Friday, September 12, 2014

Body Image and Gratitude



I have a short story to share with you, but first you must endure a long-winded back story.  Sorry, it's how I do.

First it's important to note that as a modern American female I've had my fair share of body image issues.  I distinctly remember my first "diets" (trying not to eat too much) starting around 3rd grade. I was very worried about my round belly and apparently I was vocal about this concern as I remember being assured by many grown-ups that it was normal for a little girl to have a round belly. In fact, a funny childhood story stems from this worry: In 3rd grade I thought my belly was so big (it wasn't) that I convinced myself I was pregnant. I had NO IDEA how a girl actually got pregnant, but I knew that being pregnant when you didn't have a husband was bad. (Remember, Mormon upbringing... not trying to lay any judgments here). I was so convinced, and so weighed down with worry, that one night I was laying in bed unable to sleep completely filled with anxiety. Finally I got up to get my mom and tell her the terrible news. Mom, I think I'm pregnant.   still remember her rolling her lips inside, under her teeth and pressing them together trying to stifle a laugh. Then she calmly assured me that I was definitely not pregnant and sent me back to bed. I mean it is a funny memory now, but the unfunny part and the part I don't talk about is that it all stemmed from thinking I was fat. So much so, that the only logical explanation in my head was that I must be pregnant.

As a child I remember hearing from family members things such as, Don't eat until you're full, that's how you get fat or if you ever get fat I'll send you to a fat farm. One summer I was running around in a swimsuit playing in the sprinklers when someone pinched my inner thigh and said, What's this?  This person laughed as I felt the embarrassment spread over myself and the immediate desire to cover my body. I was probably 9. Even though I was young, I was old enough to perceive that this person was trying to send me a message about my chunky inner thighs. No matter how skinny I've been (and I'll admit I've been too skinny at times) my inner thighs have always had extra padding... it's just how I'm built. You guys, I was not overweight at all.  I don't think I could have even been categorized as chubby in my youth. Yet I had it in my head that I was too big and thought about it often.

I share these experiences because 1) I don't think most people think of me as someone with body image issues. I don't talk about it a lot, but it's there. 2) I think my experiences as a child are common for girls in my generation. And I think the women in my life said these things to me, because those were common things for them to hear in their generation. And 3) I think it sucks.

The thing is this type of thinking doesn't just go away, not even with "awareness" and "acceptance."  In college I was a skinny girl. It became part of my identity and looking back at my upbringing, how could it not feel like anything but a huge accomplishment? However because I was 'skinny' I think that most people would have never known I was someone who still struggled with body image. But I'm trying to paint an accurate picture so understand, it wasn't this huge, burdensome, all-consuming struggle. Not in the way of someone with an eating disorder or anything. (Although I dabbled with bulimia for about 6 months in high school. I stopped on my own after realizing it was stupid, so I'm not sure I truly considered myself bulimic. Would you consider someone an alcoholic if they drank on and off for 6 months and then stopped cold turkey? I don't know... but that's how I've always thought about it.)

This is a rather long prologue to a short story, but I tell you this to help you understand that like many women, my body image issues run deep. These days I work out more for health (truly), but I'm not sure I'll ever completely shake the desire to look a certain way. And frankly I don't think that it's necessarily, intrinsically bad to want to look a certain way--fitness goals can be really productive and even helpful in a lot of ways. Also, if it's not weight, it's make-up, hair, fashion, style... most of us care in one way or another about our looks. You know, it's complicated.

But negative body talk is never good. Thankfully there are a lot more women of my generation trying to stop the negative body talk for ourselves, our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, cousins, friends, etc. And when I say negative body talk I don't just mean saying negative things about a girls body. What I mean is making a woman's or a girls body an object to judge, ridicule, approve, gawk, etc.  Positive body talk can be just as damaging. Last year PSP came home from school saying, My teacher says that I'm tall and skinny just like a model. Oi. It's not that a girls body should never be considered beautiful, because body's are beautiful! They're amazing and miraculous! But I think you know what I'm saying... praising a body for looking a certain way, while condemning a body for not looking a certain way... that hurts people. Which hurts societies. Which hurts nations, and so on.

OK, so finally my story... my long-winded point to sharing all of this.

A few weeks ago Lamp was saying the prayer--for either dinner or before bedtime, I can't really remember. Thing is, Lamp likes to pray. She pretty much asks to say every prayer and we pretty much let her. So Lamp says the prayer and she's thanking Heavenly Father for all sorts of things.  And then she says, "Thank you for our bodies, thank you for bones and blood..."

I don't remember much past that because my heart was caught on the fact that my disabled daughter was thanking her Father in Heaven for bodies. A little girl who was born with a body that is actually missing bones says a prayer of gratitude for this precious gift, even specifically mentioning bones.

That was a tender moment for me, and I've thought about it a lot the past couple of weeks.  Of course her prayed has helped to once again realign my perspective and remember all the reasons I'm grateful for my body. My gosh, my body... I sometimes forget how amazing it is and all the blessings my body has afforded me. Yes, her prayer is a great reminder to love our bodies--no matter the imperfections, because they are all most definitely imperfect.

But I share this not to make you feel guilty for caring about your muffin top or despising your freckles, it's bigger than that--I mean sure those things too, but there's more to it.  Lamp was demonstrating a principle of truth that I needed to hear and maybe you needed to hear it too. Her prayer is a  beautiful reminder of gratitude and how gratitude can shape us and change us. Perhaps you're familiar with the book The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. If so, then surely you remember Betsy's prayer of gratitude for the fleas because she was trying to 'be grateful in all things.' Her sister Corrie thought this was going a little too far... surely even God didn't expect them to be grateful for fleas. In the end Corrie would learn that the fleas were most definitely something to be grateful for.

Her prayer gave me a lot to think about--a gentle shift in perspective about bodies, and a reminder that there are probably some fleas in my life I that I could throw a little gratitude at. Her prayer was both humbling and uplifting as it was said from a place of purity. As a 4 year old there was no double meaning like, Hey listen up you able-bodied ingrates--just simple, childlike gratitude. Yes I have body issues that run deep and because of that I have become keenly aware of the responsibility I have as a mother of 3 girls--3 girls with very different body types--to change that conversation, avoid the comparisons and shield them from the lies, contradictions and confusion about the female body. But gratitude for our bodies no matter their size, shape or deficiencies? I think that might just be the best antidote there is. Is that too simplistic an answer? Maybe. But in my experience gratitude is a powerful force.


Thoughts, feelings, impressions?  Please share...


***
This is a great video that actually fits really well with today's post.  I get sent a lot of videos, articles and links featuring people with limb differences.  Which is really great--thank you! Most of the time I've seen the video or at least the person being featured.  But I had never seen this video or this guy Chris before...so thanks Kristen!  If you have a few minutes it's worth your time.  And the end... it gets me every time.  Have a great weekend!  XO Migs

 

8 comments:

  1. Yes, I think we need to be just as aware of the positive body talk. I'm continually surprised by all of the comments my 7-year-old gets about her small frame, so we try to redirect the conversation and focus on our bodies being strong and healthy. We will now add gratitude for those things to the list! Also, in being pregnant and having a baby a year ago (tomorrow!), I've been amazed throughout at the license people have taken to comment on my body, especially around losing the baby weight. As someone who struggled with eating disorders for several years in college, I'm especially attuned to things like this, and having people praise me for losing all of the baby weight (and then some) has been somewhat of a disappointment, when in reality the weight loss has been, in addition to breastfeeding, largely due to stress, exhaustion, not taking as good of care of myself as I ought to, and I don't feel as healthy as I need to be. Anyway, thanks for talking about this issue.

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  3. Anonymous11:56 AM

    I love this! We all need to be aware of not only what we say to our children, but how we talk about ourselves as well as others. They are listening!

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  4. Wow! Thanks for sharing all of this!

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  5. this was such a powerful read! thanks for sharing! I too have struggled with body image issues my whole life, and it's on my mind how not to pass that on to my children

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  6. Wow. I really loved that. All of it, including the video. I think about this all the time raising three girls. Thanks for your thoughts and for Lamp's adorable little (big) example.

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  7. Hi Miggy, I watched and loved the video. You have seen the Anne Geddes meningitis vaccination campaign... right? I know one of the young man.

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  8. Anonymous8:51 AM

    Lamp is much wiser and than a lot of us grown-up women. It took me having two babies later in life to come to appreciate my body for what it is. I wasted so much time in my youth and into adulthood, worrying about my weight. I was a big, strong athletic girl, who dieted her way to eating disorders. And now I have a 7 yr old daughter who is a big, strong, and athletic girl and recently she's started looking at the calorie counts on food and drinks. She isn't yet at the point where she won't eat something because of the calorie count, but I'm thinking whoa, where is this coming from? My mom used to tell me, "pretty is as pretty does", and I'm trying to instill that in my kids as well.

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