I love the beach. I love the Song of the Sea and I long to hear it. But sometimes there are voices in my head that drown it out. I think most women know these voices. They come from my own head as I put on my bathing suit and step outside. They are the body image voices that are engrained deep within us from a lifetime of being compared to magazine pictures. We have come to think of those voices as part of us, but a few years ago, after my cancer, I realized that these voices do not belong to me. They are the voice of the enemy who tries to crush women. Instead of bullying my body, I decided to love her. Let me tell you it set me free to view her in a different way, and to recognize the voice of the enemy when I hear it. It is the trips to the beach that try to pull me away from why I came and encourage me to bully her once again. When that happens, I pull out this letter I wrote a few years ago…and I read it…over and over…and I remind myself that she is beautiful as she is. You might want to write one of these letters…it will change the way you SEE.
My Dearest Body,
First I need to ask your forgiveness. For most of your life I have regaled you, called you names, treated you horribly, and hated the sight of you. I thought of you as my enemy, keeping me from living the dream life of a skinny person. (The pretend ones they show on TV.) I have starved you, gorged you, worked you half to death, and sat without helping you at all. It has been a roller coaster ride in which I have made all the calls and you have done your best to comply. I have thought your face was too round, your freckles too noticeable, your double chin embarrassing. I have complained about your wide hips, thick thighs, and flabby arms for as long as I can remember. I never stopped to consider that your hips made it easy to birth my four children, your thighs keep me upright and walking, and your arms have carried everything from groceries and laundry to puppies and babies. No, in fact, I have never stopped to consider you at all. If you were another person, and I treated them like I treat you I would be considered an abusive bully. This saddens me more than I can say. I fell for the lies of the society we live in, hook, line and sinker. That makes me feel incredibly stupid now that I am nearly 50 years old. How could I have not seen it before now? The good news is that I did see it!
You are beautiful.
It took being bald, with no eyebrows, nose hair, or eyelashes. Translucent skin, sunken eyes, with a hole in my gut and bruises all over my body, scars abounding, and needle tracks in my hands and arms. Cancer taught me about how amazing you are and how wrong I had been about you. It took melting down in a dressing room in front of a mirror…horrified at the sight of you…for me to see the true you. It took my husband holding me and telling me how beautiful you are and pointing out each scar as a mark of victory. It took him wiping my tears, and holding me up in the midst of the painful reality…I do not know you. I have only seen you through the lens of perfection taught to me by airbrushed pictures and half-starved women. I had not seen you through the eyes of love until that day, because I had never loved you, but my husband had. Hearing his words, while seeing you in that mirror shifted something inside of my mind. I saw beauty in a whole new way. So now, I want to thank you and to tell you how much I love you.
I love that you were strong enough for me to be an active child. I love that your feet and legs carried me into the woods, down mountains, and onto horses’ backs. I love that your eyes have brought me so much pleasure in the colors of the sunset, and the words on pages. I am grateful my ears could hear the words I love you, from those I care about most. I love that my lips can feel the cold of an ice cream cone or the heat of a passionate kiss. I love how pleasure is one of the gifts you have given to me and my husband. Your inward parts nurtured five children. The first you held as long as you could and I love you for trying so hard to keep that precious baby. The other four you would not let go of until their appointed day. What an amazing body you are…knowing exactly what was required of you to introduce me to my children. Then feeding them, nurturing them, and bonding with them as they nursed at your breasts. You are Life Giving.
Your hands have patched up boo-boos, wiped bottoms, and held others in times of trauma and crisis. You have strong hands. And shoulders. You have carried much on your shoulders some of it has tried to crush you. I am sorry I have let the weight get so heavy. I am sorry I did not know how to lighten the load. You fought valiantly when disease came to destroy me. You did not give up even though you felt like crap most of the time. I love that your blood tried so hard to renew itself because you know that the power of life is in the blood. Your bones ached they tried so hard to make more. Your organs freshly washed from surgery where they cut you up, continued to work beautifully. Your heart, being pumped full of poison, continued to work knowing that its job was critical to eradicating the cells that revolted against me. Thank you. Without your hard work I would not have made it through.
So now you are disfigured from the fight. Muscles were severed that mean it is not likely that your stomach will ever be flat again. Your tissues have been compromised along with your cartilage. You are weaker now than before in many ways, but now I see. I know how much you love me and how you have tried to care for me. Now that I know, I am going to try to care for you too. I am going to love your sagging breasts because they have served my family well. I am going to love your face as it is, and your fine, limp, thin hair simply because you have some. I am going to be grateful for my bionic knee because you have accepted it as part of you and made it work to the best of your ability. I am going to love your weathered hands because they can still hold the hand of another and bring comfort. I am going to love your rolly-poly stomach because it carried my children, and fought heroically when disease tried to ravage it.
I will love you by not calling you names any longer. I will love you by eating and drinking things that will only bring you life. I will love you by not taking on more than you can handle any more. I will love you by moving you, making sure you have plenty of fresh air, and working all your parts in healthy ways. I will love you by loving others and letting them love me. I will receive your love, Body…your hard work to keep me alive…I will cherish what you do for me daily. I will remember this love when I am tempted to slip back into my old ways of bullying you. It is my promise to you and to God who created you to love you as he does and to care for you as if you were the only body I have…which of course you are.
You are the home of my soul, and the abode for my spirit…the True-me. You house me and allow me to move about this planet. True-me abides within you and for that I am ever grateful. Thank you Body, for making a resting place for my spirit and giving me physical attributes with which True-me connects with the world. Thank you for my mind that allows me to think and process. Thank you for my emotions, which sometimes feel roller coaster-ish, but mostly give me a heart that is tender because it is bathed with tears that flow from your eyes. Thank you for giving my spirit a place to grow and to become one with the Holy Spirit who dwells within you as well. You are an amazingly strong body. One day you will no longer be able to do this job and on that day I will be free to fly…but not before I say thank you, Body.
I love you. You are beautiful.