A few weeks ago, Toby and I headed to Phoenix for a trip part-business, part-sweet relief. Days were filled with meetings, but nights were our chance to unwind, restore, and simply breathe. We knew that Arizona was going to be warmer than Alaska, but we were not at all prepared for the onslaught of heat that would overtake us. (We actually packed at the last minute, and brought our wool socks to the desert. Seriously. We truly needed a break.)
It took awhile, but finally I braved the heat and found myself down by the pool, reading and sleeping, but mostly watching.
Pool life is a sort of strange phenomenon for me. Growing up in Alaska, and in a highly conservative home at that, I didn’t have a tremendous amount of exposure to watching people who were fairly exposed themselves. As odd as it sounds, at 39, I can’t remember ever enjoying the refreshment or entertainment of a public pool.
As I sat and observed, I felt so freed watching the varieties of people meander by.
I witnessed people parading around in swimsuits and sundresses in all shades of human condition: Short, tall, skinny, large, very large, elderly, children, dark, light, jiggly, solid, wrinkly, scarred, glossy. It was beautiful.
I saw one delightful woman, probably topping three hundred pounds, sunning herself in a corner, laughing at her two healthy boys splashing water on each other; their joy was infectious.
I watched a young, freckled, acne-faced boy so skinny his chest caved in, flirting with three incredibly beautiful girls – completely oblivious of his awe.
I smiled as moms of every fruity shape scurried around trying to catch their teetering toddlers walking toward the edge of the wading pool, all the while begging for help from billowy, swim-sweatered husbands.
I giggled as a strutting teen paraded around and around the park, singing jazz tunes and scatting at the top of his lungs; he was either practicing for American Idol or hoping that a talent scout would recognize his gift and sign him up on the spot. I remembered being him.
All of my life I’ve felt insecure about my body. It’s certainly not a bad body; in fact, it’s fairly decent if I do say so myself. But it isn’t perfect, and that’s what I always felt it should be. Soaking up the sun and diversity, I began to reflect on how many years and moments had been stolen from me by physique intimidation and the assumption that I wasn’t what I should be.
I have also known friends who were so overwhelmed and disappointed by their appearance that anything in life that didn’t go as planned was attributed to the fact that their hair was curly, or they were too thin, or maybe their boobs were too small. Loss of job. Lack of a good deal on a car. No marriage proposals. Marriage breakups. No record deal offers. All because of a flurry of freckles.
The sad part is that so many of us are so desperate to change our lives, that instead of focusing on the internal aspects of what really makes us frustrated, sad or miserable, we turn to the easy, quick fixes of the obvious. We blow money on quick, easy, unhealthy meals, but can’t justify spending extra on high-quality, natural, fresh food. Many will balk at spending $100 an hour at a therapist’s office, but will drop thousands on external attempts of self-worth: new cars, plastic surgery, clothes. Others do whatever they can to stack the deck of the natural appearance through loud clothes, overly-done hair and accessorizing like it’s the Senior Prom.
Poolside, as I saw myself in the images all around me, I began to feel like I belonged to this human race. I wasn’t odd. I didn’t stick out. Slowly, I began to relax, unashamed of my mom-arms, short stature, not so girlie muscles, freckles, red hair and white, “ivory”, almost translucent skin (I’m Alaskan, baby!).
This is as good as it gets, and it really is good.
Psalm 139:14 says that by God, we were all “fearfully and wonderfully made”. In The Message, it says,
“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.”
I had heard it all before. But, somehow, now I know this. I should have known this years ago. But, that’s okay. Better late than never. No harm, no foul. I’ll take this new discovery of self-acceptance with me into the next 40 years.