“New Year, New You!” proclaims everything from ads for fitness clubs and weight loss centers to books by health gurus claiming to have THE secret formula for a happy and healthy you. I don’t need their noisy advertisements to direct my thinking. My body and spirit have already been speaking, my heart pondering my relationship to my body, and this is what I know: 2014 was a traumatic year for my body, I will not be sad to see it go; and I am also mindful of the hope and intentionality I hold in 2015 being one of kindness and care for my body.
Over the holidays, my sister and her family were visiting, our daughter Katie entertaining her younger cousins with the dress-up box in the basement. Of course, dress up is way more fun when you model your outfits, so soon they traipsed up the stairs to show off their new looks. As Katie pirouetted in the classic little black dress she was wearing, she asked, “Where did this dress come from? Was it yours? Because it fits me! I have so many plans for how I can wear it that would be really cute!”
“Yes” I replied, attempting to keep my voice as contempt-free as possible, “that was from when I had lost a lot of weight and was really skinny.” My sister chimed in, “you were so thin!” In a moment, I was back there, remembering. Members of my family commented on my appearance, one of my sisters who hadn’t seen me in a long time took one look at me and said, “shame on you.” What?! Even my female doctor suggested I was on the edge. Seriously?! Other family members routinely asked what size a particular dress was, or how much you weighed, revealing what I believe to be an unhealthy obsession with weight. (To be fair, it was asked of everyone, not just me.) For someone who has struggled her whole life with weight and body image, I remember being surprised that even at my thinnest, I wasn’t free from shame.
Katie’s innocent questions and excitement over putting new outfits together also took me back to another time, when I was her age. I was very aware of the differences between me and my mom, as well as the heavy shame blanket that smothered anyone who dared to acknowledge reality. I’d see her clothes that didn’t fit anymore hanging in an extra closet and wonder at the waste…I didn’t have an abundance of clothes; surely I could at least borrow a few items from time to time? But no, I was not allowed to wear them either, because someday she was going to wear them again.
Someday. How often do we get stuck in someday thinking?
Someday keeps me working to be acceptable, keeps me from resting in the goodness that is available now.
In 2014 I was in a doctor’s office, hospital radiology department, or operating room way more times than I care to count. On one of those occasions, I remember looking at my health record displayed on the wall-mounted computer monitor, and all my eyes took in was the box that said “Health: Overweight, BMI above the acceptable range.” I knew well that sinking feeling that that’s what it all boiled down to, my health was my weight. My body was out of control, and kindness and care and health seemed unattainable. I had ended the previous year feeling like I was finally gaining traction in my fight to be healthy…running a 5K (a major accomplishment for someone who detests running), enjoying clothes that fit a little better, discovering the practice of yoga and the awareness and goodness it brought to my body.
2014 began with a lumpectomy, followed by depression, then a serious back injury, and finally a freak fall resulting in a torn ACL and knee surgery. Someday I’ll be able to exercise again, someday I’ll have some kindness rather than contempt for all the lumps and curves and scars on my body. As I struggled to be present in any goodness right now, I remembered the story told by a lovely woman I respect deeply. About a hurtful comment made by her husband about her weight, how it would have been easy to make her pain all about his unkindness, but the reality was she held much more unkindness towards her own body than he did. My heart ached with longing as she talked about standing in front of a mirror, coming to the point where she could say “I am well with you”. I remember thinking, oh, what would that be like?! I have never been well with me, for as long as I can remember.
I was determined not to wait until 2015 to begin walking towards kindness. I called a dear friend and asked for help in finding a fabulous outfit for a holiday party. I began to shed my shame the moment I agreed she could come in the dressing room with me, to speed up the process of removing and hanging countless dresses. She knows me well, and called me back to kindness when she saw me slipping, focused on the jiggle of my arms in a sleeveless dress. And in the end, it was a delightful experience of everything coming together like I have never experienced before: dress, shoes, jewelry, and lipstick! Would it be silly to say I felt like Jesus was blessing my desire to embrace my beauty? I don’t think so.
So what feels “new” to me in 2015 is not the need to be a certain weight or a particular size. I am entering 2015 with the intention of being present to the goodness that is available to me…in my daughter’s enthusiasm and creativity, in the opportunities to recall memories with grace, and most of all, in my desire to bring kindness to my body.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.
This is absolutely lovely…I would love to wrap my arms around you for a hug. What a year 2014 was and what a year to look forward to in 2015. Bless you my friend for all the goodness and kindness your beauty beholds. Bless you for your heart of honesty and grace.
Thank you MJ. Your words were just what my heart needed this morning. You are a woman of beauty who has taught me much about having grace and kindness for myself.
I agree with Mary Jane! This is so beautiful. You weathered and suffered so much last year. May this year bring joy and wellness. You look so lovely in your red dress. I love your steps you have taken to embrace your body and shine with kindness and love. Thank you for sharing vulnerably your journey that is the same journey I am on (…every woman who is self aware is on, that of body shame) . This entry, I pray, is a new way and new awareness for us all to be alert to the hits of shame the enemy is hurling at us all the time. You are a “dangerous” woman to the kingdom of darkness! Brillian writing!
Thank you Becky…always to good to hear where others relate. I think you are right about every self aware woman being on the journey to deal with body shame, and the need to be alert. I love that this is a community where we can encourage and remind each other of truth and bless the beauty we experience in each other. You have done that many times for me, and I am grateful.
Oh yes, so very lovely! Janet, thank you. Your words have spoken directly to my heart. Cheers to a New Year full of present day , it is well, kindness.
Yes, cheers to that! Hoping the same for you, Robyn.
Thank you for sharing so courageously Janet! Even though my BMI is in the range that satisfies the healthcare profession, I too struggle with deep shame and contempt towards my body and intentionally moving towards leaving kindness around it and my attitudes towards it in 2015. Thank you for the encouragement!
I like how you state that your BMI “satisfies the healthcare profession”…and that reality is rarely reflected in our own feelings about our body. May you have more moments of kindness than shame this year…I am hoping that for all of us!
Dear Janet, I saw the photo of you and your red dress a few weeks back. I thought to myself – “so beautiful – so stunning!” Your sharing is eloquent, honest, and took courage to let us in. And yet your words so paint the same picture many woman are writing in the whispers of our minds that come to destroy our beauty — which is NOT a number of a scale or dress size. I so hope this new year will be kinder to you physically and I love how you are purposing to create your own kindness to yourself. You offer a road map for others to follow.
Thank you Valerie. I know you relate to the struggle to hear goodness, and I am grateful you are faithful in speaking it as well.
Simply beautiful, Janet…all of it. You. in gorgeous red! Your writing. The hope you embrace for yourself and give to all of us blessed to read your words today. May 2015 hold all your heart longs for.
Thank you Melanye.
Janet, you are spectacular. I don’t think it is the slightest bit silly to have felt Jesus’s blessing on your desire to embrace your beauty. Quite the contrary. Red is the right color. It represents desire, passion, and excitement. It is attention getting. You are a woman of desire with an incredibly passionate heart. You are attention getting! May 2015 be your year for fulfilled desire, passionate pursuit and to realize the vast expanse of your beauty.
Wow, love your words about what red represents…and I’m going to have to sit with “the vast expanse of your beauty.” Thank you for your encouragement!