Claire Musters wonders how much our feelings towards our ageing bodies reflect the culture we are living in and suggests the Church should be providing a better narrative.
In a recent article for The Times, Caitlin Moran asserted that she believes she is really hot and doesn’t care what anyone around her thinks about that. While it may be admirable that Caitlin isn’t intimidated by others and feels comfortable in her own skin, she could be seen as overly brash and confident.
Caitlin said it took her three years to work up to writing her article, because “I don’t think I’ve ever seen another woman say, simply and happily: “I think I’m beautiful’.” She goes on to explore how in order to be a seen as a “good” woman you have to bully “bits of your face and body in public”. Surely we as Christian women should be setting a better example than this? Since having a daughter I have become more aware of the negative comments I can make about my physical appearance.
In the upcoming March issue of Woman Alive I researched a piece looking at whether women over 50 can feel invisible. One woman said that, while she does feel invisible, she no longer cares, commenting: “I finally realise that my validation comes only from our Father.”
Acceptance that our physical bodies will inevitability weaken and decay is far removed from our culture’s message.
In Emma Thompson’s latest film Good Luck to You she gets fully nude. Doing so as a 62-year-old woman made her confront how she feels about her body. She believes she wouldn’t have had the guts to do it when younger but said: “And yet, of course, the age that I am makes it extremely challenging because we aren’t used to seeing untreated bodies on the screen. We’re used to seeing bodies that have been worked on, for a long time, to make them acceptable to our eyes. It’s time we did more to change that.”
We are bombarded by messages every day about body image, through advertisers trying to sell us their products and “perfect” celebrities in the media. We may hear that we are made in God’s image, but is that ever fully unpacked? I can’t remember ever hearing or taking part in a discussion on the beauty of the human form within church. How are we meant to navigate the world’s lies when the Church is so silent – and when the body has often historically been equated with being “sinful flesh”?
While we are spiritual as well as physical beings, I believe it is a mistake to elevate the spiritual above all else as God has made us to be integrated beings. One day we will have resurrected bodies – so God must see the physical as important. Jesus took on physical, human form in order to be our saviour.
Acceptance that our physical bodies will inevitability weaken and decay is far removed from our culture’s message. But the signs of ageing, such as our wrinkles, all reveal a picture of the lives we have lived and make us who we are today. However, we are so programmed to try and stem ageing that we find it hard to embrace the process.
She told me I should be celebrating the strong, incredible body that has produced two children and is still fit and healthy.
I still remember being pool-side on holiday and being told off by my niece for bemoaning extra fat. She told me I should be celebrating the strong, incredible body that has produced two children and is still fit and healthy. My response was to mutter an apology but inside think: “But what about all those women who’ve had kids and still manage to be super thin?” Comparing myself to others stopped me from accepting the wonderful truth she had reminded me of.
I am certainly not advocating sitting back and letting everything gradually drift south. Scripture tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We need to look after ourselves, eat well, exercise regularly etc. But we shouldn’t be obsessive. And isn’t it time that we accepted that our bodies do age – and celebrate that rather than trying to stop it? I love what Paula Gooder says in her book Body (SPCK): “I yearn for the day…when in our Christian communities we are so used to celebrating our glorious, saggy, ageing, but soon to be transformed bodies that we all model a confident, true beauty.”