Monday, June 3, 2013

3 Things I'm (Re-)Learning about Body Image

I thought I got over this in high school. I really did. Body image. That nasty issue I typically associate with the teenage years. To be honest, I really don't like this topic because I think it can be a bit cliche for the female crowd.

However, I find that this issue creeps back around as we women start having babies. From the time a woman announces her pregnancy, it seems that every friend, family member, acquaintance, and stranger feels the divine right to comment on her figure:
"Oh, you look huge!" (Gee... thanks?)
"Wow, you only look big from the side!" (Ok, then-- just stand behind me.)
"I think it's a girl-- your face looks rounder." (Old wives' tale, by the way.)
"I think it's a girl-- you're carrying the weight all around your middle instead of out in front." (Another old wives' tale. Why are baby girls always to blame for the worst preggo symptoms? Not cool, old wives.)
"Are you sure you're not having twins??" (Nope. But thanks anyways.)

And then-- after you have the baby, it seems like it's a race to get the weight off as quickly as possible. You expect to snap back to normal... but regardless of the amount of kale you consume or the number of trips you take to the gym, it seems that some things have snapped back to the wrong places.

About a week ago, a friend made a fairly innocuous comment about my body. It doesn't matter what the comment was or why it was made-- what matters is that I allowed it to seep into my conscious, to cloud my vision every time I looked into the mirror. I should have shut it out. I should have remembered Psalm 139 and the words David wrote about God's intentional creation of me. I should have remembered that my God is bigger than a foolish, vain, temporal wish to look a certain way. But, I didn't. And I let it drag down my soul for a time.

And then, while corralling my fidgety little girl at the grocery store, I saw her: slightly greenish pallor, hips pelvic bone and angular shoulders protruding from underneath her sweatpants and long sleeves despite the 90 degree Houston heat. A skeleton with clothes. She had one banana in her cart.

And then, by God's grace, perspective snapped back into focus.

I don't want my daughter to inherit a nagging worry about her figure. I'm sure Hollywood will drum up quite enough insecurity; I don't want her to get that from me, too. From me, I want her to gather the tools and the strength to combat the inevitable body image enemy. But first, I have to fight this enemy myself. Which brings me to my first point:

1. The body image issue is, in fact, an enemy and it is from The Enemy.
We like to think that pride and insecurity are antonyms. Not true. Paradoxically, these two vices are two sides of the very same coin-- they both create an unhealthy focus on self. And, if the Enemy can turn one's thoughts inward, he has just created an idol.
The remedy? I fix my gaze on things bigger than myself. It is when I look to the immovable strength of the mountains, the vastness of the sky, the expanse of the ocean that I, like Job, think "Who am I?" And, this is not a self-loathing; on the contrary, this is when I feel most self-aware, most energized. When I know that I am part of something much greater than myself, I seem to forget that maybe I don't have 6-pack abs. In fact, this notion even seems silly. Insignificant.

2. Pursuit of Skinny and Pursuit of Health are NOT the same thing.
I hate Pinterest. Actually, that's a lie-- I love Pinterest. What I hate is when I search for work-out routines on Pinterest and half the images that appear are smatterings of uber-toned female body parts. Usually, it isn't even an entire body. Just a leg or a stomach or a bicep or a booty. And people call that inspiring??
Give me a whole woman to model after. One who pursues health-- in body, mind, and spirit. It is good to eat right, to exercise. But, it's the mindset that matters.
One who pursues skinny embarks on an endless chase that never results in satisfaction. There is always something to fix, a new fad diet to try. It is a persistent nagging that you aren't good enough, you'll never be good enough, why can't you just be like (fill in the blank with perceived "perfect" person). It is Envy and Discontent and Pride gripping your heart with their greedy talons.
On the other hand, pursuit of health is about growth, discipline. The apostle Paul deals with this a bit throughout his letters (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1) -- he uses physical exercise as a symbol for spiritual training. And, when we experience what God has to offer our physical bodies through exercise and eating right, we have a more tangible example of how to work for His Kingdom. Not to mention, we have more energy to do what He calls us to do.
So, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God." In the context of body image, I think this means that I watch my mindset. I pursue healthy; I train myself body, mind, and soul so that not a day goes to waste.

3. No one is "perfect."
It's true. Unless she is airbrushed. Or has had extensive plastic surgery. (In which case, I argue that that person should probably garner more sympathy than admiration.)
As there is nothing new under the sun, the chasing after a "perfect" figure is not new. Different societies throughout history have set "perfect" feminine body types-- and women throughout history have undergone everything from foot-binding to neck rings to ultra-tight corsets to maintain a given "ideal" image.
But, quite frankly-- it is the imperfections that make us each beautiful. When a great work of art is copied over and over again, it becomes cliche, dull, unremarkable. When I try to fit a particular stereotype, I am simply aiming to be a copy. And there's nothing particularly beautiful about a re-print. Nothing to talk about, to admire.
As David writes in Psalm 139, I am "fearfully and wonderfully made" by the Creator of the heavens, the galaxies. I was "skillfully wrought." And, by looking to a man-made version of beauty, I miss true artistry.

And so-- I turn my eyes outward and upward. I remember that my Creator made me whole-- body, mind and spirit. I remember that I am the way I am on purpose, for a purpose. And it is then that the Gospel of peace renews me. No longer do I slough through my day utterly discontent. I am made in the image of the God of the Universe, and that is a perfectly beautiful thought.

Question for my readers: When do you struggle with this issue the most? How do you combat it?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Potty Training: I Quit.

Potty training is the worst. The WORST, I tell you. I thought she was ready; I really did. I read every "Potty Train Your Kid in Three Days" book/ blog/ article out there, and we followed every rule. I asked for advice from countless friends who have recently been through the potty training ordeal, and took their advice too. Went cold turkey-- no diapers, no Pull-Ups, just awesome Princess panties. We stayed home for five days straight and I took her potty on the clock every 20 minutes. Gave her stickers, jelly beans, myriad other potty prizes. This works beautifully for some kids; however, you just can't make a tiny person with an iron will sit on the potty and go. 

I think my daughter and I are fairly similar... a little controlling, a lot stubborn, and a penchant for always being "right." So, the same character traits that compelled me to extensively research and devise the "perfect" potty training plan are, quite simply, the same traits that drive her to buck my plan.  (We have good qualities too. These just happen to be the traits that terrify me as I look ahead to 2023-- the year she turns 13.)

I have a feeling that this struggle of wills is not limited to potty training. And, while I firmly believe that I, as the parent, must exert power over issues of discipline (for instance, when she wants to run in the parking lot, I will win that battle), I'm coming to realize that potty training is not a discipline issue. It's something she needs to figure out on her own. And, something she will figure out on her own sooner or later.

I never thought I would fall prey to the trap that is trophy parenting. But, there was something about Avery's hitting the two-and-a-half mark, and talking to other moms of two-and-a-half year olds who had successfully potty trained their kids months ago that made me feel like we were behind. I didn't necessarily need to be the one who potty trained her kid first; I guess I just didn't want to be the last. And, as Avery was showing some of the "signs" that I read about in all my books and articles, I bought a pack of Cinderella 2T panties, made a potty chart, planned to stay home for a few days, and started Official Potty Training. 

The first week was okay, with the exception of one or two days. She generally seemed to get it, and liked earning jelly beans and sitting on her princess potty. But as we transitioned back to normal life, potty training got harder. She wouldn't go at school or church with her teachers (whom she adores), and started crying "no potty, no potty" when I asked her if she needed to go. 

Finally, I decided to quit. We traded in our Cinderella panties for Ariel/ Minnie Mouse Pull-Ups, and it has been great. If she wants to use the potty, fantastic-- jelly beans are still awarded. If not, no big deal. 

You see, there were two key pieces of advice I initially neglected:
1) They won't go to college, or even Kindergarten, in diapers.
2) Don't sweat the accidents. She'll get it.

I was getting SO frustrated because, well, no one likes to clean up a poopie accident in a public restroom. What I needed was a little perspective-- when I started listening to wise older women who have successful, happy teenage and adult children, I realized that this (difficult) phase is a small one. And, while my baby is small, I need to enjoy her; the last thing we need is headache over something that she'll get in her own time. 

So, I'm giving up control. I love this toddler stage where she plays pretend and makes silly faces and thinks "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" is very serious music. I am in no hurry for her to grow up, and I don't know why I tried to push her. There are a million things I'm sure she'll just need to figure out on her own... how to make friends, how to study effectively, how to put on eyeliner, how to ignore the bad boys, how not to care what the popular kids think, how to get a job and be a responsible human. 

In the meantime, I resolve to be on her team. I resolve to wait for her to really show me that she's ready for the next "big girl" step. It'll come in time. 

Question for my readers: What things have you learned to just let your kids figure out on their own?

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Rain

There's something about a storm that's good for brooding. And there's something about a dark cloud that evidences the might of God. As Francis Schaeffer says, "He is there and He is not silent."

For centuries, humans have tried to control weather. I'll spare you the history lesson: we can't control it. When the clouds come, how intense the storm, for how long they stay-- we are not in charge.

And how often do we try to control what is not in our power? As a mom, I've tried to control things. I tried to control Avery's newborn schedule (no one remembers to tell you about colic & reflux); I have tried to control Avery's behavior (after literally carrying a screaming, thrashing toddler through Target, I will never again judge another's parenting); I have even tried to control "perfect" spacing between children (God had other plans).

When the dark clouds come, I am reminded that there exists a greater force than myself. And I believe in a God that is power itself.

It was when Jesus calmed a particularly violent storm that the disciples finally looked around and asked each other, "Who is this man?" (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41) And, it is through storms-- both physical and metaphorical-- that we feel the magnitude of His might.

And though we cannot control the storm, we can control our reaction to it. It is not natural to say of the rain, "What a happy, happy thing!" But, we can choose to delight in the storm-- to feel the crash of the thunder in our bones and witness the potency of something so much bigger than ourselves.

Storm, amaze me.