A friend posted this Huffington Post blog article on Facebook this past week, and it really struck a chord with me. I turned it over in my mind as I finished up the workweek and while I lounged on the couch Saturday morning, enjoying coffee and bingewatching the finals of American Ninja Warrior (I had no idea it would be so addictive!)
The blog, Your Body is Not Your Masterpiece, urges women to stop obsessing over perfecting their bodies, and that our bodies are not projects, but paintbrushes we use to create real art, whether it be through our spirituality, our relationships or our work.
Over the years, I’ve struggled with accepting my body for what it is. I’ve gone through periods of being chunky (like when I first went away to college and didn’t have mom’s cooking or her watchful eye against junk food) and out of shape (like recently). Around ages seven to nine, I also went through a chubby phase, and I think that my mother worried that I would grow up to be fat. She enrolled me one summer in aerobics, which I hated. I felt humiliated to have to leave my friends and playtime to go sweat it out with a bunch of middle age ladies (who seemed ancient to me at the time). I also remember how hurt I was when the girl down the street called me fat and told me I needed to lose weight. I remember not being able to wear the designer jeans that other kids wore, or not being able to have certain foods that my friends could eat (most types of cereal were off the menu, except for Cheerios – when I saw the cereal bar at the college cafeteria, it was like dying and going to heaven!)
Once I turned 10, I grew out of my chubbiness. Today, I look at pictures of me in junior and senior high school, and I see what looks like a normal, healthy, sometimes pretty girl. But in the back of my mind, I saw myself as not thin enough, and therefore not good enough. Problems with acne, haircuts and clothes that I deemed not cool enough compared with others, and self-esteem issues due to the cruelty and indifference of so-called friends just exacerbated my negative feelings towards myself.
I’m not saying this to hurt my mother — like all of us, she did the best she could, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. And I know that I’m not the only woman who feels this way (given the dozens of diet programs and pills advertised on TV that promise to deliver amazing results, the plethora of exercise programs out there, as well as plastic surgery and other beauty enhancements available.) Combine these with the magazines that feature models with figures the majority of women will never have (and the airbrushing of photos to make these women even more perfect), and clothes in a number of stores that seem to be made for women with no curves at all, and it’s no surprise that women today have body issues. Even when I’m shape, I never feel like my thighs are thin enough (and trust me, running doesn’t make cellulite go away. I’ve tried!).
For a long time, running and exercising were a way for me not only to mold my body, but a way of addressing the insecurities I felt about myself. Like I’ve mentioned before, being sidelined with an injury has given me time to examine other areas of my life, and I realized that I was so focused on running, I had neglected other areas of my life, such as a deeper relationship with my husband and friends, as well as nurturing other areas of interest. The idea that I should stop obsessing over the shape of my paintbrush (my body), but what I paint (the relationships I build, the work I do, my spiritual life and other interests), really hit home with me. I also realized that I’ve spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME obsessing over what my body should be, and not what it is, and learning to love what I have.
It’s ironic that I was thinking about all this while watching American Ninja Warrior, a show about people who push their bodies to the limit to do incredible things – run, climb, jump, and crawl up tower walls like a spider. They’ve made the bodies and their athletic abilities projects — one contestant even quit his job to focus on training for the American Nina Warrior finals in Las Vegas! I found myself really getting into the show, cheering, yelling, knee bouncing with anxiety as I watched people struggle on the course. I don’t see myself actually competing on the show, but would love to be in the shape that some of the contestants are. But the article made me realize that my body is not the ultimate project, nor my hopeful future marathon times, but what I give to others and to the world in other areas of my life. And that is the real masterpiece that I can contribute.