I've been trying to write a post about some pictures I recently shared on social media. Twice now I've done the digital equivalent of crumpling up the page and pitching it into the trashcan.
Maybe this time I start with the pictures themselves.
There's this one, which I took while I was waiting for my Spiritual Direction appointment to begin last month.
And there's this one. Hashtag: muscles.
I am well aware that many people find selfies obnoxious. Proof of narcissism. But I'm not here to talk about the kind of self-love that is toxic and vain.
I want to talk about the kind of self-love that is good and healthy and hard-earned. The kind that is woven into the second greatest commandment - you know, that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Even this healthy love of self elicits negative reactions; a friend on Facebook recently shared a poem celebrating the journey toward self-love, and there was remarkably strident resistance implying that loving self and neighbor are somehow mutually exclusive.
I am convinced it is rare for women to be able to love themselves in this culture. But there is a difference between selfishness and self-love. And loving yourself - or, God forbid, loving your body - is not an act of aggression. (Not even against men.)
Part of why it feels so powerful to love my body is because I spent so many years loathing my body. I remember being disgusted by my pudgy stomach when I was in elementary school. When I was twelve I made no fewer than twenty New Years Resolutions, using a ruler to draw a chart in my diary to track my progress. It would be funny if it weren't so sad. Through the years I dabbled in my fair share of unhealthy fitness fads to try to wrest a skinny girl from my naturally curvy physique. (Anyone else nearly collapse at the college gym from ephedra-induced heart palpitations back in the late 90s?)
In recent years it's been different. I conceived, carried, and birthed two babies. I discovered the joy of running with friends. I competed in two triathlons, and ran a half marathon. I signed up for the adult swim sessions at the local high school and started practicing yoga. I got a FitBit and found a new outlet for my ever-so-slightly-competitive streak (138k last week, baby!). Each of these experiences invited me to consider not what my body looked like, but what my body could do.
And I started dabbling in the Whole30. One of the most widely read pieces I've ever written was about my "spectacular failure of a Whole30". I caved after forty-eight hours that first time. Eighteen months later - last summer - I lasted a week. I finally made it through a full Whole30 in January, and despite my ambivalence about the ethics of it, I felt so good I did it again in April. (I'm now reading - and loving - Food Freedom Forever, which is Whole30 guru Melissa Hartwig's remarkably empowering post-Whole30 handbook.)
It turns out I feel better when I drastically limit grains, dairy, sugar, and alcohol. Like, way better.
It also turns out I look better when I limit those foods.
Maybe I'm only feeling more generous toward my thighs because they're suddenly not so generous. But I am increasingly convinced that the source of my newfound self-love is threefold: yoga, Spiritual Direction, and nourishing my body with intentionality.
As for those social media posts... well, there's a reason for them beyond mere narcissism. But first let me share the most recent addition to my little vanity fair: me, at the pool, in a bikini.
When a person - perhaps especially when a parson - loses weight, people notice. And comment. And question. There have been times over the last few months when I felt a bit overwhelmed by the nonstop nature of the commentary. It wasn't over the top from any one person - just the sum total of all the responses started to get to me.
I guess I decided to use social media to reclaim control of the narrative. Again, there are plenty of people who find posts like these unbearably obnoxious. That's okay. I've just always been an evangelical at heart, always at the ready to gush about the things I love - Jesus, Over the Rhine, Handel's Ice Cream, Camp Highlands, etcetera.
I just never expected to add myself to that list.