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In the words of Beyoncé

My 2019 Easter Outfit

In 2001 I was in a car accident that briefly landed me in a wheelchair. That event physically changed my body forever. Rolling myself around but also being relatively immobile, I noticed my upper arms got larger and stronger. For lots of different socially imbedded reasons, I did not like this new look in my arms. Over the next 18 years, my body lost and gained weight in different ways – I even grew an inch taller in my 30’s – but for whatever reason, my arms have always stayed about the same size. They are what have been called by trainers, boyfriends, and myself alike a “problem area.”

Then, a couple years ago, I found something that was both freeing, covering, and good for work; a cape. My cape made me feel strong and feminine. I wore it the first time I preached to help me get over my stage fright. It became known as my “preaching cape.” I have always liked fashion, and I have also always shopped for a good deal, this cape fit the bill for both.

As I do every year, this year I spent weeks pulling together my Easter outfit. I was so excited I even found a new cape in white-perfect for Easter Sunday. So, when I got dressed for our Easter worship service this year, I looked in the mirror and, in the words of Beyoncé, I was “feeling myself.”

I took a picture outside of church and after a wonderful worship service, I posted it to one of my social media pages. I live in New York and my family lives in California, so I wanted to share my Easter outfit with them. I was proud of the way I looked because unlike Beyoncé I did not “wake up like this.” I also saw a post on the Young Clergy Women International Facebook page asking for pics of the amazing preachers in the group and their Easter outfits.

Everyone looked amazing and the group was incredibly supportive and affirming of each other’s outfits. This unfortunately gave me false hope, and I shared the picture on my wider media networks which were less supportive. Which reminded me of a very important fact; God called me to this work: a woman who loves fashion, a good bargain, and using the two to share the good news of Christ Jesus.

In the wider network I was met with the view that my outfit was an exploitation of riches from an elite New Yorker. Little did they know my bag, glasses, and shoes are from TJ-Maxx and Who What Wear made my cape and jumper. That’s right, my elite New York look was from Target. And they were on sale! However, the highest price I paid that day was that of my confidence. The same thing that helped me bring the word of the risen Christ to a church full of joyful Easter congregants, ended up being the price as well. Once the criticism snuck into my head, I had a hard time not believing it myself. Read more

Discipleship, Not Diet Culture

The table at the heart of our faith

“New year, new you!”

We’ve all heard it before. As the holidays wind down, and New Year’s Day approaches, the onslaught of diet culture begins. Countless ads, commercials, messages, and our friend’s Facebook pages promise us that we will love ourselves better and live more fulfilling lives if only we participate in their weight loss program. For the low, low price of $19.95, the life we’ve always wanted can be ours! Except the cost is really so much greater than that.

Church, it’s time to get honest. Diet culture is big business. My friend Courtney always says:  follow the money. She’s right. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry entirely predicated on shame and self-loathing (particularly for women). The idea that “if only I were a smaller body size, my life would be complete” is an ages old tale that stems from the patriarchy. It also stands in direct opposition to who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. We proclaim the bold truth that we are created in the image of the God who created heaven and earth, fully beloved and good. There’s no stipulation in there that the Holy One will love us better if we are thin. There’s no asterisk that says God will love us better if we follow a certain eating plan (which by the way is another word for diet), or refrain from certain foods. Yet, so often we subtly send these messages in our faith communities.

Weight loss, food shaming, fat shaming, and body talk have no place in the body of Christ. I know this may feel hard to hear, but it’s important. Do you run a weight loss program out of your church? Are you known to comment at the pot luck that you “shouldn’t have had that cookie?” Clergy, do you use your social media profile to proclaim the virtues of the latest food you’ve given up, or your latest diet craze? Intended or not, all of these things communicate (especially to a younger generation) that God loves some bodies more than others. Read more

Whose Hair Is It, Anyway?

Ah, hair. Who knew the collection of threads growing out of our heads could be the source of such contemplation and consternation! Nearly every young clergy woman I know has had at least several conversations with herself and others about what her hair means both to her and her congregation. Here are a few of the dilemmas:

Long or Short?

A woman’s long hair may or may not be her crowning glory, but it is certainly an object of interest. Long hair is associated with youth, with femininity, with fertility. One YCW (young clergy woman) in Maryland with long, straight hair has been asked by a parishioner, “When are you going to get a grown up haircut?” For her, long hair is an expression of who she is, which is a young woman. Should she adopt a shorter haircut because it would give her a more “adult” appearance? Would she, should she be respected more with a bob or Hillary Clinton ‘do?’
Another YCW has unusually long hair, but never wears it down when working. For her, long hair gives her something that is purely her own. She writes, “Having long hair is kind of a private thing. It has become something that is mine, and something that I can reveal only to those I want to. It’s one part of my life that is still my own. I like how, when I do take my hair down, it reveals this whole other side of me. Maybe it’s a projected or wished-for mystique.” For this YCW, having two hairstyles helps her separate her personal and professional life. When so much is demanded of a clergyperson, hair can help root us in our own identity, as a symbol of who we are as a person, not just as a minister.

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Body Beautiful

 

As the chaplain to a small women’s college my misperceptions of my own body rise to the surface on a regular basis. My day-to-day actions set an example for the women around me. The amount of rest I get, my fitness level, my stress level, and my eating habits are of as much interest to the students as my theological knowledge or spiritual well being. We often imagine that the minds of small children are like little sponges, absorbing everything around them, and assume that by college age this formation is done. But college students are much the same, soaking up the adult world around them, trying on identities to determine which ones might fit. I know that just as they try on the personas of the other students, they will also try on my identity to see if it mirrors what they would like to be themselves. I would hate to find out that my body issues reinforced or supported the same self-loathing behavior in anyone else.

You see, that’s just the problem. These ideas about my body didn’t just arise out of thin air. They are part and parcel of the persona I tried on and then accepted for myself. The media, conversations with family, and interactions friends all reinforce these ideals. I watch the women and men who are made over by “What Not To Wear,” analyze the characters on “LA Ink,” and laugh at the strange perfectionism of the women who grace the screen in episodes of “Dr. 90210.”

In conversations with my family we talk about what we are eating, our size, our weight, and inevitably how we aren’t pleased with any of it. For years I have struggled to find a mental space where I would love my body no matter what size it may be. I purchase clothes that are flattering, diet, or exercise only to be briefly pleased with the results. I find that I return to the same place of self loathing in short order, regardless of what I do. Not that long ago I purchased People magazine just to read an article about Jennifer Love Hewitt’s response to appalling tabloid photos displaying her minimal cellulite so that I would have a visual reminder that we are all beautifully, perfectly, imperfect. Read more