today i spoke with two women preparing for trips to sun drenched localles. one, nearing forty, two children, thin, going to be with her husband who's traveling for business. one, thirty something, fuller figured, a lover of people, hoping to stay inside as much as possible during an extended holiday with her husband and young children. both are at-home mothers. both are active in their children’s lives. both are going at their husband’s request. both are also mortified about having their skin exposed.
if your eyes were closed and you didn’t know either of these women you would perceive few differences. the smaller woman is on bathing suit number 5, finding none that cover her “bumpy, lumpy” hips and thighs. in her mind there is no miracle suit that is miracle enough. the curvier woman is terrified of other’s perceptions...fearing they’ll judge her for not “keeping herself up.” in many ways both are equally paralyzed and driven by their hyper-vigilance about their self-diagnosed flaws.
why is it that we hate, do battle with, compare, and place unrealistic expectations upon our physical appearance? why have we bought into the message that the elasticity of our skin or the lack of dimples on our thighs is what matters? many make the good and obvious point that the media feeds us images of what is beautiful and we eat them...spitting out what we have swallowed as impossible expectations and desires of ourselves and others. i think, however, the issue lies deeper than this. it lies at the center of our souls...at our core...where we find the seat of our desire to be known and to belong. to belong, we think, we must be certain things, ascribe to certain ways of being, we must “look good,” inside and out.
am i saying that my two friends value only superficial beauty or fleeting youth? no...i am saying that we all struggle with how we are perceived, with what we ourselves and others think of us and how we are held in their minds. these are the bigger, the heavier, the messier realities of our existence. the lighter, more external struggles seem “cleaner,” more accessible, and more familiar. so we chose to worry about and attend to our external, bodily homes in deference to doing internal housekeeping. it’s easier, in our current relational economy, to shop for the perfect miracle suit than to spend that energy working at confronting our internal cellulite...the lumpy, “unsightly” imperfections we hope to hide. what this means, however, is that the connections that we do forge are, in our minds, based upon the image we project rather than on the reality of who we are. as spray tans, highly supportive bathing suits, and dim lighting allow us to put our best physical selves forward; selective disclosure, denial, and over-control allow us to appear connected when in reality we are alone, unknown, and afraid.
if relationship is to happen, if community is to deepen we must create an environment in which we prudently invite ourselves and others to care more about the feeling of the water and sun on our skin than about who’s thinking what (including what we ourselves are thinking) about the condition of our thighs, or stomaches, or beliefs, or struggles, or realities. would not the world be beautiful if we greeted each other with exuberance about the insides, looking past the crummy bathing suit to the soul? to the soul. to the soul...