My struggle and fascination with the subject of embodiment began at a young age. Perhaps my first sense of the nuances of being an embodied being began with the realization that my younger brother was considered “different” as a result of being born microcephalic (having an abnormally small head and brain) and therefore having lifelong developmental delay. I remember wondering: How is it that the body can work so perfectly sometimes and yet have so many complications other times? What had happened to make his development so starkly contrast my own? And why can’t it fix itself?
As a high school student, my struggle manifested in the forms of anorexia and bulimia. The anorexia came first, and began almost as if a switch had been thrown. I dieted severely and dropped 60 pounds in a little under 3 months, in the end making it a goal to lose a pound a day. My cheeks sunk in. I slept through lunch. I found little occasion to laugh. And still I could not see an ounce of beauty or satisfaction when I looked at my body. I poked at the jutting bones of my pelvis and wished my bones were smaller. I saw my body as a devious enemy. During my junior year, I became bulimic as a means of coping with increasing pressures by family and friends to eat.
Finally during my senior year in high school, everything came to a head. After beginning to consistently throw up blood, I secretly arranged a meeting with my pediatrician. She made me give her my word that I would put an end to my bulimia…and just as abruptly as I began, I stopped, true to my word.
In my freshman year of college I was sexually assaulted by a member of our social group. I told few people and silently cursed my femininity. College was a time when I neither loved nor hated my body; rather, I simply disconnected from it.
But toward the end of college years, my perspective changed after a week-long silent retreat. The opportunity for self-reflection awakened a new appreciation within me. I began to heal my relationship with my body (and I say this understanding the dualistic tone; however, this was my perception at the time), and as I did so I also began to heal my trust in God. The fact that these two paths ran parallel certainly didn’t feel like an accident, and as I became thirstier for a relationship with my God of Incarnation, so I also became thirstier for an appreciation of my own embodiment. I chose the topic of “The Spirituality of Embodiment” for my Master’s thesis, arguing for a holistic rather than dualistic perspective of body and soul. I trained for the Los Angeles Marathon as another aspect of my healing. I lost the excess amount of weight I had gained in the wake of my eating disorders and I began to embrace (rather than shy from) my personal sense of sensuality. I felt alive and happy and no longer placed ultimate value on my perception of my body’s attractiveness or usefulness
Spiritually, it was also an important time to prepare me for what was to come. While writing my thesis, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and endured rigorous regimens of chemotherapy and radiation. I used running as a way to cope, but halfway through my marathon training I was informed that I had a knee injury that required intensive and painful surgery, and after the surgery I would never be able to run again. I was also diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Disease and was told it would be very difficult to conceive children. I was in a pseudo-relationship with a man who didn’t notice if I wore a ball gown or a sack. And the struggle resurfaced, only this time I needed to reconcile the struggle with my developing respect of the body through a lens of faith and self-appreciation.
Eventually, I met the man who would become my husband, and my relationship with him provided an incredible opportunity for reconnection with my sense of trust and affection for my embodiment. His respect and tender care for all aspects of my physical self—my health, my sexuality, my energy level, my love of exercise and good food, and especially my inner conflict regarding the uncertainty of my reproductive ability—gave me deeply needed moments of healing.
This healing was further guided by a caring and patient midwife who, when I eventually did become pregnant, helped me to trust the body that I had for so long distrusted. When I birthed my son, it involved reaching down into the darkest depths and up to the most triumphant heights to which I had ever journeyed in the intertwinement of my body/soul experience. I finally claimed my body as my own, and had reverent appreciation for its sacred and vast capabilities.
My journey continues to evolve. I wrestle with my enfleshed experience as often as I appreciate it. I grapple with news of cancer, of violence, of our culture’s vain obsession with its very narrow view of beauty. I struggle with issues of justice, of fear, of disrespect toward the body.
And yet I am so enamored by its perfection.
From studying anatomy to sitting quietly by a birthing woman, from feeling my pulse beat hard after a workout to appreciating a deep inhale—all of this is part of a most incredible design. When I consider even more deeply about my personal embodiment as a woman—the capability of my womb and my breasts as a mother, the capacity of sacred sexuality and sensuality with my husband, and the body as a means for the personal expression of my femininity moving in and through the world—I am most appreciative.
This is—albeit abridged—an account of my own experience with embodiment. Certainly it shapes my perspective, and perhaps can give insight into why my posts tend to often embrace topics of embodiment. I have a feeling it is a topic that, for me, will be a lifelong evolution of reflection and study.
In the end, I suppose I find the most peace when I rest in the tension of the body’s potential and its limitations (and of both my trust and fear of its capabilities). We are made imperfect by a perfect Creator, yet the nuances of why and how this manifests in our embodied world remain a mystery to me. I must rest, as Pierre Teilhard De Chardin writes in his poem “Patient Trust,” in “the anxiety of feeling [my]self in suspense and incomplete.” And for now, that is enough.
Stacia Guzzo is a homesteading theologian/stay-at-home mother who received her Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Loyola Marymount University and is currently working toward a Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. Stacia has been a teacher and speaker in the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese and has served as managing editor for Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality. Her areas of interest include embodiment theology, ecological justice, food ethics, and the spirituality of birth. Stacia’s perspective offers unique insight into the raw, fresh theological undertones of every day life; coming from a Jesuit background, she embraces the Ignatian attitude of “finding God in all things.” In addition to her theological studies, Stacia currently works part-time as a doula, childbirth educator, and apiarist.