So I showed up after dinner to avoid potential vegetarian awkwardness, and at probably the crux of the main message/spiritual thought. You know how most lessons start with some milky basic doctrines that apply to everyone, and then move into charity or food storage or chastity or what have you? I missed the milk. I arrived while we were in the thick of a deep conference about eating disorders and body image.
I am pretty proud of how far I have come in this area. It is one of the few things I can really say I am proud of, in terms of progression in my life. Sister Gunther challenged all of us to take stock of our relationship with our bodies tonight and decide what we need to change and want to change. So. Here goes.
For as long as I can remember, I had the makings of an eating disorder, but never entirely succumbed to it. I remember back to when I was as young as five, when someone criticized me and made me feel stupid or embarrassed, that was when I felt fat. As a young girl I was an average weight, but I remember the feeling of feeling large and disgusting tied in with people disapproving of me in any way. Does that make sense? When I put puberty at the wretchedly early age of ten, I was the only girl in my elementary school with hips and breasts, and I thought they were disgusting. I hated eating in front of people and then I would gorge at home because I was so hungry from not eating all day. Thus, I gained weight above and beyond the normal puberty baby fat. I wore sport bras to hide the huge slabs of fat on my chest (oh how I wish that someone had sat me down and explained that breasts are normal and even little girls sometimes have large breasts, and that this doesn't by definition make you fat) and baggy clothes to hide the rest of my body. This look did not work for me.
Blegh. Talk about your ugly duckling. Kids can be really cruel. I mean kids can really, really suck, and although I felt pretty accepted in my little charter school community, kids in other classes, who didn't know me at all, called me horrible names, harassed me, and generally made my life miserable. To their everlasting credit, my parents weren't terribly critical of my appearance--although they encouraged me to work on my weight problem, they never got on my case me dressing like a boy. I remember my mom trying to help me find incentives for losing weight. She would say things like, wouldn't it feel good to go back to school this fall and have everyone say how thin you are? But the problem was, I couldn't separate myself from my body. I had no concept of people being able to look at me and not think of me as disgusting. I assumed that that 's what they thought when they looked at me, and that would always be the case.
Everyone wants most the one thing they were deprived of when they were little, right? So for me that was a happy little Mormon family where the parents love each other. I don't know who to blame for this, but I got it in my mind that men won't love you unless you are tall and thin and beautiful (Really! Where could I have picked up such a notion?) So when I was little I wanted to be tall and thin and beautiful so I could have a happy family. The two were inseparably connected in my mind. And yet, I could not envision anyone ever finding me attractive enough to marry. I bitterly rejected the boys in elementary school and junior high who had crushes on me, because I thought that there was something wrong with them for them to like me. They must have been crazy.
As I got older I started eating better and exercising, I started putting more effort into my appearance (although I still hate make-up .. it makes my face itch). I took dance classes, which was the first time I realized that my body could be looked at and enjoyed ... not in a pornographic way at all ... but that I could be a graceful person who enjoyed movement, that I didn't have to be self conscious of what my body looked like. In college, I worked as a model for the art department, which meant standing in a bikini in front of dozens of strangers every day for money. My theory was this would serve as a the body image equivilant of electric shock therapy. It was. And surprisingly, it worked.
The funny thing about being shy: if you're shy and ugly people are nice to you because they feel sorry for you. I was so awkward and hideous growing up that it's now hilarious, and most people (well ... adults) were nice to me because that's what you do. You fellowship the ugly kid. . And then I got older, and I became shy and pretty, and people stopped being as nice to me, because when you're shy and busty people assume you're stuck up. I had to start doing the work when it came to meeting people, which was both good and hard. Still, for a long time I was insecure about my looks still, only on the opposite end. I still didn't trust any man that thought I was pretty. I wrote to a friend in an email not too long ago:
"I hate being made to feel ugly because every woman hates that, and it reminds me of being a swarthy hideous child that only wore black and couldn't look anyone in the eye, but I also hate getting attention about the way I look because I'm scared that that's all the person wants from me and my other characteristics aren't enough. Even here in Happy Mormon Marriage Bubble if someone approaches me because they obviously think I'm attractive (as opposed to some other reason) I absolutely freak out. I don't know I would ever marry someone who initially approached me because he found me attractive. I would never trust it. But how else is it supposed to work? Maybe if someone approached me because I had gum on my shoes ... who knows ..."
What I want from a man is much too complicated to get into right now, and warrants its own post. But suffice it to say, I usually go for guys who are already my friends and enjoy me on a human level rather than a physical one, because until very recently it never occurred to me that a sweet, sober man would appreciate me for the way I look and for who I am on the inside. I am working on this. It's a work in progress.
In summary, I am very comfortable with my body now, even though I would still like to get in a little better shape, get a little more toned, blah blah blah ... but I still need to come to terms for what that means. A man who finds me attractive isn't freakish or dirty, because I am, in fact, quite attractive. I feel like I should go on Oprah for saying this. Physical attraction is a normal part of a relationship and it doesn't mean he is going to take advantage of me or not appreciate my other (numerous ... and quite sterling) characteristics. It's a big balancing act that I still haven't quite perfected ... but I plan to.
"Woman" by Keanan Cantrell.