I am getting older. The truth is, I am already old as far as my body tells me. The aches and pains of ageing are real. The physical appearances change as well with ageing. My black hair has long disappeared, my trim and fit body left on the same boat as my hair. It would be quite understandable to look in the mirror and then hate what was reflected there. But, I don’t hate the visible signs of my mortality.
Perhaps the most courageous thing anyone can do is to confront the reality of themselves. In today’s world of mass media doing its best to sell us anything and everything, and in the process convincing us that we are not okay, we are not beautiful or handsome, we are not smart enough, we are not spiritual enough, we aren’t even lovable without the goods and services that they are more than willing to sell to us, it takes courage to look in the mirror at oneself without clothing.
I don’t think very many of us realise just how influential we are in the lives of the people around us. Beginning with our children, what do we teach them about being brave? We have long known that our children learn from what we do, not what we say. We teach them about being individuals, about standing up for what they believe in, as well as many other important values. Yet, what do we do to make our words become more than simply meaningless babble for our children? How do we teach our daughters about body acceptance?
I know that we typically tell our daughters they are beautiful just the way God made them, even when by societal standards there are a few (or more) things about their body that is called into question. And almost in the same moment in time we deny our own beauty as we head to gyms, buy the latest diet book, invest in aesthetic plastic surgery, etc. Our children aren’t stupid. They learn that parents are supposed to say they are beautiful in their natural state, but the also learn that their parents don’t believe that humans are naturally beautiful. They see their parents hide their natural beauty as humans, and they get the message that they too need to hide their natural beauty and replace it with brand names, the latest styles of clothing and so on. Our children see what we do and learn the real message, the truth that they must hide their natural bodies, and even their natural person. We teach them to trust in clothing, in masks and “polite” lies. We teach them that it is unnatural and even immoral to be “natural.”
Why? Fear. Yes, it does come down to fear. This fear is at an existential level, a spiritual level, and a societal level. It is about risking and daring the unknown, risking censure, ridicule, safety and perhaps even love. We are born trusting but soon learn to be afraid – afraid that mother and her milk will not be there. We learn to be afraid when we begin to deal with our human spirit as we get taught and told how humans are sinners and that sinners go to hell where we will burn in eternal darkness unless . . . And for each of us, that “unless” is tied into everything we eat, everything we think, everything we do and pointedly, it is tied to our naked bodies.
“Embarking on a spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on the ocean to search for unknown lands. . . . but sooner or later we will also encounter fear. For all we know, when we get to the horizon, we are going to drop off the edge of the world.” [Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 1]
So with that fear, a fear that goes down into our very souls, we hide and lie about who we are. At least we hope we can hide enough so that our life within our families and our communities and our churches can be less fearful. As we hide from the world behind clothing and roles and disguises, we hide from ourselves. We learn almost too late, if we learn at all, that each and every person out there is just as afraid as we are, even our church leaders and law makers. I share that fear with each of you; after all, like you, I am human.
Yes I am afraid and I am human, but I am tired of lying to myself and believing in the lies of a world that is just as insecure or even more insecure, as myself. This is part of the reasons, the rationale, for the existence of this blog site. I am finally daring to be me, imperfect but human.