God and My Body

Elyssa J. Salinas

 


All of my life I have been bigger than others around me. When I was young, I was taller than everyone and very proud of that fact. I was able to stand on the tallest riser in concerts and I enjoyed being at the front of the line when lining up tallest to shortest. Then when puberty hit everyone else got their growth spurt while I stayed firmly on the ground, all the while filling out my shirts and pants with breasts, hips, and a butt. This change in my body was much earlier and drastic then my friends, but I did not mind it. Even when my height failed me, my body was still bigger than those around me. With my specialty bras and stretch jeans, this is where I am today. I stand at 5 foot 3 and a half (on a good day) and size 16, still with a big smile on my face and proud of what I look like. 

 

I have always been very open about my views on body image. I have written poetry, talked to groups of young girls, had personal conversations, written on my blog and generally put forth my conviction about how I believe in loving your body.

I spout a “don’t care” attitude when it comes to others around me who try to fat-shame and I have said multiple times that I do not find my self-worth on the tag of my sweater or pants. I do truly believe that it is not about the size on the tag. To me, having self-worth is about how you feel inside of the clothes you wear.

Yet what I do not say to those around me is how difficult it is to believe this all the time. As women, we are bombarded by pictures of how we should look from head to toe; with voluminous hair, perfect skin, shoulders and arms that look glorious in strapless dresses, breasts that are always perky with absolutely no stretch marks, a waist that doesn’t need reinforcements, hips and a butt that won’t interfere with putting on that favorite pair of jeans, not to mention having a thigh-gap and feet that look great in strappy stilettoes.

Awkward family photos

These pictures are indeed harmful and frustrating, but they are an arm’s length away. I do not know the woman in the ad–and with all of the airbrushing technology, I doubt if I would recognize her if she was standing next to me.

Yet sometimes the pain of body envy is much closer to home with friends and family. I know that they love me exactly as I am, but sometimes the fact that they have a much smaller body type than me can get the best of me. Even though I know the insecurity is in my head, sometimes I find I get nervous going out with friends who are a size six instead of 16. I look for a spot in the back of a family picture so no one sees the difference in size. The insecurity and pain do not get whisked away by a mantra of “I love my body.”

It takes time and patience to come to a loving relationship with my body. Because some days are harder than others. What happens when your hair starts to grey and thin at age 24? Or you cannot wear those cute shoes because of your wide feet? Or you know before walking into a store that nothing will fit but the earrings? How do you cope with worries that no one ever warned you about?

I knew that I needed to really confront this negative body image when I was thinking about getting an alb in seminary. I was nervous about finding one with a cincture to cinch my waist because I was worried about having my belly show. I never anticipated that I would worry about my liturgical vestments the same way I worry about a dress to wear out on a Friday night.

Daily reminders

The truth is that I have no concrete answers because this is something that I deal with every day. Yet I have decided to not let this stop me from being who I am and living life to the fullest.

I have realized that although I do have a positive body image, most of the time it is a daily routine that I must keep up. When I get upset about my body, I tell myself and even write on my mirror in dry erase marker, what I have told various other women. I ask them to think about the part of their body they hate the most. And if they were able to change one thing about themselves what would it be?

When I answer this question I automatically think of my midsection, where my belly bulges out and my back rolls, instead lying flat. After asking everyone to do this then I tell them (and sometimes tell myself) that we have a God who is madly in love with that part of their body. We have a God who does not just love us for who we are on the inside, but also adores the flesh on the outside. A God who loves us passionately and without restraint. Our God adores big thighs, crooked teeth, smelly feet, chubby arms, large noses, and yes, also my belly and back.

Looking for God

I have found that I look for God in the faces of those around me, my friends, family and some people who are just passing through my life. Yet what if we tried to see the beauty of God’s creation in our bodies? What if we started to believe that God is IN LOVE, in passionate Eros with every limb, knuckle, freckle and pore? What if we started looking at ourselves the way that God sees us, as beautiful and worthy of creation?

The truth is we are claimed and saved by God with no request to lose a few pounds or to change our bodies; for exactly who we are magnificent body and all.


Discussion Questions:

1. What is a way you deal with negative body image?

2. How do you reconcile love of God and love of your body?

3. How can we talk about positive body image in the church?


Closing Prayer:

God of flesh, be with us as we learn to see ourselves as you do. Help us to see the beauty of creation in our own bodies and give us the strength to not shame our bodies that you love so much. Amen.


Elyssa J. Salinas is a seminary student pursuing a Masters of Divinity for ordained ministry at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. She is originally from the Chicago area. As a fervent lover of the arts she has her undergraduate degree in theatre, a passion for music and has currently been performing slam poetry in both Philadelphia and Chicago. If you care to read more, read her blog at coffeetalkwithe.blogspot.com.

8 Comments


Joan Scott says:
Feb 05, 2014

I am 79 and relate completely with Elysaa’s history of body image, I too was taller than others in elementary school, and then by high school I was no longer the tall one. It did not help that my mother often told me I had big bones, and today I have lost several inches in height and also wear a size 16. No fun shopping for jeans! I worked with teens in Girl Scouts for 50 years and hid my poor self image as I helped them try to accept their bodies and develope their potential as girls of ” Courage, Confidence and Character”. I now feel more confident and do accept that I can not change heredity.

Kathleenostertag says:
Feb 05, 2014

I can’t imagine God loving my bodily flaws. I want to look in the mirror and focus on the parts that I love and admire. Everybody has some of those spaces. I love my green eyes even on my wrinkled , freckled face. I love my breasts and the sensations I can feel when they are caressed lovingly. My stomach is also flabby and scarred, but I love how it grew when my child was inside of me. It felt like the most beautiful period of my life. My knees hurt almost all of the time. They have carried me around for 68 yeArs. They are entitled. I love my brain because it helps me to figure things out like a detective. I love my empathy. It helps me be very good in my work as a therapist. I love that I am passionate and forgiving. Make lists of what you love about yourself. It can change everything

Rach says:
Feb 05, 2014

Beautifully put. I also think it is important to add that anyone who truly loves us (including God) would never ask us to be “skinnier” or “sexier” or more like the model in the magazine. What they would ask and want for us is to be healthy. Those who love us know we are beautiful, and they want us to live long, healthy, beautiful lives to match it by taking care of our selves.

Sister Donna Font says:
Feb 05, 2014

Thank you Elyssa, for your article. I too was the tallest until puberty and hips and breasts appeared. I ate to cover feelings until 250 lbs are on the body at age 68. This is the 1st time I put it in writing. I have hidden under frumpy clothes and never wore my cinchure. I have to lose the weight for my health and am really watching what I eat and doing armchair exercises. To hear you say that God loves us even our bellies gave me chills. I can honestly say I have not heard that before. God bless you.

Suzy Coulter says:
Feb 06, 2014

Thank you Elyssa for letting us know you are out there teaching today’s young women. I was always very tiny and often overlooked. So I learned to speak up . I ignored my crooked teeth and skinny body. My parents told me how beautiful I was and I believed them. I was bullied in a new high school but I just told her to talk to my three brothers. I knew I was loved by God and just tried hard to love others. My best friend for life, who I met when I was nineteen years old, weighed about 400 pounds to my 80 and was a good foot taller than me. But we didn’t care and championed each other and loved everyone. I will be 75 in a couple of weeks and my body is still beautiful. Thank goodness for my parents and pastors who showed me what love is about.

Isaac wanyonyi says:
Feb 07, 2014

Thanks be to GOD the creator of all HUMANITY surely we are all His images and should live to glorify HIM . We were wonderfully created

Yvonne Jones Lembo says:
Feb 25, 2014

Great article E! And great ministry to young women– much needed to counter our cultural excesses. Just want to say that by African American beauty standards, you ROCK! Size 16 is on the petite side for many sisters of color and African American culture values roundness and curves as an expression of abundance and life-force. Just to say that Euro-centric anorexic beauty standards aren’t the only ones out there, even if they get top billing most of the time. But luscious or lean, curvy or straight, we are ALL wonderfully made by our Creator. Stay healthy, fit and spiritually vibrant as you are and rock those curves with confidence!

Priscilla Rodriquez says:
Feb 28, 2014

What a wonderful and powerful article! I can very much relate to this article, as I’m a plus sized 47-year-old woman myself, who has decided to be “natural” and let the grey hair shine brightly! I thank God for a mom who raised me to be comfortable in my own skin, and for woman such as yourself who write articles such as these to continue to inspire us.

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