On Monday I was mad that at forty-four years old I am still struggling with my eating and with body image. On Wednesday I read this article about obesity and was angry about all the years that society and even doctors have lied to women and made us unhealthy in the name of health. On Thursday I got a letter from a woman who had gained weight and said she hated herself, and I was furious that my self-image and that of so many other women has been decimated by this toxic culture since we were very young. All week I’ve been pissed off reading reactions to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s account of sexual assault, and reading the #WhyIdidntreport hashtag, realizing again and again how many of us women have been sexually assaulted and then shamed about it. I felt the anger in my body. My muscles felt tensed and taut and strong. My blood flowed faster. My skin warmed.
On Saturday I went to the gym and in the locker room I changed into my bathing suit. I walked by the full-length mirror on the way back to my locker, head down, thinking about goggles and kick boards, then I made myself come back and look at myself. I gained twenty pounds last year, and another five this summer, and I’d been fixated on my stomach and thighs, how much bigger they felt and looked, how the skin lay unevenly after years of losing and gaining those same twenty-five pounds. I’d been walking bravely from the locker room to the pool this past year, but it was not because I thought I looked good — it was because even though I thought I didn’t I was determined to not let it stop me.
I had done so much work to accept and love myself twenty-five pounds ago, but this recent weight gain seemed to unravel all my self-confidence. I looked in the mirror because I wanted to learn to love myself in the present, how I was on any given day, not wishing I weighed what I did in 2016, or looking forward to what I hope to weigh in 2019. I wanted to be em-bodied, not lost in my mind like I was for so long, sometimes so much that I was surprised that people could see me. I wanted to be friends with my body, and a part of her. But I still expected to have mixed feelings when I looked in the mirror. I expected to like parts of myself, but not all.
Instead, what I saw was a perfectly-fleshed, fully-bodied woman. I was beautiful. The flaws I expected to see were probably there, but I would have had to search them out and I didn’t. I looked at myself like I would look at another woman I saw in the locker room, noticing her kind and open face, her long legs and statuesque figure, her pale skin against the black of her bathing suit, her short, asymmetrical hair. I was younger than I expected, too. In my mind I had become middle-aged, lumpy, gray. But my eyes were bright and the highlights in my hair were silver.
I didn’t look angry. But I have a theory. I think the anger of the week is what made me beautiful. I think I spend so much time trying to fix the parts of myself that were broken by this horrible, toxic, misogynistic culture with self-love, and ministering to my likewise wounded friends and sisters and siblings with kindness and love — and that is good and necessary. But sometimes I think it can turn into just one more thing I need to fix about myself. Anger turns that feeling outward, towards the culture that hurt me and others and is still hurting girls and women today. When I am angry at the right things it draws the poison out of my own body. Anger strengthens my muscles, stirs my blood, prepares me for battle. Anger reunites me with my body, and reminds me that my body — like all bodies — is good.
Books I can’t wait to read:
Fat and Faithful: Learning to Love our Bodies, Our Neighbors, and Ourselves, by J. Nicole Morgan. It is well past time that we address the convergence of the culture of body-shaming and (white) Christian culture. I am so grateful to Nicole for writing this book, and I want everyone I know to read it. You can order it here.
A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, by Sarah Arthur. I met Sarah at a writer’s conference where I basically sidled up to her and said, “Hi, can I sit with you? Did you know there are famous authors here?” not realizing she was a famous author herself. Nevertheless she was delightful and welcoming to me, and as a personal favor (i.e. a complete coincidence) has written a spiritual autobiography about my favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle. I did a bunch of research myself two years ago for an essay that I never wrote, and uncovered some sad and fascinating things about Madeleine’s life. I can’t wait to read Sarah’s take on it. You can order it here.