Simple Does Not Mean Easy: Learning to Embrace Our Physical Bodies

We’ve heard it before. We have been challenged in Scripture, in church, in conferences and talks. We are made in the image and likeness of God, who is all good, all beauty, all love, and all grace. Therefore, we should love and care for our bodies, as they are manifestations of His tangible presence on earth.

Well, tell that to my adolescent self! (Or to any adolescent, when arms and legs are growing like weeds, acne is in full force, braces and orthodontic appliances are being applied, and hair is growing from new places). Reading in Scripture or being admonished in church is much different than looking in the mirror on a daily basis and studying our flaws as we compare ourselves to others.

Our fall from grace in the Garden of Eden caused us to be acutely aware of our mortality, and caused our temporary bodies to be imperfect. Death entered the world, illness and mutations entered the world, and our genetic makeup was no longer the perfect image God wanted it to be.

I am one of those born with an imperfect body. I struggle to find attractive physical attributes about my appearance, and I cannot stand the question, “What part of your body do you love the most?” I can easily list the parts of myself I do not like, as I was not born an athlete or anything resembling an Instagram model.

 I am blessed with “wide, child-bearing hips,” an attempted compliment from an acquaintance. Ironic, given that I am in my mid-40’s and still single. As the tallest girl in my class since fifth grade, I knew that dresses were not long enough to hit my knees, that my hair was stick-straight and my nose was too big. Due to genetics, I was missing some permanent teeth, which has meant numerous dental and orthodontic procedures throughout my life (and which continue). I experienced puberty on flames, all knees and elbows and braces and acne. I dreamed of being a star volleyball player, but sat on the sidelines as I experienced severe menstrual bleeding and pain.

Comparison is the thief of joy, said Theodore Roosevelt. I could list countless other negative attributes regarding my physical makeup and appearance. I am grateful that for the first 40 years of my life, I did not have to think about what I was putting in my body. I was not muscular, but I was relatively healthy. I still experienced significant blemishes on my face, and worked hard to disguise my dirty-blond hair under highlights, lowlights and different hair colors. I look at pictures of myself and quickly scan away from them, focusing on the bags under my eyes, imperfect smile, long face, new wrinkles and gray hairs.

Once I learned the connection between the mind and the body, I was able to understand that there is a link between my history of depression and its physical manifestations. The digestive challenges I have had, the caffeine I consumed (numerous Diet Cokes each day, which advanced to real Coke once I learned that artificial sweeteners were bad for me), the back pain and headaches, were connected.

In learning to care for my emotional self, I slowly began to care for my physical self. In honoring the desire of my heart to be whole, I realized that the physical was a component of that. It was still very difficult to look at my image in the mirror and see any beauty in it, but I knew that I could care for my internal self. I could choose to eat less processed food, drink water instead of soda, and consciously be aware of what calories I am consuming.

I still scroll Instagram and observe the physical appearances of my friends and colleagues. There are a number of parts of myself I want to change, some of which are within my control and some of which are not. I can care for my face, hair, teeth, skin and heart. I can dress according to how I feel and present myself as confident and compassionate. I can be kind regardless of how I feel about myself.

I stopped wearing makeup during the pandemic, because as a nurse, I wear a mask every day at work. I would never have done this before, as I have always been ashamed of my face. I see every flaw instead of anything attractive. I thought I could not possibly be seen without a made-up face. But the trade-off was even more acne surrounding my mouth and on my lower face from the constant sweating through the day.

I gained 30 pounds in two years, from the stress-eating, sedentary living, and isolation of Covid. It was a combination of post-40 metabolism, continuing physical changes internally and externally, and the constant flow of food into our breakroom at work. In the spring of last year, I knew something had to change, because in the incremental neglect of my physical body, I was demonstrating emotional and spiritual neglect of the person God had created. I have a repaired heart defect, a herniated disc, and sensitive skin. I needed to care for myself better.

I see the beauty in everyone else, admire and still catch myself being jealous of their physical appearances, athletic prowess, tiny waists, and sculpted legs. I struggle to believe in my own physical attractiveness for a myriad of reasons, some of which I detail here. But then I wonder, when I think about those I cherish most in the world, the children and families I work with, my friends and family, why I love them. It has nothing to do with the physical!

Because this world is temporary, our bodies are imperfect and progress toward death. This is not to discourage anyone, but to state that it will eventually become impossible to preserve our bodies. However, we nourish our bodies both with the calories and foods we consume through our digestive systems, and with the words, thoughts, images, and experiences we consume into our hearts, minds and spirits. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and the ways He chooses to work in us, should we accept and participate in them, are so much more than the unplucked eyebrows or the cellulite or the hair, which continues to show up in new places and disappear from others.

Simple Doesn’t Mean Easy Learning to Embrace our Physical Bodies
About Author

Bridget is a deep-thinking compassionate caregiver with a love for color, culture, travel, kindness and the encouraging word. Called to seek out and serve the lost, vulnerable, broken and oppressed. A pediatric nurse, she has worked in numerous inpatient and outpatient settings, and with the underserved domestically and internationally. She carries a particular call to stand with the impoverished, whether they be affected materially, emotionally, physically or spiritually. She currently lives in Austin, TX with her dog Nigel.

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