This piece is the first in a two-part series on fitness and self-image. Emily Kelch and her neighbor, Jenny James, are the founders of SoulStrength Sisters, a women's fitness ministry that prioritizes community, feminine strength, and the wholeness of who women are created to be. Read Jenny's reflection next week.
Navigating the waters of fitness as a Catholic woman can be a treacherous journey. Nurturing our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit is a just and worthy pursuit. But women, in particular, face a tension that exists between being fully alive--mind, body, and soul--and being a slave to sloth or exercise: the mirror or the magazines? The chocolate or the comparison?
I was immune to this tension in high school and college as I immersed myself in sports. But when I began preparing for my wedding day, I was bombarded with eating plans and bridal boot camps designed to help me achieve the coveted toned arms, sculpted six pack, and perky glutes of glowing, gowned models in magazines. I'm sorry to say I resorted to the not-so-healthy habits of under-eating and hours on the treadmill.
Ten years later, I am still bombarded with images of the ideal, but this time in the form of 4-week postpartum, bikini-clad celebrities, fitness models preaching the perfect exercise for my body, and articles claiming they know the secrets to gain "only belly weight during pregnancy." Sisters, it doesn't stop after your wedding day, but I wish I would have been able to tell my bride-self these five pieces of wisdom to help foster gratitude for the temple.
Own your Beauty.
Just as we are given spiritual gifts to nurture and grow, we are also given physical gifts--and we shouldn't be ashamed! If we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we must walk, run, and lift with poise and dignity despite knowledge of our flaws. No, you may not be able to pull off that lipstick your girlfriend dons or wear your sister's skinny jeans, but those curly locks? That dimpled smile? They are gifts, so rock your own unique, unequivocal beauty.
Move with Joy.
I love deadlifting heavy weights. My dear sister is a natural yogi, while my best friend finds peace in the quiet monotony of a morning swim. Find something you love so "working out" isn't actual work.
Change with the Season.
Seasons of life prune us as we go: a new job's schedule may conflict with your favorite barre class; the little life growing within you will prevent your all-time-squat PR; liturgical seasons like Lent force you to assess attachments to vice and sin. The seemingly small changes in our lives are opportunities for grace and are built-in mortifications. Accept them as gifts, and adjust realistically.
We live in constant temptation to compare, so find a tribe that speaks to your heart, challenges you physically, and encourages you spiritually.
Be grounded in prayer.
When I am meeting the Lord in prayer every day, I am reminded that my worth isn't in the absence of a thigh gap, impeccable meal planning, or a perfectly planned workout schedule. My worth is found as a daughter of God. When we are grounded in prayer, fitness is less likely to become an idol and more likely to be viewed as a tool to grow in temperance, self control, and obedience.
Through ten years of marriage, five babies, multiple failures and “beginning agains,” I've found that to be the best gift I can give my husband and children, I must aim to be my best self--body and soul. I still stumble at times (many times!), but I always come back to these points to help refresh my perspective.
About the Author: Smitten wife, mama of five, homeschooler and nurse (on the very, very side), Emily is a recovering people-pleaser whose favorite things include deadlifts, feminine dresses, St. Therese, and 90s music playlists. While she thoroughly enjoys hosting dance parties and serving British delicacies with her very sanguine husband, she is happiest in the company of life-giving friends, deep conversations, and drinking in the beauty of quiet, prayerful mornings, and fresh--not yet reheated--coffee.