I’ve been thinking a lot lately about comparison, and how we do it all the time, perhaps without even noticing. Maybe it’s more apparent now when my body is literally changing everyday. Admittedly, about once a week, I will Google however many weeks pregnant I am, click the images tab on the results page, and then view photos of other women who are as far along as me – to see how my belly size compares. Somehow, 15 minutes online clicking through photos of anonymous women’s bellies makes me feel better. Isn't it ridiculous? In my heart, I know it’s best not to worry, that all I need to do is take care of my body, stay active, eat fresh, real food, and hope and pray for a healthy baby. But I have to admit there is that ever fearful, sinful part of me that is still overconsumed with my own appearance, so much that I can’t help but realize I’m getting frighteningly close to my highest weight ever. “Am I getting too big? What if I never lose the weight or fit into my old clothes again? What will people think of me then?”
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
I’ve just finished reading Donald Miller’s book, Searching for God Knows What, which I picked up on a rainy weeknight at the massive Half Price Books on Northwest Highway. I was actually there searching for his new book, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, along with an older one about his cross-country road trip - Through Painted Deserts - but found neither. At Half Price Books, somehow I always end up getting other books that aren’t on my list and none that actually are, so I found Searching for God Knows What and tucked it tentatively under my arm along with Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. And there I was in the "Memoirs" aisle when I suddenly began feeling this intense heat that seemed to rise from my core all the way up my neck, flushing my face. Is this what a pregnancy hot flash feels like? I’ve gotta get outta here…RIGHT NOW, I thought. Without really deciding whether I wanted the Donald Miller book, I headed straight for the register with it, checked out, and burst out the doors into the cool rainy air.
I’m so glad this book found its way to me. The first four chapters weren’t that great. Honestly they were difficult to comprehend and a bit hard to follow. But then, it started to get underline-half-the-page good. Take the chapter, Adam, Eve, and the Alien. Donald is wondering what it would be like if an alien came to check out life on earth, spending time in our daily lives, researching the things humans care about and how we spend our time. What would they think of us and how we operate? What would they think of our society centered around commercialism, accumulating more and more stuff, glorifying celebrities and sports teams for the whole useless point of comparison? Donald imagines that upon returning to its planet, the alien would report to its friends,
“The thing that defines human personalities is that they are constantly comparing themselves to one another…it is as though something that helped them function and live well has gone missing, and they are pining for that missing thing in all sorts of odd methods, none of which are working.”
Now, we don't know for sure if aliens really exist, but can anyone deny this observation is true? Whether or not you believe in God or sin or the fall of man, or that there is something missing here on earth that we'll never see again until heaven...you have to admit that this constant searching and discontentment is real. If there’s a single female – a single human – who hasn’t struggled at some point with comparison to others, I haven’t met him or her yet.
"They were naked and unshamed." ~Genesis 2:25
At this point in the chapter, Donald referred back to the book of Genesis in a way that really made the Bible come alive to me in a new way. In the beginning of Genesis, it says that once Adam and Eve committed the first sin by eating of the forbidden fruit, it was then and only then that "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." (Genesis 3:7). Right here, we have the first recorded history of clothes.
And God said, “Who told you you were naked?” ~Genesis 3:11
This is the first time I ever pondered the sadness and disappointment that God must have felt at this moment. He had lovingly knit together these two beings - flawless in His eyes - and now here they were, ashamed of the very bodies He had created for them. That moment, a separation was created, a line was drawn in the sand. Doubt and insecurity were born. And so it has been since that moment.
If Adam and Eve really were the only two people who existed then, they were not only hiding from God but also covering themselves from each other. I guess this is also the moment that intimacy between a man and woman was thwarted for the first time.
Before that first act of disobedience to God that changed everything, Adam and Eve didn’t even have the capacity to understand what it meant to be unsatisfied with themselves. They didn't need to decorate their naked bodies. Eve didn’t notice the size of her hips or the texture of her hair. Adam didn't wonder if his quads were ripped enough. Now, we walk around with clothes of all textures and colors to hide our nakedness and even seek out clothing that drapes our bodies in such a way as to make them appear more flattering. I'm certainly not suggesting the opposite - that we all live on nudist colonies - but really, how far have we gone to the opposite extreme?
I think of one of my favorite sections of Anne Lamott's book, Traveling Mercies. Anne is in a department store dressing room trying on a fitted dress. She's with her best friend, Pammy, who also happens to be in a wheelchair, dying of stage 4 breast cancer. Annie comes out of the dressing room and asks, "Pammy, do you think this dress makes my hips look big?" Pammy replies, "Oh Annie, you really don't have that kind of time."
And we don't. One day, this is all going to look really silly. We will see what was really important, all the while we were too busy being occupied with body size, status, appearance.
* * *
So what now? Over the last several years, I've learned that I can rarely change things without having a plan for how to actually do it. Don't worry, my plan isn't to practice walking around naked in public. My plan isn't to start ridiculing Hollywood and sports celebrities either, although I no longer have the desire to read People or US Magazine or even In Style. My plan starts with step one: stop scrutinizing pictures of other women’s bellies. And continue to make steps towards not scrutinizing myself, especially now when the changes in my body are more noticeable than ever. Now, I try to look at myself and my bulging belly (and hips!) in the mirror and smile. And tell myself, "It is what God has given me. And it is just right."