on bodies, beauty, and backstroke

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In middle school, I swam on a summer swim team. I would occasionally win heats against other third tier swimmers, and by the end of my second summer I improved my time enough to become a second tier backstroker, but the Olympics were not in my future.

I was also an unremarkable left fielder and occasional third basewoman for the Cardinals in seventh and eighth grades. Sliding practice, making up cheers, and riding in the back of my dad’s truck after games were what I liked most about softball. I wasn’t an athlete but enjoyed being part of a team.

By ninth grade, the sun had set on team sports for me.  We moved and I didn't make the school team--even though it was only the junior high one.  The next fall I went out for high school volleyball, which was even more misguided: I quickly learned that varsity volleyball was nothing like the backyard variety when they handed me a pair of knee pads and instructed me to dive.

Perhaps things would have been different if I were an athlete, but I’ve never really felt at home in my body. I suppose I’ve lived more in my head, considering myself an idea person--a writer, a thinker, a problem-solver. I nurtured my creativity and intellectual curiosity but didn’t quite understand how to inhabit my body, which I saw it as something a little foreign, awkward, and in need of work.

As women, we are conditioned to be unsatisfied with bodies that will never meet impossible beauty ideals. This doesn‘t stop us from trying, and we spend billions on the next miracle product that is sure to give us whiter teeth, flatter abs, shinier hair, skinnier thighs, clearer, younger skin, etc, etc, etc. We want our bodies to be simultaneously skinny, curvy, and sculpted, but really, who can possibly look like all that? We live self-consciously as if under a constant critical gaze, but I think more often than not, no one demands the kind of physical perfection we are so disappointed not to find in the mirror.

Through the experiences of childbirth and breastfeeding, I'm learning what it means to inhabit my body in a way that is healthy. My body is strong. It’s miraculous what my body can do and what it has done. My body is not merely ornamental: it nurtures and sustains LIFE--the life of a beautiful little person who I hope will grow to be a confident woman who is comfortable in her own skin, too.

My body is not an object to be viewed, judged, or improved. Instead, I am the subject and actor: with my body I love my husband, feed my baby, nurture, comfort, hold, cuddle, serve, dance, play, laugh, hike, move, and celebrate. Recognizing that who I am is physical as well as spiritual and intellectual, I’m starting to embody my full identity as a woman created in the image of our awesome God:
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14).
I still have moments when insecurity wins out, but I’m becoming less judgmental and more appreciative of my body as the intricate, powerful instrument it is. I almost said “more forgiving,” but that’s the kind of self-talk I’m working to combat: my perceived flaws are not sins to atone for. My body’s value far exceeds mere appearance, my worth comes from God, and I’m naming the arbitrary beauty ideals for the oppressive, false idols that they are. 

I will not worship at their alter today, for LORD, you alone are worthy, and it is in you alone that I find my value and purpose.

1 comment:

Kris C. said...

Thanks so much, Zayn. I really needed this today!

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