I Love to See the Temple?

“What are some words used to describe a temple?”

I stood in front of the class and wrote everyone’s suggestions on the chalkboard: holy, beautiful, reverent, sacred, clean, quiet, peaceful, the house of God, divine, sanctuary.

Next, I turned to the lesson manual and read aloud the first line verbatim, “Our bodies are temples.” I paused for a second and then asked the class if they ever use these same words to describe their bodies. The women kind of chuckled and looked around incredulous. It was the response I expected. The knowing glances and ironic smirks told of a shared understanding of the world. Women hate their bodies. That was a given.

I pushed further. I went down the list. I said, “My body is divine.” “My body is beautiful.” “My body is holy.” “My body is sacred.” My body is clean, peaceful, quiet and reverent.” “My body is the house of God.” “My body is a sanctuary.”

I asked the class to imagine how their lives would be different if they saw their bodies as temples. Literally. As temporal housing for a spiritual being. As a place for a god to dwell on earth. As the physical symbol of a divine purpose. As something to be treasured, respected, and cherished. We talked for a minute but then I had to move on to the rest of the lesson.

I didn’t want to stop. I wished we could keep talking about this. I needed some answers.

But it is not what you think. I am not struggling with body image, disordered eating, or self-esteem. It’s the opposite. I am enamored with my body. Proud. Grateful. Content.

It might have something to do with the fact that I have spent the last two years of my life being sick. I lived on another continent and fought through four bouts of malaria, two cases of typhoid fever, ear infections, oesophagitis, and more Montezuma’s revenge than is appropriate to share. I got home, got healthy, got pregnant, and then went through ten months of continual morning sickness. I vomited day and night, with pills or without, no matter what I ate or what I did. I was miserable and depressed. I wanted my mind and my body back.

The culmination of these physically difficult years was giving birth. It was traumatic and extraordinary at the same time. Feeling everything gave me something that I had not anticipated. It gave me a sense of control. It felt like I triumphed over all of the things I could not control in the past– mosquitoes, bacteria, viruses, and nausea. It was my own personal summit.

The second my daughter was out of my body I felt amazing. I felt strong and able. Quick and clear headed. It has been almost a year and I am still basking in that joy. I feel healthy and strong. My body is far from “perfect” but I adore it. I am grateful every single day for it.

I see my daughter’s little pot belly arching over her diaper and smile looking down at my little pouch still loose and round. I know I should be ashamed of it, hide it, talk disparaging about it, but right now the only word I can think of is cute. Cute like her little belly. We match.

But I am afraid. I am afraid this feeling is fleeting. I am afraid for the day when I will start hating my baby belly. I am afraid that health is not enough to sustain bodily love. I am afraid because I have no examples to look up to.

While I love the women in my life, both Mormon and non-Mormon, most women I know hate their bodies. They say horrible things about themselves. They punish, critique, ignore, abuse, change, and refuse to acknowledge their current form. They talk about baby weight, boob jobs, sizes, scales, bad foods, good foods, diets, and someday.

I have never once heard another woman talk about their body as though it was a temple.

Why is that? Do you love your body? What has helped you get to that point? How can we help others love their bodies? How does seeing your body as a temple change the way you treat it?

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37 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    I wish this had been posted a few days ago before my lesson on the Word of Wisdom. Absolutely wonderful post.
    Looking at art, prehistoric, to the 1800s helps me feel better about my body.
    I had a similar feeling as you not just after pregnancy but during the whole of it. I refer to it as pregnancy induced mania. It faded when each child was weaned.

  2. “We talked for a minute but then I had to move on to the rest of the lesson.”
    Feeling like you needed to continue the rest of the lesson even though you were getting a good discussion on this portion seems kind of like not honoring your body. The spirit should not be subjugated to a notion of the “perfect” lesson that covers every topic in the manual.

    • Emily says:

      I’m in Whoa-man’s ward and was there for her lesson, and it was wonderful. To understand why Whoa-man had to move on to the lesson is a whole other conversation in and of itself. Let’s just say our ward is kind of orthodox, and this was the writer’s first time teaching since receiving a flood of criticism (not directly, but through our bishop) after her last lesson. I think she transitioned to the lesson very naturally, and, given the climate in Relief Society, she did the right thing. Love you, Whoa-man!

      • Kelly Ann says:

        This comment makes me sad. I hope the lesson was well received. In our word of wisdom lesson, we got onto the discussion of body image as well. I definitely think it is something that could warrant more conversation and I really like your approach. We should reverence our bodies as holy. But it is interesting, when I think of the temple, I also now think of words like complex, challenging, and frustrating. So I try to think that if our bodies are temples it is ok that they are those things too.

      • Whoa-man says:

        Thanks Emily! There is always more complexity to situations than meets the eye.

        Kelly Ann, I love that idea and thought about that a lot too. Obviously, I couldn’t bring it up in my ward. But I also have a lot of anxiety, questions, and frustration with parts of the temple ritual. In that way, I feel like this analogy works even better!

  3. Sandra Nixon says:

    I fully agree with you!! I feel so good about myself after I have a baby. I feel so grateful to have a body that is strong enough not only to grow and bear a child but to nourish it after it is born. I never felt better about my body than I have in the years since I had my boys. Now I am pregnant again and sometimes feel a bit upset with my body for feeling so lousy all the time but then I pray and remember how glad I am to be pregnant, it is such a gift!
    When you mentioned that you are worried about your love of your body fading as you get further away from your childs birth…it helped me to realize that I had started to get away from my love of my body about 2 years after my last boy was born. Although my weight didn’t change, i looked the same, I began to nit pick at it and want to loose weight that didn’t need to loose. It really is hard to keep a good feeling about your body with the media and satan always trying to bring us down. So anyway, great reminder not to let that proud, grateful feeling go!!

  4. Corktree says:

    This is a timely topic Whoa-man!

    I can relate to the feeling of bodily empowerment and self love right after birth, but for me it fades very quickly as my hormones refuse to normalize and I *gain* weight breastfeeding rather than lose. Add to that the extra weight from a pregnancy that wasn’t recovered from and I had a good size amount of body hate until recently.

    But I just looked at my body in the mirror this morning, and felt something very different. Not only has yoga brought me some peace with my mind, but it’s given me a new starting point for peace with my body. I look at pictures of myself 15 pounds lighter from now (still overweight) and I don’t cringe. It could be that I was 15 pounds *heavier* two months ago and my perspective is just shifted, but I no longer believe that my health is tied to a number, so I’ve been able to create a broader “goal” for myself. Somehow I know I could be happy even if I don’t reach the ultimate end point that I used to desire. Having strength and ability and health has finally become more important than pant size. And I really didn’t think it could. I feel like something fundamental has changed. My ideal has become something so much more important, and I can see myself as beautiful and valuable already, which I think is allowing my body to finally let go and reach its full potential – which probably means losing more weight, but that’s secondary. I *see* myself differently, and it’s wonderful!

    Also interesting, we had the WoW lesson on Sunday, and aside from my other issues with it, I was shocked to hear someone state as fact that our bodies are NOT our own. That they belong to God. Has anyone ever heard that before? For some reason, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it quite that way. “Given”, sure, but not ours? I think they are ours in the way that we own our agency: also “given” by God, but something that we now have the ability to give back and choose what we do with.

  5. EM says:

    Love the post. As I get older I’m beginning to appreciate my body more and more. The way I see it I’ve earned every ounce of fat, wrinkle, and sag, and I’m okay with that. It’s not a perfect body, but it’s all mine and it’s seen me through thick and thin and 4 kids, and a myriad of hard working events. Corktree interesting that you mention that you heard it said “our bodies belong to God”. When raising my kids I told them that their bodies belonged to the Saviour because he “bought and paid” for them with his life, and we need to do all we can to respect and honour them. That seemed to resonate with them, except with my youngest when she decided that tattoos were a good thing – aarrgh! Oh well free agency.

  6. MB says:

    Love the segue from temples to bodies. Nicely done.

    I’ve wondered about why it is that so many of us disparage our bodies. I come from a family with a passle of sisters. We all grew up in the same home, went to the same church growing up and attended the same high schools. All of us lived and worked overseas in our late teens or our twenties. All of have had and lead generally healthy lives though none of us are athletes. We are all about the same size. And, with all that, some of us are content and enjoy our bodies and some of us are ambivalent and some of us continually change it or contemplate changing it to reduce our sense of dissatisfaction. Some of us laugh about aging and embrace it and some of us fear and resent growing older.

    So my family experience leads me to believe that it’s not the family you grow up in or the church you attend or the high school you attended or your international or domestic view of life that makes the difference in your ability to enjoy and appreciate your body. So what’s left? Your friends, perhaps? Or your temperament and inclinations? Or the media you respect? Or the expectations of your profession and the people you perceive as powerful? Or habits of self-doubt? Or our habits of using self-disparagment as a socially acceptable form of humor?

    Perhaps all of the above. Good to think about while raising or working with girls.

  7. TopHat says:

    What has helped me love my body is having my daughter and hoping that she loves her body. When I look at her, she is perfect and wonderful and no amount of extra or lack of weight is going to change how I see her. Then, when I put that perspective on myself and the way God sees me, I appreciate my body more.

  8. Becky says:

    I was completely with you until you included bad foods and good foods in that list of things you don’t like hearing women talk about. I feel strongly that being aware of the impact of how we treat our bodies, including what we put into them through our mouths, is totally bound up with thinking of them as a temple. I don’t advocate a sweets and junk-food free existence, but I do think many of us have gotten out of touch enough with our physical reactions to our food that it’s important to allow space to discuss that.

    • Corktree says:

      I get what you’re saying Becky, but I don’t think Whoa-man was saying advocating healthier choices in discussion was bad, probably just the obsession over good, bad, right and wrong.

      I’m currently eating a gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, high fat, mostly raw, pastured, whole foods diet. Not to lose weight but to gain health; but it wasn’t until I stopped obsessing over what I ate that I started to lose weight, and naturally I feel pretty good, but I’m careful with how I present what I’ve learned to people. I think there is a big difference in context when we talk about good and bad as relating to how it makes us look verses how it makes us feel. Not inseparable, but a lot of negativity and false measurements of health come from focusing on what we think will make us fat or not.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Exactly, Corktree.

      Becky, my problem with people discussing food as good or bad or themselves as good and bad based on what they eat is that it moralizes food. It reinforces the emotion, value, worth, control and judgment in our culture of food and eating. In this way food goes from being something that sustains and nourishes us to something we use as a coping mechanism. It changes the natural patterns of eating– i.e. eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full, listen to your body, etc.– into psychologically laden decisions.

      I don’t mind people discussing healthy and unhealthy foods, I just know from my experience working in the field of eating disorders that moralizing eating changes everything about it.

  9. Caroline says:

    What a beautiful post, Whoa-man. I’m someone who mentally beats herself up for not having lost all the baby weight, so I need reminders like this to love my body.

  10. mellifera says:

    “What has helped you get to that point?”

    One word: hula!

    There’s nothing that makes you realize there might be a different way to think about our bodies like having a big, beautiful Hawai’ian lady who’s comfortable with herself teaching you how to make big hips look awesome.

    Also, in the related ote’a dance, your goal is to shake your hips hard enough that the fat on your backside shimmies. It’s SUPPOSED to do that. It’s really hard to convince white girls this is a good idea. But once you figure out that you can’t ote’a while clenching your butt– which you think is a good idea because, being a white girl, you’re used to dance forms like ballet where body fat is persona non grata– the shimmy makes it look PHENOM. It’s HOT. Let ’em rip(ple)!

    Hawai’ian hula originally had two purposes– dancing for entertainment, but also for worship and telling sacred stories. Perhaps imagine if when we went to the temple, the endowment were acted out by hula dancers (!!!); it was that important. Your body enacted the story. Your arms, your hips, and your legs were your sacred voice. And the bigger your body, buddy, the louder your voice. We had a wee little skinnylegs on our hula team with perfect technique, but from halfway back in the audience you couldn’t even tell she was dancing. Now this other dancer who was 6′, 250+ lb… dadGUM that girl could keep a beat and make you feel it too. Give her the solo every time!

    • LovelyLauren says:

      If that was what the temple was like, I think would enjoy it a lot more.

    • EmilyCC says:

      This comment made me smile…I’m so glad you shared it, mellifera 🙂

    • Whoa-man says:

      I LOVE this comment! It seriously makes me re-envision everything about ritual, bodies, temple and women in a new light. I love it.

      Mellifera, I know this is kind of on the spot but would you PLEASE work with me on turning this comment into an essay for the Global Zion section of the Exponent II magazine? I think it could be such an uplifting and fascinating piece. What do you think?

  11. mellifera says:

    *Addendum: my bad for assuming in the comment above that “you, the reader” must be a white girl. In my defense we’re down here in the South in a diverse community, and the vibe I get is that the kinds of body issues we’re discussing are predominantly a white girl thing. (That’s food for thought right there.) But I could be wrong! Let’s have some equal-opportunity appreciation of the beautiful biochemical temples God gave us. ; )

  12. MJK says:

    Something else that you have to think about when you have kids. If I hate my body… guess who is likely going to end up with a body that looks like mine?

    If I look at my nose and go “I hate my nose it’s so ugly” and then look at my son and see the same nose – then what? As the original post said, if I look at my little pot belly and think “I hate that” and look at my son’s cute little belly – can I still hate it on myself? It gives you a different perspective on things.

    (I only have a son right now but if I have a daughter I am 90% sure she will be a carbon copy of me. Just as I am of my mom and she is of her mom and so forth. You could pick the women in my family out of any crowd easily.)

  13. Deborah says:

    The few days I have felt well in this pregnancy have given me pause. Even in the illness and nausea, my body is doing something incredible. But I’ll be very grateful to get my lumpy temple of a body back to something near “normal” in three months.

    I have met some women who are truly comfortable in their own skin. They shine, true luminosity that radiates from their body. I aspire to that.

  14. LovelyLauren says:

    I did gymnastics through childhood for eight years and went on to try other sports (dance, swimming, a brief and hideous flirtation with tennis) but nothing like gymnastics made me so proud of my body. Knowing what I could do and having that kind of precision gave me a confidence I’ve carried with for years after I quit. I know sports aren’t for everyone, but disciplining my body the way I had to then (conditioning, stretching daily, hours at the gym) has always changed the way I think about my body and the way I take care of it.

    I’m 20 now (I quit at 13) and I wish a lot of the girls my age had the experience I did, just so they could understand that our bodies our so much more than our appearances.

  15. Amy says:

    Love the comments! It’s taking care of our bodies without being obsessed, right? Because once we are obsessed with the appearance, we begin to do things that aren’t necessarily taking care of our bodies. I am naturally slender and I try to workout, but I had an awesome spin teacher who was a little larger who could kick my bootie on the bike any day! She is a great person and healthy and she looks great too! She’s just not skinny. It’s overrated!

  16. So maybe this is the wrong place for a man to post but I’ve been thinking about my body lately as well. My perspective is both different and similar to some of the thoughts that have been expressed. I do not like the way my body looks these days. As a former professional athlete who was extremely fit for many years I now carry around 30+ pounds more that I did when I was it top condition. But to focus on the weight or how I look is to miss the point. As I get older I am seeing clear goals for my body, I want it to remain strong as it can in each phase. I also want to learn more about my body. I’ve studied Kinesiology for a number of years and love it, it has taught me so much my about my body and how I move and why I move the way I do. I want to be responsive to my body and its structure, I want to be strong, supple, graceful, and move well for as long as I live. I want to teach my body new things, such as improving my alignment, and range of motion, and new ways of moving. This is not just pragmatic, its also aesthetic, and even spiritual. Its an image of a healthy body that is based on movement, learning and awareness rather than outward appearance.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Douglas, I’m so glad you commented. We need to hear your perspective. It has helped me. I love the idea of seeing my body in all of its stages and focusing on its strength. Thank you.

  17. Sandra says:

    Lovely post and I appreciated the fantastic lesson. It was a good check in with myself, and reminder to be appreciative for the many things my body is capable of.

    Whoa-man, you are a talented teacher.

  18. Aimee says:

    What a brilliant idea for how to approach this topic! We do indeed need much more affirming language for talking about our bodies this way–especially when it comes down to purely aesthetic self-assessments.

    But I also like Kelly Ann’s question about how more complex feelings toward the temple can also be a part of the way we see our bodies. I know that as I age the feeling of losing abilities is becoming a more frightening idea as I consider how that physical side of myself will interact with my spirit. What do we do when our bodies really *don’t* represent how we feel about ourselves because they are unable to perform the tasks that once made us feel so empowered? This is less an aesthetic question and more one of function, but as I age, the way aesthetics and function relate to each other are becoming more complicated to navigate.

  19. shley says:

    Great post.
    I am glad you were able to make the connection for those getting the lesson between their bodies and the temple. Maybe they listened, maybe they didn’t, but at least it’s out there. A lot of times our relief society meetings need a dose of reality, real-reality, not tv-reality.

    I like to equate my body to the temple. That is why I stopped putting “food-like substances” in my body way over a year ago. We actually made a family word of wisdom. We listed things we should do and should eat and things we should not do and not eat. It is on our fridge as a reminder.

    Body image is still hard though. I have a society and a medical condition working against me. Honestly, who ever came up with the current “perfect body ideal” for women should be slapped.

    I know one day when I’m resurrected, my body will be in its perfect form, but it’s hard to remember that day to day here on the Earth.

  20. kigatsuku says:

    I am pretty much allergic to my body. I have severe allergies, asthma, you name it. In fact I recently went to the allergist and half way through my skin test the doctor had this look of astonishment on his face. He told me that I was so allergic all my pricked spots were swelling into each other. At the end of the test I was allergic to everything they tested me for and I had to do a breathing treatment as a result.

    This is par for the course with my body. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t constantly in a battle with it but there was one experience when I was in middle school that changed my perspective about my body forever.

    It was a bad allergy day and my eyes were swollen, puffy, itchy, and red. I walked into the bathroom to get a cold paper towel to put on my eyes and I noticed a girl crying. She was standing over the sink and looking down. I asked her if she was okay. She pointed to little black hairs in the sink bowl and said, “Those are my eyelashes.” She went on to explain that she had Alopecia Aerata (AA). This is a disease where she loses all her hair, yes, all—even her eyelashes. I was astounded.

    Here I was complaining about my itchy, puffy, red eyes and she was watching her eyelashes fall out. I waited with her as she applied vaseline to her eyelids (to do the job of our eyelashes) and then we went our separate ways. I have never been so grateful for my eyelashes.

    I learned an eternal lesson that day about my body, how amazing it is, how all the little pieces work together, and how much of my body I take for granted. Don’t get me wrong I am often discouraged by my sick body but I am so grateful for the good days and all the amazing things I’ve been able to do with my body!

  21. Jennica says:

    This was a great post! I love my body! I do! It’s not perfect. In the last city we lived my next door neighbor was in a wheelchair. She had no legs (perhaps little stumps). She was born with Spina Bifida. Never learned to walk. She is amazing though! Holds down a full-time job. Married. Contributes fully to society. Has always wanted children, but couldn’t have her own. Her disabilities prevented her from being a “good choice” for mothers looking to give their babies up for adoption. She loved my children like they were her own. I love this woman. So, whenever I’d get together with my girlfriends for “Girls’ Night,” inevitably somewhere along the way the conversation would turn to all the bad parts of their bodies and the various “things” they were planning on doing once they were done having children (ie. boob jobs, tummy tucks, breast lifts, etc.). One night every woman there said what “improvements” they would like to have done on them, except me. I was the only one that didn’t want to have some sort of cosmetic work done on me. Nothing. “Nothing? Nothing at all?” They were puzzled. Sure, I’m sagging where I didn’t used to be. Sure my body shape has changed over the years. But my body was MADE to walk, run, breathe, lift, have children and care and nurture those children and others. I can do all those things. I can do everything my body was given to me to do! If ever I started to feel critical about my imperfect body, my next door neighbor, Laura, hoisting herself out of her car and into her wheelchair, wheeling her way to her front door was my reality check. I am so grateful to that woman. Laura is my humility. I do love my body!

  22. Stella says:

    I’ve been reading *Women, Food, and God* and I’m realizing now, more than ever, how the way I nourish myself directly relates to how I see God. And how I see God directly relates to how I see myself and my body. And, I’ve been pretty unjust.

    I have to keep reminding myself to be gentle.

  23. amelia says:

    I love my body. I know it’s flawed. I could stand to lose ten or twenty pounds. I’m not in fabulous shape. I couldn’t run a mile to save my life, at least not without stopping. By society’s standards, I think that I’m mostly rather plain, though on rare occasions beautiful and sometimes pretty or cute. But I love my body. To me, it’s beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, a source of wonder, something to be relied upon, sexy, strong. And it’s my access to the incredible world I live in through taste and touch and smell and sight and sound. My body makes me possible, me in the deepest, most intimate and spiritual essence of who I am.

    I don’t know how I got to this point. I never found myself all that attractive as either a child or a young woman. I think it may have to do with discovering how very beautiful I found other people in spite of the fact that they don’t conform to social dictates about physical beauty. My mother, whose body is rounded with having birthed seven children, a bit stooped with age, and who has never dyed her hair, gone out of her way to fight off wrinkles, or tried to make herself look younger than her 70 years–she is beautiful. The men I’ve dated, all of whom were beautiful in spite of their widely varying body types, from a rail-thin very young man who hadn’t really filled out yet, to the couple of guys I dated who could have modeled had they wanted to, and the men I’ve dated who were overweight (both obesely so and just typically so). I found every one of them attractive and sexy. Why, if I find these imperfect people beautiful and lovely and incredible in their bodies, why should I hold myself to a higher standard?

    I must say that while I understand how something like pregnancy and giving birth could function as a major turning point for how one appreciates one’s body, it bothers me a bit to see so many women point to that experience as the moment/experience which has allowed them to love their bodies. I suppose it troubles me because I push back so hard against what I see as an incredibly reductive definition of “female” within the Mormon church. I refuse to believe that pregnancy, giving birth, being sexually attractive to men, reproducing are the quintessentially “female” experiences that make someone a woman. I refuse to agree that my capacity to attract a mate and reproduce and nurture children are what give me value. And that’s what the church teaches, ultimately. And it troubles me that so many women only find the value in their bodies when they have filled those roles.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I am not assigning blame here. I don’t mean to devalue anyone’s experience. I think it’s wonderful that some women’s experience with pregnancy and childbirth and mothering has allowed them to learn to love their own bodies and appreciate them. And I don’t think that the simple fact that it was pregnancy/childbirth that led them to that appreciation means that they are accepting of or complicit in the church’s destructive equation of “female” or “woman” with “wife/mother.” I just have to wonder how much the incredibly powerful gender dictates of the church, and our larger society, are at work when it is reproduction (which usually arises out of one’s ability to attract a man, of course) that authorizes a woman to love her body.

  24. Your post is wonderfully thought-provoking. With your permission, I would like to link to it on my blog in the hopes of getting more people to read it.

    I often wish my wife would see herself as I see her.

    Thanks!

  25. stacer says:

    Whoa-man, do you teach RS in my ward? Because that’s the RS lesson we just had a couple weeks ago, and it was a lovely one!

  1. March 24, 2011

    […] Whoa-man isn’t bragging or anything, but she loves her body. […]

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