I am a woman, 39 years old, from very white ancestry, who inherited a level of educational and economical privilege.
Twenty years ago I faced the first major challenge and failure in my life. My body was not performing the way I wanted it to. It did not look good enough and would not run fast enough. My response was to control it. Force it to do what I wanted it and needed it to do. I did that by over-exercising and restricting my calorie intake.
Maybe 10% off me at the time knew this wasn’t a great idea. The other 90% of me thought this was the best idea ever. I had a solution to a problem. I would be making things ‘right’. I would be guaranteeing my success and my safety.
You may read this and think, ‘wo-man, you were nuts.’ There might be some truth to that. And also understand that it made complete sense to me.
Not only because I had aced my AP Calculus classes and the logical theorem of Eat Less + Run More = Less Body Mass = Less Weight to Carry = Faster Performance.
But also because, in a way, I was carrying out the version of faith I was schooled in, just instead of applying it to my spiritual life, I projected it onto my physical body too.
The belief that my body was not performing good enough? A complete parallel to the mantra, “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God .” My body not only proved that statement to be true, it was the perfect scapegoat for the alternative that was too painful to accept.
I could handle the idea that my body was falling short; I mean, I saw the cellulite too. And as much as I was disgusted with those bumpy divots on my thighs, making my thighs and my body the culprit of my imperfection was an easier pill to swallow than the one that said I, ME, my whole being, including my soul, had fallen short and was rotten to its core. I mean, where do you go from there?
The response? Control. Exert force onto this faulty machine. Punish the body with exercise. Deprive its nourishment and experience of pleasure by restricting food.
This approach was way too familiar. My church culture was a big fan of spankings when kids screwed up. When you were too old for spankings, your sin made its way onto the grapevine aka prayer chain, so that everyone could gossip/pray about how you were backsliding.
And deprivation? So many cultural norms of the day were classified as secular, and therefore evil. No listening to the radio (unless it was Christian radio). No movies rated PG-13 or worse. Dancing or wine at weddings? Forget it, you shouldn’t even get married if you thought this was OK. Sports were questionable. Even excelling at academics somehow seemed wrong, because schools were secular too, especially if they taught evolution or sex-ed. And for sure, there was no sex.
This version of faith is not really faith at all. I know that now. At the time though, it was all I knew; a very clear and stringent path to solving the problem of sin, making myself right with God, and guaranteeing a place in heaven. The Christian version of success and safety.
My response to my body, was the spitting image of how I was taught to respond to the world. It’s just than instead of the world being the enemy, this time the enemy was a rather critical part of me.
And then there’s this.
I was a female. Which meant my body was somehow a representation of sin. Forget the cellulite and the extra weight that slowed me down on the track. My body was sexual. Feminine. Sacrilege.
I had curves that tempted men, legs that could seduce. I was a walking, living, breathing temptress.
AND if I fucked up, had sex, and got pregnant, there was no way to hide that most shameful sin.
So what now? Apply the default version of faith.
Attempt to control my urges. Punish myself if I gave in. Deprive myself of anything that might bring sexual nourishment or pleasure.
And because when you are coming of age, your sexuality and your gender are so closely linked, as I learned to fear my sexuality, I also learned to fear my femininity.
I thought it was better to be a man. Men could run faster. They were muscular and didn’t have cellulite. They couldn’t get pregnant. And they were the ones who made the rules. They decided if what you were doing was right or wrong. They dished out the spankings. They stood in front of the pulpit declaring if this movie was clean-enough to watch or if that politician was Christian-enough to vote for. They were the ones that sat with you once your hormones started raging and offered you a chastity ring. They were the ones who reminded you that if you signed your sexuality over to God and then broke that covenant, you were fucked.
I did my best to be ‘the man’. Get my body as ripped as possible. Get a job where I could wear the suit. Excel at Excel spreadsheets. Analyze the answers. Rely on the logic.
While the suits were sexy, and I donned them along with kitten heels to work for a rather femininely branded luxury jewellery company, I was more often than not embodying the masculine, just with a vagina and breasts.
I never identified as male or a man, but the things that I valued were what are typically categorized as ‘masculine’ energy. I idolized physical strength over emotional strength, straight edges over curves, sweat over sweet, ‘with it’ over wild, functional over form (except when it came to my body; then they were both critical), and doing, building, achieving, over any kind of being.
I had both male and female bosses. The male ones I could trust. The female ones I kept at arm’s length; too much risk of emotional craziness, cliques, and irrational thinking. Even though growing up it was the male presence that exerted its control onto and around me, by adopting the very thing I learned from them, I figured I could become them. That would keep me safe, and then one day, maybe I could even be in charge.
Fast-forward the story and here’s the deal. It wasn’t mastering the masculine that saved me. It was falling in love with the feminine. The very part of me I had disowned; including my feminine body.
I am not here to make men, male, or the masculine wrong, or women, female and the feminine right. I do not want to perpetuate the binary, polarizing, black and white thinking that I was taught under the guise of ‘faith’.
What feels most important here to say is, I have a strong feminine essence; not only in my body but also in my soul. This part of me was never nurtured. I thought it was wrong. I tried to disconnect from it. That did me very little favours. And until I was able to reclaim this part of me, my life wasn’t close to where I knew it could be.
Maybe it’s the same for you.