Monday, January 30, 2012

Beauty

When I was twelve or thirteen, I would wake up early at sleepovers, go put my makeup on, and then go back to sleep.  I couldn't even abide the thought of anyone, even my best friends, seeing me without makeup.  Throughout high school and college I continued to be obsessed with my appearance, as anyone who knew me then can attest (I don't remember ever wearing jeans in college except for one cowboy and Indian-themed dance, which I had to go to because I was in charge, and I borrowed a pair of jeans from my roommate).  I did leg-lifts and crunches obsessively in my room, experimented endlessly with makeup, and spent far too much time and money trying to improve my appearance.  Despite this, I never felt beautiful enough.  (Looking back at this time, I think I had some real underlying issues with body image and appearance, so my experience may not necessarily speak to yours.)

I've been thinking about this a lot lately--about beauty, about body image, about how we see ourselves and how we worry about how others see us.

Today I was sitting on the kitchen floor after lunch with Luke in my lap.  I tickled his tummy with my face and he wound both his hands in my hair and yanked vigorously as he chortled with joy.  I didn't care because my hair was the slept-in updo left over from church yesterday (and by "updo" I mean "the bun I put my hair in because I didn't bother to actually do it").  I thought about what a quiet blessing it is to be able to let him do this and not worry about it.

I don't know if it's having children or if it's another decade of years lived, but I am happier with the way I look now than I ever was as a teenager.  Many of the things I used to hate about myself no longer bother me (running a lot really makes me grateful that I do not have the well-endowed chest that I always longed for!), or I've simply stopped seeing them as the focus of my worry and angst.  And things that would have horrified my teenage self (all that loose skin from 4 pregnancies, anyone?) I now shrug off (hey, at least I don't have stretch marks!) These days, I am overflowing with gratitude for having a healthy body that can do all the things it needs to do--bear children, run for hours on end, spend an entire day actively fulfilling my responsibilities and have the energy to do it all over again the next day.  I have come to see my body less as something to beat into submission than as a wonderful gift that allows me to do so many things.  And to be honest, I think it is running that has done this for me.  I know a lot of people think runners are crazy, but for me, this is why I love to run.  It's something amazing that my body and my mind are doing together, and instead of being enemies, we're suddenly on the same team.

I hope I can pass this on to my girls.  I hope I can teach them how wonderful it is to have a body that can do so many amazing things, and how you can do things you never thought possible by training your body to do them.  And how miraculous and wonderful it is that we can be here on Earth; that we can have a body, and that we can learn and grow and progress and come to love ourselves.

10 comments:

Mary Beth said...

Thank you for posting this. It's kind of particularly heartwrenching to me, since I spent all my adolescent and quite a few of my adult years believing I was the ugly one among our sisters. (Terrible skin, unruly hair, no fashion sense, overweight...)

I'm still not entirely comfortable with my appearance, and it's very hard for me to believe when people tell me I'm attractive--all I see are the things I've always hated about myself.

But I do have a body that works, and I'm very grateful for it. Being sick this past month has made me so grateful for how healthy I generally am. I have friends with chronic illnesses, with body dysmorphic disorders, with the very real conviction that they were born in a body of the wrong gender. Compared to that, my struggles with acne or weight or that stupid lock of hair on my forehead that never behaves like I want it to, really aren't much. I have been so blessed.

And I really need to take up running, or some form of exercise. As soon as I can breathe without coughing.

I can't run like you do, but if I put the work in maybe I could.

Rachael said...

Thank you for your comment, MB. I love you so much!

And you could totally run like me. Remember--I didn't start running until after Juliet was born! And I am not that awesome of a runner anyway...I just keep going. :-)

Jen said...

I've been feeling this way a lot lately. Grateful for my body. In awe of how amazing it is. I've been meaning to post my own version of these thoughts...thanks for the reminder.

And my favorite pictures of you are the crazed ones from freshman year, not the fancy, made up ones. Just so you know. :)

Meghan said...

I'm torn between sad that you felt this way when you were younger, and happy that you have decided to accept yourself and love the body the Lord has blessed you with. And Mary Beth, believe the people who tell you that you are beautiful. I hope you can come to see what they see.

Elise said...

I really like what you say about believing that your body isn't something to beat into submission but rather as a gift that can help you accomplish all of the wonderful things you want to do. This is something that I really always wanted to emphasize to teenagers at EFY and even roommates and peers at college, who have a misunderstanding that I can't comprehend. I think that is an incredible way of putting it.

I think that not only is our entire family absolutely beautiful, but I sometimes find myself in awe of the beauty in every person I see. Just to have a miraculous body that works the way it does! I've realized that it isn't a better physical appearance that makes me want to eat healthily and work out--it's because I want to play sports and run around outside with my friends and family and to build an endurance that can keep me physically and mentally going throughout the day.

I think something I have especially seen is the way that the light of Christ can totally change both the way people seem and the way I see them. When I am filled with the Spirit, it is hard to have a negative perception of myself and others.

Also, MB, I seriously love that little lock of hair on your forehead. I once had a roommate that had hair exactly like yours, and I used to play with it all the time and tell her how it was exactly like yours and lament about how much I missed you (when you lived down the road).

Jolena said...

I love this post! I too remember high school and college when it seemed so very, very important to always look perfect and I think now about how I not only have, but thoroughly enjoy pajama days whenever I can. :)

I don't know either if it is time that changed that or motherhood or what, but I agree, I feel much more comfortable in my skin now than I ever did 10 and 15 years ago. There is definitely something special about having a baby want to come up and tug on your hair or cuddle up next to you for a minute despite whether you have makeup on or are even dressed for that matter.

Yet just time passing has had a big impact. Maybe it is also connected to having personal successes and weathering trials that has gotten us to where we are now. If we can make it through those, then we ought to feel better about ourselves, right? I say that a little tongue in cheek because the two don't necessarily connect, but at least in my life I think they have. Anyway, again, I loved this post. It made me sit and think for a minute. Good times!

Neil said...

Just for the record, you are as smokin' hot today as you were when I first met you.

Andrea said...

What do you think made you feel this way? Just curious...as I have 3 daughters that I hope don't feel this way. I did spend a lot of time doing hair and make-up during jr. high/early high school, but was always really happy with my body--I never wanted to be a stick. Isn't that funny? I had several friends who were bulimic...honestly those kinds of tactics never crossed my mind. Right now I'm anxious to be back into shape (the hip/pelvis haunting me), but for me being in shape means having my jeans fit well and being physically at the top of my game. I like being a girl with stamina--I'll let someone else wear the bikini!

Anyway...I'm glad you are able to find a happy medium that works for you. You look great--no need to worry about that.

Gretta said...

I'm glad there are women who either never had a hatred of their bodies or have grown out of it. Here's hoping I can be one of them. Does anyone know where they sell the self-esteem? I need to buy in bulk.

Jamie said...

Well spoken, Rach! Glad you have a blog. Promptly adding it to my Google reader.

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