Shame and Self Acceptance

Shame and Self Acceptance June 14, 2016

Recently a friend, who I admire very much, posted that she is letting a streak of her glorious hair go gray. It’s not that she’s against dye, or anything like that, but that she is undertaking to accept where she is now. Then she asked the question, ‘how are you practicing self acceptance?’

It was a general question for all of her friends, not me, I imagine, in particular, but I nevertheless screamed in my own quiet mind, ‘Are you kidding! I’m not practicing self acceptance! Bring on the dye!’ Then I went on and explained to myself that she has one of those nice streaks, whereas my hair is going gray right at the top in a confused and tragic way.

From thence I complained to myself about the size and shape of my stomach, the weakness of my arms, carrying on through and criticizing my soul, my foul temper, really everything about how I am and what I look like. #humility Except bashing yourself into the ground every morning is not actually very humble.

In a world where we have both fat shaming and prayer shaming (thank you to Simcha for excellent posts on both counts) I think I have the shame part well in hand. I want to look a certain way, and be a certain way, and I berate and loath myself when don’t meet my own desires and expectations. The stupid thing about this is that these desires and expectations are garnered not from scripture (by no means, as St. Paul would say), nor from the pleasant strictures of my every day life, but rather, most foolishly, from the folly and imagination of my own mind. I look around at the wide world and think I need to be thinner, and have better hair, and act like this or that, and be thinner. I stand in the grocery aisle gazing at Kate Middleton and examine my own short, troll sized stature and just feel really sad and angry. Self-Acceptance forsooth.

But then, don’t you know, I was sitting in church, and the preacher, who was talking about light and Jesus being the light of the world, asked ‘Do you see anything of beauty in your life?’ (What is it with all the questions?) The preacher wasn’t asking about how pretty my living room is, or whether I rightly applied my eyeshadow, he was asking about the interior lives of all of us sitting there–is there anything about our lives that reflects the difficult and piercing light of the gospel? So, say, forgiveness, mercy, integrity, courage.

But I felt quite stricken to the heart, because it’s not very lovely to go around hating what you look like. I know, what with all the prayer shaming, that lots of people think I, the evil Christian, hate them, or whoever. But really, they elevate themselves too high. See, I’m so busy hating myself, I don’t really have time to hate other people. And not in the sniveling, I hate myself so I’m going to work out my hate on you by pretending I’m someone different or whatever it is that’s so in fashion these days. No, I hate myself in the usual quiet way of just being envious and spending too much time thinking about myself at all.

So the question, ‘Do you see any beauty?’ is a hard one, because it means shifting around and trying to see something that I don’t want to see. I like seeing it on others, but I recoil from seeing it in myself. The thing that I don’t really want to see is the cross, as it is reflected not just in my actions, my character, my prayers, but as it is reflected in my own physical body.

Because, well, any woman who gives birth to a lot of children, or any children, is going to have a body that’s broken. Her body is meant to be broken. In the giving of life into the world, of letting it come forth, her own body takes the heat. It’s not just age, which cometh to all whether they like or not, it’s that, because of my last two babies, my stomach looks like I had those last two babies. And you might think, why shouldn’t it? What’s so wrong about the body outwardly reflecting those two little girls running around and shouting at everybody? Other than that I just do want it to? That I want to look rail thin and have everybody loath and fear my rail thinness because #selfacceptance? That’s not actually very beautiful.

I did keep bringing up prayer shaming, along with fat shaming, because I think they go together. Just like the mother dimly and hazily reflects the glory of the cross, the Christian, praying quietly away in her mortal body, is a little picture of the temple, of God coming to live with his people. The Christian who prays is talking to someone who has decided to live in, I would imagine, an unlivable space, a place where little to no light would ordinarily pierce the darkness. But he makes himself comfortable, and keeps up the tireless work of cleaning and straightening up. The place where he does that becomes dignified, beautiful even, because he is there.

Even so, I’m going to stand up and do that horrible 30 day shred and try to be thin anyway. My piety only goes so far.

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