Preface: There are so many reasons to feel uncomfortable in one layer of spandex-like material while you're sitting by the pool this summer. Maybe you grew up in a purity culture where bathing suits were construed as a gateway to licentiousness and fornication. Or maybe sexual assault has left you wanting to cover up as much of you as possible. These are deep and serious issues, and I pray you find the resources to begin walking in freedom from memories and lies. (I am a huge advocate of counseling--it is life-changing!) Being in a situation that requires a swimsuit can legitimately trigger anxiety or a PTSD episode, so please know that this post is not to discount your feelings or experiences, and I pray that you find the help you need to continue healing.
"With summer comes swimsuits, with swimsuits come bikinis, and with bikinis come fresh dread and loathing," says Amanda Wortham, my friend who has written about feminine virtue and the power our bodies wield. "Fresh dread and loathing" sums up bathing suit weather for a lot of us.
If you don't love your body, and/or you don't think you'll ever be ready for swimsuit season, I totally get it. It takes bravery to be vulnerable with our bodies, and wearing a bathing suit is nothing if not vulnerable. There is almost no room for the undesirable parts of us to hide.
Have you tuned into the first season of ABC's American Housewife? Kate Mixon stars as Katie Otto, whose 'don't give a flip' attitude and brutal honesty have made her very few friends in the wealthy town of Westport, Connecticut. Her weight or size come up in nearly every (if not every) episode. I like how the show presents Katie because for the most part, she couldn't really care less about the cultural mores she's bucking. She says things that need to be said and voices observations (loudly) that most of us just think. It's a refreshing look at mom culture and the show makes me laugh a lot.
But even Katie reaches her don't-give-a-flip limits. On episode 21, "The Club," Anna-Kat is afraid of water after reading a book about a tragedy shipwreck where everyone drowned. Katie never swims at the country-club-quality public swimming pool. She knows that she is the biggest housewife and mom in Westport and she doesn't feel like being a spectacle and a target for gossip. Have you ever felt the way Katie does in this clip below?
"The Club" (episode 1.21, aired 5/2/17)
I love how Katie pushes her fears aside and bears her vulnerability for the sake of the love of her daughter (and for the sake of common hygiene--AK hasn't bathed in over a week). I love the joy on their faces as they jump into the pool together!
My family is going to Florida this summer, and we plan to take the kids to the beach. That means I get to wear my swimsuit in front of other people. Sure--it's not a problem when we swim in my parents' pool behind their privacy fence. But in front of other people? That's harder. I don't always feel that brave.
I'm going to wear my maternity swimsuit, even though I'm no longer pregnant, because it's paid for and cute. And, yes, it does accentuate my belly. (But honestly, what 'flaw' doesn't a swimming suit accentuate?) In my imagination, I can hear the whispers of my fellow beach-goers: "What is she wearing? Who does she think she is, showing us all of that belly?" In my imagination, the voices are loud. They don't even make an attempt to be quiet for the sake of my feelings; their disdain is evident to anyone within earshot. I admit, there have been days when the fear of what other people will think if I wear that has paralyzed me.
My Body Tells My Story
Maybe you've heard me say this before, but my body tells my story. The scar on my wrist is from the surgery I had when I was six because I was clumsy and fell all the time, catching myself with my hands and doing damage to the soft tissue there. Under my mother's apron is the site of my c-section scars, the marks of four surgeries I had to bring my babies into the world. My squishy body holds the weight I put on in my coping with anxiety and depression. I can look in the mirror with disdain for this body, but then I see these roadmarks, signposts of my life; they are tangible reminders of a story in which God has shown himself kind and faithful to me. When I can see my body's frame as the literal framework for the story of my life, the shame I feel over my size or my shape can start to fade. God has helped me overcome the regret; he is helping me heal from the wounds of trauma; he gives me joy as I am thankful for this body I inhabit.
The story that body tells is a good story, full of ups and downs, defeats and victories, weaknesses and strengths. I like my story, even though I recognize that I am still learning and growing (sometimes up, and sometimes out). I have chosen to be brave with my story, because it is mine and no one else's. It's a testimony to the kindness and faithfulness of a good God, of his patience and humor with me. I love sharing it! I believe that the words of Revelation 12:11 are true, that what overcomes the schemes of the devil is the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony--our stories.
And recently, I've been learning this: to be brave with my story means I get to be brave with my body. I can do little doses of brave, like a few hours at the beach on vacation.
It's one thing to be brave in a swimsuit for an hour like Katie is with Anna-Kat at the public pool, or even a few days like I'm planning to this summer. It's another thing to sustain this bravery with my body, to wear my skin with confidence and joy and thanksgiving day after day after day.
For my body bravery to be sustainable, I have to continually revisit the truth: the good news that ALL BODIES ARE GOOD BODIES. Otherwise, I find that the voices of self-hatred from within myself and the voices of body shame from our culture drown me out. And then as a Christian, what Gospel am I living by? If I live like I'm more loved when I weigh different amounts (or what size clothing I fit in or how much fat is on my body), I'm actually subscribing to a vein of prosperity gospel heresy, as if God delights more in me and blesses me more for my physical state. (I wrote more about that here.)
But if I can step back and see what is at the heart of the Gospel, what God's people are called to proclaim--it's not weight loss. It's not even bodily health. It's the year of the favor of the Lord. It's bringing freedom to the oppressed. It's bringing recovery of sight to the blind. It's proclaiming the good news to the poor. (Read more of my thoughts on this here.)
To Be Body Brave and Pro-Life
Yes, body bravery is part of being pro-life. Once we start to devalue bodies based on their appearance or level of function, it leads to oppression and death. The weak, the sick, the wounded, the disabled, the unborn--these humans need us to be bold in proclaiming the goodness of all bodies. The elderly need to hear us say that all bodies are good bodies. The unborn need us to fight for the reality that their bodies are good, also, no matter their gender or prenatal diagnosis. Our culture needs to hear us shouting--with our words and our actions--that all bodies are good bodies, so that each person is treated with dignity--precious persons with Down Syndrome, precious persons with terminal illnesses, precious persons afflicted with self-hatred because their bodies don't fit our cultural standard of beauty.
Living like this can start with something as simple--and as daunting--as being confident in wearing your bathing suit.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that our human bodies share in the dignity of God's image (CCC ❡❡ 364). As a Catholic Christian, I am "obliged to regard [my] body as good and to hold it in honour since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day" (CCC ❡❡ 364). When we despise our own bodies for our perceived or real weakness, what does that say about the bodies of the people around us?
When I conquer the voices--inside and outside of my head--and choose to believe that my body is good no matter my size, ability, gender, ethnicity, orientation--I am preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. By upholding the goodness of all bodies, we speak the truth of God's good creation and his redemptive love for us.
God created you and says you are a good creation. He delights in you and loves you. He was grieved when his good creations, Adam and Eve, chose their own will above his, causing them to be separated from him. But he sent us a rescuer, his only Son, Jesus. You can know the God who *took on a body* and who suffered ridicule, mocking, and death, committing himself to the Father's hands. Suffering is not without hope--it's redemptive. He rose again physically and still bears the wounds of the cross on his resurrected body. His body bears the marks of sin being conquered by love.
Jesus's body tells his story. Will you let your body tell your story?
Will you be body brave so that others will see that you truly believe that all bodies are good bodies, worthy of love and to be treated with dignity, no matter their size or ability?
It may sound trivial, but I don't think it is. This swimsuit season, I'm going to wear my bathing suit on purpose, so that the way I think about and talk about my body preaches the goodness of all bodies.
This is my goal. Join me? Country club, public pool, or beach front, we can model the truth for our daughters, our sons, our parents, our grandparents, our unborn children, our neighbors, ourselves. I believe that my body is good, and that yours is, too. Let's go swimming!
Other posts of interest at FatinChurch.com
Why the Hashtag #allbodiesaregoodbodies Is Right
To All the Fat Girls
Dignity: 2017's Word of the Year
The Luxury of Weight Loss
The Morality of Fatness
Is It a Sin to be Fat?
What Your Fat Friend Needs from You
Are You Biased Against Fat People?
Making Room for Fat Christians
Talking With Your Kids About Fat People
Cultivating a Holy Love for Your Body
Fitting Back Into My Body After Pregnancy (for the 4th time)
Fitness Virtue Signaling