Like many women, body angst has been a stubborn companion of mine. When I was younger, I suffered from both bulimia and anorexia and received counseling for over a year. Even when my clinical eating disorder was reigned in, the scale — instead of my God — was too often a barometer for my self-worth. During my first pregnancy, I found respite from my body hatred. Throughout this nine-month interlude, the way I looked was far less important than the gift of heaven growing inside of me.
Then, a few weeks after the birth of my daughter Madeline, I found myself scrutinizing my postpartum body. All the relics of my unhealthy body image suddenly came rushing, falling through me like an avalanche of hate.
But, like He does so often, God gave me a wake-up call, a moment that forced me to take a good, hard look at something other than my gelatinous, postpartum belly. I watched as Madeline started kissing her reflection in a mirror when only minutes before I was grimacing before my own. That’s when I realized that for the first time in my life this self-loathing wasn’t only hurting me, it had the potential to hurt my daughter. Each time I punished myself for not being thin enough, each time I stood in front of the mirror just to berate my body, I was transferring my hate to Madeline and failing to be a healthy role model.
I also recognized that while I’d put an end to my self-destructive behaviors and was physically “recovered,” I was still spiritually sick. It was time for a body image makeover and this time, instead of turning to counselors or even my husband or family for help, I looked to my God for inner healing.
God Formed my Inmost Being
Parents have a responsibility to be healthy role models — to eat well, exercise and take care of ourselves. But we should focus on health and happiness — not flat abs or narrow hips. After all, our children are not concerned with the amount of cellulite on our thighs. We’re beautiful in their eyes. My physical imperfections have no power over my children’s love for me. My babies love me because I feed them, cuddle with them, wipe their heinies, read to them and tend to their every need. Kids couldn’t care less about what size jeans I wear.
God is like our children, except He doesn’t throw tantrums and He loves us with an even deeper unconditional love. Remembering God not only loves me always but that He designed me goes a long way in silencing my inner demons. He “formed my inmost being…knit me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13) . “Wonderful are your works!” (Psalm 139:14). And I am amazingly one of His works. That should be enough to make me see my body in a new light.
My Body Is a Temple
We all have ugly days. Days when that zit on our nose looks like Mount Kilimanjaro or days when we feel blimpish. However, I’ve learned that it’s in these moments, above all, that I must remember that my body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit who is in [me], whom [I] have received from God…Therefore, honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
My body isn’t really mine. It’s on loan from God. That’s humbling enough. What’s more, my body is only a vessel for a far more valuable good — my soul. I should be devoting more energy into making sure my soul is in good shape than worrying about whether or not I have sculpted arms.
At the evening of life, this body — love it or hate it — while deserving of respect, is ephemeral, something I’ll trade in someday, if all goes well, for a new “look” that will be like Jesus’ “glorified body” (Philippians 3:21).
This Is my Body
Every time we make love to our husbands, carry an infant in our womb, nurse a baby or hold an older child until our arms begin to ache, we’re saying, “This is my body. It has been given up for you.” This is a powerful Eucharistic analogy, but it can also be disconcerting if I think of it in terms of when I berate my body. Whether we eat too much or too little, ignore the dignity of the body by partaking in physical acts outside of marriage, or abuse drugs or alcohol, we’re saying, “This is my body. It has been given up for things other than you, my God. It’s been defiled, dishonored and disrespected.”
There are still times when I’m tempted to obsess over my body. But if I meditate on the Christ’s words, I’m reminded that weight gain and saggy breasts are sacrificial signs I’m using my body for what God intended — to be a mother.
Made in the Image of God
Anyone who’s ever wished they were taller, thinner, curvier, etc. (and who hasn’t?) ought to think about this: We’re made in the image of God, not the media. My body may not share the measurements of Hollywood’s ideal (and often distorted) view of beauty, but it does share in the dignity of the image of God. When I’m feeling particularly vulnerable to body angst, I’ve learned to fast on media and to reflect on this statement from the Catechism: “Being in the image of God the human indvidual possess the dignity of a person, who is not something, but someone”(CCC 357).
He Who Comes to Me Will Never Be Hungry
When I used to starve myself, I was physically hungry. But eating disorders are not just about being hungry for food or a desire to look a certain way. They’re an external, measurable scale of self-worth that offer a means of coping with fears and insecurities. For me, being a master of what I ate and the number on the scale was an easy way to feel like I was in control and was “good enough.” Looking back, I know I was trying to fill a void that couldn’t be filled by anyone or anything other than God.
The best way to fully recover from body image problems is to fill up on the on the Lord. He offers all the sustenance we’ll ever need. He truly is the Bread of Life and if we “feed” on Him instead of food or negative thoughts about our bodies, we’ll be filled with peace and never be hungry.