Sunday, September 18, 2011

Body Manifesto: Part I

Even though I don't think this post is quite where I want it to be, Brittany's comment inspired me to just hit publish - since I have been writing it for almost two months now.

Have you ever noticed when you are in a group of women that almost inevitably the conversation will turn to how someone's body looks. It sounds weird when I say it that way, but let me give you an example and you'll see what I mean. Its starts by someone saying, "You look so skinny." "Oh, thanks. I definitely don't work out enough." "I know I've had these extra pounds I've been meaning to get rid of." and so it begins.

I have been contemplating these types of interactions and when I really think about it, it seems so weird how often we comment on each other's bodies. I've noticed it a lot lately. Since CJ was born I've lost a significant amount of weight. Giving birth, nursing, and not taking crazy hormone pills will have that effect on you. The most common compliment I hear from people is, "Wow, you are looking so good." Say it a few times and it will sound weird to you to. It is like the lady I run in to occasionally who always looks at CJ and says, "She is getting so cute." Getting cute? what was she last time you saw her? In the same vein, the "you look so good" compliment is kind of awkward. I think that people also look at me (I am chubby) and think she must be trying to lose weight, I should notice. But I am not trying to lose weight. So the compliment could also be, good job getting that baby out and not putting on more infertility weight. I don't always know how to respond, so I've just started saying, "Thank you. I am happy and happiness looks good on me." Sometimes I slip up and forget to take a compliment and start to protest, but I try to catch myself.

The problem for me isn't that I don't like hearing this type of compliment, the problem is that I really like hearing how awesome I look. When I was in  high school I had an eating disorder. For me, comments about my body, my weight and how I look are like a drug. This is one of the big reasons why I am opposed to starting a "weight loss" project. I am on board with having a healthy heart and lungs. If I could be healthy and not change the way my body looks I would, just because of the aforementioned eating disorder thing. Anyway, back to drugs. If you are an alcoholic, you probably shouldn't stand around while people explain to you about how awesome their drink is, or listen when someone goes off about how they like you so much more when you are drunk. Why? Because you know you have a weakness and you don't want to fall off the wagon.

I feel that way. It would be really easy to get caught up in the obsession of how I look - too easy. I was talking to someone I love very much about this issue and she agreed with me that it is like a drug. She said that the more you hear how great you look, the more you want to look great. We agreed that soon "looking great" can become how you define your worth, if no one tells you then you feel bad, you start to feel like you don't look great. You start to think, I should lose 5, 10, whatever more pounds then people will notice again. You crave the compliments, or sometimes the superiority that comes with "looking great." Or put another way, you need a "fix" in order to feel good about yourself.

The other thing that confuses me about focusing on what our bodies look like, is how it seems like people are never satisfied. It probably seems weird to people who are really focused on exercise, weight-loss, or body image, but when I look in the mirror I don't see anything wrong with me. I think most, or maybe just a lot, of women look in the mirror and see something to fix. That makes me sad and hurts my heart a little bit. It seems like the world we live in is telling us that we are supposed to look a certain way and if we don't then there is something wrong with us, we're disfigured and deformed. But when I see my stretch marks or saggy boobs or flabby tummy all I see are answered prayers, nights of pleading and crying, and joy that is too much to even explain. There is nothing wrong with having this body - it is the one I asked for. I hope that the way I see myself doesn't change depending on how much I weigh. I don't want to spend my life bouncing from one diet to the next, anguishing about whether I went to the gym that day, or nipping, cutting, lifting, or pulling any parts of my body.

My sister once asked me how I got over caring about what I'm "supposed" to looked like. I tried to explain to her about the deep conviction I have of my worth as a daughter of God. I truly believe that I am awesome, incredible, wonderful, and right just the way God made me. When you truly and deeply believe that I think it matters less and less what the outside shell looks like (even though I also love my outside shell!) It also helps that I have an incredible husband who loves me and my body, who makes me feel beautiful and desirable, and who also doesn't look at me and see things to fix.

Basically I think the key to combating our obsession with what our bodies look like can be illustrated by a story I heard in Conference (and if serious enough supplemented by thoughtful professional help):  

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandchildren about life.

"A fight is going on inside me," he said to them."It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves...The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too.

They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee replied, "The one I feed."

At the end of the day, I don't want to waste my time or my life feeding the wrong wolf. I see too many people, especially women, letting the wrong wolf win. The wrong wolf is clever and deceitful, plus he has societal pressure and culture egging him on. But they can't feed him, only I can feed him. As long as I choose to feed the happy, satisfied, confident, and content wolf, the uncertain, unsatisfied, unhappy, and hungry wolf will never win.



  1. Jill,
    I just love you. I think you are so honest and open I wish I could be that way. I will NEVER forget a Christmas we spend at your parents house and my mom told me I needed to lose weight in front of everyone, and you pulled me a side and told me I was beautiful and that I needed to love me for who I am. I am still working on that part. I just think you're amazing.

  2. I love this post! I totally get it! After I had Hudson I lost tons of weight too and fast and got lots of compliments and it
    Motivated me. This time around the weight has come off more slowly and it's been rather depressing bit this made me look at the big picture so thank you

  3. I really like this post, sis. It does take me back to a conversation we once had... where DOES happiness come from? Well, for a lot of people, it IS experiential. And the idea that looking a certain way will bring the experience of acceptance- or in a more severe scenario- put you either in a pit or on a pedestal. The reality is that experiencing a "supposed to look like" body is merely a way for someone to hold up mirrors for others and themselves. When someone compliments me on my body, or doesn't compliment me, I have started to recognize that it's not about me either way. The compliment is a reflection on the giver. HOw I react to it is a reflection on me. So "I am happy and happiness looks good on me" fits you to a "t."

  4. learning to be comfortable in your own skin at any weight and size is the most important lesson a woman can learn. How you feel and project yourself is much more important than a number on your clothes or on a scale-- at least it should be. I constantly remind myself this, especially as I gain the pregnancy weight.

  5. Amen.

    I struggle too. Thanks for reminding me about what's really important.

    Yesterday someone came up to me and said, "Hey, you're looking really good! Did you lose weight?" I was thinking, "No. I haven't done or changed anything. And I still weigh the same as I did 6 months ago. Probably more, actually. Are you telling me I should lose weight? Because I kinda feel like you're just making that up . . . " But of course I lied and said something like, "Yeah! I think so! . . . But I've been craving sweets a lot this week so we'll see how long this lasts." Stupid. Totally stupid. Not only was I lying to myself, but to her. A simple, "Thank you" for her would have been fine, and a "Crystal, you're beautiful, inside and out. She is your friend, and she loves you. This is exchange is about relationships, not your body. She is showing her concern and love for you, and you are practicing your love for and satisfaction with yourself and acknowledging her friendship. Be happy with life, Crystal. Yours is really good" for me would have been perfect.

    Your "I'm happy and happiness looks good on me" is perfect too, and I'm totally stealing it. It's a great response and a good personal reminder.

    I love you. :)

  6. Jill! You are one of my personal heroes.

  7. My google reader had this and next was a post from my friend saying how much she loved her baby girl and dreaded one day her daughter thinking she was fat/ugly/hating herself. So sad. Great post. Also interesting because I always spread the idea of how there is evil and good inside and everyone, and the key is to not feed the evil. Didn't know the concept was already published. :)

  8. While I waiting at the pharmacy for a prescription today this same topic crossed my mind. I picked up the recent issue of Glamour (the one with Jennifer Aniston, and two other celebrities) up in the waiting area, and flipped open the magazine. There were pages and pages of glammed up gals in ugly 80s inspired clothing, and there, right smack in the middle was the most honest, and beautiful article I would never expect in a magazine like that. It was Stephanie Nielson from the Nie-Nie Dialogues talking about her plane crash and her new skin. She recounted how this experience has forced her to longer see someone's skin, but to see deeper into the souls of those she knows and loves. It was so beautiful, and as I finished it I felt tears welling up in my eyes. It was a reminder to me that I am beautiful, because I am me, not my skin. Then I turned the page and the images of those beautiful girls had much less impact on me. You are beautiful Jill! Because you are honest, and good, and love your family with all your heart.

  9. Jill! Thank you for this post. Your words were perfect and I loved reading it! Meg P

  10. Wow Jill! You are inspired and wonderful. I NEEDED to read this TODAY! Thank your for being brave and honest. I love you SIG!

  11. PS - Also stealing "I am happy and happiness looks good on me."

  12. Thanks Jill. I read through yesterday and just keep thinking about it but my thoughts are so jumbled. It really shouldn't be so hard to take a compliment, but as women it seems we do see that there is always something to fix. I want Grace to take care of her physical temple, but know that she is beautiful as she is, there is no standard of beauty. I can tell her this day in and day out but mostly I need to be her example. I need to show her what beauty is, that it really is all around us (it is in hearing Bryan sing to Grace, it is in hearing beautiful music, it is watching you, Jill, play with CJ and love her). But I don't think it is just physical appearance. I think it extends to other things we do. "Dinner was good, but it needed a little something, next time I will..." I guess it is a fine line between improving ourselves and perfection. But maybe it really isn't, we just have to know who we truly are and then we love ourselves regardless of our perceived shortcomings. I love the story of the wolves (and might steal it for my blog). I don't know that I am making any sense, but thank you for posting this. It is good for me to read others thoughts and to think through them and to work on incorporating this into my life.

  13. Oh Jill. How I miss you and your wisdom. So glad that you keep a blog so I can get snippets of you every so often. Thanks for sharing this. It was good for me to read it. Love you!