Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hey, Soul Sister

Not all things are worth measuring, especially when you use those measurements to determine your worth. It's probably best to use the guide who knows the metes and bounds by which we will ultimately be measured and uses those real, eternal measurements to help us see the actual bounds in which we live out our lives.

God measures the cleanliness of our hands and the purity of our hearts. He assesses the change in our countenance. He notes our actions toward his poor, his fatherless and his widowed. He records our gifts given with willing hearts, our talents multiplied, and our tithes and offerings--comparing us always to the widow's mite. Those are real measurements, eternal measurements of actual consequences.

We do however live in a physical world with physical dimensions. Still, we can recognize the good and real measurements and choose to be measured by those. Some physical measurements have actual consequences.

It is, for example, worthwhile knowing that your hips actually measure 44 inches, instead of the 38 you insist they are--especially if you're bidding on the 35-inch hip Anthropoligie Marimekko skirt on eBay. There is no sense lying to ourselves about our physical dimensions. It just results in really tight clothing and an irresistible urge to pick. It is also useful to know one's body fat percentage, or where we are on the obesity scale as used by the National Center for the Chronic Disease Prevention. It is also probably more useful to know that percentage than your inseam in Gap's Hip Slung pants. Those measurements are an indication of our overall health, which is part of our stewardship. The numbers of those measurements have actual consequences, ranging from heart disease to diabetes, to system failure. (This does not mean I will stop closing one eye and tilting my head when I get on the scale. Eyes wide open is sometimes too brutal.)

Other less valuable physical measurements are those that impose a value on a person's weight, size, or height. I can think of very few occupations where your body weight is of such importance that it needs to be tracked and measured. Perhaps a jockey or a wrestler--but then only to make the playing field fair. All cultural pretensions aside, dancers and cheerleaders and volleyball players and gymnasts don't need to be measured; neither do they need to be under 100 pounds. The human body comes loaded with talent in different packages and there's enough lycra on this earth to cover all of them. (Case in point: Beyonce and her two dancing beauties who shake the roof in the music video, Single Ladies.)

For my daughter, I have tried to keep her out of those cultures which are dangerous to a woman's soul by placing undue, unnecessary emphasis on size and shape. These are so physcially demanding, even unrealistic, that the pressure to be something almost physically impossible causes delusions of size, of strength, and most importantly, of worth. When pre-pubescent 6th-graders, not yet menstruating, spend five hours a day dancing, and skip school lunch because they're on a diet--it's the beginning of a potentially dangerous cycle. Soon they will not be able to see themselves as they are, only as they are not and what they could or should be. As the mother of my particular daughter, I refuse to value her or to let anybody else value her in inches and pounds.

There are some numbers which are really, wounded pride and visions of aesthetic perfection aside, irrelevant. Case in point: my life-long disappointment with my short femurs--the shortest of all the girls in our family. What can I possibly do to change my fundamental, Shetland pony-like attribute? Nothing. It's bothered me my whole life. There is the possibility of a femur implant . . . . ! But, even I could not go that far. After all, a 19-inch femur can still take me across the Appalachian trail. Just not in as much style as I would like. More of a stomp than a stride, you know. My legs are, alas, perfectly functional; they're just not perfect.

Most dangerous of all, there are some measurements that are patently false because they combine the best of each to create an average most of us cannot hope to obtain. The perfect creature obtained from combining all the supermodels; the perfect woman obtained from combining the best of all the women in the neighborhood; the airbrushed perfection of seventeen-year-olds who have the genetic combination desired by Madison Avenue. Even the measurement of parents, expressed in years of disdain, control or pressure to succeed, can be false--a figment of their own imaginings, and nothing remotely connected to one's real worth or value. These measurements can be discarded. They're not worth the pain nor the effort to try reach them.

I suppose no matter how old we get, we still face the woman in the mirror; and we carry her with us. We also carry with us the woman we wish we were, after years of smoke and mirrors, and Victoria's Secret. The struggle is to see clearly, as we really are, not as we think we should be. The beginning of faith is the ability to see truly, to come to a knowledge of things as they are.

For what do we need this body?

We know what Satan does with women's bodies: it's all around us. He constructs a world that celebrates an almost prepubescent female body as the ideal norm. So, whenever most of us look in the mirror, we are reminded of what we are not. I could hate this body of mine. I could rage against it, and the hillock of belly fat that hovers along my C-section scars. The fact that I could have made a bundle if I had been born and willing to pose nude for Rueben is scant consolation.

The master of darkness would have it just this way. He would have us think, every time we look in the mirror, of what we are not. He would have me think that because my body does not look a certain, supposedly desirable way, it is not worth having at all. Thus, we enter into a war with our bodies, hating the very flesh that makes us potentially divine, despising the tabernacle our Father has given us. If we lose ourselves in fixating on our bodies, either vanity or in self-loathing, then the deceit is complete and the power of our bodies remains untapped.

Again, for what do we need this body?

So that, slipping through holy water, we may covenant to follow. So that we may feel, in a real, physical way, the promptings. So that we may learn, through our physical senses, how our God speaks to us and thus learn to recognize his voice. So that we may know pain and the blessed relief that comes with healing. So that we can actually feel, in the absence of pain, the grace of God--a physical process of healing that echoes perfectly the spiritual process our souls must also undergo. So that the sun on my cheekbones after a long winter that lights a column of warmth to my center can foreshadow Him.

So that we may join with another in an expression of love and intimacy that binds hearts and minds together in a marriage. And, especially for women, so that we may learn, in a physical way, the Christ-like sacrifice of offering our bodies for the salvation of others. So that we can participate in the great act of creation, of making physical that which was only spiritual. So that we can have stewardship over a temple, can learn to care for it, to prepare it, to make it ready for the work that He would have us do.

From: Hey, Soul Sister, by Train.


  1. Thirty weeks into my third pregnancy, I've thought recently about your BYU Women's Conference piece describing the lessons of our mother bodies - the value of women who KNOW what breasts and hips are made to do. I love loving what my body can do, of knowing that the way I am expanding yet again is divine. Thanks for this post.

    Okay, now comes the confession: I've spent a small fortune recently on top of the line make up and fresh on the market bronzers. It happens every time I get to my third trimester...

  2. Oh - and to respond. I'm not in your neck of the woods nearly as often as I'd like to be. We're in Cincinnati, and my parents are on a mission in Barcelona. My siblings tend to be migrating back to Utah of late, so hopefully that will get me back West more often!

  3. The points that this made me think of:

    Having been born (through no fault or virtue of my own) with a tall frame, and extraordinarily long legs, I was talking once to my cousin who got very short genes (with a tendency to round) about the unfairness of it all--how she was MUCH more physically fit (since she did actual exercise, far beyond my own "lifting the Oreo Package closer"!) yet, according to our culture's standards of beauty her (short, thick, toned) body was much less "pleasing" than my (tall, skinny, flabby) one.

    Which reminded me of a true incident--in my Aunt's very well-to-do Ward in (an unnamed state) their Relief Society Sisters had a discussion (a serious discussion!) during class on whether your plastic surgery would rise with you in the resurrection. With the general consensus being "hey, I paid for this, it is MINE". Truly.

    I don't know why women are so prone to this particular lie of the adversary, but when you look at cultures all over the world (stretched necks in Burma, bound feet in China--you can google them and see X-rays of their feet, "boob jobs" in Western Countries) you can see how omnipresent the lie that "your body is not good enough" is.

    Also--FYI, Tall girls don't date in High School. The really tall guys (for some completely unknown reason--maybe to balance out the gene pool?) are all dating the tiniest cheerleaders, the short guys are too intimidated and the tall girls are home alone on Friday night. Also, it is very hard to bat your eyelashes flirtatiously when you are looking DOWN at the guy. Sigh.

    Things do improve in college--usually. (My husband and I are the same height--and wear the same size shoes.)

  4. Tessa - I continue to read and continue to love your posts. The last two have been especially timely. Please email me at kara.holmes@franklincovey so I can connect with you directly if needed :)