Last week, a video of a young girl’s poetry performance in her school classroom went viral. It makes for powerful and somewhat painful viewing. She is a 7th grade student, only twelve or thirteen years old. In watching it, my heart went out to her, because I understood her struggles. It can feel so unfair to live in a society that is saturated with body obsession, both to have unobtainable, digitally-modified bodies, or to be the pinnacle of health, or even to be so “body positive” that you don’t, apparently, have any hang-ups about your body at all. The latter is a wonderful place to be, but it’s often a hard and difficult place to strive for, and involves a lot more God-given grace than our own hard work.
In her poem, the student identifies the enormous pressures to look thin, be pretty, and wear the right things. She asks, “Why am I not good enough?” and states that “beauty is pain.” It is “not popular to be smart” and “A’s [get] you nothing but torment.” These kinds of comments are sadly all too familiar in every stage of life. At the same time as her poem going viral, the hashtag #TheySaid was trending on Twitter. Women shared degrading comments about their body that had been directed at them by both friends, family and total strangers.
Everyone has experienced some kind of peer pressure in someway, but this current generation has to contend with pressures exacerbated by social media, the proliferation of Photoshopped models and the comparisons between normal daily life and celebrity culture that demands that everyone looks perfect all of the time.
Middle school may not be the real world, but it is certainly real enough for those who have to struggle through it and navigate enormous pressures to look right, to fit in a certain way. I could have written that poem myself when I was her age. It was exactly my own experience at school. I loved how she offered hope and a correct viewpoint of her own image and body at the end of the poem. She can see, with such poignant insight, what’s wrong with the world’s view, and how healing could occur.
As young adults, the pressures of middle school are still there, but they become subtler, less obvious. No less painful to navigate. Still, I do not struggle with my self-image as much as I used to when I was younger. In response to these issues, as the women of the Catholic-Link team, we wanted to share our reflections on what has helped us with healing our relationship with our body. The truth is, if we only have our own views, or the world’s views, on our body, we will always struggle. Here are our thoughts below.
What Has Helped Us in Healing Our Relationship with Our Body:
- I started praying for the eyes to see myself (and others!) as God sees me. It helps me look past the physical and focus on the inner. Memorizing Scripture also helps. 1 Peter 3:3-4 , Proverbs 31, Psalm 139:14
- My spirituality has a lot to do with how I constantly improve my relationship with my body. I used to listen to what others said about me and judge myself based on those, wondering if I was still skinny or still strong or still pretty, but my faith helped me see things from a more stable and true perspective. I actually exercise, offer up runs, and explore nature because of my relationship with God. A big change was when I started looking at how the spiritual is manifested in the material. My body is trying to tell me truths about myself—truth that is never ugly or hateful, but rather beautiful, life-giving, and powerful. That’s how God created me. That’s why I seek excellence everyday inside and out, ignoring comparison to others (or my high school self) in favor of prayer to my Father and Creator.
- I realized that I wanted to have fun more than I cared what others thought about what I wore or did. So I stopped worrying so much about wearing the “right” brands and I just threw myself into the sports, music and art that I loved doing.
- From a parenting perspective, when kids say mean things to my sons, I will always ask them, “What does God say about you?” And make them answer that they are “wonderfully made”.
- Once I stopped criticizing other women for their image, fashion choices, quirkiness, I quickly realized I could be kinder to myself too.
- I stopped dieting for weight loss. Diets for weight loss don’t work, they make you binge, they make you feel guilty, they associate food with being “bad” or “good.” In short, I stopped trying to lose weight, and I just started to enjoy life. Obsessing over tiny gains or loss in weight made life negative and boring. Instead, I just threw everything good and fun into my life and got on with that. Without even realizing it, I found that I was seeing my body as good, strong, capable, instead of seeing what I used to think were flaws. At the end of the day, my body is just trying to do its job, i.e be my body, keep me fit and healthy, carry my heart and soul, and me trying to punish it for being itself was not helping.
- My faith has rewired my understanding of my body as a delicate thing, a beautiful, miraculous creation. The woman’s body is wondrously designed to have room and safety for the miracle of new life to take place inside it! The original and true “safe space!” which is a delicate thing, not primarily a machine-like or warrior-like thing. I started to understand Mary in Salvation History as like the once-in-how-many generations of rare orchids that a botanist will prepare for, for decades (or, in God’s and Mary’s case, centuries!) for it only to bloom once! But everything had to be readied for her, so carefully tilled, the soil, the air, the pH levels, etc. The entire Old Testament was about creating a people, an identity, a soil, for Mary to emerge. She had to be, just so, the crown achievement of God’s work in humanity in order to be, to provide, a fitting dwelling place for Our Lord Incarnate. And that is the lens through which I’ve come to see anything pertaining to my own feminine nature, and my body. It’s meant correcting (gently and patiently) a half a lifetime’s worth of understanding myself as an athlete and/or a shell for a brain. Not that fitness or health suddenly became unimportant, but they get placed into an ordered vision.
Two Videos to Help With Your Body Confidence
We also love this video from Catholic vlogger Emily Wilson which you can check out below. She shares four practical things that you can do to be more appreciative of your body.
And finally, if you’re in need a pick-me-up, check out this beautiful “Message to All Women” by poet Jon Jorgensen.
Whatever your struggles are in relationship to your body, please know that we understand the suffering of being at war with your body, and we are always praying for you!
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.”