A couple weeks ago I was sitting in church and I wasn't expecting to hear anything that would relate to body image but I did. Someone read a scripture, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me" (1 Ne 21:16). Some of you know that I am LDS or Mormon. This scripture is from the Book of Mormon. But whether you consider the Book of Mormon a book of scripture or not, the Bible also talks about how after Christ was resurrected, He still had the prints of the nails in His hands and feet. In fact, when Thomas doubted that Christ visited the other apostles, Jesus asked him, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing" (John 20:27). I have heard these things many times but this time a different thought entered into my mind: "Don't be ashamed of your body. Your body tells your story." When we are resurrected, our bodies are supposed to be perfected but Christ chose to keep his scars. They are a symbol of His purpose and love. I realized that I don't need to resent anything on my body. My body tells about my purpose and my love. Why would I ever want to erase that?
There is a theory of therapy that focuses a lot on looking at problems as part of a client's story. One of my favorite researchers and authors, Brene Brown, talks a lot about owning our stories. One way we can own our stories is by owning our bodies.
I'm 32-years-old now, so it is a very exciting time to be looking in the mirror. Each day holds the possibility of a new gray hair or wrinkle! I don't think anyone wants to age, especially if it is quicker than others. But I don't want to resent or resist that my life is happening and as a result my body is changing.
Our bodies tell the first part of our story: our genetics. We look like our parents. How fast we age, how tall we are, what color of hair, skin, and eyes, are all in part determined by our genetics. My nose moves when I talk. My mom's nose does it too. I have this little extra fat under my chin. My husband and I would joke and call it "the Crandall double chin." I have no butt. It doesn't matter how much I run or do squats, this baby does not got back! All these characteristics show how I am connected to my family.
Our bodies tell about the events in our lives. I have two scars on my face. They are really tiny but they are from when I had to get stitches. A lot of us may have scars from accidents or even from surgeries due to illness or injury. Many women have stretch marks from pregnancy. Many women have c-section scars. The scars we have from these events may play a small or big part in our story.
Our bodies tell about our emotions. I've noticed on my face that I'm developing smile wrinkles. Those wrinkles tell a story. The symbolize the happiness and laughter that I've experienced in life. I have wrinkles on my forehead. I have those because apparently I'm raising my eyebrows a lot! Well, I am a therapist...
Our bodies tell about how we cope with our emotions. I have been overweight and underweight. But whatever the weight was, usually it told something about my story. Sometimes it told that I was carefree. Other times it told that I was fearful of being unattractive. It told about my stress. It told about my perfectionism. It told about my effort to be physically fit. It told about my fear that my worth was determined by weight. It told about my self-acceptance. It told about my confidence or lack of confidence. It told about illness. And now it tells about my grief.
Now, I don't think it is wrong if we want to change our appearance. But I don't think we don't need to feel so desperate to change our bodies. We don't need to feel ashamed of our bodies. If we don't like our bodies, then maybe the greater truth is that we don't like our story. And if we don't like our story, then we need to work on either self-acceptance or we can rewrite the ending. We become so preoccupied with how we look that we forget how miraculous our bodies are! During a therapy session, a client of mine shared that she had completed an athletic accomplishment. I thought it was awesome and I exclaimed, "Wow! You have an amazing body!" She was quite taken aback because we had previously discussed body image issues. I hadn't meant for my comment to be a intervention but I had to explain that whether she liked the way her body looked or not, her body did something amazing.
It will be hard to exercise if we are doing it to have some ideal body type. But if we exercise because it feels good to feel our muscles move and stretch, we can truly enjoy our bodies. Too often we think of our bodies as something to be visually or sexually enjoyed by someone else. But what about you enjoying your body? What about enjoying a good dance off in your mirror? What about enjoying the wind rushing over your body as you make it down the slopes? Your body is the vessel of your soul. It is a gift for you to enjoy and a way for you to take in life.
I love my body! Not because I think I'm some hot mama, but I love that I can walk and run. I love that I can wrestle with my children. I love that I can feel their little hands touch me. I love that I can express love in more than just words, that I can hug or kiss someone and feel a mind and body connection. Embracing my body helps me to embrace life and to own my story. So my hope is that we will stop focusing on the way we look and with a grateful heart enjoy our bodies.