When Eve looked down at her naked breasts and belly and saw for the first time not the beauty of her curves or a powerful body capable of ushering life into this world, but instead the dimples of her thighs and the softness of her middle, I wonder at how crippling the shame that took hold of her mind. Fruit still in hand, juice dripping down her fingers, she had no idea that the dread she felt at the sight of her body—the sudden urge to sew a dress out of fig leaves—was a dread she would pass down to her daughters and granddaughters and generations of women and men to come.
I imagine the shame felt something like when, at 10-years-old, I first compared myself to the ballerinas in class around me, my legs always the shortest and chubbiest in the row of pink tights. Or a few years later, when a ballet teacher suggested I lose a few pounds if I wanted to be allowed to perform.
Or perhaps it felt like the shame when I got my period first out of my group of friends, though I was the youngest. Or when I sat in the backseat of a car between them and noticed that my thighs took up a lot more space then theirs. Or when we’d swim in the backyard, and I couldn’t take part in trading tops and bottoms of favorite suits because mine were much bigger in size.
I imagine that Eve looked on the wretched fruit, which so suddenly altered her image of self, and she swore never to take a bite again. She might not have known to count calories or carbs, but the mental anguish which accompanied every grumbling of hunger I assume felt quite similar to the anxiety I experienced when meticulously journaling every crumb consumed.
It’s the time of year when the gym is packed and men and women everywhere jump into new diet plans. I’ll happily admit that I still use the New Year as an opportunity to develop healthier habits—I entered this year quite prepared to follow a weekly routine intended to ease my ever-present anxiety.
But all too often hidden underneath the guise of health is a perpetuation of the shame passed down from that fateful day when Eve grieved with fruit in hand. It stems from looking down at a naked body—which God called very good—and hating the extra flesh round the middle, the curves created to cradle new life. My Pinterest stream is filled with images of bloggers attempting to be #fitandfaithful, as if taking special care to keep from enjoying the bounty God made could somehow reverse the decision to feast from the tree of knowledge and with it the consequence of bodily shame.
It took several years of calorie counting and allergen avoiding and low-carb/high-fat/all-plant/raw vegan/low glycemic/clean/whole/natural eating, with intermittent periods of thoughtless overindulgence, before I learned that my mental and physical health lay in the ability to delight in what God made. To pray through the process of kneading, to feast at a table of friends, to look on the trees and plants and animals God made, on my own body carefully crafted by the Creator, and see them as very good.
As I stretch my legs in downward dog, arms quivering at the intensity of the standard yoga pose, I meditate with each breath on Psalm 62: My soul finds rest in God alone. I thank God for strong thighs and abs and arms capable of holding me in such a pose, though they might be a bit thicker than I’m told is good.
As I prepare a risotto with roasted root vegetables, I thank God for the vibrant variation of colors available in a bleak mid-winter. Pink candy-striped beets, purple carrots and white parsnips, orange and yellow squash. I sip on wine and nibble dark chocolate and inhale the sharp scent of gooey Camembert. I’m careful to use words like enjoy, savor, and delight rather than indulge or guilty pleasure, because God created all of these things and called them very good.
I’ve found that when I eat and move in gratitude for the body God made, I naturally veer in the direction of health without shame over my curves or dimpled thighs.
I’ve had seasons where taking time to rest proved physically healthier than fitting in an extra workout, seasons where eating out with friends proved mentally healthier than crafting a salad for myself at home, seasons where accepting the limitations of my body meant re-thinking my understanding of health.
I’ve had seasons where I’d head to the gym daily, cook primarily vegetables, and sleep eight hours a night because the shame at my present body overshadowed everything else. But also seasons where I’d head to the gym daily, cook primarily vegetables, and sleep eight hours a night because it was the healthiest way to quiet the voices of stress in my mind.
I’ve found that as I strive to delight in the variety of foods God designed, and the communities I get to dine with, I’ve slowly returned to eating and loving my body in the ways initially intended, free of guilt or worry or shame.
I wonder how different this year might be if we resolve to delight in God’s creation. To view eating as a gift of divine love, walking and running and dancing and yoga-ing as acts of gratitude and praise. To view our bodies as powerful, strong, beautiful pieces of created order, crafted in the image of God.
Might we dismantle the shame passed down for generations, through thousands of years, and once again see creation as good? Might we dine our way into physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health, re-membering creation redeemed by Christ in small feasts of bread, and cheese, and chocolate, and wine?
Let’s begin with the simplest of Sunday meals, the small feast of bread and wine. Close your eyes and chew on the unleavened bread, grateful for the gift of re-membrance. Sip the wine and inhale the scent of sweet reconciliation. Shame washed away, bodies reconciled to God and to self.
Eat, with gratitude.
Enjoy. And re-member.