I stared at the number on the scale, then stepped off quickly so it would disappear before my husband made his way into the room. How could I have let it get this bad? I began to run the numbers in my head, each one a new accusation. I was scarily close to my self-defined line between acceptable and shameful, too far even from the average weight I tended to return to as an adult, and an inconceivable distance from my lowest weight – the result of following a popular Christian weight loss program after my third pregnancy.
In truth, I didn’t need the scale to feel bad about myself, I was doing just fine on my own. The scale just offered irrefutable proof that my shame was warranted. I recognized this shame, it was a familiar, toxic covering, outlining the contours of the body I’d been at war with most of my life. I returned to my question of how I got here, this time softening, allowing a touch of kindness to influence my wondering.
Memories of body awareness played themselves out: the torture of PE classes, highlighting my lack of strength and coordination, earning me the scorn of every team captain who had to endure my bumbling attempts at participation. Then, there was the discovery of stretch marks on my thighs in high school, and the impossibility of finding shorts that would conceal them without making me look like I’d raided my grandmother’s closet. There was the time my dad asked my mom why I didn’t wear makeup – I’d look prettier if I did. And finally, going to my annual physical excited about how much weight I’d lost, only to have my doctor tell me I was too thin. I was so tired of this war, but felt hopelessly stuck.
I sat at home a few nights later, the house uncharacteristically quiet. Following a friend’s recommendation, I decided to watch Embrace, a documentary exploring body image. Beginning with her own struggle to accept her body after three pregnancies, the filmmaker Taryn Brumfitt set out to discover why women in particular have such hatred for their bodies. Throughout the film, she asks several women to finish the sentence “My body is____.”
The responses were depressingly consistent:
“My body is…
And yet, there was also a captivating resilience in some of the women who had responded differently to their body trauma, reclaiming a sense of the goodness of their bodies.
Lindsay Kite, in her work on body image resilience, explains how resilience is built in response to these painful “body image disruptions.” Central to this resilience is seeing our culture’s focus on beauty and body image for what it is: objectification. Resilience proclaims, “My body is an instrument for my use, not an ornament for others to look at.”
My tears flowed freely as I finished the film. I was raw from feeling the weight of so many stories of pain, including my own. I texted my friend to thank her for her vulnerability in sharing why the film was so powerful for her. I felt a holiness in the connection, a connection formed from the stories each of our bodies held, pieces woven together in resonance as they were spoken and witnessed. That night, I began to reclaim the deep, holy knowing that I am good.
In the weeks since that night, I’ve had multiple conversations with other women about this struggle. Every time, I feel a little less stuck, like another piece of something heavy has been knocked loose. I’m fairly certain my goal is not to be able to say I love my body, but rather, I am at peace with my body.
I believe the only hope we have, as women, in countering the pervasive dissatisfaction with our bodies, which keeps us punishing ourselves in order to fit an unobtainable ideal, is to join forces with other women and wage peace instead of war.
It’s going to take a lot of us standing together, refusing to participate in objectification – of ourselves and each other.
We need to tell each other the stories of what our amazing bodies have done: birthed life, suffered pain and sickness, provided stability and safety, tested the limits of our physical endurance, and created beauty.
We need to call each other to use our bodies as instruments of healing and restoration, and celebrate each other for having the courage to stop measuring our worth by the beauty and diet industry’s ever-changing standards.
I’m all in, what about you?
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris, and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.