Happy 2010! 'Tis the season, of course, for resolutions, and for women, it seems to be expected that many of those will involve our bodies and attempting to transform them into The American Ideal for 2010, or at least prevent them from getting any further from The Ideal than they are already.
Being healthy is always a good goal, but the longer I live, the more incensed I become at our culture's insistence that God really did a lousy job of creating women. Ina May Gaskin makes excellent points about the whole "the-female-body-is-a-lemon" mindset that pervades the medical profession. We lament the problem that so many of us have with self-image, but it is little wonder when we are told constantly that we are physical failures.
Very few women that I know naturally fit the shape that our current culture appreciates. However, looking back a few decades is a good reminder at how capricious this is. I would never make it with the Twiggy look--I'm much more the 1950's curvy type. I have gorgeous friends who would actually fit more naturally into the '70s, though. And if you are prepared to look outside the US for standards of feminine beauty, or simply to art from a century or two ago, you'll find an even wider range. Interestingly, it seems to always favor the wealthy (those who can afford more food/better food/gym memberships/servants), and often involves incapacitating the woman (think of things like corsets or bound feet).
It isn't just beauty standards, either. Two of the things that are unique to women--child birth and breastfeeding--have also been denigrated and medicalized until most women believe themselves incapable of either. Our current C-section rate is 1 in 3. Now, I am grateful that they are an option when medically warranted, but do we seriously believe that one out of three women is incapable of giving birth normally? Really? Even an uncomplicated vaginal birth is assumed to be a death-defying act where only an epidural and a range of high-tech equipment and specialists keep the woman and child safe from betrayal by her incompetent body.
Breastfeeding rates are also dismal. Of course, there are many reasons for that, but it is appalling to me how many women truly want to breastfeed and yet are told that they can't make enough milk/their milk isn't good enough/their breasts are too big/too small/whatever. We are convinced that cows are better at nourishing our human babies than their human mothers. Do we honestly believe that God created plants and animals and it was good, but when He got to women He messed up so catastrophically?
Go back and read the beginning of Genesis. Not just men, but male and female are created in God's image. I think that our Bible translations and our culture often give us the false impression that God is male. Yes, we use the masculine pronouns, and yes, He appeared on Earth as a man, but He is Spirit. He isn't male, or rather, He is male and female. He is complete. (The Aztecs and many other peoples realized this).
Now, a few people are probably ready to grab some stones and charge me with heresy, but the Bible actually uses intensely feminine imagery at times when referring to God. Aside from the Genesis account that straightforwardly declares that both male and female were made in God's image, Deuteronomy 32:18, exhorting God's people to turn back to Him, talks about the God who writhed (or danced!) in the act of giving birth to them, although that is obscured in the KJV. There are other passages, as well, not to mention beautiful references to breastfeeding throughout the Bible.
Our female bodies, that have been condemned as incompetent by our culture, are actually gloriously, wonderfully made. So this year, as you consider steps to improve the amazing design we've been given, consider what a beautiful woman you are. God made your body. And it is good.