My Body Image: Between Perception and Incarnation By Cynthia Garrity-Bond

No matter what shape or size, the words “body image” conjure-up pictures of the self that are like looking into those funny mirrors which distort and expand the body.  With few moments of relative slimness in my life, I have struggled with a poor self-image. It started when I was a child, who while deeply wanted, was not the hoped for frail and delicate daughter my parents had imagined.  My mother, all 5’ 100 lbs was forever reminding me that I took after my father’s Swedish side of the family, more akin to “peasant stock,” you know, those larger boned women who could birth a baby one day and return to the fields the next—you get the picture.  This is the image I came to accept of my own body, which was far from the wispy, delicate girl I longed to be.

And then my baptism into feminism, with all its corrections of the androcentric world to which I belonged. Of the many hopes within feminism, it was the release from my own body image that I longed for.  I wanted to feel at home and at one with what I was, not what I hoped to be.  Truth be known, it has never happened.

A few years back in my Medieval Theology course we were examining the Catholic doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body through such thinkers as Irenaeus, Aquinas and Bonaventure. In what my instructor thought was an affirmation of the body, she interpreted the doctrine to mean that after death we will take on our bodies as they were in life, meaning, we would look pretty much the same as we did while tromping around on earth.  In contemplating her words I sought clarification.  “So” I asked, “the body I have now will be the body I carry with me throughout eternity?”  “Well, yes” my slight and thin professor responded. Letting her words sink in for a moment I finally responded with a resounding, WTF!”   I don’t want this body to haunt me in the next life, I want Ashley Judd’s, or Jennifer Aniston’s, hell, I’ll even consider an anonymous model from the LL Bean catalog, but not THIS body!”

Author Lisa Isherwood in her latest text, The Fat Jesus: Christianity and Body Image,” draws important comparisons between perception of our body with that of Incarnational theology.  “Incarnation” argues Isherwood, tells us that our bodies are our homes, that is to say our divine/human desiring dwelling-places, therefore our christological journey is homeward, to the fullness of our incarnation, the co-redemptive, co-creative reality of our fleshy heaven.”  The aim of Isherwood’s larger project is to shift our understanding of our physical bodies from rejection to acceptance so that we live out from a place of abundance.

The legacy of my “peasant stockiness” has no doubt left a lingering affect on me, but I continue the fight between perception and reality. Between regard for my health on the one hand, and, as Isherwood so beautifully suggest, permission to love my body.

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Categories: Catholicism, Church Doctrine, Feminism, Food

Tags: , , ,

9 replies

  1. Cynthie, what a wonderful and important post! I loved reading this and could relate to so much you have to say. Your comment about the resurrection of the body made me laugh and cry at the same time – a very funny comment that if true, makes me very sad! I too would take the body of the anonymous L.L. Bean catalog model!

    Feminist or not, I think so many of us struggle with these very issues, how can we not in this society we live in. I love Isherwood’s words; however I think it is permission I must grant over and over again – because I fear I may never love my body once and for all. I think this will always be a struggle.

  2. Thanks Gina. Like you, my struggle with my body is never ending. There have and are times of acceptance, but when health is related to pounds, it becomes very complicated. I like how you stated it, the granting of permission over and over again. Which in reality is such a a first world problem.

  3. Dear Cynthie,
    Your description, “peasant stock,” really stuck a nerve in me, because, half a Swede myself, I grew up with the same sort of stigma! …. a common household joke was :
    “____ who can plow a field in a single bound! And braids the hair underneath her armpits! ”

    Even when I was an athlete in high school and at my ‘thinnest’ or fittest weight in my whole life (which was still 140lbs), I didn’t fit the image of the ‘thin’ woman I thought I should be and worse, considered my large muscles un-womanly…. or at least, unlike the women who I thought were beautiful. Now actually, I miss the muscles, and struggle not to judge the wings their absence has left behind.

    Recently I’ve been reading a book about shame by Brene Brown with a friend “I thought it was just me (but it isn’t)”; and I have to admit I didn’t realize how much “shame,” or the sense that somehow who and what I was was wrong, that I felt around my weight and body image…. It’s as though I was telling myself that weighing more than I’d like to somehow made me a bad person? ouch. And so untrue.

    I love what you bring up, discussing Isherwood. That idea of “abundance” is so interesting… on the spiritual and material level. … and about how acceptance of self is about abundance…. I’m a yoga student and have been working lately with the feeling that I’ve put up some stumbling blocks for myself on my walk towards abundance in many areas of my life… I will definitely think about how this relates to my body image struggle now. Thank you for your insights!

    P.S. “The Fat Jesus” sounds like an interesting book (I’ve not heard of it before), thanks for mentioning it! It definitely disrupts my image of Jesus too– or makes me think about it. It also makes me think of Fat Buddhas ;) which is an image I find joy in.

  4. Hey Sara,
    Thank you for your affirmation and support regarding my post. Last semester I had a few of my female college students report on their personal struggles with body image and eating disorders. Even the “thin” ones cannot accept their bodies. All of which is supported by a media driven, risky and deadly body image that is killing our girls and now boys.

    Yes, Lisa Isherwood self-identifies as a Liberation Theologian who grounds her work in Indecent & Queer theology is an excellent source and read.

    Peace, acceptance and abundance!

  5. Hi Cynthie,

    I just watched an Eve Ensler interview online and she spoke about “The Good Body,” (skip to the section labeled that way in the interview – #6) which made me think about this post. She has some great insight about how women’s insecurities about our bodies is a genius strategy that keeps us tyrannized and controlled – as well as embroiled in capitalist practices.

    http://fora.tv/2011/03/02/I_Am_An_Emotional_Creature_An_Evening_with_Eve_Ensler#fullprogram

    Of course she would also encourage acceptance and abundance :)

  6. Try being 6’1″ in a society where men want to be taller than all women and then try to love your body! Recently a short friend said to me, “I wonder if men think you can beat them up.” I had never thought of that since I am not a physical fighter. But slowly it did dawn on me, I bet they don’t think they can beat me up. Can that thought really be at the root of most encounters between men and a tall woman, or in other words between men and women?

    Lisa Isherwood’s work is important, but really, isn’t a full-figure Goddess a more empowering symbol for women than Jesus? Lots of women have written about being empowered by images of big Goddesses, but it seems that this is yet another case where important feminist work in religion is being lost because of Christian–including Christian feminist–hegemony!

  7. Hi Carol,

    I just wanted to let you know that your comment above has been stirring in my mind since I read it. Especially in regards to feminist work in religion being lost because of Christian feminist hegemony – I fall into that category and feel the conviction of that statement in what I hope is a constructive and transforming way. Your comment will stay with me, and I will continue to reflect on it and let it sink into my being so that it may change me and lead me into counterhegemonic actions and practices. And of course, I am always open to any more insights and suggestions you may have to share. Thank you so much for contributing your voice to this blog, it is so important.

    – Xochitl

  8. Loved your post, Cynthie. I totally identify with being torn between criticizing my body but knowing that as a feminist I should accept and love it.

    Mormons, having a very concrete and physical vision of the afterlife complete with resurrected bodies, have similar thoughts as your prof expressed about what our resurrected bodies will look like. Though we soften it a bit — Mormons tend to think they will look like the best and most healthy vision of themselves.

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