Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

What Can I Do with My Body?

I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my body. You’d think that wouldn’t be a problem at 38. You’d think wrong. Of course Christianity really hasn’t known what to do with bodies. It’s not something we’ve ever been good at it. We’re good with the don’ts: Don’t drink, don’t smoke, and don’t have sex. But we’re never told what to do. As Barry Taylor told John Morehead:

A problem a lot of people have with Christianity is that it externalizes the spiritual experience that basically de-emphasizes the importance of this life but the real importance is where you go after this life. So you want to be ready for heaven. But there is very little advice about what to do with your body while you’re waiting for that experience: don’t do anything wrong, don’t be bad, accept the decay.

Barry goes on to say that this is strange considering that Christianity is “one of the most material spiritualities out there where we celebrate that God puts on flesh and lived as one of us.” Not only is it “a problem a lot of people have with Christianity,” it’s a problem a lot of Christians have with our own religion. Including me.

It doesn’t help that I grew up with a contradictory view of the body. On the one had i heard my body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. God lived in me. But I heard things like this a lot more: “The body is sinful flesh.” “The flesh is evil, and the Spirit is good.” “The body is the devil’s playground (or the mind depending on the preacher). And then there was “one day we’ll shed these evil, sinful bodies and go to heaven.” I don’t think I’ve ever quite believed the body was a temple, let alone my body. After all how can the flesh (i. e. the body) be evil, and the Spirit good, and my body be the temple of the Spirit?

But I am coming to see and believe that my body is good, Spirit-filled, and even holy. I am coming to believe that my body is the temple of the living God. Here are some of do’s:

Do be nice to your body.

Do tell your body it’s beautiful just the way it is.

Do get enough sleep.

Do yoga.

Do walk.

Do eat when you’re hungry.

Do rest when you’re tired.

How do you see your body? How has your relationship with your body changed? What are some of your do’s?

Making Room to Be Women

One of my guilty secrets is watching TLC’s What Not to Wear. I’ve seen a disturbing trend on the show. One of the things women do over and over again is shop in the junior department shown by their clothing sizes being odd numbers. Women’s clothing sizes are even numbers. When hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly point this out to women, the main reason women give for buying clothing for teenagers is that they don’t want to look “old.” These are not women in the mid-late 20s. These are women in the mid-late 30s. The main reason this show is one of the my guilty pleasures is their view on women: it’s okay to be a mature woman with curves. It’s okay to dress and act our age. It does not make us “old.” It just means we’re dressing and being the women we are instead of the teenager our culture idolizes and tells us that this is how we should look (and by inference act). Our culture has a sick fascination with keeping women in perpetual adolescence.

Last year I wrote a post about a Total commercial that nauseates me (they still run it). In the commercial, upon learning that her teenage daughter doesn’t believe she fit into little, itty-biity hip huggers, the mother is shown eating Total cereal. At the end of the commercial the mother tells her daughter, “I want those back.” My slightly sarcastic observation was: “Because every woman should be the same size she was when she was 15.” Our culture believes “that fitting into the jeans one wore as a teenager is a worthy goal to go after and attain. To be perfectly honest I have no desire to starve myself back into the size 5 jeans I wore over 20 years ago. I like being healthy and being at a healthy weight (not to mention my size 12 jeans are much more comfortable, thank you very much Total).”

I like being a woman. I like my curves. The older I get, the more confident I am, and the happier I am. I like dressing like a woman. I walk by the junior department and think no way! I’m a woman–I’m a size 12–that’s Marilyn Monroe sexy baby. (Depending on what you read Marilyn was a size 12 or 14.) Look at the picture: Marylin had curves: she had hips! I have no desire to be a stick like Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton or the whole hosts of young female celebrities who are starving themselves. I just don’t think malnutrition looks good on a woman. I love it when I see a woman on TV who has meat on her bones. I’ll never forget when Law and Order: Special Victims Unit came out, and I saw Mariska Hargitay. The woman had curves: she looked like a woman, not a stick. I started watching the show for that reason alone.

This obsession with adolescent thinness leaves the impression that women aren’t supposed to take up room. In Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction, Margaret Guenther makes the observation, “rarely addressed, in spiritual terms, is women’s own deep dislike of their bodies, their dissatisfaction with certain features, and their pervasive sense that they need to lose weight–literally to diminish themselves.” To diminish ourselves, to believe we should not take up room, to believe we were meant to be small. This is what our culture tells us by insisting we do not grow up. Don’t take up any more space. There isn’t room.

But culture is wrong. There is plenty of room. Room for women to be mature, intelligent, and curvy adults. All grown up. Knowing what we want and going after it. Dreaming and making those dreams come true. Taking up space, making ourselves bigger, not apologizing for our even sized clothing. Admitting that being 30-something is not “old.” Telling the truth: your 30s are when you start living. And for that reason I toast Stacy, Clinton, and What Not to Wear. They tell women the truth: you don’t have to be a perpetual teenager. You can grow up. You can be mature. You can take up all the space you want.

The picture is from Ellen’s Place.

See also:
The Wisdom of Winter
Poetry: I Want These Things Written on My Body
What Is Beauty?
All Grown Up?

The Wisdom of Winter

I’m menstruating. I decided to work on the novel this week. I’m aiming for 100 pages by the end of Sunday. I’ve written around 9. I didn’t feel good today, and it was hard to think. But I really tried not to take it out on my body. I told my body to do what it needed to do. To menstruate. To cleanse my body and renew herself. I told my body it was okay for us to be slow today. And it is okay. This is the way I was created. This is part of who I am. I am in that sacred space of life and death. A time of great mystery and worthy of great respect. Today I respected and honored my body. I did what I could and I rested. It was a good day.

Winter is traditionally the time of wisdom–the time of the wise ones. Spring is coming: the season of the youth and maiden is upon us. What has this winter taught me? What wisdom have I learned? What has the Spirit of Wisdom taught me?

The Spirit of Wisdom has taught me to be in a place I don’t want to be: the Nazarene denomination. She has taught me that I need to stand and prophecy–be a sybil–and not run. She has given me a wonderful church with good friends–new and old. The Spirit is faithfully with me through my resistance and foot dragging. I am learning to trust the Spirit, although I feel I cannot trust the leaders of my church.

The Spirit of wisdom is teaching me to accept love unconditionally. The Spirit has given me a precious husband who reaches for me in his sleep and draws me close. I am learning to trust him and tell him what I want without veiled threats and manipulations. I am learning that I don’t have be afraid of disappointing him or making him angry. He puts situations in their context. He is understanding and kind. He is the Love of my life, and I have no idea how I lived without him. I am so glad I waited and held out for my Lappidothmy power that I am equal to. I am so glad I didn’t settle. He was worth every minute of the wait.

I have learned how to be kind to my body and not constantly beat her up. I have learned there is wisdom in every cell of my being, and I need to listen. I can trust my body: she knows what she needs, and she will tell me. I need to listen. I am learning being female is good. My body is good. God created me that way.

The Spirit of Wisdom has shown me the critics that I let run me into the ground: voices from the past that are no longer valid. Perhaps they were never valid. The constant stress I keep myself under trying to live up to impossible, imaginary expectations. These need to be ignored and put away. There is nothing wrong with the choices I have made. I need to let go of childish expectations and live my own life. It is my life to live.

I have learned a lot this Winter. Spirit of Wisdom, thank you for the things You have taught me. Thank you for the wisdom You have given me.

God of the spring and new beginnings, I look forward to the spring of fertility, renewal, and creativity. I look forward to what we will conceive and birth together. Teach me how to be light-hearted and filled with joy. Teach me new songs and new dances.

God, Creator of the young and old, thank you for Your grace and the wisdom You teach me. Thank you for the way You have created my body. Thank you for the life You have given me. Continue to teach me Your ways. Amen.

Poetry: I Want These Things Written on My Body

Today seems like a good day for a poem. I hope you enjoy it.

“I want these things written on my body. We are the real countries.” –Katherine Clifford, The English Patient.

“I Want These Things Written on My Body”

Rolling curves, peaks and hills
Valleys, dips, rivers and seas
We are the real countries.
Curve of abdomen, peak of breast
Dip of waist, seas pooled in eyes
I am a country.
I want these things written on my body:
My love, my passion
That must protect those beloved.
My fear, my anger
Slow erosions of my soul.
Legend and myth well up from within
Artesian springs from imagination.
Life giving power pulsing deep within
A cave of great mystery, the womb.
I want these things written on my body:
That I loved and laughed,
But I also mourned and wept.
My anger led me to hate,
But grace led me to forgive.
That I longed for one to share my life with,
But I found contentment in solitude.
That although my womb would never conceive,
I brought forth and protected life.
Wave of hair, paths of the mind
Plain of the back, roll of the hip
I am a country.
Plains, plateaus and waterfalls
Rocky ledges, cliffs and springs
We are the real countries.

© 2005 Shawna Renee Bound

What is beauty?

On ChristianityToday.com, Agnieszka Tennant reviews John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating in What (Not All) Women Want. The book deals with a woman’s desires, and how she can attain them biblically instead of according to culture. On the front cover is a picture of a woman in white dress walking toward the castle. Tennant says that she is worried that the Edredges’ view is a “finicky feminity.” There is the usual women should not be “domineering” schtick. These are women who love their careers and earn promotions. They will even travel alone. What they say women want bugs me almost as much as their definition of beauty. What women want: romance, to be swept away in an adventure, and to be the beauty in the story. And beauty? “We wear perfume, paint our toenails, color our hair, and pierce our ears, all in an effort to be ever more beautiful.” Can this possibly be more superficial?

We live in a society that idolatrizes its version of beauty to the extent that girls and women suffer from various eating disorders in order to try to be “beautiful.” I do not believe this is the advice Christian authors should be giving to their readers. I agree with Tennant that this is a finicky feminity. I also think it is a dangerous one. The church should be giving a different view of beauty, and what makes a woman beautiful. Although they encourage women not to listen to the culture, it sound like in the end the Eldredges buy into culture’s definition of “beauty.”

I like how Tennant went on to broaden the definition of beauty into the aesthetical realm–literature, poetry, and paintings. Her expansion reminds us that beauty is all around us, and is not the sole domain of how women look. Beauty can quicken our hearts and make us catch our breath. It can make us see the world as it should be, and help us to work harder to make the world the way it should be. It reminds us that all that God created is good. May be the Eldredges should have been encouraging their readers to pursue their gifts in writing, painting, sculpting, and the other arts in order to show their own inner beauty with a culture desperately in need of true beauty.

Fluttering ideas

Ideas are fluttering around in my head, but none of them are forming into anything close to a coherent article. I am still thinking on how to connect women being created in the image of God when both our society and church environment discount, belittle, and ridicule much of our bodies. I have been reading, writing, and thinking theology for over ten years, and I don’t know where to start. It doesn’t help that I haven’t figured out what to do with my own body. I’m gaining weight. I’m not happy. I have always had a love/hate relationship with my body. I have learned how to love more than hate, but it has taken a long time. And I still have long ways to go. I know this needs to be done, and it will probably be turned into a book. I just need to give the idea time for form and become something substantive. Of course, I’ll keep reading and researching. I’m always reading and researching.

I’ve also had two short story ideas flittering around. Neither of them have gelled enough to begin on either, as well as several ideas on clinical depression. I suffer from clinical depression, so I would like to help and inform other people who live with it. Many, many ideas, but nothing is taking real shape so far. So I will keep reading and researching.

All Grown Up?

Total cereal has a new commercial. A daughter discovers her mother’s old hip huggers, and says to her mom, “You used to fit into these?” The rest of the commercial shows the mother eating Total cereal while the daughter parades through the kitchen in the mother’s old jeans. At the end of the commercial the mother says, “I want those back,” and in the final scene we see the mother in jeans she wore when she was a teenager. Because every woman should be the same size she was when she was 15. Right. Diana Blaine has dealt with this very topic in two of her recent blog entries. In A Sad State of Affairs she observes that our culture’s obsession with keeping women as girls has gone from removing hair from our armpits and legs to removing pubic hair in pornography. Women are expected to stay in a state of perpetual girlhood through being skinny and hairless. In another post, Emergency, There’s a criminal in my living room! she evaluates the latest Yoplait yogurt commercial where the actress is trying to frantically hide her body with a red raft. When we finally see her we discover her to be a thin woman who looks great in her “little, itty-bitty yellow polka dot bikini” thanks to Yoplait. As Diana notes, she’s so thin, you can see her ribs. It’s not only secular feminists who have noticed this. In her book Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction, Margaret Guenther notes that most female bodily experiences are taboo:

Considering how inseparable woman’s physical being is from her spirituality, it is striking how much of her bodily experience is taboo for open discussion. Menstruation remains a secret topic, with most public mention in negative terms: does woman’s cyclical nature make her unstable and unreliable? Menopause is seen as either comic or pathetic, an exception being Margaret Meade’s joyous prayer of thanksgiving for the energy and zest of post-menopausal women. Pregnancy and birth are usually relegated to the women’s magazines, despite Luke’s exemplary theological treatment of the subject. And rarely addressed, in spiritual terms, is women’s own deep dislike of their bodies, their dissatisfaction with certain features, and their pervasive sense that they need to lose weight–literally to diminish themselves. . . . Since women’s most powerful and formative experiences are often the hidden, secret ones, they may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and hence too homely for theological reflection (pp. 124-5).

Menstration, menopause, pregnancy are all taboo, even now. All of these bodily experiences mark us as women–grown-up, mature, independent–not girls nor teenagers. In my first post I wrote that I want to be comfortable with my body being a historical and theological record as the Korean women were. Again we see how our society tries to wipe clean the historical record of women’s bodies by insisting that fitting into the jeans one wore as a teenager is worthy goal to go after and attain. To be perfectly honest I have no desire to starve myself back into the size 5 jeans I wore over 20 years ago. I like being healthy and being at a healthy weight (not to mention my size 12 jeans are much more comfortable, thank you very much Total).

It disturbs me to see how our society encourages women to harm themselves to stay skinny, and that cosmetic surgery is becoming fairly normal. What disturbs me more is that the church is not dealing with this theologically (As Guenther noted this is too homely or insignificant for theological thought). This topic was brought up on on the CBE Scroll recently where it was also noted that our skewed view of women is now going worldwide with Asian women having breast enhancements and surgery to make their eyes larger. Neither the poster nor the commenters could think of the church or Christian culture actively engaging in helping women navigate our way through the unhealthy girlishness of our society.

As I have been typing this I have been trying to think of an answer or something to help, but right now I don’t have much. But this is definitely one of the areas I want to work in and write on. I know it needs to start with women being made in the image of God. What does that mean for women? How can that kind of theology help to correct the thin teenager model and exchange it for a theology of mature womanhood imaging God? Hopefully, there will be more to come.