Who here feels like they have arrived? Who feels like their body is in the best shape it’s ever been in, and that they would not change anything to it, even at no cost and with no effort? If that’s you, then I’m gonna have to be honest with you and let you know we can’t be friends anymore. No, not really. That’s not the way my mom taught me. We can be friends, but could you do me a big favor and just keep all that to yourself? Misery loves company, you know.
I’ve been thinking a lot about body image lately. I’ve been thinking that for a smart girl like me, I’ve been awfully dumb my whole life. I cannot remember a time in my life that I have thought that the body God gave me was adequate. I remember as a little girl, sitting between some petite friends in gym class. I looked down at all of our legs, and I didn’t like what I saw. My legs were bigger, and I thought they looked bad.
This is curious to me, because I don’t know where these thoughts came from. I lived in a house full of girls, but I don’t remember having conversations about people’s bodies. Unless it was like, “Is your body clean? Or, can you please get that body outside to rake leaves? Or, time to make your body go to bed. So, where does a little girl get the idea to assign adjectives to anatomy? I mean, I really thought my kidneys and my liver looked better than most people’s, but my arms, legs and stomach…I was sure those could all be better.
My legs worked great. I killed at the standing broad jump, and those little guys took me wherever I wanted to go. Not a thing wrong with them. So why did I used to stand in front of the mirror and hate what I saw? I thought that my legs should definitely be smaller. And while we’re at it, why did I have to have arms shaped like lamb chops?
Well, I’m older now. I survived all that childhood angst. Now I know better. Or, at least I should. If we’ve been friends since I was 15, then you may know that I’m probably never gonna really surprise you in the body department. My shape and form have stayed relatively the same. Sure, I have all the weathering and battle scars of having babies and getting older, but those things will never see the light of day. Otherwise, I basically have what I started with as a teenager. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve been planning on losing 10 or 15 pounds. I have always thought that there would be some day soon that I would reveal that fitness model physique that is my “real” body. The body I have now is just temporary.
I’m 41 years old, and don’t you think I should know better? I was thinking that if I could harness all the mental energy I’ve wasted over the years on this illusion and dissatisfaction, I possibly could have cured cancer by now. I don’t think it’s just me either.
The other day I had a close friend tell another friend and me that she is much bigger than her sister, maybe 20 pounds. Soon after that conversation we saw our friend’s sister. Later, we both told our friend, “You do know that you and your sister are the same size, right? Like, exactly the same size. Tiny.” My friend was truly surprised to hear this. She said she always thought of herself as bigger than her sister. She admitted that she doesn’t think she’s ever had an accurate picture of herself in her own mind. When she said that, I wondered how many women actually do?
That conversation is just one of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this subject lately. The other reason is that I am watching my parents’ bodies succumb to age and frailty. My sisters and I have had a joke that my mom possesses magical powers. She could turn a piece of tin foil into a Halloween costume, a can of beans into a nice dinner for company and bed sheet into a prom dress. As an adult, when mom walked through your front door your vacation could officially begin. She would use her magical powers and your kids would be cared for and your house would be clean. She also possessed the magic powers to make me super lazy.
I have a memory bank full of images that involve mom working, using her hands to serve others. Well, now my mom’s hands are swollen and stiff. They’re starting to curl a bit from arthritis, and sometimes they just won’t work for her at all.
And then you have Papa Bear, sharp and so much fun. Dad was always good at seeing and understanding what was happening. He would help you solve your problems, and he also was a fun maker. He had great ideas on where we should go and what would be fun to see. Well, he doesn’t see much any more. He lost his sight in one eye 15 years ago. Now the other eye is failing him too.
I was out walking the other morning. It was cold and I was enjoying the quiet. I was thinking about my mom and dad. I was wondering what it would be like to live a life of gratitude. What if we could be consciously aware each minute of the day of each and every one of our blessings at all times? Like what if at this very moment I could think, thank you that my fingers work, so that I can type. Thank you for the education that I received that taught me to read and write what I’m typing. Thank you for an income that allows me to buy this cream I look forward to tasting in my coffee every morning. Thank you that my throat works, so that I can swallow this cream in my coffee. Hmmm…I don’t think our human nature makes this type of consciousness possible. Our nature tends to allow us only to be truly grateful for and appreciate our blessings when they are gone.
That doesn’t mean I can’t try. When you’ve been talking and praying to God for a long time, it gets easier to know when He’s trying to tell you something. I think He’s trying to tell me something through my parents. I think I’m supposed see mom’s precious hands that have worn themselves out caring for me all these years, and Dad’s beloved eyes that have watched over me and seen only the good in me, and I’m supposed to try to live a new kind of life of gratitude. I’m supposed to think of my parents’ body parts that have served them and me so well over the years, and be grateful in a new way for all my own working body parts.
If I were to lose the use of my legs today, I wonder if I would say, “Well, they were a lot bigger than I wanted them to be anyway.” Nope. I have a new mantra now. I love this body God gave me. It is exactly right.