During my childhood in the American southeast, it was often said there was a church on every street. This felt true. I had to learn to be myself as a follower of Jesus in a place where tradition ran deep.
Now I’m in Southeast Asia, and it seems there is a plastic surgery or weight loss center on every street. I’m a curvy girl in a culture where beauty ideals equal plastic doll “perfection.” I’m learning to not let insecurities about my body prevent me from getting to know people in my new context. Group fitness, something I enjoy, was a potent way for this journey to begin.
I expected some cultural friction when my curvy body walked into a circuit training class in my neighborhood’s gym last year. My red hair and freckles added an extra touch. The responses to a foreigner walking in ranged from surprised stares to indifference. A curious woman, who is now a friend, began grabbing certain body parts to see if they were enhanced or real. I invited her to ask questions instead. Several women offered hearty thumbs up, as though I had the moxie of a seventh grader with a massive pimple, walking into school with confidence. My presence evoked curiosity and cautious hospitality.
Something in me loved these women right away. I wanted to exercise with them every week to see what God would do in their lives and mine. So I asked myself this question: “What if I decide to simply be myself?”
For one year, I’ve been praying for my friends, refusing to pretend, and attending classes. Nothing has gone perfectly, but it has been beautiful. I’ve been challenged by new perspectives on health and fitness. Reactions to my “strange” body are fading. Before and after class, my friends and I have time to catch up, and I listen and answer with grace the Holy Spirit gives. In a culture where foreigners are regarded with suspicion, I’m finding community in my neighborhood gym. In a culture that idealizes unattainable beauty standards, God is challenging our thinking and helping us grow in the courage to be ourselves.
What if I decide to simply be myself?