Broken Mirrors, Broken Bodies, and Sophia Wisdom by Angela Yarber

angelaFreshly cleansed, I stood naked in front of a foggy full-length mirror. I had just taken my first hot, indoor shower in nearly two months. I’ve been volunteering in a National Forest all summer with my wife and toddler; it is stunningly beautiful. While there is a lake for bathing, we have no access to running water and there are certainly no mirrors hanging from the birch trees. Sure, I can catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror of my car, but this was the first time I saw all of me—sun-kissed and mosquito-bitten—in a while. This may not seem like a big deal, and I didn’t think it would be, but the absence of mirrors has had a profoundly holy impact on me this summer.

As the dirt of two months swirled down the drain and I savored every drop of warm water pouring endlessly over my aching body, I thought about the mirror that awaited me. I thought about how it has been almost 15 years since I’ve intentionally starved myself or shoved my finger down my throat to induce calorie-purging vomiting. I thought about how I weigh thirty pounds more than I did during the nadir of my eating disorder. I thought about how much grace I’ve offered my body over these years. The grace to grow. The grace to age. The grace to gain. The grace to work hard. The grace to accept.

I thought about the tremendous privilege my body carries: the privilege of my whiteness, the privilege of being temporarily able-bodied, thin privilege. I thought about how my white body has never feared for her life when pulled over for a traffic violation. I thought about how my body has access to do whatever she wants—climb stairs into inaccessible buildings, or mountains to stunning vistas. I thought about how I can find clothing in my size in virtually any store, how no one offers me health advice when ordering at a restaurant, or diminishes my concerns at the doctor’s office based on my size. I thought about racism, ableism, and fatphobia. I thought about what it means to be a queer femme body.

And I thought about the eating disorder that still lives inside me, the one that sometimes rages and judges and shames no matter how much body-positivity and feministing and queering I do. I thought about the white supremacist cis-heteronormative bullshit that is thrown at my body—at all bodies—on a daily basis, that popular culture reaches me even when I’m living in the middle of the woods with misogynistic, capitalistic shouts of thigh gaps and dad bods. I thought about the paradox that dwells within me, simultaneously carrying the privilege of being white, cis, thin, and normatively abled, but also the struggle of being a queer woman with a painful history of being poor while having eating disorders.

I thought about how much religion fueled my disorder, admonishing me to “be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect,” to “take up my cross,” to “deny myself.” I thought about the piety of countless medieval mystic women who were told that denying themselves any sustenance was a means of identifying with the suffering of Christ. Historians refer to this as anorexia mirabilis, or the miraculous loss of appetite (Lelwica, Starving for Salvation, 27). I thought about how mystics greatly admired, such as Catherine of Sienna, struggled with disordered eating. She reportedly lived on the Eucharist alone, gave away her food to the hungry, and stuck twigs down her throat to induce vomiting. I thought about how clinicians estimate that eighty to eighty-five percent of American women—across racial and socio-economic lines—have a Sub-clinical Eating Disorder (SED). SED describes individuals who are obsessed with weight and body image and is characterized by chronic under-eating, over-exercising, and binge-eating resulting from long periods of self-starvation. 80% of women think their bodies aren’t good enough, worthy enough, holy enough, enough.

I thought about all these things as the water washed over my broken body. I thought about how far I had come, yet how angry I was that this disorder still dwells within. I thought about the shame I felt that, even after much work and outward declarations of body positivity, there’s still a part of me that hopes every time I thrust my fist into the air in protest, it reveals a trim and sculpted tricep. How absolutely and utterly ridiculous and unfeminist is that?! It’s about as ridiculous as it is true and real.

As I wiped the steamy mirror to reveal my body, now cleansed—purified? baptized?—I thought of the immortal words of Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. They encourage feminists, upon looking into the mirror, to imagine that a little girl is watching and absorbing every negative thing said about your body. Would you say those things to her? Of course not. Then don’t say them to yourself, either. I thought about all those years of body shaming, the years my religious tradition choked and starved my self-esteem so violently. I thought about how religion is used to violate the bodies of women and girls every day.

As I looked into that mirror and the voices of my disorder stirred within me, I took a deep breath. I breathed in grace, acceptance, and peace. And I thought about how my legs—even without the notorious thigh gap—had completed a beautiful, steep, 10 mile trail run through fern fields and wild flowers earlier that week. I thought about how my shoulders carried my toddler in a pack on a hike to a waterfall where he repeated his alphabet for the first time the day prior. I thought about how my stomach had willingly held down almost every meal for the past 15 years. And I thought about Sophia Wisdom.

Sophia was the first Holy Women Icon with a folk feminist twist I ever painted. A church gallery was hosting a Lenten triptych exhibition with the theme of “The Many Faces of Jesus.” I knew immediately that the face of Jesus I wanted to portray was Sophia wisdom. Sophia is the Greek feminine word for wisdom in the New Testament.

With big, open hands reaching beyond the confines of her canvas and expanding onto either side of the triptych, the wild and flowing hair of Spirit Sophia waves in Dionysian abandon, and we look into her beating heart and see ourselves, our own spirits reflected back at us. And Sophia’s heart cries out to us:

Because she looked into the eyes of fragile humanity and saw the face of Jesus,
her heart shattered at the sight of oppression and injustice…
so she committed herself to a lifetime of picking up the broken pieces
by standing for peace and dancing for justice…
and now when she looks into the mirror,
she sees the face of Jesus once again…


The fragments in her heart are shards of mirrors. I thought about how Sophia accompanied me into the wilderness. The only mirrors present with me in the forest are broken on her big, beating heart. I looked into that foggy full-length mirror, and I look into the broken mirror on Sophia’s heart, and I see a reflection of broken, redeemed, and resurrected humanity. I see myself, the queer feminist whose disorder will always be lurking below the surface, but who has realized the strong grace of Sophia is enough to sustain me.

Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber has a PhD in Art and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley and is author of Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions, The Gendered Pulpit: Sex, Body, and Desire in Preaching and Worship, Dance in Scripture: How Biblical Dancers can Revolutionize Worship Today, Holy Women Icons, and Tearing Open the Heavens: Selected Sermons from Year B. She has been a clergywoman and professional dancer and artist since 1999. For more on her research, ministry, dance, or to purchase one of her icons, visit:


13 thoughts on “Broken Mirrors, Broken Bodies, and Sophia Wisdom by Angela Yarber”

  1. Thank you for this beautiful post, Angela. You certainly dusted off the sacred mirror that got darkened and blackened by patriarchy’s body loathing/denial… every woman, like you, who looks in the mirror a sees there reflected her sacred self, heals the wounds and scars left on our bodies and spirits by millennia of misogyny…
    A woman undresses down to her underwear in public and let people draw hearts on her body…


  2. Great comment by Majak, I agree. Also that first paragraph with your family, thanks Angela, and the absence of mirrors, is as healthy, as loving and as giving as anything could be.


  3. I never knew about Sophia being one of the faces of Christ. You have piqued my curiosity and now I will try to learn more. It is good to hear your story and to know you are well and happy.


    1. I find this transformation fascinating – how Sophia morphed from being a female symbol in Jewish tradition to a male one in Christianity. It’s one of the things I would love to follow up one day. I love your image!


  4. What an amazing and healing post. Thank you. Yes, as Majak reminds us, mirrors are sacred, and have been used by women as sacred objects ritually and individually to see the divinity within ourselves for millennia. One of my favorite stories is that of Amaterasu being coaxed out of her desolate cave to bring the sun back to the Earth when her people place a mirror just outside the cave opening where she can see herself in all her sacred beauty. Mirrors are just one more sacred object stolen from women that we must reclaim so that we can all see, physically and symbolically, the infinite beauty of each and every one of us.


  5. Love this question, and the fabulous gesture, Angela! — “There’s still a part of me that hopes every time I thrust my fist into the air in protest, it reveals a trim and sculpted tricep. How absolutely and utterly ridiculous and unfeminist is that?”


  6. I’ve always loved Sophia. Not the goddess of wisdom, but Holy Wisdom embodied. Holy Female Wisdom. Her image graces my website.


  7. Thank you for this very moving and thought producing post Angela. I just never thought of mirrors in this way before. In the monastery where I lived there were no mirrors – lest we become “proud” or “vain”. (1950’s-60’s) and I’ve always had a problem with dear Catherine but her mistreatment of her body might be why the hierarchs listened to her. We have shoveled so much manure, we women!

    I feel very honoured that you shared this part of yourself with us. I’m going to go clean my mirror now so I can see better.


    1. PS I just watched your video for the bucket list contest and sent tons of good vibes that you win the prize. Be sure to let us know!


  8. You have captured something in this post that many don’t understand: recovery is more than physical. Even with all else going well, that voice that dwells inside can remain, and you are showing incredible strength in fighting it off one moment at a time.


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