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Bodies Are Amazing, and I Kind of Love Mine (part 1)

I am 29 years old. A year away from thirty.
My joints seem prone to injuries.
I have stretch marks and rolls and wrinkles and stray hairs and white hairs. 
I haven't had a child yet, and I may never.
I have a slight curve in my spine - one that may result in more and more hunching as I age.
From what I understand of science, my body “peaked” at 23 or 24.
I hear it's all downhill from here. 
In Montreal, smiling because I'm happy.
Sometimes this produces immense anxiety and fear. But you know what? The days of loathing my body are relatively few and far between. And they come with much less intensity than they did a decade ago.

In this lifelong and sometimes turbulent relationship with my body, I feel like I'm making progress. In particular, I've noted three recent changes that help me to love myself more:
  1. I actually look at bodies – including my own. 
  2. I choose to believe what others say. 
  3. I am figuring out a theology of the body. 

Allow me to elaborate: (as with many of my big-conversation-posts, this has turned into quite a few more thoughts than I expected, so it will be a little bit of a series...each post expanding on one of these points) 

1. I look at bodies.

Years ago, I heard someone say that a strong antidote for poor self-esteem was to look at yourself naked in the mirror, and laugh. Keep doing this, and eventually, you find the laughter is loving.

I did not do it. But it occurred to me that I rarely, if ever, looked at my clothes-less body. And that maybe I ought to be less afraid to change near the mirror. I also realized I had no context for this body of mine. The female bodies I was most familiar with were not the normative ones. Like most of us, they were celebrities and models and airbrushed print ads. So I started actually looking at the people I saw every day. I started noticing how, even with the benefit of flaw-hiding clothing, the most beautiful people were normal and imperfect. And the most normal people were beautiful.

Last year, I came across a photo project that showcases women in their homes. In the nude (to be clear, if you click on that link, you will be taken to a page with images of nude women). It is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. In a Reddit thread discussing the project, much was said about the fact that for heterosexual women, it is rare that they would have exposure to other, non-media unclothed bodies, and how seeing other women's bodies can give a much broader sense of beauty. This was true for me. As I looked at portrait after portrait of these sisters of mine, laughing and alive, I felt tenderly toward them. I wanted to befriend them, hear their stories and tell them mine. And I wondered, If I can feel kindly towards these strangers, these unknown and utterly vulnerable beings, why should I feel any less lovingly about my very own skin?

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, in her book An Altar in this World,
I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you have never liked the way your hipbones stick out. Do your breasts sag? Are you too hairy? It is always something.... This can only go on so long, especially for someone who officially believes that God loves flesh and blood, no matter what kind of shape it is in. Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, "Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul's address." After you have taken a good look around, you may decide that there is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. Bodies take real beatings. That they heal from most things is an underrated miracle. That they give birth is beyond reckoning.

When I do this, I generally decide that it is time to do a better job of wearing my skin with gratitude instead of loathing. No matter what I think of my body, I can still offer it to God to go on being useful to the world in ways both sublime and ridiculous. At the very least, I can practice a little reverence right there in front of the mirror taking some small credit for standing there unguarded for once. This is no small thing. 

I do not do this. Yet. (related thoughts to come under point #3). And I don't laugh at my naked reflection either. But you know what I do do? I see my body these days.* I don't turn away from the site of my little tummy rolls or unshaven calves. And when I see other bodies out and about in the world, I see them. As bodies with specific shapes and colours and sizes. I see that none of us are perfect, and that is okay.

That is okay.

In fact, it is more than okay. 
We're beautiful, world.
Because we're real.
Real bodies with real stories and real histories.
Real victories and real defeats.
Real futures.
Real lives to live.
So let's live them with a whole lot of love for the bodies that make it all possible.

*seeing my body has come to include caring for it with doctor's visits and physio (so much physio!) and eating a lot of fruits and veggies, and being active - not because all this makes me skinnier, which once-upon-a-time was the goal, but because all of this is motivated by love for this self-house, the skin I wear and the systems that sustain my life.


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