"I know, but there's not," I said slowly, and as gently as I could.
"I know," she replied. But it LOOKS like there is," she said insistently.
"Yeah," I sighed.
I thought about the Pilates classes, the calorie-restricting diets, the “miracle wraps,” the practice of Uddiyana Bhanda, my Spanx, the “Slim & Sassy” essential oil, the transverse abdominal exercises, my drawer full of compression tops, my new and improved postural awareness.
"I've tried a lot of things to make it better, but it still is that way."
Luckily, my tiny yoga partner seemed satisfied with this, and as we shifted into plank pose, she changed the subject.
I didn't lose the conversation quite so easily, though.
The truth is, I understand what my little friend is saying. I don't like it, but I get it. I know that I look at least a little pregnant all the time. I've got what is termed a "mummy tummy," a stomach area that shows the effects of four pregnancies in six years and a digestive disorder that went undiagnosed for a long, long time. (Technically, it is called a diastis recti and you can learn great stuff about it here at my friend Christina’s blog).
It's been a while since I've been asked by an adult how far along I was (the Lord has shown me mercy). But Daisy doesn't quite understand the social faux pas it is to tell someone it looks like she has a baby in her belly when she doesn’t. She was just being honest.
I struggle with our culture’s expectations of what our womanly bodies should look like, despite age and childbearing. On the one hand, I think we ought to be able to grow older gracefully and allow our bodies to be made different by the incredible process of pregnancy and birth (we’ve made PEOPLE in there, for heaven’s sake!). On the other hand, I want to feel beautiful. I want to feel like other people think I’m at least moderately attractive, if not beautiful.
I struggle because I think that I am being judged because of my tummy. I think that people look at me and think that I must not eat right or work out or care enough. I think they think I lack self-discipline. I think they think I must be lazy.
There’s a compassionate voice inside my head, too. I tell me that I eat well, not rigidly (which is important for someone in life-long recovery from anorexia), I tell me to remember that I have been a vegetarian for more than 15 years (resisting bacon that long requires some kind of self-discipline, right?), that I am a yoga teacher and I highly value movement (but I’m not a gym rat, and that’s ok).
I remind myself that what I want most is to be a woman whose beauty comes from the inside. I want to be someone who is most appealing because of the light of Jesus radiating from her. I want to be a woman who is beautiful because of her gentle and tranquil spirit (1 Peter 3:4). I tell myself that if I had the flat, sleek stomach of a teen, it would not make me a kinder, wiser, more loving or prayerful person.
I think about my daughters and the way I want them to feel about their bodies. I want them to know that their bodies are the holy temples of God’s Spirit. I want them to know that beauty comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and that growing older should not bring shame. I want them to know (if they should choose) the miracle it is for your body to be home to a child as God knits him or her together (Psalm 139:13), and that there should be no remorse for your body carrying the evidence of such miracles.
I wonder if this temptation to glorify and vilify our own bodies is part of what John had in mind when he wrote this:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17.
Let’s break down the Greek a bit. Lust can be translated “desire, craving, longing,” and flesh is “the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood.” In this sense, it seems possible that we can fall into a sinful pattern with our own bodies to desire, crave, long for them to be something different than what they are. We look at other people’s physical forms and wish we looked more like they do.
And pride…here’s one of the Greek definitions of this word: “an impious and empty presumption which trusts in the stability of earthly things.” When we trust other people’s opinions of our physical forms more than we trust what God says is true about us, we are trusting the stability of earthly things, friends.
When we cultivate the things that last, we honor God with our bodies. When we bow to cultural pressure to look or be a certain way, we serve a world that is passing away, we serve a world that will never accept us as enough, a world that will always ask for more, and will condemn and shame us even as it puffs us up with worthless pride.
And so, I thank God for my conversation with Daisy. I thank God for this belly that can remind me that I serve Him and not the world, if I let it. I thank Him that my true worth is not found in the shape of my tummy, but in the shape of my heart, a heart bent towards Him and the Kingdom of Love.
What about you? Do you have a part of your body that keeps you from feeling beautiful? What do you think is truly beautiful about you, beyond the physical imperfections? Does your perspective shift when thinking about your body as way to share the love of God with the world around you?
**submitted as part of the SheLoves Magazine August synchroblog