Saturday, August 24, 2013

on epic fights and letting love win (for chris)

The kids were coughing and we were all sick so nobody slept well and doesn't that just show us who we really are underneath all the Instagram.  Our most epic discussion/argument/fight was boiling just beneath the baby soft skin of four years and a few months of well, we're married now and here's two new humans to take care of.

You scratched me and I bled all over us, a tirade brought to you by the letter S: sickness, sleep deprivation and stress, nothing too crazy or earth-shattering really.  Just doing life a bit tougher than normal.  I felt justified, you were defensive and we left the room so that babies wouldn't hear, but they always know what's going on.

I could hear Patty Griffin singing over us, but we were louder:

//we're calling for help tonight on a thin phone line/as usual we're having ourselves one hell of a time/ and the planes keep flying right over our heads no matter how loud we shout/ hey, hey, hey, hey/ and we keep waving and waving our arms in the air til we're all tired out//

I could see your mouth moving but couldn't hear anything you were saying, the planes were so loud.   I couldn't understand what was coming out of my own mouth either, I wasn't sure why I was so mad but I just kept going.

For being two fairly mature people we can still be a relational wasteland, can't we?  

It had to stop though, there were children to take care of and we were ashamed like 4 year olds ourselves, fuming but neither of us willing to say that other S-word, the one that could actually, possibly, somehow make things new.

I always start my apologies with something lame, like sorry I'm tired, sorry I didn't sleep well, sorry you aggravate me so easily, sorry for being grumpy - I tread around in the murky waters that look almost like I'm sorry but I'm not quite ready to be a grown up yet.  Just give me two more minutes.  It always takes me awhile to get desperate enough to own my stuff.

I probably told you to go first, but I can't remember.
I'm sorry for being selfish.
I'm sorry for not making my needs known.
I'm sorry for lashing out in anger,
for not practicing self-control.
I'm sorry for swearing.  At you.

By now the girl has dragged a chair to the glass-paned door and is trying to work out the handle.  But we lay in bed together still in the same spot where moments before I was crying and shouting and angrier than I ever thought I could be at the Canadian boy whom I dreamed of sharing this very bed with.  We are quiet, relieved.

//it's hard to give/ it's hard to get/ but everybody needs a little forgiveness.//

And when we go there, go low, against every instinct in our bodies, hearts and minds, that's when the sun breaks through and we can suddenly breathe again.  The planes are quiet, there's no need to yell.  The wind lifts our little home-made kite way up, where we can see and remember why we are even in this moment at all, why we are walking together towards a future, towards good and hope.
The kids were coughing so I put them in the shower at 6pm hoping steam would help their breathing and maybe the warm water would wash off some energy as well.  I sat listening to them giggle and splash.  You came in and joined me.  There were plenty of dishes and laundry to keep you busy but you slid down to the cold tile floor.  We talked of nothing very interesting, I can't even remember what, but it felt good that you wanted to be with me still, we basked in the warmth of friendship resurrection.

I could see dark stuff growing on the bottom of the shower door and I sprayed and scrubbed a bit while we talked.  The slow accumulation of dirt is washed off our bodies daily but finds it's way there, to the lowest place.  Most of the time we don't notice it but then we do and it takes some work, some elbow-grease and the willingness to go lower than is comfortable.  If we just ignore it, we will be overcome by it, at least eventually. 

We thought our intimacy began in emails, long gazes, maybe on our first night together, when we really saw each other.  But we really saw each other today.  And it was ugly.  But when we still chose to stay - to say sorry like the four year olds that we are, to release forgiveness and hold on tight to each other - that's more powerful than attraction or hormones or even our wedding vows.  Our conflict isn't a red flag, it's the only path we have to each other.   It's a sign that we're being vulnerable, that we're doing something right.  We're headed somewhere together and this is hard because it's real.  Those painful moments are an invitation to be exposed, to see anew, to be forgiven, and to let love win again, at least in us. 

//open your eyes boy, i think we are saved.  open your eyes boy, i think we are saved.//


Friday, August 16, 2013

How My Kids *Actually* Play Together (in photos) & a few links for the weekend.

About 22% of the time my children play really, really well together.  But most of the time my children's play is some variation of this:

Sister, carefree with baby and pram in the winter sun.
Brother appears out of nowhere.
Sister is suspicious of his presence ...
...for good reason.  He takes her baby and runs.
Sister chases Brother,
but Brother is faster.
With Mom's help, the doll is returned to Sister's care.
But brother hands Sister the baby and takes off with the pram.

 Here's a few good reads to start off your weekend!  Enjoy!

“Beating AK47s into Shovels” - Red Letter Christians

“On peace [A guest post by Tonia Peckover]” - Deeper Story

“Breastfeeding and Following Jesus- uninviting “modesty” to the breastfeeding discussion” - The Leaky Boob

“You don’t hate me. You hate my brand.” - Rachel Held Evans

“Breaking News: Love No Longer Exists (And the World is Better Off)” - Dr. Kelly Flanagan @ Untangled

 "the ministry of funfetti" - DL Mayfield

"when your child has SMA: this is motherhood too" - Michaela Evanow


Thank you to everyone who read and shared my two posts based on Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth!

What was the best post that you read or wrote this week?  I'd love to hear!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Breaking the Beauty Myth (with 16 Girls in a Turkish Bath)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote what is by far my most widely read and shared post:  The Beauty Myth (And Why I'm Not Buying It Anymore), a quasi review of feminist and activist Naomi Wolf's 1991 book, "The Beauty Myth".  Can I just say that Naomi Wolf has actually read the post and tweeted it to her 36,000 followers?!? I was school-girl giddy to say the least.  I'm sure she does that for everyone who writes about her, but still.  I promptly retweeted her tweet to my 44 followers, I'm sure they were very happy for me.

we are going to frame this. ;)

When I first posted the blog I had a whole list of other topics I wanted to write about that related; so many more layers of openness I wanted to type out.  But then I got scared.  I suddenly felt shy and embarrassed and I haven't even written anything for two weeks.  So this is my attempt at continuing the conversation, at least for my own process, growth and healing.

My husand and son were walking in our neighbourhood shops recently when he noticed Saf was staring at a bigger than life-size poster of a woman (or maybe four women?  You can't say for sure because their faces aren't showing: a mark of objectification in advertising).  Chris asked him what he was looking at and he said, "Their private parts are showing!"  Maybe their "private parts" aren't technically showing but my son hasn't yet been desensitized to these types of images and that was his way of saying 'Something is wrong'.  Bless his little heart, I pray daily that he always sees women as people and not objects to be exploited and used as props to sell things.  I complained through a few different mediums (including unreturned phone calls to Cotton On) and the poster is still there.  I will continue to complain and also continue to withhold my business from their shop.

That evening my husband and I had a long conversation about how to protect out children, not even just from sexual abuse and pornography, but just the ill-effects of the every day media.  I don't want my daughter to think she can't be anything she dreams to be or to believe her greatest value lies in how she looks and whether or not boys are attracted to her.  (I recently watched the trailer for a documentary called "Miss Representation" which tackles this subject and looks pretty incredible, thanks for the tip Katie!). 

Where can we go to protect our children from the media, with their sponge-like hearts and minds?  I have a few Middle Eastern friends and they tell me that body image is just as bad for women in their communities, even though they are covered head to toe in loose black cloth in public.  I've traveled a bit, so tried to think about where in the world I've felt content and good about my body?  I remembered: rural South Sudan.

Over the course of three years I've spent 13 months in Sub-Saharan Africa (South Africa, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, South Sudan, Cameroon–each a unique and diverse world of it's own).  While living in these places I felt remarkably good about my body, the same body I wore when the plane touched down in Australia, but almost immediately a sense of shame and inadequacy would return.

I was surrounded by women who appreciated their bodies in so many shades of brown:  women who helped their neighbours birth babies in mud huts, who dressed and walked like royalty in their bright form-fitting attire, women who knew the traumas of war and still chose hope and return and birth.  The Cameroonian midwives couldn't believe that white women wanted to hide their breasts when they nursed their babies in public.  Sudanese Miriam taught me to carry water on my head, wash clothes and shell groundnuts by the fire where she listened to my stories and told me her own.  And I'll never forget Mama Ruth in Capetown and her soliloquy of the day that God made her, how He made her body different than the rest of the mamas–with small hips and a round tummy–but it was good.  And then God reached down and wiped gorgeous dimples on each of her cheeks, smiled and placed a plentiful gap between her front teeth.  She processed her sense of inadequacy through this captivating monologue and had us all celebrating the ways we stand out from the crowd with Divine approval.  I began to appreciate my body's uniqueness, especially my diastema.  (Did you know that a gap in your front teeth often represents fertility and good fortune in many parts of the world?)

In rural Africa I was at my heaviest weight, but I felt good. I used my biceps to pump water under starry skies, my legs to walk dusty roads into town, my hands to palpate the promise of future and child, my voice to sing with loud strumming around camp fires, my ears to listen to mother-words tell the tales my babies need to know.  I had no more than six cm of mirror to my name.  Just enough to make sure I had nothing in my teeth.  I didn't watch TV, didn't look at magazines, didn't post selfies on Facebook, didn't see anyone else's faces there either.  In fact, the internet was usually a drive (or a 4 1/2 mile walk) away.  Modesty was confidence, humility and covering your knees.  Breasts were for babies:  let them be accessible if you've got a nurseling running around.  I was busy, heart-deep in the terrifying and resurrecting work of doing life in community, when it's all out on the table and there's nowhere to run.

The freedom I felt in Africa tells me this: The problem is not with my body. The problem is with my culture and all the lies that I've grown up with.  In no way do I romanticize the place of women in many African contexts.  There is much abuse, child marriage, FGM, systematic rape and heart-breaking oppression but African women still carry themselves like queens, without the self-loathing that many western women experience.  And there are some very powerful women there, changing the world.  Have you ever seen the documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell?"  Leymah Gbowee is my hero.

The Beauty Myth is a power of it's own, like greed, violence, apathy and materialism.  It wants us to believe that we are simply individuals who are insecure about our bodies, but as I wrote last week, there is a much larger and more insidious force working against us.  It does it's best to hold us down, keep us consumed with ourselves and therefore consuming the stuff that advertisers want to sell us. But this power won't have the last word over our lives and our cultures.  I believe that Jesus' teachings, death and resurrection set us free from all of the powers that seek to enslave, steal, kill and destroy in God's good creation.  But it's still hard, isn't it? There's much work to do.   A whole lot of hard work.  Much un-learning that needs to happen, a lot of new thought patterns to adopt and maybe some deep healing–as deep as our collective wounds have gone.

So much change needs to happen within the media, especially for the protection of our children in regards to the images they are regularly exposed to.  Collective Shout, Peace is Loud and A Mighty Girl are all organizations who raise awareness, sound the battle cry, encourage and inspire women to step into their powerfully equal place in the world.  And just as much of the battle is in our own minds.  Naomi Wolf closes The Beauty Myth by noting it's not about whether we like to dress up or shave our legs, whether we wear make up or dye our graying hair–what's important is the motivation behind what we do with our bodies.  When I get dressed in the morning is it because I'm wearing self-hatred and disappointment and need something to cover it?  Or do I know without a doubt that I'm beautiful and want to share the unique beauty that I carry with the world?  She writes,

How might women act beyond the myth?  Who can say?  Maybe we will let our bodies wax and wane, enjoying the variations on a theme, and avoid pain because when something hurts us it begins to look ugly to us.  Maybe we will adorn ourselves with real delight, with the sense that we are gilding the lily.  Maybe the less pain we inflict on our bodies, the more beautiful our bodies will look to us.  Perhaps we will forget to elicit admiration from strangers, and find we don't miss it; perhaps we will await our older faces with anticipation, and be unable to see our bodies as a mass of imperfections, since there is nothing on us that is not precious.  Maybe we won't want to be the "after" anymore. (291)

I think one of my most profound experiences of body acceptance happened in Damascus, Syria.  I was doing a Middle East study abroad program based in Cairo but we traveled all the way to Istanbul by land (and a bit of water).  It was an incredible experience and I owe so much of my life today to that program and the people who taught and studied alongside of me.  One of the program's many traditions is a visit to the Turkish bath.  I was shocked and horrified when I heard this and spent at least a week with a dull ache in my stomach.  The last thing I wanted was to be naked with a bunch of beautiful, thin girls.  It wasn't just the extra pounds I had put on because of the amazing food we ate (but what a great reason to gain weight, ohmygoodness), it was all the lies I believed about what women should look like and what I thought everyone else did look like.  I didn't back out though.  I went and it was so good.  Life changing in fact.  Two hours of humidity and exfoliation by old Syrian mamas, splashing water at each other and laughing in the way you only can when completely exposed.  It was amazing to see what all of these women actually looked like: while they were all gorgeous, none of them were air-brushed or photo-shopped to perfection.  We were all pre-pregnancy and young, but none of us looked like the women in magazines or on TV.  We were way more beautiful than that.  Wolf writes, "We need, especially for the anorexic/pornographic generations, a radical rapprochement with nakedness. Many women have describe the sweeping revelation that follows even one experience of communal all-female nakedness." (280)

This may be even more true following childbirth; your body has just brought a whole new human into the world and you should feel pretty damn good about yourself.  But the stories of actresses and models getting back in bikinis six weeks after giving birth are unavoidable.  I gave birth the same weekend as BeyoncĂ© and she was back on stage waaaay before me.  (I'm still waiting for my nanny and personal trainer to show up.)  And that Hollywood pressure trickles down to us regular women: to look like a hard labour was effortless for Facebook photos and then be back in jeans two weeks later.  I still looked pregnant following the births of my two babies (BECAUSE WE ALL DO) and then my body took most of that uniquely feminine fat and made it into some pretty sweet milk (literally).  I've lost the pregnancy weight but I still tell the secrets of growing babies -  stretch marks and lactating breasts, soft skin around my tummy always, my arms now more defined with a baby generally on my hip.  I have more freckles now and my hair is darker.   Wouldn't it be great to see more real life post-baby bodies where we can affirm and celebrate the miracles that have happened?  Wouldn't it be awesome if at a baby shower all the moms who have given birth got (at least semi-) naked and showed off their pregnancy badges?  We'd probably grow more realistic expectations for ourselves.

I have found people quick to compliment my shedding of weight.  I appreciate that but I really didn't do anything to make it happen other than breastfeed my kids and sometimes take them on walks and try to eat fairly healthy (although I'm known to pick up a double cheeseburger every week or so).  What is so much more meaningful is when someone says "Wow, I see how hard you work for your kids."  The mothering is something I have much more control of and exhaust myself over (don't we all?) and when someone does encourage me in that way it makes my whole day lighter.  What kinds of compliments do I give to other women?  Does it focus primarily on hair, body and clothes?  Or do I call out the kindness I see, the confidence and truth and grace evident in their lives?  

Since reading "The Beauty Myth" I've paid close attention to the words I think about myself and others.  Thoughts can come but I don't have to take ownership of them.  The need to compare myself to others is fairly ingrained in me and I am working hard to stop that.  When that begins to happen I've decided to look at each of the women at the park or in the room, to really look at their body and then say to myself, "This is what the body of a beautiful woman looks like."  Can we all be the beautiful one?  YES YES YES!!!  I'm stepping out from under the power of the beauty caste system because within those strangling confines we all suffer and we all lose.

I want to also be very cautious about what I spend my time viewing.  Whether it's ads in a magazine or style pinboards, if it's making me feel bad about my life then I stop looking.  I'm not a Pinterest user and I know it's a great resource and organizational tool for people (who, unlike me, like to be resourced and organized) but recently I was checking out a few style boards and afterwards I told Chris, "Wow.  I feel crappy right now."  He noted that I hadn't talked like that in a long time.  Media is powerful and we need to be aware of our weaknesses.  Use it for all the good that it can do in your life and the world but we needn't subject ourselves to even subtle discouragement about the way we look, how we decorate our homes or what crafts our kids make/destroy.  [By the way, did you watch The Sapphires?  Wasn't it great to see four talented, beautiful women in the lead roles who looked very different than most of the women we see in movies?  So good.]

So maybe I won't head to South Sudan anytime soon but I'm going to keep fighting The Beauty Myth right here, for myself, my friends and the children in my life.  Sometimes that means making complaints at the mall, signing off from social media, or using it to sign petitions, going deeper in conversation than I'm naturally comfortable with or calling out the lasting beauty that I see in the women around me.  We are free from the powers of Beauty Myth, they've been found out to be lies.  And the more we learn to love our own real life bodies, just as they are, the more we will be free to love the real life bodies of our neighbours and people 'round the other side of the earth.

Barbara Brown Taylor, who talks about praying naked in front of a full length mirror says it beautifully in "An Altar in Our World",
"The first thing I understood was that it was not possible to trust that God loved all of me, including my body, without also trusting that God loved all bodies everywhere.  God loved the bodies of hungry children and indentured women along with the bodies of sleek athletes and cigar-smoking tycoons.  While we might not have one other thing in common, we all wore skin.  We all had breath and beating hearts....Wearing my skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings me into communion with all these other embodied souls.  It is what we most have in common with each other."
And if there's anything the world needs right now I think it's to realize how very much we have in common with each other.


How do you feel the media affects your view of your body?  If you've given birth, did you feel pressure to lose the weight and hide any traces of that miraculous process as quickly as possible?  Do you know of any shows or movies that portray women in realistic and empowering ways?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!