i love the Dove campaign for real beauty. . .i love this article by Kasey Edwards. . . and i think both embody what Romans 12:2 is all about.
I was seven when I discovered that you were fat, ugly and horrible. Up until that point I had believed that you were beautiful — in every sense of the word. I remember flicking through old photo albums and staring at pictures of you standing on the deck of a boat. Your white strapless bathing suit looked so glamorous, just like a movie star. Whenever I had the chance I’d pull out that wondrous white bathing suit hidden in your bottom drawer and imagine a time when I’d be big enough to wear it; when I’d be like you.
But all of that changed when, one night, we were dressed up for a party and you said to me, ‘‘Look at you, so thin, beautiful and lovely. And look at me, fat, ugly and horrible.’’
At first I didn’t understand what you meant.
‘‘You’re not fat,’’ I said earnestly and innocently, and you replied, ‘‘Yes I am, darling. I’ve always been fat; even as a child.’’
In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:
1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.
2. Fat is ugly and horrible.
3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly and horrible too.
Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.
With every grimace at your reflection in the mirror, every new wonder diet that was going to change your life, and every guilty spoon of ‘‘Oh-I-really-shouldn’t,’’ I learned that women must be thin to be valid and worthy. Girls must go without because their greatest contribution to the world is their physical beauty.
Just like you, I have spent my whole life feeling fat. When did fat become a feeling anyway? And because I believed I was fat, I knew I was no good.
But now that I am older, and a mother myself, I know that blaming you for my body hatred is unhelpful and unfair. I now understand that you too are a product of a long and rich lineage of women who were taught to loathe themselves.
Look at the example Nanna set for you. Despite being what could only be described as famine-victim chic, she dieted every day of her life until the day she died at seventy-nine years of age. She used to put on make-up to walk to the letterbox for fear that somebody might see her unpainted face.
I remember her ‘‘compassionate’’ response when you announced that Dad had left you for another woman. Her first comment was, ‘‘I don’t understand why he’d leave you. You look after yourself, you wear lipstick. You’re overweight — but not that much.’’
Before Dad left, he provided no balm for your body-image torment either.
‘‘Jesus, Jan,’’ I overheard him say to you. ‘‘It’s not that hard. Energy in versus energy out. If you want to lose weight you just have to eat less.’’
That night at dinner I watched you implement Dad’s ‘‘Energy In, Energy Out: Jesus, Jan, Just Eat Less’’ weight-loss cure. You served up chow mein for dinner. (Remember how in 1980s Australian suburbia, a combination of mince, cabbage, and soy sauce was considered the height of exotic gourmet?) Everyone else’s food was on a dinner plate except yours. You served your chow mein on a tiny bread-and-butter plate.
As you sat in front of that pathetic scoop of mince, silent tears streamed down your face. I said nothing. Not even when your shoulders started heaving from your distress. We all ate our dinner in silence. Nobody comforted you. Nobody told you to stop being ridiculous and get a proper plate. Nobody told you that you were already loved and already good enough. Your achievements and your worth — as a teacher of children with special needs and a devoted mother of three of your own — paled into insignificance when compared with the centimeters you couldn’t lose from your waist.
It broke my heart to witness your despair and I’m sorry that I didn’t rush to your defense. I’d already learned that it was your fault that you were fat. I’d even heard Dad describe losing weight as a ‘‘simple’’ process — yet one that you still couldn’t come to grips with. The lesson: you didn’t deserve any food and you certainly didn’t deserve any sympathy.
But I was wrong, Mum. Now I understand what it’s like to grow up in a society that tells women that their beauty matters most, and at the same time defines a standard of beauty that is perpetually out of our reach. I also know the pain of internalising these messages. We have become our own jailors and we inflict our own punishments for failing to measure up. No one is crueler to us than we are to ourselves.
But this madness has to stop, Mum. It stops with you, it stops with me and it stops now. We deserve better — better than to have our days brought to ruin by bad body thoughts, wishing we were otherwise.
And it’s not just about you and me any more. It’s also about Violet. Your granddaughter is only three and I do not want body hatred to take root inside her and strangle her happiness, her confidence and her potential. I don’t want Violet to believe that her beauty is her most important asset; that it will define her worth in the world. When Violet looks to us to learn how to be a woman, we need to be the best role models we can. We need to show her with our words and our actions that women are good enough just the way they are. And for her to believe us, we need to believe it ourselves.
The older we get, the more loved ones we lose to accidents and illness. Their passing is always tragic and far too soon. I sometimes think about what these friends — and the people who love them — wouldn’t give for more time in a body that was healthy. A body that would allow them to live just a little longer. The size of that body’s thighs or the lines on its face wouldn’t matter. It would be alive and therefore it would be perfect.
Your body is perfect too. It allows you to disarm a room with your smile and infect everyone with your laugh. It gives you arms to wrap around Violet and squeeze her until she giggles. Every moment we spend worrying about our physical ‘‘flaws’’ is a moment wasted, a precious slice of life that we will never get back.
Let us honor and respect our bodies for what they do instead of despising them for how they appear. Focus on living healthy and active lives, let our weight fall where it may, and consign our body hatred in the past where it belongs. When I looked at that photo of you in the white bathing suit all those years ago, my innocent young eyes saw the truth. I saw unconditional love, beauty and wisdom. I saw my Mum.
Love, Kasey xx
Kasey Edwards is an author from Melbourne.
This is an excerpt from Dear Mum: a collection of letters from Australian sporting stars, musicians, models, cooks and authors revealing what they would like to say to their mothers before it’s too late, or would have said if only they’d had the chance.
All royalties go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. (Published by Random House and available now.)
Do not be conformed to this age,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
so that you may discern
what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
The cat calls for her dinner.
On the porch I bend and pour
brown soy stars into her bowl,
stroke her dark fur.
It's not quite night.
Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
Above my neighbor's roof, a transparent
moon, a pink rag of cloud.
Inside my house are those who love me.
My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
And there's a man who will lift my hair
in his hands, brush it
until it throws sparks.
Everything is just as I've left it.
Dinner simmers on the stove.
Glass bowls wait to be filled
with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
on the cutting board.
I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.
~Dorianne Laux, "On the Back Porch," Awake
We sat in the low lights of the living room Friday night, the four of us, my family, after dinner, and spoke of the day, of the hours that we had remembered from the Passover Seder on Thursday, the ascent to the Garden upon leaving Jerusalem, the long night of prayer, the trial before daybreak, and then the hours on the cross on Friday. . .
The third hour. From the sixth hour to the ninth hour. The ninth hour. And finally, the evening hour, when the Day of Preparation began.
We spoke of Joseph of Arimathea. We spoke of the coming hours. Let us be quiet for one another tomorrow, we said. Keep the tv and music low if you must, turn on a light if you will, but be mindful so that if others are called to prayer. . .
So, i am with you for a few minutes this morning my Thoughtful Friends. The house is quiet. It is Saturday. The Day of Preparation.
In the house of grief, the women have stopped breathing. All housework has been completed. Meals are already prepared. On the table, by the door, the jars of ointment and spices wait. Their men have gone to the yard or to the work shop, where they sit quietly (for it is forbidden to work on the Sabbath), salted tear trails on their cheeks running into their beards. The synagoge seemed cold in the morning light. The rabbi hollow. Promises aborted before they had barely begun.
In the house of grief, we find that what we thought would never happen has. What we held dearest has been ripped from our grasp. We are gut sore from wailing, we are hoarse with tears. We are first writhing in fire, and then cold, empty, and numb.I think of Peter's wordless grimace as he falls to the threshold of his home, howling soundlessly as a cateract of rain falls loudly outside the door.
Could this be. . .the hour of Preparation?
A preparation that is . . . stripping down to nothing, the vast emptying of dreams, the deluge of releasing everything. . .and everyone. . .each one of our small, self-serving, delusional hopes. . .for something. . .more.
Is this preparation making room for something more?
Remember, I said to my daughters last night, when the Saturdays of your tomorrows come, and mommy and daddy may not be there, always remember. . .Sunday's coming.
i believe in getting into a car and just going. Travelling down a road you've always wanted to take. Rolling down the windows, letting the air in. If it is sea air, all the better.
i believe in getting out of the car, and climbing over the dune (or opening a gate, or taking a wooded path), and I believe in the surprise that will inevitably come.
And if it were a dune, say. . .the surprises could be. . .a tanker sunk just off shore. A bed of thick white shells. Or the moment when you look back over your shoulder, across the sound, and realize that you can no longer see the mainland. . .and that road that you followed took you thirty miles out to sea. . .and you are adrift, disconnected, gone. . .
I believe in goosebumps when you realize how much more real this wilderness is than the perceived safety at home . . .and it is fiercely beautiful in a wild way like God is. . .and your eyes keep filling up with light, light, light from blue and white, and blue airy over watery horizons that never end.
And i believe in the timing of whelks that have been fashioned in the watery depths by blind smithy creatures, rolling over sandy bottom for how long? years? to be rolled up to your feet on an incoming wave for just this moment, just this now.
And i believe in taking a bit of that wild home and dropping it sandy on the table and finding it pushed aside until they've formed a circle in the center of your home. . .
i believe the cross was evidence that our God is not safe. . .but fiercely beautiful. . .I believe the path of Lent takes us out into that beauty. . .
and i believe in the gifts His tide brings in . . . telling us the tame now is not all there is. . .
That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
~1 Corinthians 2:9
Spring cleaning begins with emptying the big china cabinet bit by bit, running loads of glass and china in the dish washer all day, polishing the mirrored back and glass shelves and then re-loading all the pieces ever so carefully.
The silver tumbler, a baby cup with handle, spilled on the bath towels layering the dining room table, and the soft tips of pussy willows tumbled out.
Spring, a year ago, i had pushed branches into a container by the front door, and these kitten toes are all that are left
Tomorrow afternoon, perhaps i will go to the nursery and find a few branches to plant. . .soft harbinger of spring.
Our teacher asked us if God thought Words were important. Of course, the teacher was pushing us to engage our minds as we looked into Proverbs, but I was stunned by the inadequacy of the question
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.
~Proverbs 18: 21
It is astounding what Proverbs 18 alone has to say about what we say.
The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters.
A fool’s lips walks into a fight, they are a snare; his mouth invites a beating , it is his ruin.
The words of a gossip are delicious morsels.
The discussion quickly spiraled down into a stew of remembered epigrams and homey sayings thrown up on the board. There was laughter, and some joking. “When someone wants an honest answer, just how honest can I be?” The jokester was evidently impatient and mocking someone who had proved to be annoying.
My head hurt. I remained quiet. Fire burned in my bones. The jocularity continued. The Bible has even more to say about the words of a mocker. Irony screamed, and I longed to put my fingers in my ears.
Words, my friend?
God created the universe and all that it is in it by speaking.
No heavy lifting, magic wand, incantation, spirit finger, recipe-cooking solution.
He simply spoke the briefest words, and matter was created from nothing, the nucleus of atoms blossomed, DNA twisted on its strands, time started, stars were born.
He spoke, “Let there be. . .” and His Words became a hot, soupy matrix teeming with life. The Words became the thing spoken.
The word of God is living and breathing, a two-edged sword. . .
The word that goes out from God's mouth does not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it.
And man-made-in-this-speaking-God’s image. . .in this darling dust bin’s tongue is “the power of life and death.”
The Word, what God spoke, was more than a witticism. That Word teemed with His life, His wisdom, His power, and it stood up on its own two feet with Him. He was the Word. And He spoke the Word and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.
Jesus is the name (or word, if you will) for this Word.
The implications are mind boggling, skin tingling, blood boiling.
Jesus is what came straight out of the mouth of God. Jesus is the Word for the word that came out of God’s mouth. Jesus is the Word spoken by God and therefore, He is God. The Words tripping from God’s tongue had His DNA and He wrapped His-Word-self in Flesh so that He could be visible to us and dwell with us in our physical God-spoken-world. (John 1)
And that leather bound, thin sheet volume whispering in your hands (or perhaps calling from within the glass of your e-reader) is the megaphone of that Word, of that Jesus, of that Word-Speaking God. And we, man-made-in-this-speaking-God’s image, say those Words aloud and the verses unwrap like atoms blooming, and the Words, His Words, live and breathe, and those sanctioned Words reach right into us, dividing soul from spirit, and bone from marrow, and accomplishing His purposes.
We who were given tongues that we might speak words. . .
Teacher asked, “Does God think Words are important?” and words fell out of mouths like rain, some witty, some mocking, and some serious. . .
Life and death spilt in the room.
And i thought. . .What if every time we spoke, we could see the spilling and knew it for what it was?
i had not seen her in over twenty years, but there she was on the other side of the flat glass of my living room television. Who knows what features of a sixteen year old still lie in the face of a woman strung taut with grief? There was the square jaw in a thin face, the dark, thick lashes, and a distinct set of eyes that set her apart from other blond, thin, lovely women in their forties. That night, looking at the TV i couldn't be sure; I couldn't even attach a name. But i could remember a kindness; i was remembering those eyes must be blue, though now shuttered with grief and thick, black lashes.
She had been a sophomore in my English lit classes. She had looked me up one time, several years later, when she had decided to become a teacher, and she had visited me in my home. Gracious and kind and always laughing and smiling.
This morning i remembered her name is Grace.
The photos tell me Grace went on to marry a kind faced man and had five beautiful blond children, and her oldest daughter set goals and achieved them. An accomplished swimmer, she had chosen to run the the shamrock half marathon in Virginia Beach. Photos tell me that she had Grace's gentle, laughing smile. The stories tells us that she had asked the priest a few weeks ago, "Father, what does a blessing do?" and she smiled a smile he would remember when he answered, "It wraps us in God's love."
Grace buried her sixteen year old daughter yesterday, the sod falling on the coffin of her first born as spring arrived in its first hour. At mile twelve, her friend tells us that this daughter of Grace, known for her endurance, had encouraged her, "Let's finish this." After crossing the finish line, Grace's daughter hugged her friend and then collapsed.
Grace's husband, holding Grace's hand, tells us that their daughter still lives.
There is a Resurrection.
i pray that in the wee hours of every morning for the rest of her life, Grace believes, that she will say, "Let's finish this," and rises again . . .
inspired by her daughter. . .
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,
and the time of my departure has come. . .
I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith."
~2 Timothy 4:7