I am re-posting this from last New Year's Eve because I have had so many requests to believe in the beautiful. Happy 2016! Three years ago I lost 20 pounds over the course of about six months. I didn't even notice at first. One day I pulled a pair of jeans out of my closet, put them on, and they fell to the floor. I was stunned. This has never happened to me before, although the opposite - pulling on a pair of jeans I suddenly couldn't zip - has happened to me plenty of times.
At first, I worried I was sick. Then I realized what had actually happened: I was happy. Not just happy in my life, which I was, but happy with my body, content with what I looked like. Not just content, even. For the first time in my 49 years, I truly, actually believed I was beautiful. I had stopped looking at the scale, stopped monitoring what I ate, stopped exercising for anything but pleasure, let go of all the unconscious and barely conscious ways I had spent my life judging the inadequacy of my physical presence, and without even totally realizing it, I had transformed, inside and out. It was a miracle and a mystery.
The miracle is not the weight loss. I can honestly say that I could not care less about it and that I am fine if I gain it back. This is the miracle: that I somehow unhooked from the cultural, internalized machine that tells us all, and especially women, that we only qualify as beautiful under some kind of super-strict standard that no real person ever really achieves (or if she does, it is at age 25 for about 3 weeks until she has to start 'fighting the effects of aging'). That causes us to secretly envy and judge our sisters (and brothers) for how we perceive their ranking, and ours, on the impossible beauty scale.
And I am not saying that I learned to live outside of it, learned how to finally say that I accept myself despite the fact that I fall woefully short on the beauty (and actual) scale. Oh, heck no. I am saying that I finally looked into the mirror and thought, 'I look fabulous.' And I meant it. And I do.
And I confess that even writing this makes me feel a tiny bit nervous. Who am I to say I am beautiful? Isn't this prideful? A bit over-confident? Will someone point out my cellulite and wrinkles? My bad teeth? (braces only help so much...) My runner's toenails? (not pretty!) They might, indeed. I might have to point out my long, slender fingers, my perfect (gray) hair, my triceps.
Or I might just keep silent, since those voices are really only in my head anyway, and because I don't have to prove it. And neither does anyone else. I am stunning. And so are you. We are made in the image of God. The miracle and the mystery is that one day, I really, down to my bones, began to believe this.
Which for me makes this a faith issue, too, in lots of ways. There is a train of thought, which I fell victim to for decades, that says if you are a person of God - out there caring for the poor, preaching the Word, fighting injustice - then you should not care at all what you look like. Same if you are a woman serious about her career; we have better things to worry about than our nails and whether our shoes are cute (and again, it might also go like this for men, I have only experienced it as a woman). We are not the kind of girls who get by on our looks. But isn't this, on some level, a judgment of women who in our opinion do?
Or isn't it saying if you are not as smart/successful/meaningfully engaged as I am, you have time to be shallow? For me, it was also a way of deflecting myself from my own insecurity: 'I am not beautiful, but I am intelligent! I am accomplished! I do good work!' These are not the thoughts of someone who doesn't care what she looks like; they are the thoughts of someone who is desperately afraid that she has lost the beauty lottery.
And that's it, isn't it? At the base of all the crazy messages we send and receive about our looks, isn't the bottom of it fear? Fear that we are somehow less than others? That we will never be enough? That the world is inhabited by millions of gorgeous 25 year-olds and us, with our chin hair and paunches?
And this, I think, inhibits our ability to truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving others means that we try and see them as God sees them - and I cannot think that God sees our bodies as anything but beautiful. After all, God did choose to become one of us, human like us. And that means all of us. So that means me. And you. And not just in some abstract, 'all people are good' way of being beautiful. It means total babe territory. It means that the only thing that could potentially be standing between any of us and radiance is not letting ourselves believe it is true.
This is the time of year for resolutions. Oh, so many of them are about losing weight and getting in shape. I think that is awesome, in and of itself. I am a vegan marathon runner, so I am all about the healthy! But underneath this can be the insidious inadequacy demon (and it really is a demon) that says, 'you will only be beautiful when...'. The flip-side of this is the counter movement of 'accepting the way you are', which sounds better sometimes but can fall victim to the same demon ('you will never be beautiful so why don't you...').
There are so few things I have actually learned in life, but one of them is this: I don't eat well and exercise and dress nicely and get enough sleep and drink enough water in order to be beautiful; I believe I am beautiful, and so I eat well, exercise, etc. First we learn the truth, then we live it.
And God forbid we should 'accept ourselves' as we are - we should adore ourselves! Like we don't 'accept' the people we love, we cherish them. Learning to believe in our beauty means learning how to treat our bodies like they belong to someone we love, like they belong to someone God loves. For me, it literally took a miracle. And maybe I am the very last one to receive it. But in case I am not, it makes me so happy to share! Happy New Year, from one gorgeous person to another.