Wednesday Wellness: Body Image and the “In Between” Stage

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“It looks like dough,” my sweet daughter observed about my belly fat while we snuggled in my bed this morning.  I don’t blame her.  It really does look like dough, especially when I’m kneading it in my hands like dough.  It isn’t the first time a child has paid me such a compliment.  I was once enlightened by my then six year old niece who looked up at me and said from her vantage point while pointing up at my chest in a figure eight motion, “aunt Jodi, you have big breasts.”  I’m sure it was easy to confuse them with mountains from her perspective (thank you, Shakira for that image.).

I was contemplating the weeks of training it will take to lose my dough belly, not really ready to dive in head first.  I feel like it is taking me longer to heal from this pregnancy, and exercising has left me a lot more sore than I remember getting after a workout.  It wouldn’t be so bad if my clothes actually fit, but buying a wardrobe for this stage would be like accepting it.

I have never been thin.  I probably will never be thin.  I honestly didn’t even know what it meant to exercise until I was almost 25.  Not even when I watched myself pack on fifty pounds on my mission.  I thought dieting would be the solution.  I know now that dieting is only half the solution, and 90% the problem if you’re not doing it right.  I have lost faith in diets, especially after studying their effects on self-efficacy and body image, never mind that they don’t work.  Never diet.  Ever.

This post is not about dieting.  It’s not even about exercising.  I plan to lose the weight, just like I did after my last pregnancy, with discipline and perseverance.  It feels good to sweat, and I can’t begin to describe the vigor of having a strong body, with energy and power to do things without straining myself!  That is why I do it.  I know I will never be thin, but being in shape just feels so right.

My body is a temple.  That is what we ought to know.  That is why we should fight for our health and cleanliness!  My body is a temple.  So why do I tell myself how much I hate it?  Why?

Even with all its flaws, my body is a temple.  It is perfect.  I am blessed to have this body with working limbs to lift by children, eyes that see (even if not perfectly), ears that hear (even after years of playing the drums and going to rock concerts), a nose that smells, and a mouth that tastes and chews amazing food (so excited about Thanksgiving tomorrow).

In this past General Conference, October 2013, Elder Nelson gave a stellar talk about how our choices shape our eternity.  He said this:

“My professional years as a medical doctor gave me a profound respect for the human body. Created by God as a gift to you, it is absolutely amazing! Think of your eyes that see, ears that hear, and fingers that feel all the wondrous things around you. Your brain lets you learn, think, and reason. Your heart pumps tirelessly day and night, almost without your awareness.

“Your body protects itself. Pain comes as a warning that something is wrong and needs attention. Infectious illnesses strike from time to time, and when they do, antibodies are formed that increase your resistance to subsequent infection.

“Your body repairs itself. Cuts and bruises heal. Broken bones can become strong once again. I have cited but a tiny sample of the many amazing God-given qualities of your body” (Decisions for Eternity).

I am determined never to hint to my children that I have poor body image.  I want them to never associate their value, their worthiness, their purpose for love, with their appearance.  When I compliment them on their appearance, I tell them they look clean and smart, or strong and healthy!  I want them to value those traits above any message the world may send about how they should look.  They are perfect!  They have a blank slate.  I will never tell them they have to earn my love (period) by how they look.  Not directly, nor indirectly by how I treat them, how I treat myself, what I say about food, or other people who are overweight.  I tell them treats, and even fast food, are “fun foods” to eat in moderation, and that too much candy will rot their teeth and feed the germs that make them sick.  I try to teach them that nutritious foods help make their bodies healthy and strong, but so do exercise and sleep! I am constantly hugging them and telling them I love them, and I’m trying to hold my tongue when I get impatient with them.

I ought to do the same for myself.

Elder Nelson continues:

“With your body being such a vital part of God’s eternal plan, it is little wonder that the Apostle Paul described it as a “temple of God.” Each time you look in the mirror, see your body as your temple. That truth—refreshed gratefully each day—can positively influence your decisions about how you will care for your body and how you will use it. And those decisions will determine your destiny. How could this be? Because your body is the temple for your spirit. And how you use your body affects your spirit. Some of the decisions that will determine your eternal destiny include:

•    How will you choose to care for and use your body?

•    What spiritual attributes will you choose to develop?”

With our bodies being so crucial to God’s eternal plan, it is also little wonder that the adversary wants so badly to diminish its value!  Don’t listen to that voice.  The Spirit of the Lord will never tell you you are ugly or fat, though He may entice you to want to change in positive ways.  The Spirit will never belittle you for how you look, or make you feel insecure because you had an encounter with someone who made you feel self-conscious about your appearance (p.s. no one can make you feel anything).  Allow the Spirit to guide how you should feel about yourself, your talents and skills, and all that you contribute because of who you are.

That’s what I have to keep telling myself.

Monday Media: Distorted Thinking

I recently saw an image that gave me pause.  A girl is holding a sign that says, “If a size ‘2’ is beautiful, Than my size ’22’ must be glorious.” (Never mind it should be “then” – there are bigger issues here than grammar).  I am so frustrated by the messages the media sends about being “perfect”.  What frustrates me about this image is how distorted the whole message is.  Neither size 2 nor size 22 are good from a health standpoint, and neither should be used as justification for being one size or the other.  Although BMI isn’t a perfect way to track health, it is a good gauge to help people see where they may stand.  I think what people forget is that it is possible to be underweight, as well as overweight (Click here to understand BMI).  The distortion of the image is that she has convinced herself that she has to compare herself to a size 2 and then justifies her overweight by it.  I understand we all can’t fit into a mold, and we can’t all be the same, but what I wish people would understand is that we should all be striving for optimal health, not optimal size – because there is no such thing.

In a talk by President Gordon B. Hinckley entitled “The Body is Sacred,” we learn:

The body is sacred. It was created in the image of God. It is something to be cared for and used for good purposes. It ought to be taken care of, and this thing which we call the Word of Wisdom, which is a code of health, is most helpful in doing that…
I give thanks to our Creator for revealing unto His Prophet what we call the Word of Wisdom. I do not hesitate to say that in this brief but inclusive statement of the Lord is found counsel, given with a promise, which, if more widely observed, would save untold pain and suffering and lead not only to increased physical well-being but also to great and satisfying “treasures of knowledge” of the things of God.

This is also an excellent article addressing the distorted thinking of the media, and our culture: “Ashley Judd Slaps Media in the Face for Speculation Over Her ‘Puffy’ Appearance” I recommend it.

Just remember, you are beautiful because you are a child of God.  All He asks of us is to care for our bodies as the gift they are, and to not judge others.