This morning I participated on a panel at our church that was all about Embodied Faith, focusing on changes in our bodies and the resulting journey that stemmed from those changes. I realize my updates on the blog have been few and far between in recent months and even more so in terms of body image, which was my contribution to the panel specifically in regards to pregnancy, but with 10 days to go until Baby No.5’s due date, it was a fitting (and, not shockingly, emotional) time for me to share more of my story with all those that were in attendance.
For those that weren’t, there will eventually be a link I can post to the recorded session, so you can also hear the stories of the other four amazing women who shared their experiences, too. For now, though, I’ll share the questions that were asked of us and my responses. I didn’t quite share all of this information and not in this precise order, either, but it’s still a pretty fair glimpse at the journey that I’ve been on for the last four years and why/how I hope to continue the work.
What body changes did you experience, and how was that for you?
The body change I experienced came at a six-week post-birth check-up after having my third baby. I was completely thrown by the weight that registered on the scale at that visit and it was actually my irritation and fixation on this number that finally pushed me to seek out professional help for body image issues that had been lurking and bothering me since my freshman year of college. I wanted to change the power these numbers had on me and I knew at that point that I needed someone with training to help me do that.
EXTRA ? – What is body dysmorphia and how has it shaped your journey/experience: Body dysmorphia (BDD) is a mental disorder that is different from the more well-known eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, however it can still have physical impacts on the body. It includes a fixation on physical flaws that may be entirely unnoticeable to others, but that can be anxiety-inducing and behavior-altering for the person who suffers from it; in other words, we tend not to see ourselves in the same way others see us, and we sometimes allow these self-critical thought patterns to control us mentally or manifest in physical mistreatment/changes to the body. My body dysmorphia does not center on one particular body part/flaw so much as my weight and appearance to others in general, so in relationship to pregnancy, I tend to, even with the help of my therapist during these last two, struggle a great deal with the things people say about my size and shape, as people do, especially to pregnant women. While I logically can tell myself that people don’t mean any harm with their words, I can still fall down the rabbit hole of body negativity and flaw fixation pretty easily, as my work with this is still in progress. Considering that I didn’t even know BDD was a “thing” until I was 31 years old, I try to remind myself in those moments of struggle that I am still relatively new at dealing with this disorder and that it is my continued work that really matters, more so than bumps along the way.
How do you talk to God/Spirit about this?
Music is medicine to me, so I’ll quote a song lyric here from an artist named Nahko, in which he says, “The body talks, but meditation helps.” In recent years, this concept has become my go-to for connecting to Spirit about many things, but especially my body and my body image issues. I believe that mediation is different from prayer in that it opens us up to receive directly from source, from spirit, rather than being the one doing all the “talking” as sometimes happens in prayer. My body (and brain) tend to chatter a lot at me, but when I can sit regularly in my meditation practice (7-11 minutes a day, several days a week), I am automatically creating space in my head (and heart) for healing, positivity, and kindness – all directed at myself which I can then in turn share more easily with others.
Is there a song or scripture or poem that’s been helpful for you?
India Arie – “I am Light”
I am not the things my family did/I am not the voices in my head
I am not the pieces of the brokenness inside,
I am light
I’m not the mistakes that I have made/Or any of the things that caused me pain
I am not the pieces of the dream I left behind,
I am light
I am not the color of my eyes/I am not the skin on the outside
I am not my age, I am not my race
My soul inside is all light
I am divinity defined/I am the God on the inside
I am a star, a piece of it all
I am light
What have you learned from this journey about God/Spirit?
I have begun to move away from body fixation to understanding that, much like the India Arie song gets at, I am not the me that others see or that I see through this body dysmorphia distorted lens. The real “me” is the spirit, the soul, that is housed by this – as one of my favorite yoga teachers, Kathryn Budig, calls it – meat suit. And I think God would agree, because while I believe in taking care of and honoring all that my body does and is, ultimately it is not my body on which I will be judged, but rather the actions and words that come from the real me and my own spirit.
What have been the gifts of this journey?
Because of this struggle and eventual outreach for help, I started my committed, regular yoga practice just over four years ago, shortly after I started therapy. Three years ago, I became a certified yoga teacher and now own my own yoga business in which I can help others find and nurture their own mind/body/spirit connections as I continue to do the same for myself. Doing the work of healing body image issues has also made me a better parent, as it is my children who are the real motivation for my own desire to change my story for the sake of not passing on my same issues to them as they grow.
If the class were to offer prayers on your behalf, for what would you request prayers?
Continued progress on my journey. I don’t ever expect to be perfect, but any progress made benefits not only me, but also my family, friends, students, and so on.