I admit. I am not humble. I have a nice body.
Good genes, nice proportions, a healthy diet and regular exercise, lots of water all make me look pretty good. I look good. And I don’t get sick that often, I am really strong, everything works right. I love my body.
Except that strangely I also hate it. I know where every extra fat pocket is, every stretch mark (from weight not pregnancy), every piece of my body that doesn’t fit an ideal formed in my head when I was a pre-teen. When this hatred gets into my blood, I hate myself. I’m angry. And sad. And am entirely convinced that people cannot love me. I am so full of bile that it is my self, my heart, my essence that I hate. The body becomes secondary.
In college I worked at a treatment center near Provo for teenage girls. Most of them had body image issues and several had full blown eating disorders too. Disorders that caused such blurring of vision that 90 lb girls were convinced that in the mirror they saw 3X and 4X sized bodies and they dressed accordingly. Rumor had it in the Utah treatment center circuit that there were more treatment centers in Utah valley than any other state. And that there was the highest number of girls with eating disorders than any other place in the United States.
I’m not sure how true that is (though there are a LOT of treatment centers–one, Center for Change in Provo is only to treat eating disorders and they are very busy) but anecdotally, in every apartment I lived with at least one roommate that either had an eating disorder or was on the verge of it. One roommate tried to cut a non-existent fat roll off her stomach. All my other roommates throughout my BYU years , including me, had this deep distaste for the look of their bodies.
First of all, I believe that this is an American epidemic, this hate of body, and not something that is uniquely Mormon. But if treatment center rumors are true, I wonder what it is about the mix of Mormon and American that makes us girls (and some boys too I’m sure) despise our bodies enough to hurt them by starving, bingeing, cutting, puking, exercising too much, or too little. And mostly just junking our intimate relationships.
I wonder if it is unnamed, unknown perfection. There is not a moment that guarantees us exaltation, we have no real idea of what a celestial person lives like or looks like. We also assume that celestial beings lack variation. Conversion and dedication to God is too nebulous, making it seem like we might always be failing in our attempts to be like God. That feeling gets projected onto our bodies (with a nebulous but ubiquitous perfection model in American culture) and we feel like we fail in achieving that bodily perfection.
I wonder if our physical bodies are too connected with what is the natural man, an enemy to God. And we put off our bodies like we try to put off the natural man. We can never quite put them off–our bodies or our natural man–and that turns putting off and never quite putting it off into a cycle, an addiction, sometimes an obsession.
I wonder if issues of body is the Mormon addiction of choice. Addiction is usually born out of a circumstance, situation, or feeling that cannot be tolerated or controlled. We feel something we can’t handle or that we are sure will break us if we feel it all the way and so we distract ourselves with eating, not eating, exercising, or just hating body. I don’t have to feel as much loneliness if my focus is on the love handles I can never get rid of.
In the American Mormon dating world, when little differentiates us from our competition for a spouse, I wonder if we blame our bodies for our inability to arouse interest in the opposite sex. We’re mostly all the same race, the same economic backgrounds, similar levels of faith and obedience, similar education. What’s left? If we’re 19, 29 or 39, I think most girls feel pretty sure that the reason they haven’t found the one is the body.
At this particular treatment center, the theory for most addictions was that addiction comes from self-hate. That somewhere along the line of life experience and belief a person was convinced that there was something about them broken and worthy of despising. It hurts us to hate ourselves and in order to deal with the hurt and hate we start addictions. And this makes it impossible to believe anything else about ourselves. I know a lot of Mormons like this, convinced at their brokenness, unable to rationalize the good and the bad in them.
I got a blessing once that told me I would struggle with this fragmentation for the rest of my life and that the best I could do would be to re-learn how to eat. This 90 lb teenage girl that I knew, wasting away in her 3X t-shirts and 42in waisted jeans, had to learn how to look at herself and the world in a new way. She had to get new vision. I wonder if that’s what I need to re-learn how to see.