I’ve struggled with body image most of my life. This largely stems from my nine year stint as a gymnast, having participated in a sport that prized perfect, petite, puerile physiques. In the gymnastics world, if you were taller than 5’2’’, heavier than 90 pounds, or older than 18, you were past your prime, and for all competitive purposes, had peaked.
As an adult, this has translated into a distorted perception of what my body looks like, a general discontentment with my appearance, and at times, an unhealthy relationship with exercise. Strangely this has also manifested in a desire to look like either extreme on what I deem the “body attractiveness spectrum”—in an ideal world, I’d prefer to be a curvy, voluptuous African-American woman or a waif-like European model with a significant thigh gap.
Several months ago, I realized that I spend a tremendous amount of mental energy wishing I looked like someone else; preferably one of these two extremes. As evident (and humorous) as it seems, it’s taken me over a decade to realize that this will never happen. I will never inhabit either end of this spectrum; my body wasn’t engineered that way. Gymnastics breeds athletic bodies. Thus, even now, whether I like it or not, I’m prone to muscles; I’m destined to be sporty. Needless to say, I exist somewhere else on the continuum.
Recognition, acceptance, and acting on this acceptance are different things (they too exist at varying points on what I deem the “reality spectrum”), and thus, it’s taken me longer to accept this realization, and even longer to act on it.
Accepting this fact, and consciously deciding to act on it, has freed up my brain space to start investing in a healthy self-perception (correctly acknowledging what my actual body looks like), and in the fitness arena, contemplating what my body is actually capable of achieving. It has allowed me to re-conceptualize what ideal is for my body type, and has liberated me from fixating on the unrealistic. It has prompted me to ask how I can turn my body into the best version it can be; how I can best use these raw materials to promote a realistic appearance that I’m happy with.
The above was an epiphany (hence the extensive backstory); yet, it was quickly followed by another one, which for me, was just as (if not more) revelatory.
I also struggle with theology image. This largely stems from my own intellectual insecurities, self-imposed pressure, fear of judgment, imposter syndrome, and a resistance to take ownership over the talents God has given me. Similarly, this has manifested in a distorted perception of my theological capabilities, self-limiting thoughts, and a fixation on what I don’t know, but in my opinion, should know.
In struggling to find my theological niche, in trying to figure out what, and how, I can contribute to the theological world, I find myself longing to be at either end of what I deem the “theological genius spectrum”—in an ideal world, I’d have the theological brilliance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Saint Augustine. Strangely, in order to pull my weight in this area of study, or offer anything of value, I feel as if I need to be on par with these theological giants.
Again, as evident (and humorous) as it seems, I’ve recently realized that I will never be Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Saint Augustine (gender aside). I simply exist at a different spot on the continuum.
Accepting this fact, and consciously choosing to act on it, has allowed me to more accurately assess what my actual theological skills are, has prompted me to challenge faulty perceptions, and has motivated me to re-conceptualize what it means for me to be the best theological version of myself. It’s guided me in discerning the raw materials God has graciously given me, and freed me to imagine how I can best use these for his Kingdom. It’s inspired me to invest what I have in God’s economy, recognizing that my perceived shortcomings don’t absolve me of the responsibility to preach, teach, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
Above all, it’s taught me to sit comfortably and confidently, trusting that God has, and will, continue to work through me right where I am, at this particular spot on the spectrum.