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.