For a brief season of their childhood, my boys gave gymnastics a try. In retrospect, I think they were more interested in learning fancy trampoline tricks, but nonetheless, for a few months I spent many an afternoon in the tumbling gym. My mind wandered while my boys were flipping and flying with the one class of little boy monkeys in a room full of ballerinas and gymnasts. It was a microcosm of the hierarchies of body image.
There is the preschool class, the little girls who are brand-new to tumbling and somersaults. They have such sweet lines, round tummies, and the pockets of sugar that can be found only on a little girl who still wears a princess nightgown to bed.
Then there are the elementary-age girls, and they could be here for any of many reasons, not the least of which is social. Gymnastics and athletics may or may not be on the agenda. A few shine as future Olympians, and the rest flip and giggle and adjust their ponytails.
The older groups contain girls who are serious, who have muscles in their thighs and their upper arms. They have a dusting of white powder on their hands, and they walk with grace and authority. (I’m pretty sure they own the room at any pool party.) One sweet little gymnast flips and turns, walking her body backward, hands over feet. Probably nine years old, she is long and lean, her blonde hair pulled into a loose ponytail with flyaway wisps held loosely by an orange barrette that matches her team uniform leotard. Her movements are graceful. Her body is her own.
I hope for her that she will come to know herself before her body is no longer in her favor. Because it will not always be.
For now, she flips and turns with the ease of a falling leaf, with a similar carefree breeze.
But there were so many shapes and sizes in that room, and I wanted her—each of them—to know that beauty doesn’t look one way. My heart went out to the girl who was shaped more like the number 8 than the letter I. I wanted to give her a tube of red lipstick so she could write across her bathroom mirror, “I am crazy beautiful.”
We have a hard time loving our own brand of beauty sometimes. It’s not our fault, this disgust we’ve come to believe is just part of looking in the mirror. We all know we’re targeted for every kind of marketing comparison, and this body-image branding starts younger and younger.
In an effort to swim against the current and not be swept away, I wanted to learn to see myself correctly, to remind myself of what God made me to be.
I wrote a letter to myself, about myself.
I titled it “My Compliments to My Creator”:
Dear Most Magnificent Creator,
You have made heaven and earth, everything in and on it.
You called it good.
You make all things glorious and for your glory, and you made me.
This can only mean that you have made me good, glorious, and for your glory.
My compliments to how you made me, Master Artist.
Thank you for my curly mane, wild and unruly, that waves in the wind and gets bigger in the rain.
Thank you for my hands, patterned after my dad, with long lean fingers.
Thank you for my fingernails, my greatest vanity, forever manicured as the splash of color against everything I make with my hands.
Thank you for my middle, for the waist of a woman and the soft belly of a mom.
Thank you for my legs, which I graciously use for sitting crisscross as I comfortably read and write in the corner of my couch, and not so much for running.
Thank you for hips, for curves I want to appreciate.
Thank you for collarbones, which I believe to be the most beautiful part of any woman.
Thank you for making my body to be healthy, sturdy, feminine, and strong.
You made me good, glorious, and for your glory.
My compliments to you, now and forevermore.
~ ~ ~
I might as well be naked before you right now for the degree of vulnerability I’m feeling after having written that down. Until now, it was just between God and me, safely hidden on the bound pages of my journal. But I want you to see the gentle gift I gave to myself, this handwritten love note about my physicality, this awareness that I’m not less because my measurements are more.
If God is like any artist I know, which is likely, since we are made in his image, then maybe it matters to God when we notice what he has made.
When we can agree, “You made that for me, and I like what you did. Thank you.”