Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Body Talk: Thinking Back

Thanks to all you lovelies who reached out and commented and emailed and affirmed that this is indeed an area where we need to focus this summer - thinking about our bodies. I'm so excited that you are joining me! Please continue to leave comments, ask questions and make observations. I will share my thoughts and experiences, peppered here and there with insights from my professional background as a registered dietitian, but I want to be candid from the get-go: this is very much an area where I too struggle and I don't pretend to know all the answers. I really want this to be a topic we dive into together. Are you ready?

Let’s begin this journey by first going backwards. I want you to think about your upbringing. Think about how you first learned to view your body. Did you talk about it much? Did you view your body as weak or strong? Did you ever feel ashamed by it and why? Was weight a big focal point in your home? Were you taught to care for your body and use it well? Ponder whether any of this has changed. Do you view your body the same way now or do you view it differently? The messages you and I received about our bodies during childhood and adolescence impact us profoundly as we enter in to adulthood.

I'll start by sharing a little bit about myself and my own experience with my body. When I was growing up, my body was something I learned to fear, and not in a healthy kind of way. I don’t believe it was intentional (these things rarely are), but the underlying message my culture and my church communicated to me was that my body was, suffice it to say, a problem. Allow me to explain.

I remember the first time I experienced shame about my body. It was, one might say, my first sexual “incident.” It happened sometime during the elementary years, I’m going to guess I was about 6 or 7. I was homeschooled but had managed to land myself a pair of sister neighbor girls as my friends. We passed many afternoons after they arrived home from school playing together at each other's houses. 

One day, they were over at our place when we decided to switch gears and play doctor (and you already know where this is going…) We had all been to enough of our mothers’ doctor appointments to know that the patient must strip down to her birthday suit to allow the doctor to obtain an accurate physical exam. And, since we were very thorough “doctors,” we left no cavity unexplored. I’ll suffice it to say that after taking vitals and giving immunizations, the visit concluded with us taking turns shooting syringes of warm water into inappropriate places… 

I remember this procedure tickling in a new and nice way and thinking it was a lot of fun – that is until my mom discovered us and our antics locked in the downstairs bathroom. Her exact words escape me but I do recall feeling very, very ashamed. My friends’ mom was called immediately and my mom had to go through what I now as a parent realize must have been the incredibly mortifying experience of telling her what had happened during our little play date. My friends were sent home and I never attempted anything like that again. 

Looking back, I know my behavior, though it makes many of us feel wildly uncomfortable, came about out of sheer curiosity. Those of us with kids have seen how our children like to explore themselves (and sometimes others) at all ages. My little “procedure” with my friends felt good but then I got in trouble and my 6-year-old brain didn’t know how to process this. This was the first point at which I recall feeling shame about anything body-related.

As I got older, I received a lot of confusing messages from my church about my body. I knew what went into it was very important (drinking alcohol and smoking were not looked fondly upon) and that using it to do hard work was very important. Enjoying the pleasures of life (food, drink, sex, rest and otherwise) were not things I recall being mentioned very often.

Then came my years in the middle and high school youth group. Though they were never said in these exact words, these were the messages that informed me as I went through my adolescence: I heard that my physical urges were bad (save those for marriage). I heard that my curves were bad (and I should keep them covered at all times - one-piece swimsuits only please and no spaghetti straps). I heard that my body moving to music was bad (because dancing leads to sex).

There were a lot of well-intended rules with a side of legalism that landed me seeped in the belief that my body, as a then-single woman, was a powerful vessel for all things evil, a temptation, something to be kept hidden and covered up lest I cause the opposite sex to stumble. It's no wonder I've struggled with body confidence and insecurity and seeing myself as "fearfully and wonderfully made!" 

These are strong words, I recognize, but they inform so much of who I am and where I have been and how I am transforming still today. Though I never recognized it at the time, my body was absolutely something I learned to fear. 

What about you? What are some defining moments that shaped how you view your body? Maybe you didn't fear it. Maybe you were raised to love it. Do tell!! We have so much to learn, so much more growing still to do.

Oh friends, no system, no school, no culture, no church, no parent is perfect. This we know without a doubt. We will fail. We will misinform. Or we will be misinformed. I pray though that as we continue to think about our bodies, that we would have the minds of Christ. That the lies about who we are would be erased and covered by truth. That, as we journey together, we would catch glimpses of how God see us - fearfully and wonderfully - created with a purpose from the inside out.

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  1. This all sounds so familiar! I experienced similar confusing messages in youth group, and I feel that sex was treated as such a "NO", that I have struggled over the years, to be comfortable with my body in marriage even. Not kidding... my poor hubby has had to deal with my emotional self and my many body issues! I could have a long conversation with you about a time that I experienced the cringing when one of my kids played doctor with her friend, but thankfully I knew that I shouldn't make a big deal out of the situation, but rather, I made sure to talk to her in our own time (and to the mother of the other girl) and we went over some rules and generally talked about our bodies being special, but not something we want to share with everyone. We talked about being appropriate around others, exploring your body in private, and what red flags are and what to do about them if they see them. What a tricky topic this is!

    1. Shauna, you are certainly not alone! The more I read and research, the more I realize how the conservative church (I know not all but many) has let us down! There was such a push for abstinence and a "sex is bad" mentality during our youth that had best intentions for the single years yet research is now showing how it reeks havoc in marriages because those strong meds switches are hard to shake even when in the sanctity of a covenant marriage relationship. We should talk! 😊


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