I got glasses recently… and cried.
Don’t worry: there were no tears on the brightly-lit shop floor populated by sparkly frames and chatty salespeople. (Can we just pause for a minute to marvel at the art of telling a customer, in the same breath, that the pair of glasses they have tried on is both the most hideous and most glorious thing they have ever seen, dependent on what their customer seems to be saying with their ‘oohs’ or ‘ahhs’? To the amusement of my sister who doubles as my style advisor, I ended up choosing the pair that was the salesperson’s “least favourite”, which she made quite clear.)
I sensed my voice wobble as I tried to read a sequence of letters with my tired right eye but couldn’t, as the optician tested my eyes, before he told me I very much did need glasses.
You see, I’m fine. I’ve pretty much always been just fine. I get on with stuff; I can take it. My body has been at the bottom of my priority list. I have ignored, and sometimes blatantly refused, to listen to its signs because there has always been something more important. A deadline, another person, money to save. And perhaps it’s because I’m officially in my late 20s (though let it be known that I adamantly reject the term), I’ve started wondering if I should pay more attention to things like my eyesight not being as sharp as it used to, or a sore back that takes a few days to tease out. In the past I have soldiered on and ignored them, but a few months ago I decided to try and listen to my body more closely. Why has it taken me until now?
For most of my life, I’ve been a part of a brand of Christianity that calls for self-sacrifice. I’ve felt a strong call to use my position of privilege to serve others, and to help make the world a fairer place. This is a blessing to me. But into it have slowly crept some dangerous messages that I have absorbed: the glamorisation of tired.’Busy’ as a badge of honour. “You just never stop,” as a compliment; rest as something at the end of the never-ending to-do list. This is often accompanied by the platonic separation of soul and body; dualism that means the body, as opposed to the soul, is something to be controlled, defeated, disassociated from – apart from ‘me’.
But my body is me, and it’s not just a vehicle I can abuse or neglect in exchange for spiritual brownie points. I’m not able to give all I can give if my body is not accepted as a valuable part of who I am and treated as such. And I don’t think this was the plan: if we listen close enough, we find that in us are deep echoes of a song from the Father who delights in us, who longs to give us rest, whose love is not dependent on what we have or haven’t done.
The separation I feel from my body is compounded by how women – more precisely women’s bodies – are portrayed daily in news, advertising, films and TV, and the public square. We are objects, here for the pleasure of another. We are objects, here to be pulled apart, picked apart limb by limb so that our single body parts can become the backdrop for the latest car or toothpaste. We are objects, beheld by the eyes of another. We are objects, not really capable of thinking or leading or even contributing. We are objects.
Of course, I don’t believe this and I’m sure you don’t either. But when these are the – sometimes quiet and sometimes loud – messages we are sold, we can seek to counterbalance them in ways that are also dangerous: forgetting that our bodies, while not the sum of us, do matter.
Could it be that the greatest act of resistance, and the greatest conduit of rest, is to treat our bodies as valuable members of our whole selves, not only for what they can offer others but for the wonderful, mysterious, complicated things they are?
I’m not here to be objectified. I’m not present for the pleasure of my beholder. My purpose is not to be seen. I’m more than my body. But I also am my body. It’s a part of me. It matters. It’s worth taking care of. I’m worth taking care of.
So I kinda love my glasses. They tell me that I have listened to my body. They help me – they give me permission to – take care of it. They’re an accessory that I like the look of and that I chose. They allow me to care about physical things without taking away from any other part of me. Me, as a full and whole person: with agency over my body, not as an enemy, but as an accomplice.
Resist. Rest. Re-member… all of you.
I’d love to know…
- How do you listen to your body?
- Are you aware of any harmful messaging that has affected the way you care for your body?
- What is keeping you from treating your body as a valuable part of yourself?
Let me know in the comments below!
An earlier version of this article first appeared on Gemma’s blog.