By Nicole Busch
“You are altogether beautiful, my love, there is no flaw in you.” Song of Solomon 4:7
Scriptures reminding us of our beauty and that we are created in the image of God are ubiquitous. Yet, we still feel flawed, ugly, marred, and not good enough. So we try harder to look better and to change our bodies. We buy clothes, pay for personal trainers, follow influencers that tell us what to eat, what not to eat, wear only clothes flattering for our body shape.
Not feeling good enough in our bodies is pervasive. Social media, culture, diet culture, society—and Satan himself—make it so easy to fall into the spiral of self-loathing and not-good-enough-self-disgust-thinking. As a therapist and a young woman living with chronic illness, I understand the complexity of negative body image personally and professionally.
“I am 32 years old. I am a stroke survivor. I have had four open-heart surgeries.”
I am 32 years old. I am a stroke survivor. I have had four open-heart surgeries. I have a blood clotting autoimmune disease called Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome. These chronic illness are far from beautiful. In fact, they are often very ugly, and there is a weight and violence to them. As I venture to write a piece about body image, I will be honest—I cannot think about my perception of my body or the relationship I have with my body without thinking about these chronic illnesses.
When I look in the mirror, I see the manifestations of these chronic illnesses. Sometimes I struggle to accept my body and what continues to happen within my body. Sometimes my mind wonders:
How do I reconcile with scars in the most intimate parts of my body, a body I one day want to share with a future husband?
Could a man ever truly accept these things about me, when I struggle to accept them about myself?
How do I find the beauty in a body that has experienced such horror and trauma?
How do I rejoice in womanhood when my chronic illness obliterated my ability to carry children?
How do I find joy to do the things I love when I inhabit a body that feels perpetually exhausted and run down?
How could God or anyone else find me altogether beautiful or lovely?
“Body image runs deeper than appearance or what others see.”
These questions are personal and often haunting. But I know that I am not alone.
Many of us war with body image, even if we do not have chronic illness. While we often judge our bodies on how they look, we miss the bigger picture. Body image runs deeper than appearance or what others see.
Body image is also what it feels like to live inside our bodies, and an even deeper desire to be accepted, to be loved, and to belong. Sometimes, sadly, we feel the mechanism to be loved is to be perfect, and the only way to be perfect is to change our bodies. But being loved by God is not about conditions or perfection. It is about coming to him in our shame, trauma, ugliness, and scars.
Our time on earth and the time we have in our bodies is fleeting. So what can we do to make the experience of living inside our bodies bring more glory to God and simultaneously mend our relationship with our bodies?
If we are living with chronic illness, we can go to our doctor appointments, keep a log of new symptoms, join support groups that have other members with our chronic illness, celebrate our good days, and take our medication as prescribed.
If sports or movement are an important part of our lives, we can allow ourselves to have rest days between workouts instead of pushing through strains and pulled muscles, and do various movement that bring our bodies joy.
If we are active on social media, we can unfollow or unsubscribe to content that rouses envy of other people’s lives, bodies, and diets, so that we can be more present and grateful in our own lives.
We can try to be more present with our food—really savor the tastes and textures and smells—instead of depriving our bodies of food we enjoy because we are afraid that we will lose control if we like the way it tastes.
We can take deep breaths throughout the day to remember how it feels to be connected to something as beautiful and intricate as our bodies.
We can remember that it is a privilege to work and try to bring this spirit of gratitude into the work we do.
We can accept that the only constant in this world is change, and that our bodies and our faces are inevitably going to change.
8. We can thank our body for where it has carried us this far in our lives.
9. We can talk back to the lie that we have to be perfect to be loved. And remember that we already are loved by God in our shame, trauma, ugliness, and scars.
© Nicole Busch June 24, 2021
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