What Beauty Is.... and Isn't

About a month ago I found myself in a class at the gym, suddenly seeing myself very clearly. By now you know I struggle with my body and with food. It's a battle that comes and goes, but always lives under the surface. I am very aware of the power of God in my road to healing and recovery and even more aware that my struggle is not in my body, but in my mind. That being said, I've been living in my mind pretty frequently lately.

So, I'm in this class and I see myself in the mirror. Mirrors are not ordinarily my friend. But this was a clear moment; a small sliver in time where I could see myself as I was, not as I thought I was. And as I was was verging on brokenness. I saw the wear of my struggle in my body. I saw the thinness of my self-hatred peering out of my bones. I saw the tired, sunken part of my face that should house my eyes, but only held my grief.

I left that class resolved to act opposite. I'm not free in my body, friends. I'm just not. I hold a lot of sorrow, a lot of violation. I'm full of wounded, crowded corners.

Since I've vowed to be kind to myself this year I started with this - eating. So simple and so damn hard. I'm so good at eating just "enough", but not enough. So, I sit myself down with my kids and I eat whole food in healthy portions, but I do it often. Which, after one day, made me feel like a giant cow beast lumbering down the hallway. Which means it's rubbing up against something deep and old, something powerful and stubborn.

I've also made it a point to avoid mirrors. Not because I'm hiding, but because I need the grace to do what I have to do. If the mirror will lie to me, I don't need to be in the mirrors grip right now. I already don't own a scale for this very reason. So, me and mirrors, we're on a break.

Last week I was in another class at the gym and the instructor turned out to be a woman who clearly lives out my own sorrow. She was about 5'7 and maybe 90 pounds. She wore those shoes that make you workout when you're walking, throughout the entire class. It was a Pilates class. She also incorporates hand weights into the class and the first 30 minutes, of this Pilates class, was cardio.

My heart ached throughout the entire class. She rubbed up against my soul too. I found it hard not to despise her sickness, because it's my sickness. I found it hard not to shake her and ask what the HELL she was doing teaching a fitness class to chubby, middle-aged women who are searching for an answer to those stubborn 20 pounds? I wanted to find whoever started this crazy campaign against women - whoever decided that women should be polished, sculpted, perfectly proportioned Barbie dolls, and shake the shit out of them. Because what we're ending up with is gaunt, obsessed, twiggy women who have no hope left. We're ending up with lifeless shells that will torment and punish their bodies for not being the unattainable SOMETHING. Our desire is conceiving and giving birth to death. We're wasting away in the name of beauty. And it isn't beautiful. It just isn't.

Do you know that some of the most beautiful women I know do not have perfect bodies? Do you also know that some of the most beautiful women I know DO have the kind of bodies that might be idolized? But you know what makes them beautiful, what they have in common?

They are kind. They are generous. They are authentic. They display Jesus in their words and in their actions. They work for the good of the communities they live in and for the good of others they have never met. They are gentle and they are fiery. They are passionate lovers of Jesus and people. This is genuinely what makes them beautiful. Truly.

So, step two of being kind to myself is this: to find beauty in myself that doesn't have anything to do with my body. Not yet. Someday, I hope even my body, flawed as it is, will be beautiful to me. For now, beauty is elsewhere. A force that shakes the bullshit out of my mind and allows me to breathe in the deep rhythms of grace.

Amen.

*January 2013