As I sit here writing… I am inhabiting a body. As you sit there reading… you are, also, inhabiting a body.
I am sure, just as I do, you have a long and complex history with your body. Most of my history surrounds my body’s interaction with gravity and how much space it takes up. This colored much of my childhood and somehow, through some real amazing love and mentorship, I came out the other side of adolescence with an offensive amount of self-confidence but not without battle wounds and stories to tell.
As a mom of two small humans and minister to children and youth I am keenly aware of the ways that bodies play into our existences as people. I teach body image workshops yearly to youth in our diocese and am privileged to be given a glimpse at the standards they feel tied to and the ways they seek to find their true selves within a world assigning beauty to arbitrary shapes and forms. During these workshops we make a list of all the things we are ‘supposed’ to be. That list is the most unattainable rubric of humanity that I have ever seen and every time I witness its formation, there is a universal YES of agreement on its contents.
Women must be/have:
- Assigned female at birth
- Thin but not too thin
- Light skinned but tan
- Long hair
- Straight hair
- Curly hair sometimes
- No body hair
- Big eyes
- Thigh gap
- Thin thick *look that one up*
- Not too tall
- Not too short
- Small feet
- Clear skin
- A full dry erase board of specific attributes no single person in the universe has
Men must be/have
- Assigned male at birth
- Dark but not too dark
- Big calves
- Good hair, never greasy, not too long, not too short
- Facial hair sometimes
- Clean shaven or awesome facial hair
- Not scruffy
- Smell good
- Big feet
- Big hands
- Clear skin
- Beautiful eyes (preferable blue/green)
- Deep voice
- Broad shoulders
- Another full dry erase board full of attributes no single person in the universe has
YES… this is what we feel like we have to be and also YES, we realize that this is completely ridiculous and absurd.
I stand before groups of amazing souls and we name the pain this rubric creates. We also name the work that goes into trying to fit the rubric even though we know we will fail. We fill pages with the words others have said to us that lodged so deeply into our brains that it doesn’t matter how long ago they were said. They have become part of the narrative of ourselves. One comment can paralyze. One critic can become the whole audience. We walk around in these meat sacks (or bodies, if you will) and it can seem like they are the most important part of us. It often seems as if they are the only part anyone cares about since it is the thing people seem to talk the most about.
And the long and the short of it is that no one actually gives a hoot how we look.
One more time for our friends in the back.
Zero people actually care how you look.
When people say horrible things about someone else’s body they have something terrible happening inside of them. Something is UP. Something is HURTING inside.
When we comment on others people’s appearances, most of the time it’s because it’s the easiest thing to say. It’s lazy conversation. It doesn’t take much work to notice if someone’s gained or lost weight or if their hair is up or down or their clothes are something you’d wear or wouldn’t wear. It’s hard and vulnerable to talk about what’s happening in someone’s life or the state of their family’s situation. It’s hard to engage in meaningful conversation or *gasp* allow for silence. When what we notice about others is their body we make people far too simple. Bodies are boring. Insides are fantastic and interesting and what makes us US.
In Psalm 139:13-14, David gives us a glimpse of how he viewed God’s creating,
For you created me inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful.
I know that full well.
Our INMOST being.
About two years ago, after a few years of teaching these workshops, and five years of parenting, and about 32 years of being in a body, I had a monumental shift in how I viewed all this body stuff and I made a blanket rule for me and those with whom I interacted, such as my partner, my children, my friends, and most importantly, myself:
We do not comment on peoples’ bodies.
If someone comes to me and wants to discuss their body then bring it on. I welcome open conversations about bodies but I don’t need to add my two cents or unsolicited commentary about anyone’s meat sack. I’d love to start a conversation about your passions or the book you are reading or whether you think the Pacific or Atlantic ocean is a better? (by the way… it’s the Pacific.)
A quick note on raising small people: While we don’t comment on people’s bodies this does not mean we don’t talk about bodies. It’s our job to normalize bodies for our children. We begin first by giving names to anatomy parts at a young age, and then by helping our children live in a world where the lists above are not the rubric. When we understand that all bodies are good bodies, and we spend lots of time talking about the insides of people and less time talking about the outsides of people those lists hold much less weight.
Jesus called us to do two things: LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE and yet so much of our time and lives gets wrapped up in physical appearance. These bodies. Both our own and comparing them to others. They are merely keepers of our beautiful, wonderfully made souls that hold the power to be tender with the brokenhearted and welcoming to the stranger.
I invite you to join me on my radical quest to unleash the powerful gifts within us by refusing to comment on the bodies around us.
[Image credit: Public Domain via Pixabay]