Here's me at my body-image worst: I daydream about being rich so I can afford plastic surgery to take care of all of my problem areas. I'd be able to wear the clothes I want to wear and to stop gazing longingly at a pair of pants and a couple of skirts that fit me before I had two little girls.
I know, I know. You're probably thinking I should just give up on that dream and accept that I'm not going to fit into them anytime soon. And you're probably thinking I should take the advice of organization gurus: get rid of clothes in my closet that I haven't worn in a year. And for the most part, I do—except for the iconic clothes of a bygone weight era.
Mostly, I have a pretty healthy body image, and I don't allow myself to revel too long in these infrequent daydreams. But occasionally, something sets me off into desiring a different body. Something like another woman commenting to me about how wide she thought my hips had become during my first pregnancy. Now I see myself through her eyes: me and my wide hips.
Or maybe I'm set off by catching a glimpse of myself in a picture and am surprised to find that I look heavier than I feel—especially since I don't eat too badly and try to exercise. When I see myself in the mirror, I don't feel so bad. But then I see myself in a photograph and think, "Is that really me?" And then I don't want any more pictures of myself because they remind me of what I no longer look like.
I want to spare myself the constant reminders these pictures become for me so I can be myself, less self-consciously. It's all so self-centered and full of vanity; I know. With all the problems in the world, I'm focusing on this? Really? Like I said, it's me at my body image worst.
With the holidays upon us, there'll be increased picture-taking among the merry-making of family and friends. We take these pictures to commemorate our life together, to capture a moment for our memories.
Yet upon seeing these pictures, many of us wince, if not outright, internally (that's me!). Others of us are so self-conscious about our appearance that we refuse to have our pictures taken. And still others of us slyly stay out of pictures by only snapping pictures of our children.
That's why it's fortuitous that I stumbled upon photographer Teresa Porter's deeply freeing blog post entitled, "So you're feeling too fat to be photographed…". After a near-fatal car crash last year, she observed:
I nearly left this earth with no physical evidence of the goofy, wide open and loud love I have for my life, my husband, my family and friends. I haven't had professional pictures done since our wedding in 2006... always waiting for this elusive moment where I would be thin enough (pretty enough) to have such a permanent record of me. Because, you know, HEAVEN FORBID there be any proof that I look the way I actually look.
I still assent to having my picture taken, but like her, I too am pining for "this elusive moment where I could be thin enough (pretty enough) to have such a permanent record of me." And it is an "elusive moment." Because, as I sit here reflecting, I've realized that even when I was thinner, I was critical of my photographed self.
It seems, we all are. Think of the heart-strings-tugging Dove ad, where women being drawn by a sketch artist paid far more attention to their own flaws than anyone else. A survey by Dove found women begin becoming camera-shy between the ages of 11 and 20. Online, half of women have de-tagged, deleted, or removed a photo of themselves.
Porter goes on to encourage us with:
Can we agree to put the value of family over the value of fat? Can we just accept that the weight you've been trying to lose for 5 years might actually just be a part of what you look like . . . and that if this magical day does come when you're acceptably thin you'll STILL regret not having any pictures of you with your kids from ages 5 – 10? ... Can we acknowledge that the insecurities we have in our heads will never be a part of how our children, husbands, and friends see us? And if you're thinking that high school friend on Facebook will say to herself ("wow she has gained weight") then . . . newsflash you DID. You gained weight…. The truth is you've gained a lot of other things too (a career, a family, some kids, a house…).
Indeed, the truth she speaks is freeing. We age. Many of us gain fuller faces and bellies. Some of us bald. Our hair turns gray. These are all signs pointing to the reality that outwardly we are "wasting away" as the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:16
Maybe when I see those iconic clothes on the hanger and pine for a younger version of my body, what I am really lamenting is my mortality. I see myself in pictures and am reminded that although my soul feels younger and more alive than ever—the second half of 2 Corinthians 2:16 tells us we are being "renewed day by day"—and although I am becoming more and more a child of the kingdom, my youthful vigor, body, and looks are fading. Inwardly I grow young; outwardly I grow old. Perhaps I am not yet fully reconciled to that reality.
Yet hopefully, as I hurdle toward middle age, I will have gained a life and an increasingly beautiful soul that is being conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29) even if I have gained some weight. After all, when it is all said and done, those who know me will remember me for who I am and how I loved, not how much I weighed.
Here I am not advocating some form of Gnosticism where we ignore our physical health in favor of purely spiritual wellbeing. Everything is interconnected, but as we know, we should not over-emphasize the physical at the expense of everything else either. So why don't you join me in resolving to not rob our friends and loved ones of fond memories by refusing to have our pictures taken? We'll never have these moments again.