Monday, September 17, 2012

Testimonies and Body Image

Body Image.


How are these two things similar in my perception?

I feel as if they are things that people portray as something you have to have struggled with to have.

You always hear how the woman overcame her body image issues after the trial of an eating disorder or being chased around the playground by her sister's friends being called Miss Piggy (I haven't told you the Miss Piggy story yet?  Shame on me)

You always hear how someone who hasn't had their testimony tree tested, requiring them to dig their roots deeper into the ground, will just fall over if a strong wind/trial ever comes along. 

Tell me, can't a woman simply have great body image?  Can't someone simply have a testimony?  I know the whole bit about "no witness until after the trial of our faith," yet I can't help but think of my own situation.

Many Sundays I have sat back listening to testimonies of absolutely amazing and spiritual people, thinking, "Wow.  I haven't been through any severe trials lately...or ever (I've had plenty of trials, don't get me wrong, just nothing I would call substantial).  I don't have anything to bear my testimony about."  The sarcastic side of me the thinks, "Guess I can't have a testimony if my life is good!"   Then you walk into the next meeting and you hear, "We need to thank the Lord in the times of happiness more often." do we gain a testimony in times of happiness if we only have testimonies to bear in times of trial?

More recently, body image issue after body image issue has come to the surface in the media.  Women are fighting stereotypes more fiercely than ever before and reclaiming their love for themselves that they somehow lost over the "years of male oppression and stereotyping." (yes, insert sarcasm here - there is much more than just the natural man to blame)

But here is where I have a very unique mind frame and feel I am one of a few out there who can say this honestly and without bias.  I've been both places.  I've been obese.  I've been 17% body fat.  I am currently neither.  I don't care how proud of your body you are, if you are substantially overweight or out-of-shape, your health is in jeopardy.  Period.  End of story.  Exclamation point. 

I listen to all of these women talk about how they are proud at their 200 pounds and saying men are pigs because they won't love them at their size.  Seriously?  Sounds to me like you need to work more on whatever it takes to make you a person you love yourself!  First of all, if you think that being unfit is the reason men are not dating you, then change it.  You have control.  I'm not saying that is the reason men aren't dating you at all, I'm simply stating if you have control over something that bothers you so much you can't quit talking about it, then quit complaining and just do something.  I know it is hard.  Second, there is some natural instinct within each of us that triggers an internal alarm about certain things regarding "natural selection" of potential mates.  For me, that's obesity.  For some guys I've dated it's my sense of humor or interest in theater or, well, I'd be lying if I said I haven't been told more than once in the past four years that I'm not thin enough.   I've been there.  I know the health problems it causes.  I've watched my mother battle this monster her entire life and the resulting health problems that are slowly and prematurely killing her.  I do not want those issues in my future.  Why would I willingly jump into a situation with a partner who clearly has those issues? So, men, judge away if you think I'm a terrible person for not dating someone who doesn't take care of their health.  Ladies, judge away if you think I'm a terrible person for telling you to take care of your health.  To clarify, I'm not making a blanket statement that overweight is bad.  You can be healthy and overweight or thin and unhealthy, so what I'm saying is to simply be active, eat right, and take care of yourselves.

I know many, many of my readers are currently trying to conquer their battles with the obesity monster or the lack-of-testimony trials and I am practically brought to tears each time I think of what you are battling every moment of every day.  I wish I could take some of those burdens for you.  Please do not feel as if I am judging you, I'm simply trying to get a point across. 

I've had a testimony my entire life.   I've always had a perfect love for my Heavenly Father.  Never have I had a huge trial of my faith other than a bishopric from the land of you-have-no-life-obligations-outside-of-church-and-are-a-heathen-if-you-pretend-you-do.  Ah, yet another story for another time.  Anyway.  I've always known God loves me.  I've always known how important I am to Him and how intricately His hand is in my life.  Always.  I've questioned other things gospel-related, but this love I know.  Of this love, I am always sure.

Yet some people will say, "You can't really know unless you've had this trial."

I have struggled with my body image from the age long as I can remember.  I've never had a perfect love for my body.  This is a battle I have to fight (and I win!) every day.  If you come to know something through a trial, then I should have the world's best body image!

Can it be okay to simply have a testimony and to simply have a good body image?  YES!  Don't make someone feel like they just don't understand and can never be on your level because they know God loves them without having to have had a trial of their faith.  Don't think someone is a conceited snob because they know they are a beautiful human being inside and out without ever having to have battled internal monsters.

Something to think about.


jeff said...

I am obese. Despite minimal effort to eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, etc., I fortunately have no serious or even semi-serious health concerns at present. I'm also fortunate to have a very positive sense of self, though there are times when I am ashamed of my body on at least some level (for example, I never participate in baptisms for the dead, because I fear I would be too heavy to hold, and also don't feel physically capable of performing many baptisms consecutively on others). I'm not sick, but I know I could be much healthier. I have great admiration for your commitment to physical health and encouraging others to take ownership of that part of their lives.

Anyway...the other part of the post is actually what prompted me to comment. While our attitudes toward physical health couldn't be more different (while staying within the "letter of the law" of the Word of Wisdom), I find myself in the same boat as you on testimony.

Just because you don't give into temptation doesn't mean your faith isn't being tested, and that your testimony isn't growing. Just because your faith hasn't wavered doesn't mean you don't experience "hard" trials. I also feel that I have largely been spared of trials compared to most others. While I have definitely been greatly blessed throughout my life (including the ability to believe, which is a spiritual gift that you seem to have), I also feel our attitude is the most important part of how we view our trials, and whether we consider them "small" or "large."

The teacher in my Gospel Doctrine class shared the "alternate model" in this post a few weeks ago, and I think it's great:

I agree with your view that if you make the right "key choice" over and over, you will be better off than if you had strayed from the path and then returned. Though, since we all do stray from time to time, it's so great that a way back is available.

Thanks for this post, Larissa.

Heidi said...

Weight. . . body image. . . struggle. . . tears. I almost can't type because of all the thoughts in my head.

When I was dating I faced the knowlege that most men as they got older became more selective and refused to date fat girls (self included). But being a fat girl my whole life and struggling through diets, exercise, disorders, etc. I was still fat. And in dating, I refused to date a guy who would only date me if I lost weight. I did not see how the size of my ass made any difference to who I was. So I decided that I was beautiful the way I was. Even if I didn't exactly like the size I was, I was still beautiful. And if a guy couldn't see that in me at size 18, then he won't get to see that in me at size 8. I gained a testimony about myself and as much as I wanted to be married, or dating or not be alone, I wasn't going to beat myself down to a weight that after 33 years was obviously not coming off.

A size 18 is who I was, and is still who I am. Do I still try and change that? Every day. But what hasn't changed is my testimony of me. I am beautiful and love myself the way I am. I found a man who saw the real beauty in me and that's what I wanted. I was willing to go through life alone rather than deep down know if I gained my weight back, my husband wouldn't love me.

Can't a girl who is fat honestly love who she is? I don't think we need to have the same body image to have the right one for ourselves. Sure life will evolve us, along with our testimoies. All aspects of life grow and change. But I believe some people are happy being "fat". Even if they don't want to stay that way.

Larissa said...

Jeff and Heidi - your comments are so, so wonderful! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing, they have touched me. You are both right - just learning to love who you are, no matter what struggles you are or aren't going through, is the biggest thing that will bring us to love of all kinds:-)

Janae said...

Love your thoughts and the thoughts of your commentators.

I believe that self-love and self-respect can go a long way in the decisions we make for ourselves. I think it also comes with some education, too.

It took my dad till he was almost 50 and diagnosed type 2 diabetic to realize he needed to take charge and start taking care of himself. I had been trying to tell him for years to change his habits and to take care of himself, but he didn't until his life was threatened in a way. I loved him and tried to express my concern for him, but I couldn't make him love himself enough to change.

I wonder why it has to come to those points for some people. I have also struggled with body image since I was around 9 years old. There is a lot of pressure, but I feel like if I am doing what I can to take care of myself and be healthy, then I don't really need to worry about what size jeans I wear. I, too, would like to be thinner. And I could make it happen if I wanted it badly enough. But for now I am content knowing that I respect myself and my body enough to make good choices and to want to be healthy.

So Larissa, to you I say, "Preach, sister." People need to take some ownership and start controlling the things that they can instead of complaining about them!

Eve said...

I like what you say. But I want to add a caveat. You need to both love yourself enough to prioritize healthy eating and exercise. AND you need to love yourself as you are. As for men--I've dated a couple of guys who saw my "potential" and would invest hours working out with me. We would do at least 2 hours a day of cardio and weights at the gym. And they would watch me... waiting. And I felt great! I was in better shape. I lost about 6 dress sizes--got down to a 16 and I was happy! And the guys--were flabbergasted because despite 2 hours a day of exercise and eating pretty healthy--I wasn't skinny. And they moved on. I say they because this happened at least twice. The common misconception is that skinny people are skinny because they workout and eat right and fat people would be skinny people if they did the same. This false notion gives us permission to judge one another. Right now, I am in horrible shape--and I judge myself harshly. But in my best shape, I am still too fat for some guys. And I'm good with that. Different strokes for different folks. I don't judge guys for not being attracted to me. That's ridiculous. You can't help who you dig.

As for the testimony--I used to want a guy who understood the atonement on an intimate level because of his experiences and mistakes. A good friend pointed out that it took the strength of the atonement to consistently make righteous decisions. I agree. Sometimes the biggest mountain is finding joy in this mortal world.