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.
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.
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?
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.