Do You Love Your Body?
I am excited because Monday I travel to one of my favorite places on this earth: Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico. I am excited also because I am going there for a workshop called “Wisdom Sharing: A Deepening Retreat,” which features such amazing women as Alice Walker,(author of The Color Purple and many other amazing books I have read) Gloria Steinem (feminist, activist, leader of the women’s liberation movement, and founder of Ms. Magazine), and Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung (Christian Theologian and Professor at Union Theological Seminary, NYC). So to get ready for this event, I have been reading Gloria Steinem’s book Revolution from Within: A Book on Self Esteem. The part I just finished had to do with body image, and how so few people feel comfortable in their own skin.
I remember during one of my last visits to Ghost Ranch I treated myself to one of the few massages I have ever had. At the end of the massage, the massage therapist, a young woman in her thirties, said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I could tell that something was weighing on her mind. “Not at all,” I replied. She looked me in the eye and said, “I have given massages to a lot of people over many years, and I do not think I have ever worked on anyone who seemed to be as comfortable in his or her own skin as you are. How did you get that way?”
I instantly recalled another experience, this time a women’s weekend away retreat at Camp Calumet in New Hampshire. About eighty women had just been regaled by a creative, sharp, hysterical one-woman comedy show,”In My Head I’m Thin,” by Susan Poulin. This show was so funny our stomachs literally ached from laughing. After the show a group of about twelve of us gathered in a large bedroom to talk about the performance. It was early November and some of the women had brought all of their children’s leftover Halloween candy, which they dumped onto one of the beds: a mountain of chocolate! As we ate and chatted and laughed, I naively said, “The only thing I disagree with is that she made it sound as though women spend most of their time thinking about our bodies and what we look like.” Dead silence. Finally one woman bravely confessed, “I do. Every time I eat something,” and she popped another piece of chocolate into her mouth,” I think that I shouldn’t be eating this.” Everyone laughed. But woman after woman went around the circle and said, “I think about it all the time. Everywhere you look there is some airbrushed super model making you feel like crap about yourself.” Every single woman in the room, young and old, large or small, nodded her head in agreement. All I could think of was, “What a tremendous waste of intelligence, talent, and energy that could be used constructively in this world.
We ended up talking about it for hours. I ended up scrapping the sermon I had prepared for the next day and writing a whole new one, called “Woman, Be Set Free!” (based Luke13:10-17). Be set free from these images of our bodies which enslave us.
I also could not help but wonder, “Why don’t I feel that way?” I came to the conclusion that I feel so comfortable in my own skin for two reasons. First, my lifestyle , thankfully, pretty much removed me from the influence of the media. I have never been a television watcher. As a child I was outdoors 90% of the time. I still am, every chance I get. As a woman, I was always too busy in school, or working full-time, and caring for three young children as a single parent to waste one minute watching television or reading women’s magazines. The result? I am pretty oblivious to what the media say my body should look like! Thank God!
But the second reason, the more important reason why I love my body, is because of the spiritual component of life. If you truly believe, as I do, that each and every human being is created in God’s own image and likeness, then that is the bottom line. Period.
I think of people as a flower garden: some flowers are tall and wispy; some are short and full-bodied; the variety of color, shape, size and texture is what makes the whole garden so amazing. Each and every flower is stunning in its own way.
But the more I read Gloria Steinem, and see the statistics of how few people can say in all truthfulness “I love my body,” the more I began to think of that massage therapist, and the longing behind her question. The more I thought of those amazing women on that retreat. The more I thought of my daughters, who thanked me for always helping them to feel good about their bodies, and that they are truly beautiful just as they are, even if the media try to convince them otherwise.
So I made a pledge right then and there that I would be an ambassador to help girls and women, boys and men, learn to love their bodies. That afternoon I sat the teenagers in my karate class down and told them how amazing they are, how strong, how beautiful, how powerful. That night I led our women’s spiritual support group, and we talked about the woman in the bible story who had been bent over for thirteen years, and how Jesus said, “Woman, be set free!” and she raised her head and stood up straight. We talked about the text “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?” 1 Corinthians 6:19. We talked about how we need to love and respect our bodies, and the bodies of others.
Let us teach this to our children. Let us affirm this in each other. Let us unplug ourselves from the media and help to heal each other of all the wrong messages we have taken in. Let us raise each other up so we can stand, and proclaim, “Yes, I love my body.”
This day may you see God in all you encounter,
especially may you see God in yourself,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, copyright October 12, 2014
Photos: Sylvie’s feet, photo by Tim Alperen; Linda at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Linda in Cappadocia, Turkey; Linda on wedding day, Newport, RI; flower garden, Hawaii; Juliana in her fabulous tee shirt, Yellowstone National Park; Natalie, loving her body!