Loving Self

Did you know that there are mountains in Texas? Seriously, mountains. It’s flat for days (literally) and then right before you hit the Mexicos (the country and the New) the Franklin Mountains pop up like forgotten geographical zits. My reference to acne aside-I actually think they’re beautiful. They aren’t as grand and imposing as the Rockies, nor as graceful and undulating as the densely forested Appalachian, but they have their own rugged beauty sculpted from the bare, jagged rocks that ripple with a variety of hues in the desert sun. My first sight of them brought joy and excitement-I knew vaguely that there was a mountain range supposedly dividing this new city we were moving to, but in the chaos of orchestrating the three day cross country move I hadn’t given them much thought. Mountains! Our last two duty stations had been flat (Ft. Bragg) and flatter (Ft. Rucker) so the presence of actual elevation more than made up for the lack of trees. Mountains! I can currently look out the window above my sink and MOUNTAINS! Right there. I love to watch the weather roll in over top and I get spectacular sunsets nightly (when the wind isn’t blowing enough dust to impact visibility, ha).

So, naturally, this being the world of social media-I tried to take a picture with my phone to share my excitement. ….womp womp. Every picture I took I felt like the mountains looked dull and tiny and uninspiring. The pictures just didn’t do the mountains justice! It was frustrating. So I stopped taking pictures and just soaked up the view in the moment.

Now we’ve all seen or done this. How many times have we tried to take a picture of something and the picture just didn’t really capture what was going on? Conversely, how many times have we seen photographs that take our breath away? This. This is exactly what we do with our bodies and our selves.

I don’t like all the marketing campaigns aimed at women and beauty, even some of the “self love” ones irritate me-because they focus so much on appearance. Appearance is only a snapshot of life. It’s only one lens. It’s not even smart phone camera quality, it’s an outdated flip phone camera picture. When I mention loving my body, I mean NOW and ALL OF IT. I don’t mean “loving how far it’s come” or “loving the pretty parts” or “loving the strength it has” I mean in this moment, wherever you are in the journey of life, loving the intricate complexities of your physical-ness. Our bodies are incredible, each and every one is a work of art-even those who are, by the world’s standards, disabled or diseased. How extraordinary that our organs work in concert to fight disease, to find ways to adapt to disability, to struggle through this life still pumping, still going, still doing. We have amazing capabilities of healing, of strengthening, of endurance and stamina, of sensation and interaction, of delicate manipulation, of shaping and creating. We should nurture them, care for them, rejoice in them, stand in awe of them, and ultimately- love them. And yet the biggest pressure society puts on all of us is how this deeply complex organism appears on the surface.

By whose standard of beauty are we measuring ourselves? I’ll tell you flat out-there isn’t one. Artists have struggled with the concept of beauty for decades-is it symmetry, a certain pattern, a specific asymmetry? Is it a hind-brain driven grab at fertility, or a survival mechanism? What makes things beautiful? What makes certain people beautiful and others, not? How come the standards of beauty change so dramatically across the decades? A better question-why are we all still so obsessed with just one measure of a person?

I am thirty years old (yesterday!), and I can just now assert with confidence that I am more than my appearance. I have dreams, goals, emotions, ideas, quirks, idiosyncrasies, talents, gifts, a soul…-all swirling together inside this body to make a complex person. My body is a part of my person, make no mistake, it is the part through which I am able to realize those same goals, dreams, interests, etc.  But it is only a part of a greater whole, and my appearance is even a smaller aspect of that part. When I look at my boys, I have to take a huge mental step back to evaluate their appearance objectively. To try and see them through the eyes of a stranger-it’s almost impossible. When I see them, I don’t just see the formation of their limbs, or the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, the stance of their skeletal system-I see the energy leaking out the pores of my three year old as he runs down the sidewalk, the pleasure in the eyes of my toddler as he successfully recaps a marker, I see their spunk, their quirks, even their thoughts seem to be etched clearly in their movements. And all I feel is love for who they are. The lens through which I view the boys is super high quality and focused, and I’m sure rose tinted. But when I take a picture and put it on Instagram-you don’t see all that. I look at that picture and see THEM, a stranger looks at that picture and sees two boys.

Why are we believing the picture a stranger has of us? Why are we focused on making that shallow, one level representation of who we are (our appearance) matter SO MUCH? Why are we so reluctant to believe that those who love us don’t view us the same? They can’t view us the same, because they see more of us than just a snapshot. So let’s stop placing more importance on how we are seen compared to the always shifting standard of beauty, than on cultivating all of our selves. Because when strangers become less than strangers, what we look like is rapidly buried under how we connect, and that connection is not based on the shape of our cheekbones. Y’all, we can’t escape our society from judging us, that will happen-we are not responsible or in control over the actions of others. But we absolutely can, and should, remove ourselves from the equation. Because the lens by which someone is judging you may be from the camera of a flip phone. It doesn’t even come close to capturing who you really are.

Thoughts on Body Image from a Skinny Christian Woman

After my workout on Tuesday I went to take a shower-boy did I need it-and did the customary “look over” in the mirror before hopping in. You know the one I’m talking about. You kinda just take quick check on your appearance while the water heats up, maybe pluck a few stray chin hairs (don’t judge! You know it happens…) suck in your stomach and turn sideways, and then shrug and jump in to get clean. I’ve been feeling convicted a lot recently about body image. As I dive deeper into the Beachbody coach thing, I know I need to find places to draw my boundaries, and I know I want to promote a HEALTHY lifestyle-not necessarily a skinny one. But a lot of times I feel like a hypocrite, because I AM skinny. And that led me to dig even deeper and here are some things that surfaced.

I am ashamed of being thin. It’s not just the feeling like my boniness is ugly, or the wondering whether I’d be more attractive heavier (both things I thought a lot during high school and college). It’s this feeling that my size is a problem. My appearance is hurtful to others. Somehow, my being thin makes it harder on others who aren’t thin. My pant’s size is responsible for other people’s lust, envy, bitterness, and disgust. My tall, lean frame pretty much causes people to have eating disorders. Being skinny is my fault. And being skinny is wrong. If I were a super-villain, my power would be driving by and zapping people into anorexia.

Some of these points were driven home in college where appearance was everything and yet my body was apparently “up for grabs”. I often felt isolated from people I wanted to connect with because of how I looked. I managed to worm my way into a great group of friends-most of whom would be considered geeks or nerds to the rest of the world-but in the early stages one of them (bless him for his honesty) flat out asked me why I was hanging out with them, to not take it the wrong way, but I looked more like the sorority type. I despised my body during college. I was constantly slammed with the mentality that to be pretty was everything, and if I measured up to the mark I was a slut, but if I didn’t measure up I was worthless. This was all hateful, hurtful nonsense.

Through much prayer, and growth, and the confidence that comes from being in a supportive, loving marriage the hurt and disgust faded away. BUT, I’ve realized that there is still lingering shame I’ve been masking. I don’t like working out with people because I am very body conscious. I’m conscious that in many athletic settings I am usually one of the thinnest people in the room. I feel like that means I should be fitter than I am. I feel like this also means woman hate me for being thin and working out (both MY perceptions, coming from me, not grounded in reality). I make excuses for my size-good genetics, I love working out, don’t really have much of a sweet tooth to fight, etc, etc, etc. I focus on my weaknesses to try and put people at their ease-for example, I really am a SLOW runner. Like, sure, I finished two ultras, but I was second or third to LAST. I focus so much on the health benefits of eating well and exercising to try and write off my appearance as inconsequential. In fact, I may sabotage my own efforts at becoming fit because I am worried about the impact on others. None of that is emotionally or psychologically healthy-in fact, it is all rather self centered. Seriously, my body type is causing all these problems in others? Well aren’t I a celebrity. PUH-lease!

Downplaying my appearance gets frustrating, and eventually it boils over into almost furious diatribes of how I AM healthy and people SHOULD lose weight and they can just STICK MY PANT’S SIZE IN THEIR PIPE AND SMOKE IT. Which results in me then feeling guilty for being angry and bitter, and I’m back to being ashamed. Because secretly, guilty, oh so secretly- I like what I look like. I’m proud of my body and how it works. I like my appearance. There are parts I don’t like as much, sure, but overall, I feel like a good looking woman. But I shouldn’t, right? Because me LIKING being thin and fit means I’m giving other people body image issues.

Bottom line: body image isn’t easy, it’s a mess in my head, and I don’t have it all straight. But here is where I am in this journey-

First and foremost, we are made in the image of God. Our physical appearance matters, because it reflects our creator. He did not make our bodies for us to despise. Our physical bodies are the conduit for Christ on earth. The local church is made up of believers physically present together. I should not downplay my body, I should not despise it. I should NOT abuse it. I should love it, and care for it, and use it on this earth for the glory of God. Learning how-and implementing-a healthy lifestyle so that I can care for my body in all ways includes physically. This is not the same as worshiping my body. It does not mean I should put my physical needs over others. It does not mean I should be enamored with my own appearance or judgmental of others’. It means it’s ok to like how I look, it’s ok to appreciate how my body works, it’s ok to work at being healthy. It is ok to find joy-and pleasure- in this earthly form.

It’s true, my genetics mean my skeletal frame is taller and narrower than others-but that is how I’m made. It’s also true that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and if people look at my shape and become embittered or envious-that is their struggle, not mine. It is also true that I have my own issues-like anemia-so eating balanced and maintaining muscle are things I need to constantly do. Spiritual health takes continual, committed development. Emotional health takes continual, committed development. The health of your mind takes continual, committed development. The health of your body requires no more and no less.

So, I’m working on it. I am working on resolving the shame and being proud of the beautiful, strong body I have been given. I am learning to embrace my size as healthy for ME, and let go of the idea that my appearance is personally responsible for the issues of others. I do not advocate that everyone has to be thin to be healthy, but for my frame thin IS healthy and I am praying for help to remove the unwarranted guilt. I don’t have aspirations to be a competitor in any fitness arena-that just isn’t me-but I am going to keep building and strengthening and taking pleasure in the physical changes that occur as a result. I believe balance in all areas of life can be attained within a healthy lifestyle, and fear of something becoming an obsession is already an unhealthy way of filtering the world. I want to be fit. I want to have muscle definition. I want to look good-for myself and for my husband. But what I want most is to enjoy this earthly body; to take care of it and to take pride in it because it is a much appreciated gift.
The hard boundary, the line I will strive to never cross, is to turn the intentional habits of eating well and exercise into something I worship. It will be a vital part of my life, but it will not be the most important thing in it. Balance is key.

**I am aware that this topic goes much deeper than I have chosen to, and I have done just that-chosen-to not take it farther. Partially because I am not a theologian, partially because this is already a long post, and mostly because I’m still plunging the depths myself. This is a tiny segment of a continuous mental dialogue.**

I’ll leave you with these photos: the first taken my last year before graduating from Penn State. The second taken 6 months after the birth of my oldest. The first one makes me cringe- I am cynical, bitter, and sarcastic, wanting to some how take control of the body image mess by tossing it in people’s faces. I am silly, joyful, and free in the second. I would not go back to that point in college for all the money in the world. You are so much more than your appearance-but it’s fine to like what you look like. Balance.

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*credit for the second photo goes to Georgina who took some amazing photos of me, my husband, and Cade that day.

We Interrupt Your Scheduled Program…

Sundays are my rest days. I don’t exercise, I don’t cook much-it’s pancakes for dinner, and I generally relax, recoup, and spend time with my family. We’ve been trying different churches here in El Paso in the mornings, and I’m going to attempt another OCF meeting tonight. I’m mentioning this because it’s something I haven’t yet talked about on here but that is inextricable from healthy living. Not just rest, but wholeness. I focus a lot on physical health on this blog, but emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health are equally as important, and in my opinion Spiritual wellness trumps all the others. So today’s blog isn’t about food relationships (we’ll get back to that tomorrow) it’s gonna be a bit rambling and not quite as organized, but I need to throw it out there. Much like I was nervous about posting that I am a Beachbody coach and I’m enjoying their trademark drink Shakeology, I need to make it clear to any readers that I am a Christian and my faith is a driving force behind what I do. I can’t separate it out. Exercise, for me, is also a worship experience. Loving my body is directly inline with loving the God who created it for me.

I’m ADHD (see, told you this post would be scattered) and the hardest thing for me to do is shut down my brain. As a child I remembered trying a watch under my pillow (I ended up counting the ticks and was in the 3000’s before I finally chucked it across the room), praying, reading, shadow puppets, ANYTHING to get my brain to SHUT UP. I’d stay awake well over an hour past bedtime listening to my little sister snore away and I’d get increasingly frustrated that I couldn’t fall asleep. I finally figured out what worked best-absolutely zero light, going to bed about an hour before I wanted to fall asleep, and creating an elaborate story in my mind that I would replay, rearrange, and continue scenes of in my head every night. I began to look forward to bedtime just so I could work on my mind story. Now, I still have a hard time falling asleep, but the mind numbing exhaustion that comes with having children helps a lot and I can fall asleep in under half an hour most nights.

But when I exercise-my mind relaxes. It is the most addicting part of exercise for me. For 30 minutes a day I focus singly on exercising my body, so-since that paradoxically takes up all my focus and allows me to UNfocus-I get 30 minutes of relaxation while doing squats, and planks, and whatever. Running is the best. Sometimes when I’m running I can almost think of nothing. Just the typical sensory input of the where I am running, what it looks like, how my feet feel, etc. etc. So while I’m exercising, I often pray. Not generally articulate words-although sometimes I do when I’m running-but more of just a constant dialogue of gratitude and amazement for the strength in my muscles and the feel of a stretch and the wonders of a warm and loving home with beautiful children who are active and healthy and just, thanks. Over and over again thanks.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have grumpy workouts, too. But workouts where I start grumpy and END grumpy are very, very, seldom. I am struck anew again and again by how complex the human body is, and am re-fascinated by how everything works to give me motion and balance and strength, how everything feels-from the pounding of my heart to the mat squished beneath my toes to the flush I feel creep up my skin as my body temp rises. Exercise for me is sensual, and things sensual for me are always spiritual. Many people really appreciate music, they feel it body and soul. I feel body and soul when I exercise. My God, My God, how You have created me!

This is why the scale has no power over me (I quite honestly don’t know where ours is currently, haha). I like progress, sure, but who I am and my self-worth is not based on my appearance or weight. I want to be healthy, to feed my body the food it needs, to build my muscles, to keep my skeletal system strong, to fortify my immune system, to be kind to my digestive system, to essentially care for this earthly body that was given into my care. It all circles back to that. And I experience such joy in this. There are days where I don’t want to, there are days where it is hard to turn the TV on and start warming up. I have two small boys who are nonstop from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep again. I. Am. Tired. But the discipline of an exercise program is part and parcel of where I find my joy. I suck at the “typical” daily devotionals- I usually read theology books in chunks and then digest them over a week or two-but if I exercise I get that chance to pray, and doing it faithfully is, for me, a tiny way to faithfully worship Christ.

SO there you have it, my drive and motivation for staying healthy is one of complete wellness, not for a number on a scale or a certain dress size. I am not trying to say all Christians should worship when they sweat (Here I am to workout, Here I am to burpee, Here I am to pushup for you’re my God…) or that every time I sweat I am having a stellar communique with the divine. But this IS the biggest single motivation/reward/drive for why I strive to lead a healthy lifestyle. Until I get my heavenly body, I will do my best to treasure the earthly one.

Just thought you should know. 🙂

Keep Your Pushups, VS

Me: “It won’t take long, I know what I want and the size. I’ll find it, try it on, and we can go.” I tell my husband as he cajoles with our two year old to not touch any of the lacy displays. I hoist our other toddler up higher on my hip and grimly plunge deeper into the store. Past the perfumes, turn left into the next section, ahhh, here they are. I mutter as I look through the bins, “I don’t even know if they’ll have my size.” A nicely endowed employee cheerfully offers me help and finds me a different variety. “No, not pink.” I shake my head. Armed with two I ask where the dressing rooms are. “Oh! Ready to try them on?” “Yes.” I state firmly, I just want this over with.

My two year old comes with me, explaining to the employee how, “Mommy is going to be fixed and ALL better.” Bless him, he makes me smile. My little helper is on a “fix it” kick since daddy has been messing with the cars. Cade is all chatters in the dressing room, and heartily disappointed when I tell him he can’t wear one. “Oh. I too little.” He says with a dejected sigh, startling a laugh out of me. Feeling a little more cheerful since they fit perfectly, I pick the one I like best and my chatterbox and I leave the room. My husband is trying to keep Zane from opening all the sliding drawers and rifling through the goods as I walk out of the fitting room section. An attempt at standing in line is hastily aborted and I take the kids to ride the escalators while Brian pays.

I hate shopping, but bra shopping is the worst. It’s the worst because my biggest body hang up since high school has been my breasts, pounded into me by every billboard, advertisement, movie star, magazine- to be a pretty woman you need boobs. It’s why the “Real woman have curves” campaign leaves me a little queasy. Hey, guys, I know I’m skinny. Does that really mean I’m not a woman? I finally became comfortable with my chest because they graduated to a modest B, and I AM skinny, so a B was enough. Then I became pregnant and oh man, never have I felt more gloriously curvy. It was fantastic. I had cleavage! O.M.G. I HAD CLEAVAGE. I breastfed both my boys, after Cade my breasts stayed about the same, but after Zane they shrank. And kept shrinking. And I realized that when my husband was doing ridiculous amounts of pushups in prep for a PT test that he could probably fill out my bra better than I could. I stopped wearing bras and hid in cami’s and yoga shirts. Easy and comfortable, nothing wrong there.

My boys are totally worth it, because who I am doesn’t rest on my cup size- I told myself this daily. My husband still thinks I’m the hottest thing out there-and he also adores the me that just happens to reside in this body. I rested in the knowledge that God created me in this perfectly imperfect body and my job was to love and honor it. And you know what? I do love my body, I am proud of the muscle definition in my triceps from all those PiYo pushups, and the strength in my shoulders that allows me to double carry  my 25+lb boys half a mile home from the park without rest.

But as I stepped into the store, I was gritting my teeth. I imagined judgment and pity were there probably wasn’t any. Clearly, I’ve still got a bit of work to do loving what is left of my chest. The point is-a lot of that is our culture. Body shaming goes both ways. We shame the obese. And we shame the skinny. The most common description I hear tagged with skinny is bitch. You can’t, apparently, be skinny and a happy, wholesome person. Not only that, but people look down on you if you exercise and eat healthy-either you’re just an arrogant snob trying to be better than everyone else or there is something psychologically wrong with you. I am not allowed to tell people that I believe exercise is an important priority or that I enjoy eating fruit as a snack without either having an eating disorder or being somehow false. People would rather believe that I am only pretending to enjoy eating well and staying fit; because everyone knows the dream is everything fatty, sugary, and sedentary so really I must be secretly miserable.

I hate all of that. I don’t think I’m a bitch. I try really hard not to be. I don’t think everyone should be a size 0 either or even a size 6. I’d love to have some curves-but I don’t have much and they aren’t going to appear without surgery (which isn’t happening). I do enjoy staying fit. Even on those days were I struggle to put in my 30 minutes of exercise I NEVER regret doing it. Ever. And though the tedium of dishes and the stress of trying to feed picky toddlers makes me want to order take out at least twice a week, I do feel a difference eating clean, and I AM proud that my toddler boys eat well.

So stop, stop with the shaming. The more we try and define femininity solely on body type, the more we buy in to our existence as solely sex partners. Which is crap on so many levels. And seriously, guys, you should step up to the plate on this because you are more than a penis with legs. It does neither gender any favors. I know strong, intelligent, beautiful, resilient women of many shapes and sizes, and I know strong, handsome, intelligent, compassionate men who are not wasting away in need of sexual release, or stimuli, or a slave to their libido or what. ever.

I am a real woman who is as flat as a board and not a bitch, thank you very much. And I’ll munch on my homemade hummus and carrots after I kick some serious p90x3 butt.