Making Peace With My Body

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.

scaleBut, 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.

Kate Wicker

By

Kate Wicker is a regular guest on Relevant Radio, speaker, health columnist for Catholic Digest, and the author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body. She also has a novel in the works that she cobbles together in between nursing, searching for rogue socks, and reading storybooks to her four young children. Learn more about her speaking, writing, and life at KateWicker.com.

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  • deirdrew

    The spiritual issue with this is the obsession with self, and with not being aware of how to help the starving in the world that don’t worry about body issues. Then there are the biological, bio-chemical, hormonal issues which affect the mind, and starvation continues to destroy.

    It’s wonderful to read about God here, but how much is about God, and how much is about the author and her concern with herself, and in control. There are others who need our help, once we have gotten help for such diseases. They suffer, and they need us in other countries.

  • deirdrew

    Something to think about – this nun is running in amazing heat, to benefit the starving and poor of the world. This is not a criticism of the author, but a begging for the poor – our media cares too much about the rich and powerful, and not enough about the poor and starving.

    ”Greetings from Las Vegas – it is 114 today.

    (we picked up) Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd at the Las Vegas airport and took her to the hotel where she met some of the runners for the race from Las Vegas to Death Valley – 160 miles – it will take them three days. She gave a powerful lecture on Tuesday evening and it was was well received. She has her Ph.D. from Columbia and this June got an award from the United Nations. On Wednesday morning, we all attended Mass at a local parish and at 9a.m. …

    While in Dearh Valled, they will run another 100 miles and climb Mount Whitney. ….. They are hoping to raise a half million dollars and all monies go for the Aids Orphans in Africa and India.. …. So I ask your prayers for its success and for the safety of eveyone.

    Peace and Joy”

  • deirdrew

    By the way, I think Sr mary Beth runs in her habit…

    http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS148820+05-Jun-2008+PRN20080605

    World Class Athlete to Attempt ‘Death Valley 810′ in Support of AIDS Orphans

  • Doris Rodriguez

    Well, as someone who has struggled with body image and weight most of my adult life, Kate’s article really hit home and helped me remember that I was created in my Father’s image and that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, something very easy to lose sight of in today’s fashion-model world. Her article also reminded me that my vocation as a mother and wife is far more important than this temporary shell I am carrying around. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I should let myself go and not care at all because I don’t ever want my weight or self-image to prevent me from serving to my fullest capacity in the earthly Kingdom of God, and part of being ready for service is being healthy and fit for service … but it does help me find a godly balance between the two. Thanks, Kate … for all the little treasures I was able to glean from your article!

  • Claire

    I also have struggled with eating disorders and body image issues. Thank you for an article that really hit home.

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  • Theophilus

    I sympathize with this issue and wanted to share another perspective- that of the husband. My wife has never been anorexic, bullemic, etc. but is very scrupulous about her weight and body size. She’s not unhealthily obese by any means but the years have added a few pounds. Almost every time she passes in front of a mirror she stops and examines herself from every angle and makes comments like “Wow, I’m fat.” or “I hate my body.” or she’ll pinch her side and say “How gross!” It can get her in a really bad mood. Often, it seems like her body size is a constant presence in her mind and guides much of her daily actions, or at least her thoughts. Not to the degree of clinical depression or anything, but it’s frequent enough and I really wish she could be freed from being so obsessed with it all and so discouraged by it. And though the unhappiness it causes her is far bad enough, I also worry about our young daughter and how she will feel and see herself as she grows up and overhears some of my wife’s self-criticisms. (My wife even says her mom used to say the same things, but knowing that hasn’t been enough to ‘break the chain’ yet.)

    As a husband, I feel great pains at seeing her so unhappy with herself and with the beautiful, healthy body God gave her. I see how it’s such a big central concern in her mind and I wish instead that she was free of this and able to put God in that central place. I feel helpless because I (as protector of the family, etc.) don’t seem to be able to do anything to help alleviate this. For a while I actively tried (always as lovingly as I could), and now I instead mainly try just loving and appreciating my wife more, but nothing seems to make much difference. It’s so frustrating also the way it can come between us- there have been happy days and intimate moments ruined because of all this. I just wish my wife could love and accept her body as the gift from God that it is and realize that she is so loved and valued and treasured by me and the kids and by God.

  • merrylamb2001

    I so identify with some of this. I was a really skinny teen, a relatively trim young adult (although coming of age in the “Twiggy” era I saw myself as overweight). After I had kids the weight gradually crept up to nearly 200 pounds. I made efforts to lose and several times got back into the 150′s, only to let the weight creep back up again. Two years ago I started on Weight Watchers and managed to lose over 60 pounds. Right now I’m up about 5 pounds from my goal weight, but still at what is statistically a healthy weight. I berate myself all the time for my sagging breasts, my abdominal “skirt” and my lumpy thighs. Other people see me as looking pretty good, I’m far more fit than I was at 40, and yet, I’m struggling with the way I look.

    I think one of the most hurtful things that ever happened to me in this regard happened when my daughter was a teen. I was chaperoning an event she and one of her best friends were at. We were getting ready for bed and I heard her best friend make a comment about my chest. It was something to the effect that if hers ever got like that she’d kill herself and that her mom’s looked just as bad. My daughter chuckled in amusement. I can still see the place, I can still see their faces. They didn’t see a mother who had sacrificed her body for her children, they simply saw someone who didn’t meet their standard of Hollywood perfection. Years later the friend is married, contracepting, and apparently not particularly interested in having kids. My dd is about to be married and wants to have kids ASAP, but she’s also very concerned about what having kids is going to do to her body.

    I don’t know how in our current culture we manage to convince, even ourselves, that while being fit is a good idea for people of any age, obsession with youthful perfection is not. Why is it that we see the body of a trim 16 year old as the ultimate in beauty? I remember as a young child thinking that my grandmother’s elderly skin was the softest most beautiful skin I’d ever seen. There are artists who have celebrated the beauty of the aged, but that seems increasingly rare. Perhaps it’s just the beauty of the not yet quite aged that is escaping the artist’s touch. It’s so frustrating to deal with feeling like you look like a frump, despite your best efforts. I know I shouldn’t care so much about what I look like, but ignoring what I looked like and it meant I ended up unhealthy.

    It’s very hard accepting your body as a gift from God when it seems like those around you don’t. It’s hard accepting it as a gift from God when you feel like your husband is no longer interested in it, when your kids are ridiculing it, when your daughter says that it doesn’t really matter what you wear. Losing the weight has been helpful in that regard, but I’ll admit there are days when plastic surgery is a temptation (if I had the money that is). I don’t want that to be a temptation. I know it’s stupid to try to recover the look of your twenties in your fifties by endangering your life (surgery is always risky). I’m not unhappy to be the age I am, particularly now that I’m a healthy weight. Yet, even now I feel less attractive than I’d like.

    Obviously, this is an area that I like the original writer have to deal with spiritually. However, I think it’s important for people to realize that part of the reason that we have problems loving our bodies as the incredible gifts of God that they are is that those around us don’t necessarily react to us that way. I never ever judged my grandmothers on their weight, their wrinkles, etc. I did find some of my mother’s choice of clothing to be embarrassing when I was a teen (she wore pedal pusher type pants to do grocery shopping when the other moms wore dresses), but I never gave her weight a second thought. My daughter’s generation has no problem at all critiquing the weight, fitness level, diet etc. of not only their peers, but their elders as well. It seems like obsessing about perfect bodies has become the national past time even while as a nation we are getting more and more obese.

    The one thing I’ve found helpful at all is to seek out as role models those women my age and older who are attractive in a healthy way. Instead of looking at the clothing of sixteen year olds, the bodies of sixteen year olds, the hairstyles of sixteen year olds, I’ve tried to find the most attractive 60 somethings in our parish and figure out how I can perhaps look like that in a few years. I look at the lovely lady (clearly in her 70′s) that frequently sits next to us at Mass. She reminds me of my grandmother. She always looks beautiful, but she makes no attempt to look younger than she is. She doesn’t wear a head covering, but you get this sense of someone who is quietly modestly giving worship to God. It’s how I’d like my (eventual) grandchildren to see me. It’s really how I saw my own grandmother. Now if we can just get the rest of society to see older women in that light instead of as frumps maybe the plastic surgeons could get back to correcting cleft lips, fixing people injured in accidents, and stop doing breast enhancement surgery and tummy tucks.

  • http://www.christianword.com Heidi Saxton

    Thanks, Kate, for being willing to share your story here — I remember when it appeared in “Canticle,” and I think it was one of the most powerful pieces I had the pleasure to edit.

    “The poor you will have with you always,” Jesus told His followers when one of them criticized Mary of Bethany for wanting to anoint Him with precious oil. And while it is absolutely true that one of the best ways to fight self-absorption is to turn our attentions to those less fortunate, it is also true that eating disorders have a psychological component that cannot be merely ignored or redirected. They must be treated, usually by a competent professional.

    Deirdrew, while I think this story about the running nun is fascinating, and a good way for us to practice generosity of heart, I think you could stand to be a little more generous and compassionate toward your sisters right here among you. As you can see from the comments, souls are suffering right here among us. What good does it do to be compassionate in the abstract — toward those anonymous souls in Africa we will never meet — if we cannot love from the heart those in our own back yard?

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar Ilarsadin

    As I have gotten older and closer to God, I have found it easier to more for who they are than what they look like. It is something I can definitely tell has changed during my journey from faithless agnostic to believing Catholic (see http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/2007/07/obligatory-journey-post.html ).

    Which brings me to my point: how far from God must be those who promote the Hollywood / MSM version of the Ideal Woman, a glamour (in the sense of illusion) that is entirely image and no substance?

  • http://cathyadamkiewicz.blogspot.com brokenandblessed

    Just this morning on my daily walk I was pondering this very subject! I have battled negative body image for as long as I can remember. In fact, I was thinking this morning about starting a new blog dedicated to the intersection of faith and fitness!

    I continually aim to balance my desire to look attractive and be healthy with my need to remember the truth that God loves me just as I am. Thanks for your insight, Kate! I’ll let you know when the new blog is up and running!

  • momof8

    My husband could have written the above comment by Theophilus. Thank you for posting that comment, as I struggle like his wife. I have taken his words to heart. By God’s grace, I will attempt to reconcile my self with God. And I will pray for your wife and you.

  • Lucky Mom of 7

    Fantastically written. Thanks.

    I have seven kids and constantly struggle with this issue. I do still associate my worth with how I look. I know it’s bad. I needed to read something like this.

    I used to consciously avoid looking at magazine covers at the store. I need to start doing that again. My daughter picks up magazines and turns them around so the less-offensive ads on the back are being displayed instead of the scantily-clad women and article titles about being better in bed. Fortunately our tv broke at the beginning of the summer…

    Lucky

  • lebowskice

    we replecate ourselves in our children-if we’re obsessed so will they be. I try to watch my words and attitudes

  • GaryT

    Thank you all for sharing your stories. I’ve been moved simply hearing what you have to say.
    I love the idea of turning the magazines around. I think the less we see of the culture, the better for our own good. Men too can struggle with expectations of what a person “ought to look like” if fed continuous stream of air-brushed models.

    The most beautiful thing a person can do is offer self-giving love. I love Kate’s description of “This is my body given up for you”.

  • http://cathyadamkiewicz.blogspot.com brokenandblessed

    Thanks again, Kate. Here’s another plug for the new blog, templeofthespirit.blogspot.com. Much to talk about!

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