A couple months ago our church had a women’s retreat. I’m a little funny about gender exclusive events and wasn’t sure I’d go until I opened my mouth to invite others to join me. And then the organizer asked if I would model a sari in the fashion show.
Why a fashion show? would be a great question. I can’t say exactly, but it was fun!
I considered declining her invitation. I’m not a center-of-attention kinda gal and 170 pairs of eyes on me isn’t comfortable. But that wasn’t my first thought. My first thought had to do with my body, with my discomfort in my own skin, and then with others looking at me.
Would the sari fit? Which bulges of flesh might protrude? Saris often bare the midriff and with increasing age I am decreasingly a fan of my midriff.
I wrestled with myself and ultimately said yes. My ‘word’ for 2015 is put yourself in the way of beauty. What is more beautiful than a sari, and when would I ever have another opportunity to wear one?
I’m so glad I consented! A variety of women, of different ages and appearance, gathered with several Indian women who dressed us and decorated us with stacks of bracelets and jewelry in our hair and on our foreheads. The saris had all been laid out on tables and women gravitated to colors and beading styles. The Indian women estimated which saris would look best on which women, and they expertly pinned and spun us and wrapped and draped us in the nine yards of fabric that are a sari, worn over a petticoat and blouse.
We enjoyed the best possible costume party. It was intimate, women dressing women, and special, women making women feel beautiful. We ooh-ed and aah-ed over the gorgeous colors and hand-beaded finery, and over one another wearing the most incredible dresses. 170 women got to see the spectacular saris, but only a few of us got to wear them. And we felt beautiful.
The next day I talked with another of the models as we bonded over our shared experience. I told her about my initial hesitancy and her response has been rattling around my head since. She asked, “When have you ever seen a woman wearing a sari past the age of 40-something, who didn’t have a little tummy? Our bodies change with age. But you know, it doesn’t matter. Her husband loves her.” Indian culture respects age and the marriage relationship. They are comfortable in their skin in a way I haven’t been since puberty.
I participate in an online forum run by a friend from a previous version of my life. The group’s theme is Body Love and encourages women to love every inch of their body, no matter their size. Yesterday she posted a picture of an average-sized woman with a larger-than-model-thin body, overwritten with positive life experiences: ran 12K, walked through India, etc. She asked for feedback for her coaching, and in a total fit of honesty, I responded:
I hate the feeling of squeezing into pants/skirts – even if I can hide the squeeze, say, under a loose blouse – that I love and that previously made me feel fantastic. No one feels fantastic when their waistline or bra feels pinched. Ugh! I hate having tried on this and that and *everything* appropriate for the event and just not finding the right thing, even though I have a closet filled with clothes. I hate having to spend money to maintain more than one size of clothes in my closet. I hate the change of seasons as the clothes that just fit are now too hot or cold for the current temperatures. I love that my body supports me in so many important ways, and I hate feeling like I haven’t supported my body in likewise important ways.
This morning I felt some amount of shame at having bared my soul about my body, and even more so when I realized how many women I know personally also participate in the group. While drying my hair, I remembered a wise friend encouraging a group of young moms to start each day by saying into the mirror, “Well, hello, Beautiful!” God creates us perfectly, and who are we to say God’s work isn’t beautifully done? So I tried it. It felt funny, and right, uncomfortable because I have an uncomfortable relationship with my body.
I eat healthier than most people I know. I try to get regular exercise and I feel great when I do. My doctor says I am healthy. But I’m not athletic or physically energetic and my favorite pass times involve sitting (writing, for example). I don’t look the way I’d like to and with age it becomes more difficult. I don’t want to make excuses, and I need to make peace. And so I continue to wrestle.
Guy and I watched a TV show last night that included an attractive woman with an unattractive personality. He commented, “You know, she could really be pretty if she could just act nicely.” Huh. He doesn’t think she’s pretty. We’ve all experienced that to be true – attitude affects your appearance.
This morning a friend shared a quote from a business seminar she attended last weekend:
Dear friend, you have nothing to be embarrassed about, and now nothing to hide or fear or regret; for today we saw your smile and it was wide and beautiful and true and awakened; it was a moment when your soul burst through your worry and it shined for us as an unapologetic glimmer of joy and humanity, a stunning instance of genuine expression… It was a simple thing, those gorgeous corners of your mouth turned up, and perhaps it felt like a daring expression in a world drowning in a pool of pessimism, an unplanned revolt in a time of chaos where all those frowns and furled brows are symbols of disconnection from gratitude and presence and life. But your smile, dear friend, it stirred hope in us. And then you laughed and it seemed a thousand joyous songs leapt into the air and brought the world to its feet. So we ask that you gift us with your smile more often… —Brendon Burchard, Live.Love.Matter.
She said she felt compelled to share it with us because of all she’s gleaned from participating in our church and in particular because of one Bible passage she heard recently:
“Be joyful always. Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
God gave me this particular body along with my particular set of gifts and talents and preferences. I can complain and grumble about the qualities I might wish different. Or I can make a decision to say “Thank you” to my Creator. I can wear a smile, laugh, focus outward, delight in the company of my family and friends, savor good food and wine, and be joyful in my life. Yes!