This past weekend as I lay sunbathing on a beach in Santa Monica, California, it seemed like everywhere I turned there was somebody beautiful. The tan, toned, athletic bodies were everywhere, which had me wondering whether, after two pregnancies, I really dared peel off that top layer of clothing and bear my own now pale-white body for the sun god. Thankfully, I didn’t spend too much time contemplating this issue. The feel of the sun on my skin and the sand in my toes were enough to rid me of any self-consciousness about how I looked in a one-piece bathing suit.
Besides, I thought, thank God I’m not wearing a bikini- and then, at least I’m wearing black. Black, after all, hides most things. Black is becoming on me, I’ve often been told- maybe because of those Puritan roots of mine dating all the way back to William Bradford, a distant ancestor; (apparently, contrary to popular belief, the Puritans wore the color not because it signified a stark rejection of worldliness, but because black bespoke power.) In my own case, black represents a certain level of power, too: black tells that post-pregnancy, “muffin top” tummy to seem a bit flatter than it really is, making me look and feel a bit slimmer; so that the tiny, spindly, post-pregnancy veins on my legs and the boobs that I wish could be one size bigger seem less noticeable, too.
Apparently, I as a woman am far from alone in on occasion wishing certain physical “imperfections” away. In fact, it was no coincidence that as I sat on that beach momentarily contemplating those flaws probably only visible to me, I had in front of me an advance copy of friend Emily Wierenga’s latest book, Mom in the Mirror (Palgrave). Emily had asked me to read and review the book by the book’s release date (May 16), and I feel privileged to have done so: the book makes for a perfect Mother’s Day present to any woman you find beautiful who may struggle with an unhealthy sense of body image. Wierenga’s own experience in this area makes her a battle-tested expert: in her role as a wife and mother, she has found ways to cope with and overcome the “mental illness” (her words) of anorexia; and Emily’s vulnerability and commitment to helping other women struggling with similar issues shines through.
I’ll be writing up a slightly more detailed review of the book for the time of its release; but in the meantime, would encourage other mothers and daughters (and the husbands and fathers who care about them) to consider ordering a copy as a Mother’s Day gift. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter also make the book great material for support groups, book clubs, mommy networks, and women’s Bible studies.
In the meantime, I am again reminded, reading Emily’s book, of the basic truth that our bodies matter a whole lot to God. God in Jesus takes on human flesh- not just our “spiritual” nature (namely, a propensity to be tempted by those things that fall outside God’s best for us) but our physical limitations. Contrary to how the bumper sticker might put it- “I am a spiritual being having a physical experience”- the Bible teaches that we are physical and spiritual beings, and that our bodies and spirits are equally important, intimately connected realities. To call ourselves “spiritual beings” only is to reject the physicality of who we are and to reject the goodness of God’s creation.
One of the best demonstrations of God’s love that we can make, therefore, as wives and mothers, is to care for our bodies and to love and accept them for how they were made, give life and even change with the passage of time. We can claim our bodies, with all their flaws, imperfections, lines and wrinkles, as gifts from God to love and treasure. If you as a wife and mother (or daughter or sister) are looking for concrete ways to love your body and improve your self-image, then Emily’s book is for you.