Loving My Body

Every Thursday evening, whenever I’m in town and not traveling, I attend a therapy group for people who suffer from eating disorders and distorted body image. Though I am surrounded by the support and love of innumerable family, friends, colleagues, and caring professionals, something unnerving and soul-wrenching happens when I am among others who know firsthand what it is like to live with this illness. When they speak, it is as if their words are my own. To know that I am not alone because my family and friends are always with me is comforting. But, to know that I am not alone because there are other people who understand… that is heart-breaking, mind-bending, and ultimately, healing. I am not so deranged that another human being can’t comprehend the parts of me that are most disturbed and irrational.

At the present moment, there are eight of us. Each of us is in a different place along our journeys. Some are actively working on their recovery. Some are still in the pre-contemplative or contemplative stages of change. To each other, we bring our struggles, daily experiences, and inner turmoil. Though the specific symptoms and behaviors of our eating disorders differ, a degree of body dysmorphia is something that we all share in common. It’s not that any of us suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, but when we look in the mirror, our brains have a way of distorting the image.

Within the safety of this familiar, little band, I stumbled into a startling discovery last week. As I listened quietly, one after another of these women, my friends, expressed their deep loathing of their bodies. It was painful to hear, and I was filled with empathy and sorrow. Yet, another emotion gripped me, which could best be described as excited gratitude. The meeting was drawing to a close. Unable to contain this perplexingly intense sensation, I wrapped my arms around myself squeezing my eyes tightly shut. An impish grin broke across my face, and I lifted my feet off the floor, stretching my legs out directly in front of me energetically as I declared, “I love my body!”

Part of me felt guilt for exhibiting such jubilation in the midst of so much suffering, but I couldn’t let the last word of that night be one of disparagement. As we departed, I meditated more deeply on these thoughts that were suddenly springing up inside of me. What I found was that…

I love the face that peers at me from the tiny square of bathroom mirror. A bit of makeup artfully conceals the acne scars and the red blotches. A little blush lights up my pale, monochromatic cheeks. I love my sparkling, hazel eyes, which appear to change shades depending on the color of the clothes I wear. I love my straight, pearly teeth and my even smile. My parents paid a lot of money in orthodontists’ bills so that I could share this smile with the world! I love my chin, which doesn’t recede and doesn’t protrude, but is perfect for my face. Just like my nose. I love my thick, auburn hair, the fineness of each strand, and its irremediable straightness.

I love being short! I fit into so many small places and tight spaces. It doesn’t even bother me that I can never reach the tops of high shelves. That’s why there are stools and tall people in the world. I love my petite hands and the writing bump on my right third finger. I love my feet and all the callouses that cover them. They tell the story of my life. After all the miles, all the experiences, all the long days and long nights of thankless work, the high and low adventures, and all the injuries, my feet remind me that I am resilient. And they remind me that I am not invincible. They invite me to take care of myself and to rest when I need it. My feet remind me to push my boundaries, and to know my limits. They remind me to accept what is, and to do what is needed. Oh, do I love my feet!

There are a few aspects of my body that I am learning to simply accept, like the chunk that is missing from my left eyebrow where I underwent a skin biopsy, and the unsightly acne that still peppers my face, chest, and back, even in my 30’s. I accept my aches and pains, my knotted muscles, and my chronic TMJ. Ultimately, I accept that my body is changing. The lines of my face are creeping and multiplying, their creases deepening. Here and there, I catch the glimmer of a silver strand of hair. The scattered, purple, spider veins that are barely visible on my thighs will one day spread into a dark, violaceous network to cover my legs, just like all the other women in my family. My weight may even (gasp) fluctuate. That last one is still the hardest for me to accept, yet it is the truth, and it is natural. It is just part of this experience of living. Because, in the final equation, my body serves a purpose. It is the temple of my soul. It is the vessel that carries me through this world. It enables me to do a great many things, though I remind myself that one day, it will fail. My faith tells me that I am wonderfully made. My faith also tells me not to be overly attached to my body, at least not as it is today, and not to idealize any physical standard of perfection. There is more to life, and death, and the life to come than can be contained in this organic being.

Perhaps my brain is changing, too. Perhaps, I’m rewiring, making new and different connections, overwriting the old, automatic, maladaptive signaling pathways. How did I move from waging a war of submission against my body to harboring this intense desire to hug myself in a giant, bearlike embrace? When did this shift happen? I’m not sure, but I like these feelings.

What do you love about your body?

Toes

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12 thoughts on “Loving My Body

  1. It makes me happy to read this.

    At 44 i love my body that never was good enough when it was younger and fitter.
    I love that I can practice yoga and stretch and sweat and celebrate life without once searching for flaws.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anne, it makes *me* happy to read that you are loving your body now, at 44, after spending so many years thinking you weren’t good enough. 🙂 AND, I am happy that you are here, sharing your wonderful spirit through your blog and with the comments that you leave for others, and as a yoga instructor, too. I think it’s a gift to be able to show others that it is ok for them to love themselves, too, and you definitely do that through your writing and your life!

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    1. Hooray! I love the at 67, you are still chasing the activities that you love, and you are still enjoying life and your body! My parents are turning 70 this year, and when I look at them, it is hard to believe it is true. They remind me that age is a state of mind, because I often behave older and more limited than they do, as they head off on another camping/hiking/kayaking trip. When my anxiety flares, they are good reminders for me not to limit myself because I’m scared of getting hurt (especially my mom, she is tiny but fearless!). I’m glad that you are still out there enjoying a full life. Maybe you are inspiring someone you don’t even know about!

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  2. Lulu…I always find so much truth that resonates with me when I read your posts. I’m sure you know from reading my blog that my journey lately is defined by quitting drinking a little over 1.5 years ago…but long before drinking or smoking were issues in my life…there was the food/body image issues that run very deep for me and go back to my early teen years. Right now, as we speak, I’m getting ready to start (again) a nutrition program to help me lose weight and get rid of some symptoms (tiredness, cravings)…I have such mixed feelings about it all because on one hand, I want so badly to be a healthy weight again but on the other hand, I am scared of the emotional roller coaster that I always seem to experience when I begin even a very healthy weight loss program. I don’t hate my body, but I hate being overweight. I love my curves, and I love that I am very strong, and that I am basically healthy enough to take on anything that I want to do. It’s that same paradox I keep running into in all aspects of my life…trying to practice acceptance and embracing change/growth at the same time.
    Thank you for posting this today…you have given me the idea that while I’m on the more restrictive part of my weight-loss plan over the next 30 days…I am going to start each day off looking in the mirror and reminding myself what I love about my body…I want to make the weight-loss more about gaining some freedom and peace from food cravings, and about honoring the only body I’ll ever have by treating it well.
    Sorry for such a long reply. 😦
    Jenn

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    1. Oh, Jenn! Thank you so much for this wonderful comment. I am touched that what I wrote resonated with you, and I’m grateful to you for what you shared here. I love that you love your curves and your strength. Struggling with overweight and with body shame is a cross that I would never wish anyone to have to bear. I too, first started experiencing body shame when I was much younger, around 10 or so, and it has plagued me far longer than the actual eating disorder. To be so uncomfortable and self-conscious in one’s own body is a great sorrow, but I am glad that you are celebrating your strength and your health. I know that I don’t know you personally, but I see SO MUCH strength in you through your writing, in your recovery, and in your experiences of mothering your children. While I really have a very strong bias against all restrictive eating plans given my history, I wish you so much health, happiness, and peace. I hope that you find the balance that allows you to feel your best, be your healthiest and strongest, and live the full and vibrant life that you deserve! Sending you so much love!!! Xoxo ~ Lulu

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  3. Body-love: what subjects you choose to write about, LuLu! Such complex issues and yet you bring forth quality and authentic insights. Yes, I know much is gleaned from your own experiences, but that isn’t a limiting factor in your writing, just a jumping off point.

    As for what I like about my body…well. I’ve always held that feet are one of the Lord’s ugliest creations, probably because mine are truly ugly (!) but I long ago learned that without feet, one’s life is severely impaired and regardless of my own ugly peds, they have served me well!!!!! So praise the Lord for feet!
    😀

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    1. Haha! I love that you love feet, too! Their oddity makes them all the more beautiful to me. Although, I must admit that I have seen some feet in dire need of a little TLC. The most grungy, mangled feet might just tell the most interesting, eye-opening, world-expanding, heart-rending stories, if I had the courage and audacity to ask (which I usually don’t!). I’m with you – praise the Lord for feet! 🙂

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    1. Oh, thank you Lauren! I wish that for you, as well! I must admit that I don’t *always* love my body. Sometimes I need to consciously remind myself of all the great functions that it serves, and cut myself some slack! Hope you are having a happy, healthy week!

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