What Are Women For?

After our dune climb the other day, the sun came out just as we made it down to the lake. Within minutes, it pushed the clouds out altogether and my husband I were able to swim with the kids. I sat on a sand bar, letting the waves come up over my lap. It was so cold, but felt like an ice bath on my knees and ankles which were stiff from the climb.

My husband and I played frisbee in the waves, which felt liberating because the sun was out on my dimpled thighs, every shadow and flaw in the light for all to see, and by this time, there actually were other people on the beach.

Simcha highlights a story in the Huffington post this morning by Jessica N. Turner encouraging moms to put on their swimsuits and play with their kids in the water:

I refuse to miss my children’s high-pitched, pool-induced giggles because of my insecurities.
I refuse to let other women’s judging eyes at the pool prevent me from exposing my kids’ eyes to the wonder of the sun glittering on the water.
I refuse to let my self-image influence my children’s.
I refuse to sacrifice memories with my children because of a soft tummy.
Because at the end of the day, it is not just about me.
It is about my kids.

It’s a very good message, to get your mind off your self-image and think about others, but I don’t think it’s the only message. It’s not just about making good memories for my kids; it’s about a lot of other things too.

My kids and I took swimming lessons last week, and at the “mommy and me” class, all the moms had to stand in shallow water in swimsuits, following their toddler around as she became acclimated to water.

I’m as body-conscious as anyone, so I noticed that we all tended to slouch our shoulders and jut out the hips, which is one of the worst things you can do for your figure, even though it feels like it’s providing some cover. But we were there for our kids, in our swimsuits. And our kids loved us for it, of course.

One of the swim coaches stood on the side of the pool in a handsome black tank, and she was as plump and dimply as the rest of us, but she stood up straight, shoulders back, making bold demonstrations of each stroke for her pupils. I remember thinking that her confidence paired with an obvious tendency not to take herself too seriously was very appealing, and not just to the eyes.

She was not slouching out of sight, and it wasn’t just because she found the right suit for her body type, or because she had memories to make. She had a job to do, an important one, and she clearly found her work fulfilling enough that she could be at peace with herself and delight in her body’s ability to do its job well.

Calah wrote about body image last week in a touching post, “It’s Not the Standards, It’s That We Believe Them”:

“I’m talking about how for 19 years, I have daily looked at my reflection with disgust. How I went on my first diet at the age of 11. How after experiencing my body’s power to give life four times and its ability nourish and sustain that life, I mostly hate it for showing the wear and tear — the saggy boobs, the stomach jiggle. How the reason I was so stupid happy last night was because I managed to let go of my insecurity and doubt and actually be with my husband, instead of being trapped by my own fear.

I’ve told my husband point-blank that I’d give up my education, my talent for writing, anything and everything that I value about myself, for a good body. At the age of 30, with a solid marriage and four kids, I still measure my worth in terms of sex appeal.The worst part is that even though I know, intellectually, that this is exceedingly unhealthy and flat-out wrong, I can’t make myself stop believing that looks are where a woman’s worth really lies. Or at least my worth.”

The irony is, that when a woman of a certain body type or a certain age decides to get thin–I count myself here–you really do end up giving everything else up as your mental energy goes into counting calories, planning meals, and incorporating strategies to prevent yourself from eating. There are many hours spent in the gym, many hours spent working on self-image rather doing things of interest to yourself or of import to other people.

Not every woman who decides to get fit loses their perspective this way, but I certainly have, and I have corroborated my experiences with female friends. When I decide to be thin, I become a very boring person, a stressed out person, someone who only thinks about food and mentally scourges herself for mistakes made when eating.

You don’t usually get to have it both ways–you don’t get to be a skinny woman, and at the same times, a woman who’s happy to sit at a bar and drink pints with her husband. You don’t get to be someone who is fully invested in being thin, and at the same time finds herself interesting enough in her own right to forget occasionally her body and its tendency to grow fat when it’s having fun.

Think my thighs are looking a little jiggly, honey? Believe me, you wouldn’t like me with skinny ones. My body type is such that I have to work very hard to be thin and become a complete killjoy. I’d be such a soldier for the thighs, you’d rarely get between them.

Calah concludes that:

“We can seize our agency and reject the cultural assertion that a woman’s worth can be measured on a 1-10 sexiness scale. But we can’t do that unless we figure out a way to stop believing that it’s true.”

Mark Barnes points to a way out in his post “Women Swiftly Running Out of Things That Aren’t Sexy”:

“So far, the Church’s response to our culture’s over-sexualization of women as been to vigorously correct the lies told about female sexuality. The danger is that, though our message is good, we are still in the same mode as our culture — the discussion of women a fundamentally sexual discussion, to the exclusion of other topics proper to the entirety of her person.”

The body is not just for one thing. It’s to teach, to exercise, and yes, to have fun with your kids. The body is for experiencing a wide range of experiences. It’s for climbing dunes and playing frisbee, and lying in the sun with the sand sticking to your shins. The body is for working, bearing children, nursing and feeling pain. It’s for eating, drinking, laughing with your husband, and eventually, finding your way to bed. It’s also for suffering, growing wrinkled, and eventually, for dying.

The body is for communion. It’s the vessel in which our souls are sanctified. It is not just for the pleasure of others.

And how dull would that be, if it were only for having sex with, or even–(dare I say it?)–only for pleasing your children?

We are made in the image and likeness of a multi-faceted God. In my speech, my thought, my work, my living, I want to be like him. I do not want to be just one thing.


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