnation.
I’ve hated my body since I was old enough to know I could. It started with my hair. I have natural curly red hair. It was constantly touched, praised, and adored by adults. On the other hand, my mother and sister had straight hair, as straight as straight could be, and oily. My mother (bless her heart) would brush my hair with a wire brush. Do you know what wire brushes do to dry, frizzy, naturally curly red hair? Yeah… it was not pretty.
In an effort to combat the frizz I would cut my hair short. Guess what? Made it worse…
I had freckles and my skin burnt in the sun. I was a little pudgy as a kid. I didn’t loose my baby fat in my pre-teen years like the other girls. I did, however, develop like an actress from Baywatch. This also was not helpful. I still remember being grabbed in the hallways and classrooms in Junior High, my teachers thought this was insignificant taking a “boys will be boys” attitude. It as then however, as much as I hated it, I learned my body could be powerful, that it had power. If people “liked” my body, they would “like” me.
So I used it, I learned to use my body for attention. This is not an uncommon thing for teenage young women, feeling powerless in so many aspects of life that discovering your body has power, especially the ability to manipulate and control horney teenage boys. It made me feel powerful, and powerless all at the same time. I detested myself.
I have spent the last 20 years trying making peace with my body. I remember sitting in therapy after my daughter was born trying to make peace with the havoc pregnancy, childbirth, and the subsequent infection had on my body. “I didn’t expect this at all,” I said, “I had so many body issues before pregnancy I didn’t think it could get worse” I was wrong. I loathed my body after having 2 children in a way I didn’t think was possible. Really, I HATED it before, but after carrying 2 children. Nope. Couldn’t stand it, which translated into not being able to stand myself.
Do you know what it’s like to not look at yourself in a mirror for years? Not be able to look at yourself? Self-hatred that deep?
Sometimes I could force myself to look and I would stare into my eyes, I would try, try to believe myself a child of God, to understand myself as fearfully and wonderfully made. This seemed impossible. “You are a beloved child of God” I would try to convince myself. “BULLSHIT” my mind would scream. “You are fat and ugly and awkward! You are unloveable, I don’t know how anyone stands to look at you.”
Welcome to my inner voice.
In my late 20’s my doctors discovered a genetic disorder where my body stored fat and processed food differently than “normal”. The hormones in my stomach literally told my brain I was starving, like hadn’t eaten in weeks starving. So my body would store fat. After my kids were born medical science advanced and I actually had a few options. I chose the least invasive and so far it seems to be working. But it doesn’t erase the years of mental angst, the internal hate I’ve had for my body my whole life. Now I say to myself (and out loud for that matter now that I’m single) I look alright with clothes on, but you don’t want to see what’s under here…
Trust me, it’s not pretty.
I am still working to make peace with my body, age and gravity are not helping me in this department… Yet, my body keeps me alive, it’s the only one I’ve got, without it, I am but dust. I have asked God the majority of my life what the purpose of this body was. I saw my body as against me, and in a lot of ways it was. No matter what I did, it did something else. As I get older this struggle will continue. I already have the beginnings of arthritis, other aliments are coming. (side note: I can actually hear the Wicked Witch from the West in my head say “I’ll get you my pretty”, because sometimes I’m hilarious)
On Christmas Eve we sing “Silent Night” and hold candles thinking of a perfect looking holy family. When really, there are screams of pain of childbirth, a dirty barn floor, blood, fluid, terrified parents and a baby who have just been through the trauma of childbirth fill the air.
All is calm, all is bright?? NO, not in a million years.
God incarnate came into this world the way we all do, through the pain of childbirth, he experienced the pain of the body, he was dependent on his mother for food, he depended on others for care, he had constraints of the body just like everyone else. He had to eat, drink, and rest. His parents and grandparents had to teach him not to put his hand in the fire or play with knives. That the body was fragile and resilient all at the same time, that it should be honored and cared for.
Without the body Jesus could not have been God incarnate. And in all honesty this is vital to my faith. God walked the earth in the ways I do, to understand me better, in order to love me better. I actually do believe this. He got blisters on his feet and didn’t want to get out of bed somedays because it was just too hard. But then he fasted and prayed, then he did what we all do, he allowed his body to carry his Spirit, he allowed this great gift to be used for the glory of God.
As I think about how many years I have spent rejecting my body I also think about how Jesus embraced his. How the root of sin (according to doctrine) came in the form of shame of the body (Genesis 3). How Elizabeth felt the joy of first kicks when John recognized Jesus in utero, and the overcoming of sin and death came in form of the death and then resurrection of the body.
This is my faith. My tradition. The body and blood is shared in communal meal. It is sacred and is to be honored. As is mine, as it is a gift from God.