Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Universal Issue- Women's Body Image Made Real

I’ve always known that some things are universal and experienced by all people, like love, loss, and happiness. I guess I just didn’t realize that a struggle I have dealt with my whole life affects women the world over. I can’t remember a time, after the age of ten, that I didn’t feel as if I had at least ten pounds that I needed to lose in-order-to look my best.

I guess the most dangerous time came at the end of my seventh-grade year when I stared at my seventy-seven-pound body and still saw inches that needed to come off. Anorexia had convinced my mind that I could not exercise enough or eat almost anything. Even though I was divinely healed from anorexia through a photograph, a story for another day, one thing remained. I always see myself needing to lose a few pounds, no manner how fit or thin I am.

I think we all have the illusion that we are alone in our struggles. That is what makes them so difficult to break free from. The silence of our minds tells us to hide in shame when the truth is that if we dared to share, we would find the common ground that would encourage us to overcome.

Last Wednesday, I was able to do something I have always wanted to do- see the Grand Canyon. As we explored the expansiveness of this natural wonder, we stopped at every viewpoint along the way to see it from a slightly different perspective.

At one of our stops we decided to ask a couple to trade shooting photos in order to get a good picture of the two of us without resorting to a selfie. We began chatting a bit with a couple of similar age from Denmark. They had rented an RV and were taking a month and a half to see some of the sights of the western United States. After we finished talking, I offered to take a photo of them in exchange for their taking ours.

The lady immediately said no and proceeded to explain to me in her limited English and with hand motions that she didn’t want a picture. She put her hands at her side and moved them outward in explanation. I immediately knew she was telling me that she was too fat for a photo. I told her that no, she looked fine, and should take a photo. I know your mind is wondering how fat she might have been, conjuring of images from the television show ‘My Six-Hundred-Pound Life.’ The sad, but true, fact was that she might have been twenty pounds overweight, but those pounds visibly weighed her down.

In that transcendent moment, the two of us from a half a world apart connected soul to soul. I have spent about forty years with that ‘you need to lose weight’ voice whispering in my ear and have learned to not let it limit my experiences. As I posed for her husband to take our picture, I believe she thought about my telling her she should get her picture made. As we finished, she looked at me and smiled, handed me their cell phone, and posed for a Grand Canyon memory.

The rest of the day I pondered the fact that body image effects not just us self-centered, vain Americans, but it a world-wide issue for women. I thought about how men never forgo a picture of a memorable event because they carry extra pounds or lack muscle-tone. I thought about how those whispers of ‘you are not enough’ trap us and hold us captive. Most of all, I thought about how important it is for us to unite in encouragement, not hide in our silent shame listening to the accusing voices in our head. The smile from a woman I briefly met as she handed me a cell phone for a photo will be a memory I carry forever. May we share our fears with others so that we can overcome.

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