Can you say that you love your body? I can’t, but I want to. I know I am safe in assuming that I am not the only one who has wrestled with the issue of body image. For one thing, if you Google ‘body image issues’ you get 178,000,000 results. Just to get a sense of scale, Mars is roughly 35 million miles away. There are five times more results on body image than there are miles to Mars. Take that in.
Second, it’s sad to say, but it seems like struggling with body image is just a part of being female. It’s the norm. Billions of advertising dollars are spent making women feel like they need to change something about their appearance to sell products. Photoshop has created a world where even the most beautiful women must be ‘fixed.’ Weight loss is a 20 Billion dollar-a-year industry. Let’s face it, no one is going to get rich off of you hanging out at home and saying you feel great.
And for the women who have experienced physical trauma, sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, medical trauma or severe illness, the struggle with body image is often even greater. Our bodies weave the trauma into our cells, muscles, and being. It’s hard to untangle the trauma from our bodies.
It can be so hard to know where to start. It can feel like a Gordian knot—wherever you start to pull apart one aspect of the struggle, something else tightens up on the other side. This week one of my students brought her new baby to our class party and I was caught by the way everyone looked at this baby—including me. It was total love and acceptance. Total awe at his little features. This is not how we look at ourselves. And there is really no reason not to. When was that one day when everything shifted and suddenly you could be subjected to judgment instead of awe? How can we each find this awe again for ourselves? I don't have any easy answers, but I offer this poem as a way to start.
Middle-aged. New Born.
Look! I have ten fingers and ten toes!
Isn’t it exciting?
I am a woman born anew.
For years I have thrashed
in the seas of cruelty and hatred
in a boat that finally
And now I am shipwrecked on a new land.
It is quiet. There is peace. And I am here.
Oh, how new parents crow over their newborns!
They beam over each hand and foot and
coo with each yummy roll of flesh.
All these riches! All of these things to love!
And maybe I appreciate the miracle even more
looking at my hands and feet,
to find myself still whole,
still capable of beauty and love.
Still able to reach, and kick and cry and laugh.
Today it is my turn to pick myself up
and hold this new born sense of wholeness
against my heart, breathing with her as she rests.
Now I can look at her beautiful face as she sleeps
knowing I have all I need: just love.
Love of the simple fact of having
ten fingers and ten toes.
Love of the simple fact of being whole.
© 2015 Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD