When I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s in Homer, Alaska, every year I was enrolled in swimming lessons at the local public high school pool. In Alaska, high school pools are usually the only pools in town and generally available to the public on a set hourly schedule with openings for lap swim, water aerobics, senior swim, home school groups, and infant and toddler groups in between swimming lessons and the high school swim team practice.
As a grade schooler, I would walk in from the frigid winter and get hit with a blast of heat and chlorine as I took off my shoes, hoping they wouldn’t get lost in the myriad of Moon boots, Sorels, and felt boots that lined the arctic entry way. As I walked to the locker room, echoes of yells and whistles bounced off the high tile walls and ceiling.
The locker room, built like most in that era, had rows of lockers, three toilet stalls, several mounted hair dryers, and round polls with shower heads around them and no privacy. The locker rooms would be crowded with women of all ages and sizes in various states of unselfconscious undress. Young mothers were busily drying their child’s hair, older women would be changing out of their colorful skirted suits, toddlers with knee dimples and poochy bellies were wandering through a maze of legs with varicose veins, cellulite, wrinkles, scars, stretch marks and, because this was Homer, Alaska, a generous amount of unshaved leg hair. It was a chaotic mess of imperfections. It was real. It was beautiful.
Now, over twenty years later, the only time I see a female in any state of undress it is in a highly sexualized, posed, airbrushed, and filtered image of a body that doesn’t exist in reality. Even celebrity women who are known for their beauty or gorgeous figures are airbrushed into an image of impossible perfection. Girls growing up today are inundated more than ever by impossible standards of ageless, hairless, scarless women who have been mostly painted by a computer artist in the internet, magazines, movies and pornography. Because of the complete sexualization of nudity, normal bodies are not seen. How a female’s body changes from childhood through puberty, adulthood, pregnancy, and aging is completely hidden. Some insane people even tell breastfeeding women to “cover up”.
It is no wonder every woman I know struggles with their body image. instead of seeing our bodies as fearfully and wonderfully made, we see a number on a scale that is never quite good enough. Instead of experiencing a body that can walk, run, write, think, play, work, comfort others with a hug, heal itself when injured, feel pleasure in sex, and potentially create a new life, we think it is too fat, too thin, too wrinkled, not big enough here, too small there, too jiggly, too boney, too hairy, and too old.
Instead of seeing food as fuel and nourishment necessary for our bodies to function well, we see it as the enemy or categorize it as “good” and “bad” and creating a guilt cycle when we eat the “bad” food. Instead of experiencing exercise to take care of our bodies and to strengthen it, we use it to punish ourselves for eating “badly” or “too much”.
I know because I struggle with this every day. My mood is influenced by the scale going up a half pound or not fitting into the pants I want to wear. I compare myself to movie stars and magazine models. I worry that I am being judged by my skinnier friends. I have been wanting to write this post for over a year, yet embarrassed to do so, feeling like it is too personal, even though every woman I know has similar struggles. So with this post, I am challenging myself and encouraging other women to love the body God gave you. Cherish it, nourish it, take care of it. Stop criticizing it and seeing it as the enemy. Be kind to yourself. Be positive about yourself. recognize it’s beauty and acknowledge that you were fearfully and wonderfully made.