I wore the bikini to the church baptism to get the stares. Proud of the thirty pounds I dropped in four months with Weight Watchers, I snapped on that periwinkle two piece . I didn’t give it a second thought. I loved the expensive Nautica label, the halter top, and the neat blue trim. When I looked at how perfectly it sat on my hips, a little snug, I imagined my husband admiring my thin waste and being proud of his hot wife. I grabbed my two-year old by the hand and walked by the chain link fence, right onto the deck of the private pool my church had rented out for our annual dunking.
I wish someone had told me a baptism wasn’t the place or the time to show my skin.
I remember exactly what I was thinking: I look good. I’m worth it. I’ve worked hard for this. Inside, I was dying for affirmation. Someone notice me. Do I have an ounce of beauty left? Tell me so I feel gorgeous and young again. (This at 28!) Now I wish someone had told me a baptism wasn’t the place or the time to show my skin.
As I scanned the larger pool from my guard post by the kiddy area, I checked out the other moms in their one-pieces and T-shirts. I felt superior and headstrong, like I was sixteen again. I was smug and judgmental and I felt like the hippest mom ever. Like I could do it all. Be it all. As a young mother and wife, I was recovering from postpartum depression and being left alone while my husband worked 60-80 hour weeks. I was a hopeless wreck inside with everything seemingly right on the outside. I put my trust in what I thought was my greatest asset: my body.
It doesn’t matter what people thought of me that night. It matters what I was trying to say with my skin. I stood closely with men and women who were there to hear stories of how Christ changed people’s lives, to see them rise out of the water weeping and made whole. Going under the water, chlorinated or not, a person symbolically washes away the old life (habits, patterns, etc.) before announcing belief in Jesus Christ. The night was supposed to be all about Jesus, but I was making it all about me.
It doesn’t matter what people thought of me that night. It matters what I was trying to say with my skin.
In places like Hawaii or South America, no one may give a second thought to a bikini at a baptism. My Midwest America leans more toward conservative mom cover-the-assets-well beachwear. I remember hating that about being a mom in the Midwest. I remember hating myself after that night.
I had a conversation with a nice guy there. He stood very close to me and thankfully looked at my eyes the entire time. He didn’t try to check me out. He didn’t invade my space or say anything inappropriate. He looked at my face as we talked and then he walked away. His honorable behavior pinned my conscious to the floor.
I realized I almost wanted someone to stare at what little cleavage I had. I wanted to valued, by my husband or by anyway else, man or woman. It didn’t matter. I just wanted to be told I mattered, even if it was just for my appearance.
Call me shallow. Call me a fool. I was. I would have told you differently at the time. I would have told you beauty was on the inside and clothes don’t make the girl and all that nice stuff. I was good at giving off the confident-woman vibe. Of course, I loved myself and I knew God loved me just as I am, like the old hymn says. The problem was: it was all a ruse.
After that night, I don’t know why, but I went to the library. I checked out a thick book called A Return To Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit. I read it cover to cover. She said modesty was more than a lost virtue, it was beautiful and good and very feminine. Her words resonated with something in my soul: Modesty is counter-cultural and significant and something worth fighting for.
I didn’t know a single thing about beauty or God’s love or what it means to be a confident woman.
Shortly after reading that, I was in a drama at church playing the obscure role of Body Image. I was supposed to wear something a bit revealing for the character’s sake. But I couldn’t bring myself to flaunt the lowcut halter neckline on stage before my church family and God. I was too embarrassed. I had to ask myself: why would I do the same thing at the pool?
“Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for?”
I remember the struggle I felt every time I wore something tight or revealing after that. On the one hand, I wanted to look beautiful for my husband and admittedly, anyone else. On the other, I began to see I didn’t know a single thing about beauty or God’s love or what it means to be a confident woman.
That twenty-something woman, now a thirty-something, still fights the urge to find admiration in the wrong places. I know I won’t win the award for modesty or discretion (though I am learning what that means daily as my husband and I raise a long-legged beautiful young daughter). I don’t have inner beauty or confidence figured out.
I’m like any other woman who hates her body a lot of days and hangs on every praiseworthy word my husband offers. How he looks beyond spider veins, stretch marks, acne, and gray hair befuddles me most days. He asked me once, “Why do you need to hear ‘you’re beautiful’ so much?” Because, darling, you are the voice of God to me. You are the reminder that He loves me. I need to hear it every single day. Every single moment. Because sometimes I still don’t believe it.
The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you.
Because being desired for my skin has often been the only love I could allow myself to receive, however broken, however untrue.
Three years ago I heard Liz Curtis Higgs tell an arena of women to stand in front of the mirror every day, and say, “Ta Da!” I did it. A lot. It felt marvelous! My young daughter stared, her eyebrow lifted, “WHAT are you doing?”
“Telling myself God loves me, honey.” As often as needed. Forever.
God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. -1 Corinthians 6:20, The Message (MSG)
I love that clueless mother I was back in my twenties. She was pretty screwed up inside, but I love her because she was bold and headstrong and was trying her best with what God gave her. I love how she took her daughter to a baptism and the Holy Spirit moved her heart. I love how she began to realize her body was not her greatest asset, but rather, Christ’s love in her, pouring out in tender kisses on her daughter’s forehead. Two years later, giving up her body for the team again to a nine pound, six ounce boy.
This is the truest kind of love, the one that looks past the flab and the folds, wrinkles and sags, the cellulite and age spots. She didn’t know what she was doing or where she was going, but she was learning how to give love so she could receive it.
This is the love she received freely a few years later on a beach in Canada when she opened her hands and heart to heaven. She was empty. Nothing she did, or was, or created could make God love her more. He made her good and lovely and bought with a price. He stood very close, looked straight at her and saw everything.
This is the first post in a 3-part weekly series called SKIN: Underneath the Layers Lies the Truth.