You never know what you might find in a book called Women Who Run with the Wolves, or in a chapter called “Joyous Body: the Wild Flesh,” but I was delighted to find this important corrective to much of what our culture has taught us about our bodies.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes: “My friend Opalanga, an African-American storyteller, is very tall, like a yew tree, and as slender. I am built close to the ground and of extravagant body. In addition to being mocked for being tall, as a child Opalanga was told that the split between her front teeth was the sign of being a liar. I was told that my body shape were signs of being inferior and of having no self-control.
“How amazed I was to hear Opalanga say that as an adult she had journeyed to the Gambia in West Africa and found some of her ancestral people, who lo! had among their tribe, many people who were very tall like the yew trees and as slender, and who had splits between their front teeth. This split, they explained to her, was called the Sakaya Yallah, meaning ‘opening of God,’ and it was understood as a sign of wisdom.
“How surprised she was when I told her I had also as an adult journeyed to the isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico and found fome of my ancestral people, who lo! were a tribe with giant women who were strong, flirtatious, and commanding in their size. They had patted me and plucked at me, boldly remarking that I was not quite fat enough. Did I eat enough? Had I been ill? I must try harder, they explained, for women are La Tierra, made round like the earth herself, for the earth holds so much” (pp. 201-202).
What wonderful pictures of womanhood! And how wonderfully different from that bosomy, airbrushed and unattainable image on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine month after month, that image so many women keep trying to force their perfectly tall, gap-toothed, or beautifully short, earth-shaped, bodies into.
I wonder…was Adam a balding, bow-legged Semite, with crooked teeth and twinkling eyes? Was Eve a squat, heavy-thighed helpmate, with lovely gray locks and a voice like running water? Did God look on his creation in that moment, made in his own image, and say with a smile, “Behold! It is very good!”?
I don’t know. I may never know. And I wouldn’t want to suggest that whatever shape we’re in is the shape we’re supposed to be in. There is still much to be said for a reasonable diet and regular exercise. But let me say this: there is a difference, a theological difference, between getting yourself into shape and getting yourself into someone else’s shape. To do the latter is to deny the goodness of God’s creation. It is to say that somehow, when God made you, he made a mistake.
That is a lie.
As the psalmist says, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes might say, as you yourself can say without fear of divine contradiction:
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” (Psalm 139:14).