You Are Worthy, Right Now, In the Body You Have

I was stunned. How is a person supposed to respond to something like that? I smiled weakly and muttered something about good genes and walked away. Rather than feeling flattered, I felt completely deflated.

If I had to do it over again, I’d probably do the exact same thing. I’m not good at face to face confrontation. But since I’ve been thinking about it for the last THREE YEARS, I should probably say something. And boy, do I have lots to say.

Because guys? “You are so skinny. I hate you,” is NOT a compliment. We can be better than that.

First of all, “skinny” means nothing. I know people of all shapes and sizes who are all levels of healthy and unhealthy. Tiny people who don’t take care of their bodies. Large people who have strength and stamina that I can only dream of. All bodies are different. If I tried to be as “skinny” as some of my friends, I’d be tremendously disproportionate (I’m six feet tall and they are not!) and definitely unhealthy. And if other friends tried to be as “skinny” as me, they’d be fighting an impossible battle with their genes and would definitely be unhealthy.

My being “skinny” is not the best goal. Healthy? Strong? Capable? Whole? Absolutely! But being skinny doesn’t mean a thing.

Because guess what: our bodies do not determine our worth.

Nor should the adjectives we use to describe our bodies make us feel more or less worthy.

I am tall. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. If you asked thirteen-year-old me, being tall is theee worst. Thirty-something-year-old me realizes it just is. I’m tall. There is no intrinsic value assigned to it; it’s just a word to describe my body.

It breaks my heart to hear women and girls call themselves “fat” in a tone of voice that make it synonymous with “evil” or “worthless.” It breaks my heart to hear their friends protest, “No! You’re so skinny!” as if that means, “No! You are marvelous!” As if “fat” is the worst thing a person could be. As if “skinny” is the only kind of person worth being.

News flash, y’all: Fat people are marvelous. Thin people are marvelous. In-between people are marvelous. All human beings have the potential to be pretty dang rad, no matter what their bodies look like. And quite frankly, we often have a lot more control over our capacity to be rad than we do over what size pants we wear.

Are you kind? Are you a hard-worker? Are you generous? Are you the kind of person who makes other people feel loved and appreciated? Are you bold and brave and willing to stand up for those who need to be defended? Are you trying to be a better person than you were yesterday? Then it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are! There are things you can do and gifts you can share that nobody else can.

You are worthy, right now, in the body you have.

We should never make assumptions about someone’s body. Never. Not about what it looks like. Not about any changes it has gone through. Our judgments, comparisons, and criticisms almost always come from a place of ignorance.

You see, my friend wasn’t wrong. I was quite thin. Within a few months of giving birth, I weighed less than I had in the more than ten years since graduating high school. Not because I was exercising and eating well and working really hard to lose my baby weight, though. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about baby weight at all.

I was too busy dealing with yet undiagnosed postpartum depression and anxiety. 

Within a few months of giving birth, I lost nearly fifty pounds simply because I wasn’t eating enough. My depression killed my appetite and I was exclusively breastfeeding a large, hungry baby. The math is simple: I lost weight because my calorie output vastly exceeded my calorie input. It’s a wonder I was able to breastfeed as long as I did, because many women would have lost their milk supply if they ate as little as I did.

I really struggled with my body image during that time. All the external voices told me that losing weight was a good thing. My clothes were so loose I had to buy smaller sizes than I had worn since puberty. How exciting! I was more beautiful, more worthy because I was getting so thin!

The depression fed into that. “Nobody liked you until you lost all this weight. Maybe you should lose more, because you’re obviously still a loser. You’re a terrible mom and a terrible wife, but at least if you’re skinny you’ll be pretty.”

Deep down I knew that all of this was wrong. Depression lies. My worth is not based on my body. I wasn’t a loser or a bad mom/wife; I was just sick. I knew that. But it was really hard to believe it.

So when this person said, “You’re so skinny! I hate you!” what I heard was, “You’ll never be good enough and nobody loves you!” Those words crushed me. It has taken a long time for me to heal from those wounds.

My point is, you just never know. You never know what burdens people are carrying. Weight loss is not always a good thing. Weight gain is not always a bad thing. New clothes, a change in hairstyle, more or less makeup than usual…unless someone chooses to tell you why their body is the way it is, it’s just none of your business. And you really don’t need to comment on it.

There is no need to qualify a compliment.

Then there’s the problematic, “I hate you.”

When you offer someone a compliment, even a misguided or meaningless one, and follow it up with a statement like that, you completely undo any kindness. The sweetest words followed by “I hate you,” become downright cruel. You built someone up just to knock them flat on their back. Nobody needs that.

Tearing yourself down doesn’t make a compliment better, it just makes it about yourself. Comparisons imply or create unkind feelings. Adding “I hate you!” to a compliment just reinforces the false idea that women are always in competition with each other. That one woman’s success is something to be criticized rather than celebrated.

THAT ATTITUDE IS SERIOUSLY MESSED UP.

Do you know how much more we can accomplish when we work together? Do you know how much better this world would be if people rejoiced in one another’s triumphs instead of tearing each other down?

Other people’s awesomeness doesn’t diminish your capacity to be awesome.

Stop acting like it does. Don’t hate people because they have talents you don’t, or opportunities you want, or characteristics you’ve always wished for. Try being happy for them instead! And then go be grateful for the talents and opportunities and characteristics you DO have…because, like I said before, you are worthy just as you are!

I know now–and I knew then–that this person had good intentions. She wanted to pay me a compliment. Her execution was awful, no doubt, but I don’t hold it against her. Even if her words said otherwise, she didn’t really hate me, and she just wanted me to know I looked nice. I’ve learned over the years that I am far less offended by people when I always assume positive intent.

However, good intentions can only go so far. Let’s all think before we speak. Is it kind? Is it uplifting? Is it necessary? Do we really need to say anything about another person’s body?

Probably not. Because it just doesn’t matter. Skinny is just a word, not an assignment of value. Bodies do not determine worth.

And, as Thumper taught us when we were kids: if you can’t say something nice, you don’t need to say anything at all.

 

*The original version of this post was first published at Real Life On Purpose.

Kintsukuroi: The Beauty of Brokenness

I am broken.

These are the words plaguing my thoughts as I lie awake, but exhausted in the darkness of the early morning, contemplating the upcoming birth of my third child. Every scenario this fear could apply to is running through my head.

Will my body even go into labor on it’s own? Will this end in a repeat emergency C-section? Will I be able to handle three children when I feel so inadequate as a mother to two? Will the dreaded PPD or PPA haunt me again?

The specific fears are recent, but the belief is not new to me. The thought that I am broken has resided in the recesses of my soul for as long as I can remember.

This morning though, the words don’t fuel fear and uncertainty, they provide a blanket of peace and hope.

I am broken. While once a negative self-belief that threatened to destroy my life, these three words now provide the gentle foundation of humility and understanding of my divine worth that support every other aspect of my testimony.

There is a Japanese art form known as “kintsukuroi”, which translates as “golden repair”. Simply put, artists take broken pottery and repair it with gold, silver, or platinum. The brokenness of an object, with its subsequent repair, is therefore something to be acknowledged, even celebrated, as part of it’s history, instead of being viewed as worthless or less than.

When my perspective changed to view my own brokenness from this angle, I found I could no longer fear the many cracks and scars that littered my past. On a deeply personal level, I began to see that my life was not simply a pile of shards, getting smashed anew with each mistake, each heartbreak, each trial.

Instead, not a single piece has ever been or will ever be lost, as my Savior, through His infinite Atonement, puts me back together each time. It isn’t gold He fills my emptiness with, it’s His own blood. From the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross on Calvary, He shed His blood for me. He did it willingly, knowing my brokenness far deeper than even I can comprehend. And so my scars, my cracks, my sins and pains, are filled and repaired time and time again by His sustaining life, a gift far more precious than gold, silver, or platinum.

My brokenness takes many shapes. As a youth, I found it in self-harm, an eating disorder, the divorce of my parents, and an abusive relationship with my mother. As a young adult, I found it in depression, severe anxiety, and betrayal at the hands of those I loved most. Still now, I find it in comparison, judgement, parenting, fear of the future, and the constant failure of my best laid plans. No matter what form it takes, I know my brokenness is never too much for the Savior. I know I am never beyond repair.

I am broken. We all are. By allowing His blood to fill the cracks, I can embrace my story – mistakes, pains, and all – and use it to share the message of His goodness instead of allowing shame to swallow me up. I am who I am because of my brokenness, not in spite of it. How grateful I am to be broken.

The Power of Loving YOU

At 5 feet eight inches, I tower over my students who are three and four years old and half my size. I have to sit or kneel to get on their level, but I love hearing the funny things they say like the little girl who, after noticing a blueberry roll on the floor and her classmate eat it, made the situation acceptable by saying, “I have a five-second rule!”

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Even at this young age, children have well-developed personalities, miniature versions of who they are and hints of who they always will be. Each one is distinctive and during the month of May “uniqueness” is what we study. Through stories, songs and art projects they learn that the combination of their voice, head-shape, nose, temperament, laugh and every other aspect of them, distinguishes them from any other. Following the Joy School curriculum, I teach them to value themselves and help them notice their talents. Most kids this age don’t need convincing that they are special because they seem to believe it innately and are full of confident “look-at-what-I-can-do!” moments. Self-love is a lesson for them to store away for later, but sadly, one that many of them will forget, just like I did. This past spring it struck me like a flying bean bag that if my tiny students are each unique and worthy of cherishing, then so is their teacher. Even though I had a mostly healthy self-regard, I resolved to no longer allow myself or anyone else make me feel bad about me. I decided to embrace and celebrate my individuality.

Something that makes me unique or “peculiar” (in good ways, I think) is the fact that I am an active LDS woman. However, there was a time when I felt badly about that label. I was twenty-five and in a crisis of my faith. Even though I had a strong upbringing in the church, I wasn’t sure of my testimony. Mostly I was afraid of being put into a box or being defined by a stereotype of what a Mormon woman is. I mentioned this to my mom and my aunt. My aunt said, “Look at cousin Carly*! She doesn’t fit any Jell-O mold!” My mom added, “How about our friend Shauna*? She backpacks for fun!” True to their humble characters, my mom and aunt didn’t offer themselves as blaze-your-own-trail Mormon women, but that’s who they are. My mom is eighty-four and continues to be a community leader and throw a football to anyone who will throw it back. My aunt was a Young Women’s President at the age of seventy-one. Both have a gift for loving people and bringing strangers together for food and conversation, just like their mom did with service men and women in Seattle during WWII. As I pondered and prayed about this dilemma of my faith, it was their examples, along with both male and female Sunday School and Seminary teachers, and my Savior’s perfect example, that helped me make my decision to stay with the religion I loved. I had an epiphany that I can be a faithful Mormon woman AND just about anything else: a drummer in a hobby band, a small business owner, a runner, a stay at home mom, a community activist. I embraced this uniqueness and have seen the blessings flow. My family and I have benefited from the peace that comes from having Gospel priorities and the Spirit in my life.

While knowing firmly that I was a daughter of God, accepting the uniqueness of my physical appearance was another huge hurdle. In my limited experience, I felt women born with what is considered “classic beauty” did not have the same struggles that I had of accepting oneself. Frequently they are told how pretty they are, while the rest of us are silently struggling. Many of us not born with “classic beauty” constantly try to avoid comparisons while also trying to recognize and delight in our own beautiful characteristics.

Media plays a large role in tearing down the self-worth of women because let’s face it – beauty sells! Most women selected to be news anchors, models, and actresses have been handed richly favored DNA. I might think that their lives are enviable, but they aren’t. Though different, my life is just as rewarding. “Regular women” may have to dig a little deeper and work a little harder to develop traits such as humor, kindness, and dignity; we can’t just get by on our looks. That’s how I felt anyway. When I decided to forget the media’s indoctrination of beauty standards and embrace ME for exactly who I am and how I look, I chose to swap jealousy for gratitude for the attributes that came with my DNA: my voice, head-shape, nose, freckles, and height. I chose to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. For example, instead of “my middle is squishy” I think, “my middle is tightening up because I’m watching my calories and working in extra cardio.” I now choose to make the best of all of ME and take care of what I have control over regarding my appearance. I choose to believe that what is different is what makes me significant.

Acknowledgement of talents is another source of satisfaction. What skills come naturally to me? What do I spend hours doing? What have I worked hard to achieve? These are my talents and bring me great joy! My talents are amazing, and always works-in-progress because they can always be improved! At the end of the Uniqueness Unit, my students do a talent show. Imagine being over-joyed because you can walk backward, do a dance, toss a ball, stand on your head, play harmonica with your twin brother or draw a jellyfish in front of all of your friends. Each of us has talents that can keep joy and creativity alive in us and bless the lives of others. I’ve discovered the purpose of accepting our faith, talents, and even our looks are so we can lift others. When we feel good about ourselves, we can help others feel their own divinity.

When loving ourselves is a habit, there is simply no room for self-loathing or negative thoughts and we are able to freely love others. There is little damage done if someone is critical or unkind because self–worth is like Wonder Women’s golden cuffs; it deflects external criticism and negativity. I have learned that for some, a healthy self-confidence may not come naturally – and so it must be fought for. A healthy love of self is paramount to a productive, loving and meaningful life. I’m so grateful for my journey because it has brought me not just peace of mind, but a true appreciation for who I am…at the core. And that core is really good.

*Names changed

Hard Day, Mama? Please Remember This.

He is a roundish man, and balding. He’s dressed in a full conductor’s uniform, only it isn’t a uniform. It is a costume. He stands against a wall on the third floor of the Railway Museum. The expression he wears is defeat. It’s more than defeat. It’s absolute confusion, regret, resentment… I can read it like a book, or at least I think I can. How on earth has my life come to this? Wearing a costume and driving a toy train all day long? Mindless, worthless work. A waste.

Sure, he’s a grown man driving a toy train in an out-of-the-way corner of a Railway Museum, but this place and this man have made my son’s day. For my son the museum is a place bordering on sheer magic. It is the place he will talk about for weeks and months and quite possibly years. And this little train ride – made authentic by this roundish, balding man dressed like a conductor – is everything to him and therefore everything to me.

I wish that man could see this. I wish I could point it out to him, the happiness he has given my son and me. I wish I could express my gratitude to him. But, we are in the heart of Germany, and I don’t speak German. So I smile and say “Danke” when the ride is over. This is all I can do.

She is a roundish woman. She’s wearing peanut-butter smudges, tears, snot, and who knows what else. She stands before a sink full of dishes, a pile of laundry, clutter and toys at every turn. She feels defeated. More than defeated, she feels swallowed whole by the relentless, endless wants and needs of her children. She thinks her talents (and college degree) are going to waste. She feels like a mindless robot, doing mindless work. She feels completely unappreciated.

The woman catches a quick glimpse in the mirror and above those black circles, are two eyes that remind her of the eyes of that roundish, balding man in the conductor’s costume. And something about the man that day and about herself on this day gives her pause. She pauses long enough to see and understand what she’d forgotten.

Heavenly Parents, her true parents, her children’s true parents, are watching her. They are reading her like a book. They know that this is hard for her, they understand she feels like it’s all for nothing some days. And they’re shouting at her in a language that she isn’t tuned in to. They’re thanking her, profusely, for trading her will for Theirs, for choosing to love on and nurture these, their Little Ones. The service and love she offers will make all the difference in their lives, and this is everything to Them.

“Be not weary in well-doing,” The Spirit whispers to her, “you are doing a great work.”

And so she slogs on, through the soapy sink water and through the mountains of laundry. She watches her children play, growing a little more every day. And as she scrubs blue crayon off the wall, she leans into peace, and gratitude, and eternal perspectives, and those things make all the difference.

*Image Attribution: Breakfast In Bed, Mary Cassatt [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons