September is my month of talking about Bodily Healing. This is part of my Year of Healing, in which I tackle different topics of healing each month. During September, I will touch on physical and sexual healing, accepting ourselves no matter who we are. I’ll begin this post by diving into a little of my personal story on body image, health, and everything it’s connected to…
I had always sort of had an impassive view of my own body growing up. When I hit puberty, I began actively hating my body. I was so ashamed of it, even as it took on all the beauty of womanhood and others admired it. But I was never comfortable in my own skin, taking an active disdain for the physical presence of my flesh and opting for an emphasis on cerebral and spiritual pursuits.
In fact, in the spiritual circles I grew up on—especially as a female—the messages I received were often tainted with the belief that the body was fallen. That somehow, the body had to be something gross to deal with, to overcome, to actively fight. That sure, God made it—but it had fallen completely into darkness after the fall of Adam and Eve.
As a female, this idea was even deeper. We were the ones who made Adam fall, right? Our bodies were these horrible mechanisms of temptation for the male. So in church we got lecture after lecture about purity and modesty aimed mainly at the girls (because men were, after all, powerless against our wayward charms), which I internalized as a shameful thing. The whole point—at least the way I internalized it—was that the body was in its essence sinful, awful, corrupt, dirty. Especially my body as a female.
Growing up, I actively hid my body out of a sense of self-hatred and shame about the fact that it was a woman’s body. There were even many times I wished I had been born a male—because males seemed to have it so much easier. They were better in every way, and I had somehow been cursed to be a female. (I truly believed this deep down. It’s heartbreaking to look back on this now.)
And then, of course, there were the messages coming from outside my very conservative spiritual setting. The messages of the magazines and ads, portraying women and girls as objects of lust. The messages of porn, which blatantly left the woman out of any true sexual conversation being had. The messages that ALL THAT MATTERED was the body, the outward appearance. That woman’s value stopped at her face, her curves. Intellect, curiosity, etc.—nah. Those things didn’t ultimately matter. It was all about being a skinny yet curvy shape of perfection so that men would notice you, thus giving you value.
Both sides—the “ultra spiritual” side and the “horrible worldly” side did not leave room for a woman to truly respected, loved, and cherished for simply being herself—both her body and her sexuality. The woman was an Object of Lust on both sides—to be exploited, shunned, or blamed. She had no advocacy for herself, no autonomy, no freedom. She was trapped in cages of society’s making.
This led to all kinds of messed up-ness in my head.
As a senior in high school, I fell in love for the first time—and he did not love me back. It was a devastating blow on my sensitive artist’s heart, as I was also a huge people pleaser. Rejection was not something I had the strength to deal with at that point, especially when the love felt so deep, so true on my side. That’s when the real darkness between me and my body started, although I think the roots of it were lingering there for years beforehand. It just needed something to trigger it.
As I wrestled with the pain of a deep heartbreak, I began truly despising my body. Because after all, wasn’t there something wrong with me, if that boy didn’t love me? My physical appearance as not enough, my sexuality was lacking, my femaleness was tainted. I started falling into my first bout with true depression. The darkness inside began manifesting in deeply self-defeating thoughts, as I bashed myself constantly for not being good enough, sexy enough, beautiful enough for the guy I had fallen for.
At the same time, I started getting strange symptoms. Aches all over my body, a weird burning sensation on the left side of my body, huge headaches, chronic fatigue. I didn’t want to get out of bed for most of my senior year, and I slept from 8pm-11am almost every day. I lost 20 lbs in 2 weeks when symptoms first came on, which was the only outward sign of whatever was going on.
My parents were worried, needless to say. We started going to doctor after doctor trying to sort things out, but no one could give us any answers. “She’s just stressed,” they would. “It’s all in her head.” I took test after test, and everything came back normal.
With the weight loss over some mysterious illness, I began to dabble with anorexic tendencies. I had already lost the weight, so why not? As my health began to crumble, I was still dealing with the deep heartbreak—and the only thing I could think to do was punish myself. After all, it was all my fault, right? I had somehow failed, and I should be punished in some way. My body, my sexuality, myself did not add up. It as it was had been rejected—by society, by spirituality, by the boy who gave me worth—so now I had to reject it, too.
Health problems only exasperated this self-hatred, because as I began not being able to get out of bed and having intense pain everywhere, it led to more loathing and depression. I was ugly, horrible, disgusting—AND sick!
It would be another 5 more years before I was diagnosed with the actual problem: Lyme Disease, caused by a bacteria called borrelia that attacks your body in a myriad of caustic, eroding ways.
Why do I tell some of this story? Because too often over the past 10 or so years, I hear echoes of my own struggles in others—especially women.
“I don’t want to have sex with my husband.”
“Women aren’t supposed to feel those kinds of things.”
“I feel ashamed when I’m naked in front of my husband.”
“I wish I would get sick just so I lose weight, too.”
“I struggle with bulimia/anorexia.”
“I hate myself in photos. I look so gross.”
“I was sexually abused, and now I hate my body. I feel like it’s all my fault. If I didn’t have this body, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“Does the church hate women? Because I don’t feel safe as a woman.”
“I was molested/raped by my friend/pastor/boyfriend/father.”
These are all conversations I’ve had with countless women I’ve met and known over the past 10 years. These aren’t uncommon conversations, which is what’s so scary and troubling.
The reality is that many people live in total disgust of their physical beings. According to stats I was looking at, 78% of women will be unhappy with their bodies by the age of 17. That’s crazy talk.
I tell my story because I’m not alone, and for anyone reading this—I want you to know you’re not alone, either. I tell this story because maybe you need to look back into your past and piece together your own bodily story. The roots of why you hate yourself. Maybe it’s similar to mine, maybe it’s very, very different.
The point is this: we all have a story attached to our bodies. And the majority of us have a lot of negativity in that story, whether it’s downright hatred or not.
And what’s so scary is that the body is so intricately connected with our stories, our emotions, our spirits. When you negate the body, it directly correlates with something you’re negating about your past, your story, your mind…YOU.
For example, because my heart was broken, I crumbled into depression, which lead to my system getting compromised enough that my body was a prime target for the borrelia of Lyme that was lurking in my system. My broken heart led to the weakening of my body. I began struggling with more depression after borrelia began taking my body over because the bacteria loves the brain, and so it attacked with ferocity the center of my mind, which lead to intense fatigue and depression. Because I was heartbroken, though, I just didn’t feel like fighting. Instead, I starved myself and added more stress to my body than ever before…leading to more depression and furthering my decline in health.
Looking back, I can truly say that at that point in my life I hated myself. It was a vicious cycle. And that’s really disheartening to realize. Maybe I was an extreme case, in some ways, but because of the conversations I have had and continue to have with women from all backgrounds and ages, I don’t think this is the case.
Our relationship with our body is so connected to everything else we do, think, or believe.
What do you believe about your body?
Where do those message come from?
Note: I want to clarify that the impressions I internalized from church and media are my own and do not represent everyone’s experience. But they were MY experience, and I share my story only to help people make connections of their own. We all have stories to share.
Photo by Adobe Stock/Maygutyak