My Hidden Figure - Guest Post on SheLoves Magazine This Week
[Trigger warning: Mention of sexual abuse.]
I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life that I have not been uncomfortable in my own body.
It wasn’t until my thirties when I awoke one night in sheer terror, my gentle, kind husband startled beside me, crying out in anguish at the memories that were suddenly released into my consciousness about the abuse I endured as a young child at the dirty, cracked hands of my neighbour three houses down that quiet, suburban street.
And as these new pieces to the puzzle of my life emerged, I was able to see more clearly why I chose to never wear a bikini in public, why I dressed myself so meticulously in designs of my own creation with attention to detail that invited people to admire my style, never the body underneath those layers.
But I also had a strong athletic body. One that skated and swam, that was fierce on the volleyball courts and field hockey pitch. One that bore scars from sliding into bases on gravel fields and bruised shins from defensive play in the crease.
The exhilaration of sweat-drenched uniforms and sore, aching muscles reminded me that on the court and on the field, I was in control of my body and the women I played with had only one expectation–that I would do my best.
At 19 I fell in love with a man who fell in love with me. All of me. And it was unexpected and unsettling at times. Would he still love me if I gained weight? Would he tire of the creases of my thick thighs or cringe at the stretch marks along my strong torso?
While his passionate love rooted and strengthened me, my 20 years of well-rehearsed insecurity about my body continued to plague me.
Armed with torn out pages of wedding dress advertisements from overpriced bridal magazines, the exhilaration of saying yes to the dress soon dissipated when clerks ushered me to the “plus” size section at the back of the store, reminding me that my 5’9” frame and size 16 body was not worthy of being on display. In fact, it needed to be hidden far, far away.
We are fond of saying that every bride is beautiful, yet the wedding industry in our culture and yes, our churches, say otherwise. When I look back at my wedding photos, my dress, in fact, was beautiful and I was gorgeous. And yet it was a dress my mother helped choose for me, and it covered every part of my body, from neck to floor, so as to conform to some idealized representation of who I was supposed to be and how others were supposed to view me.
Losing weight before I walked down the aisle, and in preparation for holidays in the sun. Pre-marital counselling that emphasized the beauty and delight of giving our bodies to one another in [mutual] submission, supposedly, and perhaps theologically sound. Yet the underlying subtexts was always one of “Wives, don’t give your husband a reason to look elsewhere …”
How was I supposed to give away something that was supposed to be mine to give, yet every message I received told me that someone else was already in control of it?
And of course, the Pre-pregnancy Pants Test somehow became the standard by which we measured our worthiness as women: new mothers, still sexy wives, disciplined, godly, Proverbs 31-prototypes. How would I ever win this game when I had five pregnancies in six years and my body was both nurturing life and grieving loss simultaneously?
Worse than the numbers game was the birthing game.
“How long was your labour?” she would ask.
“Oh, it was induced. He was overdue. Then he would not come out and I ended up having a C-section.” (And then two more C-sections, I would whisper). And with each C-section I felt I had to explain the circumstances of each of my children’s birth stories in order to justify their entry into the world as if I needed to apologize for my body’s inability to fulfill its motherly, natural, God-given duties.
Out. Of. My. Control.
Keep it covered. Dress modestly. Don’t attract attention. Be ashamed. Look like everyone else. Stay hidden.
In 2010, my spiritual breakdown/ awakening began. With the help of my counselor, my devoted husband and a tribe of deeply fierce friends, I began to re-write those chapters of my life that carried unspeakable shame and powerlessness and exchanged them for righteous anger, naming the abuse and lies I experienced at the hands of flawed men. I also reclaimed the beauty and strength I inherently possessed throughout my life and that I, in fact, carried prophetically in my flesh and bones since time began.
For You shaped me, inside and out. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath. I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You. —Psalm 139:13-15, The Voice
The words of the ancient texts uttered by a battered, bruised and beloved king exclaimed what I had always hoped to be true–that I was never meant to be hidden. Every part of me was to be cherished and seen. No more shadows. No more apologies. No more surrendering myself to someone else’s ideal of who I am and who I am meant to be.
I am brave, I am proof
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum.
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me. —Keala Settle, The Greatest Showman, 2017
To read the full post at SheLoves Magazine and to check out the brilliant writers there, please go to http://shelovesmagazine.com/2018/my-hidden-figure/