Last Sunday, I wore a sleeveless blouse and Capri pants to church, because it was an inexplicably warm Easter morning, and I was too lazy for a dress but not lazy enough to wear jeans. Apparently my pasty winter-white skin caught in the balcony sunshine during the service, making at least one person notice my arms, which she complimented on a social networking site. The social networking site.
That small comment has made me into an adolescent boy all week. I’ve been walking around the house, flexing my arms before mirrors, pumping biceps for my kids to admire. I thought about wearing a muscle shirt to teach in, so students could also gaze upon my apparently nice arms, but then remembered muscle shirts went out in the 80s, and probably don’t go that hot with khaki slacks.
Turns out, middle age has been so much a bitch lately that any little positive comment about my self—and in particular, my middle aging body—makes me into a narcissist. But one with low esteem.
You see, I never thought I’d be one of those women, dragged kicking and screaming into her 40s. Even five years ago, I assumed I’d enter middle age gracefully, full of Oprah confidence about being my own best self. Here I am, though, my dimpled legs thrashing around, trying to resist the inevitable: that I am getting older. That my time on earth is, if I’m lucky and live into my 80s, half-way over. That I am—gulp!—middle aged.
Sometimes I hear those commercials on the radio, about products for women over 40 with their stubborn unwanted belly fat. And I think, is belly fat ever wanted? Plus, damn; that product is meant for me. The advertisements for over-40 sleep aids and hot flashes and anti-wobbly-neck devices fill me with dread. I can see the writing on the wall. Soon, too soon, I’ll be wearing more turtlenecks to hide my waddle (and when I’m wearing turtlenecks, no one will see my nice arms).
Recently, inspired by a blog post I read, I’ve started a ritual intended as an antidote to my middle aged angst. I’ve been auditing a yoga class twice a week, which at George Fox is called “Core Strength and Training” because yoga is of the devil or something (and yoga classes seem so middle age woman, don’t they?). During twice-weekly class, as part of my practice in relaxed breathing, I’ve been telling myself this: I am created in God’s image.
Actually, my focused thinking at yoga goes more like this: Damn planks are hard. What time is it? I am created in God’s image. Can that student behind me see my butt looming in downward dog? What’s for lunch? I am created in God’s image.
Okay, so I’m still learning to be zen in yoga. But the thing I want to say, long to say, over and over, is this: I am created in God’s image.
I am created in God’s image.
It’s a mantra I’ve carried now into other aspects of my life, a reminder when I’m walking to class, or driving my kids yet one more place, or sitting in my office, despairing about the work I must do: Even in my middle-aged brokenness, my stubborn unwanted belly fat, my sagging eyelids and insecurity and longing to be known, I am created in God’s image. And more than that, I tell myself: Christ’s light lives in me.
Sometimes, I feel kind of like Stuart Smalley as I breathe my mantra: you know, that Saturday Night Live character who spoke a daily affirmation into his mirror: “I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Though it seems silly, I think this intonation is working. When I remind myself that I’m created in God’s image, I’m a little easier on myself, on my aging body and on the things I have—and have not—done during my life’s first half.
Knowing how hard it is to convince myself that I’m created in God’s image, I imagine this affirmation might be even harder for others, so broken in body and spirit they cannot imagine God incarnating a body like theirs.
And, there are aspects of culture that make this idea of being created in the image of God especially difficult for women: because our culture idolizes a certain standard of beauty, making those who fail to reach that standard feel less glorious, less beautiful, less loved. Because our culture idolizes youth and lithe bodies and unblemished faces, making women who are older hidden by what a Feministing writer calls an “invisibility cloak” of age.
In Christian culture, too, women hear they are created in God’s image, but God is a Father and a King. That they are created in God’s image, but God will only speak through men. That they are created in God’s image, but it’s best that they remain silent, submissive, and under the headship of someone else who is created more in God’s image. And, as Kendra wrote for Wednesday’s post, some women are presumably led to believe they are created in God’s image even as their husbands spank—no, hit—them into docility.
I have only middle age and the crappy messages of my culture to make me question whether I am made in God’s image; others, I know, are fighting against so much more, and are no doubt beaten, battered, silenced so that they cannot believe that they are created in God’s image, nor that the light of Christ could ever inhabit their broken shells.
It’s time to say enough. Enough to messages about stubborn unwanted belly fat, sure. But more significantly, enough to messages for our culture telling us that when the Bible says we are made in God’s image, it means that some are made more in God’s image than are others.
I guess you might say I’m on a campaign to make sure those messages do no more damage than they already have. And I’m starting with myself. I was created in God’s image. Being a middle-aged, and a woman, doesn’t modify that notion.