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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Cultures (with Kristi)

fivequestionsonCultures

with Kristi Rice

1) Describe your experience in other cultures and the attitude toward/relationship to body image you observed there.

Bob and I live in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is a region plagued by extreme poverty, but where the people are resilient, loving, and often hopeful in the midst of their daily struggles. Disease, hunger, and even malnutrition are common.  There seems to be a pretty clear distinction that people who are larger (weigh more), tend to be those who are more well-off economically. Among the population in general, people admire and envy people whose bodies are larger – because usually they perceive that those people don’t have to walk everywhere or are able to eat meat or rich foods more often. People generally prefer to have a little ‘cushion’ on their bodies, perhaps so that they have some ‘reserve’ in case they get a sickness that causes them to lose weight.
 
During our first year in Congo, we spent one month in a rural area to focus on language learning. We did a lot of walking in hot weather during that month and by necessity ate a lean diet. We had no intention of losing weight, and did not even realize that we had until our Congolese friends expressed concern and dismay upon our return to the city. “You’ve lost so much weight!”, some would say, “That trip was too hard on you.” They wanted to feed us well so that we would return to our former ‘healthy’ weight.
 
Congolese tend to be conservative in how they dress. Women (married women, especially) have at least two layers in their skirts, and wearing shorts would be considered nearly obscene. Yet, sometimes they also seem to have an open-ness and acceptance about their bodies that surpasses ours. Sometimes when we visit someone who has had surgery, they are eager to show us the wound, even if it might be in a less “appropriate” spot. Congolese are also not inhibited to comment on someone else’s body – “I wish I could be fat like you,” is one phrase that we have heard said. We have tried to observe and learn so that we can respect their culture well and live within it.
 

2) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

I find that in one sense I am more conscious of my body because of the frequent comments from friends or strangers about my body. If I have been away for more than a week, people who I greet on the street are likely to make an assessment like, “You’ve gained weight! Must have been a good trip.” Or “Did you get sick? You’ve lost weight.” Often, we will hear both paradoxical perspectives in the same day, so we’ve learned to laugh and not take it seriously. Yet, the Congolese perspective has made me less self-conscious about my body size also. I have learned to appreciate being healthy more than having certain image. As white people living in an African country, we are often stared at, scrutinized, and touched simply because of the novelty of seeing a foreigner up close. So – it really helps to be comfortable with who you are!
 

3) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you relate to others?

I feel a greater sense of freedom in relating to others. Joining the Congolese in their culture of being frank and open about our bodies seems to help me be more “real” in other aspects of the relationship. Last year I shared with Therese, a Congolese friend, about my embarrassment and annoyance when people on the road would make comments (sometimes shouting comments) about my body as I was jogging. Therese laughed, shared her own even more humiliating experience, and told me I should not let it bother me. Those shared experiences are so encouraging and helpful!
 

4) How has that relationship/attitude affected your spiritual life?

Living in Congo, where we are daily confronted with people who are hungry, sick, or desperately poor, has prompted me to be grateful for the simple, basic things in life, like being able to choose the food I eat or walk up the stairs. I am grateful that God made me the way he did…in my case, it is much more valuable for life in Congo that I don’t have food allergies than that my body were thin or beautiful. The nudge to be grateful as well as the openness about body image in Congo has enriched my sense of who I am as a creation and daughter of God. In spite all of my faults, sin, and stumbling, I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of.
 

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Reiterating what I have learned to appreciate about Congolese culture, take a risk with being open and honest –with yourself, with others, and with God. And be grateful … for whatever your body looks like and the way God created you to interact with the world.
 
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What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with Anonymous Guy)

fivequestionsonExercise

with Anonymous Guy

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise.  If it has changed over time, describe the change.

Consistency is my challenge. Exercise perpetuates more exercise for me and inactivity perpetuates more inactivity. Staying somewhere in a healthy middle ground by exercising a few times a week is the toughest. I’ve gone weeks where I exercise 12-14 times for the week and then I’ve gone through a couple weeks where its hard to do anything.
 

2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

Body image is largely a control issue for me. It’s been something I could control and when things have been beyond control in life, my mind has thought “well at least I can control how the body looks” and that anxiety is projected outward to the flesh. Being conscious of this idea has helped to be healthier and more moderate, though past emotional damage will always pervade my mindset in some way.
 

3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?

 If I am not confident in my body, I am not confident. My mind goes into ultra-introvert mode and I feel a sense of embarrassment being around others. Shame is a nasty attachment that maladaptive mental habits can create and perpetuate. What I act like on the outside is always a picture of how I’m processing internally.
 

4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?

When shame abounds, grace is the last thing I want to accept because something inside me tells me I’m not good enough – that I need to earn it. Of course, with my theological understanding of God, I know better… but the emotional and the rational/intellectual absolutely wage war between each other sometimes and that can adversely affect my overall being and spiritual life. 
 

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Learn to love yourself. Don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard, but, instead, a standard that is one of integrity, health, and happiness – and accepting of the grace offered to us. Body image is never ever a primary issue… but it’s symptomatic of other things happening. If you ever feel not-so-confident physically, look beyond that at your mental and emotional workings. And remember that Jesus loves models as much as the chubbiest of chubby people. Grace is as far away as we allow it to be.
 

What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

 

The Spiritual Practice of Eating

Yesterday we talked about the spiritual practice of sleeping and what we can learn by listening to our bodies.  Today, I want to continue that topic with a new subject: eating.

It’s no secret that fasting is a spiritual discipline.  Especially as Lent has just passed us by, we are more acutely aware of the relationship between denying the body and preparing the soul.  But what about eating? How does indulging in the “desires of the flesh” promote spiritual pursuits?

I have never been a breakfast person.  Perhaps it has something to do with being a night owl and an insomniac, but I just can’t seem to digest anything right after I wake up in the morning (or the afternoon).  Say what you will about the “most important meal of the day,” but even the thought of consuming food in the morning is enough to turn my stomach.

In high school, I used to force myself to eat the lunch I brought with me every day because I was afraid I would be accused of having an eating disorder if I didn’t present at least an effort at eating.  I developed a habit of eating as fast as possible in order to finish my lunch before my body had time to realize what was happening and complain.

In college, I actually passed out once after going more than 48 hours without food while studying for midterms. I had been so busy holed up in my room that I didn’t even realize I hadn’t visited the dining hall in two days.

I’m still not a good eater.  I forget to eat all the time, and when I do remember, I am either too busy or too tired to eat well or even at all.  But along with my Lenten fast from being awake, I have been making a concerted effort toward listening to my body to find out when it’s hungry.  Here’s what I’ve been learning about the spiritual discipline of eating:

  1. Eating is a good and necessary aspect of human living. It is not something to be despised or beaten into submission but something to be cultivated.
  2. When I ignore my body’s messages about being hungry, it stops telling me what I need.
  3. I have to re-teach my body to experience hunger by providing consistent food. I am teaching my body to trust me again.
  4. Just eating isn’t enough. My body needs a healthy and varied diet.
  5. When I eat properly, I actually lose weight because my body is no longer in starvation mode.
  6. My body learns unhealthy habits like craving chips and chocolate just as quickly as it learns healthy habits like craving fresh salads and fruit.
  7. Not all my body’s messages are healthy.  I have to discern the difference between being hungry and just having a craving for junk food.
  8. When I listen to my body and give it healthy food on a consistent basis, my digestive issues magically disappear.  Imagine that.
  9. It’s also easier to go to sleep and stay asleep when I am eating well.
  10. Eating isn’t about gaining or losing weight; it’s about making healthy choices to help bring wholeness and balance to my body.
  11. Making the time to eat, and taking the care to choose the best food rather than whatever is easiest or quickest, is like making time for God.

When I am able to make healthy, balanced choices for my body and discern among the messages my body sends which ones are necessary and which are not, then I am better prepared to live my life in a healthy, balanced way. Learning to listen to my body is teaching me to be more discerning, more conscious, and more intentional about my daily living.

The spiritual practice of eating is hard work, and I’m not always very good at it.  I tire easily and fall back on ignoring my body or feeding it with whatever is easiest.  But I know that learning to make good choices and put more effort into what I put into my body is teaching me the value of intentional living.

How are you living your life on purpose? What are you intentional about?

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