Meredith had a great post a month ago called "Body Love." Loving our bodies is something I've thought a lot about, especially since I have had children, particularly a girl. How can I teach my children to have a deep appreciation with their bodies? How can I teach my daughter to think her body is beautiful? My mom, Lark Galli, gave a wonderful women's conference talk this year on the topic, and she said I could post it here for any people who might be interested.
Under a Leafless Tree: The Story of a Mormon Girl from East Prussia." It's a compilation of stories she recorded for the last ten years of a remarkable woman in her ward who had amazing experiences as a young mother during WWII.
And now, her talk:
Dear Sisters, I’m grateful to be with you and Sister Rosenlof this afternoon. After dropping our daughter off at high school last week, my husband, our bishop, called me. He just had to tell me how sad he was to see the young women walking into the school wearing such short shorts and short skirts. “I worry for the girls and the boys, he said.” These young women, many of them members of the church, are stuck between trying to meet standards set for them by the world, and those anchored in the gospel.
As you know, since earth’s first days, Satan has sought to turn women from their true identity. Our great grandmothers suffered these afflictions in every land and time. And as we also know, Satan still rages against women. But though the battle is fierce, he will lose it, and he is losing it, because of the restored gospel, and the power of our Redeemer.
Around 1830, the dawning light of the gospel began to peel back the old veil of darkness, exposing to those with ears to hear and eyes to see ancient lies about the nature of women and men and revealing their true destiny. Today, we’ll consider just a few of these doctrines, and how they can strengthen us as women so that we can reject the world’s false standards while helping others to do the same.
I agree with Wordsworth that most of us arrive on earth happily, “trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home.” This makes me think of a young woman with whom I recently spent a few days. She is balding, heavy for her age, and somewhat physically challenged. Her speech is limited, yet she is uncommonly self-assured, willing to shine her smile on those around her. Her name is Evelyn Bea, and she is 7 months old. Many infants and children like Evelyn Bea seem to know that they are naturally beautiful, wise and good, but that enthusiasm inside most of us suffers before too long in this wilderness of earth.
Many years ago I entered a bedroom and discovered a thirteen-year old girl sitting quietly and very sadly in front of a mirror, her eyes red from crying. She meant so much to me, and her sadness was so evident that I have felt its pain through all these years. I’m not sure what her troubles were that day, but I’m pretty sure she did not like what she saw in that mirror. To paraphrase Wordsworth again, “shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing (girl),” resulting in very sad looks in the mirror for many young women. For some of us, the sad looks and feelings never stop.
The restored gospel holds the keys to our recovery. Through it, we discover knowledge that has been long forgotten: namely, that we are literal daughters of Heavenly Parents, in their very image. This identity as divine women can never under any circumstances at all be removed from us. The proclamation about the family makes this clear. “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. “
Thus, as Latter-day Saint women, we know that we have a long, unremembered history as spirit daughters in our Heavenly Parents’ realm, and we will continue to be theirs after we leave this world, every one of us. Like the queens and princesses of fairy tales, no matter how dirty, lost, or unrecognized, or even badly behaved we may be on earth, we are of divine lineage. That is permanent. Though at times we may feel like ugly ducklings, that will not change the reality that genetically we are swans. We are by nature divine women.
This knowledge explains our high standards of behavior in the Church, and can bless us every day as we build our lives upon it. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “I want you to be proud you are a woman. I want you to feel the reality of what that means, to know who you truly are. You are literally a spirit daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. That surpassing truth should be fixed deep in your soul and be fundamental to every decision you make.”
In many ways, Sister Elaine Dalton exemplifies to me a woman who embraces and shares this truth, as she did this last conference. We have heard her clarion call for virtue, and her confident declarations that one virtuous woman can change the world. We have seen her dedication to personal purity. Hers is a path of holiness. Her example of divine womanhood strengthens me, and I’m grateful to her for reminding us of our true worth.
Through doctrines of the restoration, we have also learned that motherhood is part of our divine capacity; not the motherhood the world sees as a temporary job, but the motherhood that is our nature, as Fatherhood is the nature of our Heavenly Father. As women, this is an aspect of our identity regardless of whether we have born children here on earth. I have long loved what Elder Holland’s wife Sister Patricia Holland said on this subject: “Eve was given the identity of 'the mother of all living'— years, decades, perhaps centuries before she ever bore a child. It would appear that her motherhood preceded her maternity…. I believe mother is one of those very carefully chosen words, one of those rich words— with meaning after meaning after meaning…. It is first and foremost a statement about our nature, not a head count of our children.
The meanings in this rich doctrine of motherhood are beyond the scope of our discussion for today, but we can remember it when we make daily decisions. It reminds me of a young mother and an everyday adventure she recently told me. See if you can picture this. She was on a rare shopping trip with her four year old and two year old little boys and her beautiful baby daughter, who was riding heavily on her hip. Slung somewhere on her arms were her diaper bag and bags of her purchases. At the top of an escalator, the two year old, who was holding the hand of the four year old, lost his balance and started to fall, threatening to send the entire bunch tumbling down the steps. The four year old kept hold on his brother, but couldn’t keep his ground, either. As the boys began to fall, somehow their mother hoisted the entire pack of babes and bags to safety in the nick of time. While recovering from the scare and assessing his own profound strength, the four year old turned, looked at his mom in amazement and said, “You are strong. You are very strong!” to which she replied, “Yes, I am very strong.” I love that she said that, and I told her so! She told me that as she goes throughout her days, she repeats the phrase often, sometimes out loud: “I am very strong”. That is a powerful affirmation of her nature as a mother. As I observe her, I believe that her strength comes because she is firmly rooted in her divine nature, both physically and spiritually.
In what other area of women’s lives could the world’s and the Lord’s standards be more at odds than how we view and use our bodies? Through the gospel we understand that, lacking a body himself, Satan distorts the true beauty of women as he prompts them to disparage and abuse their bodies at every age. Through the media, he promotes impossible standards and grotesque notions of attractiveness, many of which require damaging or immodestly displaying our bodies.
The other day I was in and out of clothing stores and noticed that almost all of the clothes on the mannequins were pinned several inches in the back around the midsection, making them appear thinner than they would on an actual person. That means that any time 99% of us put on the same clothes, they will look different on us, and maybe not so good to our eyes. That’s just one little discouraging trick in Satan’s toolbox. With the Holy Ghost, we can know him for who he is, and refuse to let him determine how we view our bodies.
Through revealed doctrine, we know that our bodies are essential elements of our eternal souls. How it would astonish the world to learn that our bodies make us more, and not less like God! The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that, “The spirit and the body are the soul of man [and woman]” (D&C 88:15), and that “Spirit and element together receive a fullness of joy” (D&C 93:33). The prophet Joseph Smith further taught, “The great principle of happiness consists in having a body.”
Knowing this, we can set aside impulses to despise and damage our bodies and instead truly enjoy them, for we are their inseparable partners forever. Which actually reminds me of the thirteen year old with the red eyes sitting before the mirror that I mentioned earlier. Guess what? She grew up! In the years after that sad day, that girl began to lay hold on the gospel, and she became happier. Now as a mother and grandmother she lives in and enjoys her body. She sings, and teaches refugees to speak English. She employs her feet, back, and hands to plant and share harvest from her garden, and her mind to study. Almost daily, rain or shine, she opens her front door and launches out into a nearby canyon or neighborhood on foot, bicycle, or even on a scooter. She listens to her body and strives to keep it well. As she does this, her contentment with who she is radiates. Simply by her example, she is blessing the women around her.
I’m a little bit behind her. Can we get right to business and talk about the swimsuit test? The other day I was in a crowded swimming pool, playing with our family. I became self-conscious about how I looked in my swimsuit. Is it my imagination, or is this an almost universal story? With my proportions, I have always felt a little funny in a swimsuit, and as I age, I have found more reasons to do so. So I began to feel self-conscious, and somehow even ashamed. I wasn’t having fun. Then I stopped and looked around. I considered that of dozens of swimmers in the pool that day, I was the person who cared the most about how I looked. If fact, I might have been the only one who cared at all! Others were probably just fine seeing another grandmother in the pool in a grandmother body. Our grandson only cared that we were together, and that I was willing to go down the big slide with him. I thought I’m a grandma because I worked hard for a long time at being a mama. Being a grandma is a gift. It’s OK to look like one. This little lecture wasn’t easy to give myself, but it helped. I felt I had won a small victory.
These beautiful doctrines of the divine nature of women can bless us, but could also discourage us, if, like I did at the pool, we feel we are very far from that potential, and so inundated by forces against our happiness. So what is the true source of our confidence while we wait for perfection? The Source is the Lord Jesus Christ, and His almighty Atonement. In it lies every righteous hope of every woman on earth. Our growing understanding of the Atonement is the best gift of the restoration of the gospel. Sisters, I wish we could speak only of Jesus Christ and His love today. As it is, I testify with you, for you know it too, that our freedom as women lies in His saving grace, which we experience every day. I like what Brother Brad Wilcox, who speaks here tomorrow, says. “Christ said, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19), but let’s occasionally leave off a few words and hear Him saying, ‘Follow me, and I will make you.’” I truly love that: “Follow me, and I will make you!”
By following the Lord, we will reach our destination as divine women, and along the way, strengthen others. The path is familiar and well worn, and marked by covenants and promises. It leads directly through the temple. The temple is the earthly type of our Heavenly Home, a welcome refuge from the world, a House of Glory and a House of God. There we find these truths of our divine nature in clarity, and we commune with our Heavenly Parents. As I considered Sister Dalton, the young mother at the top of the escalator and the grandma on the scooter, to my surprise, I realized they have something in common: all three of them anchor their lives in the temple. It is a centerpiece of their worship. From there they frequently go forth armed with power, with the Lord’s name upon them, and His glory round about them. Through the temple they are becoming godly women.
Sisters, I have felt that we here in this room today are well on our paths to uncovering our divine potential. That’s what the gospel does. It’s what Women’s Conference is about, too. We should be encouraged by our progress! As we strive to keep our covenants and worship in the temple, we are following our blueprint home. This progress is probably easier to see in others than in ourselves, so look around at the godly women on either side of you, and in the various classrooms, and be encouraged. Most likely, you are one of them, a Latter-day Saint woman of faith.
My experience is that as we increasingly embrace our own divine potential, we come to see potential more readily in every other person, beginning with those who are nearest to us: our husbands, parents, children, co-workers, and neighbors. We realize more profoundly that each of them is an eternal being, too, and we become less critical. Suddenly no one at all is too old, too uneducated, too unattractive or too different from us, for we have grown in the gift of charity. And this charity encompasses even ourselves!
Not long ago, our daughter reminded me that it is not very convincing if we tell our daughters, granddaughters and Young Women, “You are beautiful, but I am not,” “You are important, but I am not.” “You are smart, but I am not.” I was forced to admit that my daughters would benefit much more from my confidence than my insecurities. And my confidence is rooted in my covenant partnership with the Author and Finisher of my salvation, He who heals every woman.
It is our healing, after all, and not our perfection, which will inspire the healing of others. As former professor of ancient scripture Catherine Thomas says, “Why do some of us learn valuable parenting lessons after it seems mostly too late to incorporate them? Perhaps because it is never too late, really, in the eternal scheme of things. It seems that when Mother gets better, everyone in the family gets better—no matter how old the children are.” She says, “I have learned that it is a true principle that I needed to fix myself before I could begin to be truly helpful to anyone else. . . . I learned that I had to focus on getting well and leave off trying to cure anyone around me!”
I hope we consider the impact of our healing on the lives of other women. As simple as it sounds, our own happiness and well-being can help them counter Satan’s lies that women are unattractive, powerless or ineffective. Sisters, the doctrines of divine nature, which we love, can be difficult for our younger sisters in the gospel to lay hold on, and they are simply unavailable to the great majority of the women of the world. We must remember that we can help, just by believing in and embracing them ourselves with our Savior at our sides.
The influence of Latter-day Saint women on the women of the world is a matter of prophecy. If you’re sort of old, like I am, you might remember hearing President Kimball say these words to the women of the Church. They have never left my mind: “Finally, my dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”
That is our challenge: to reflect righteousness, and be seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world. So we are supposed to be peculiar! And we will be noticed more and more. Just ask your teenager! The women of the world, including our own young women in the short shorts and skirts in our neighborhoods, are fighting a tsunami of opposition to their divine nature. Please look around, and you will see it. Waves of sexualization, trivialization and distraction wash over them at work and school and home. As Latter-day Saint sisters, mothers and grandmothers, we can plant ourselves on the solid rock of our Redeemer, raise the lanterns of our faith, and reach into the surging waters for their hands.
As I mentioned at the beginning, with the restoration of the gospel in 1830, shadows on the lives of women began to flee. Not just for Latter-day Saints, but for all of the women in the world! This is a stunning truth. The restored gospel has truly brought the dawning of a brighter day, and with our young and growing army of sister missionaries; its light is surely growing brighter. I feel so very excited for the good that they will do. They were prepared to share their lights, and so are we. Our acts may seem small, but their effect will be great.
Speaking of the organization of the Relief Society, President George Albert Smith declared to the women of the Church, “You are … more blessed than any other women in all the world. You were the first women to have the franchise; the first women to have a voice in the work of a church. It was God that gave it to you and it came as a result of revelation to a Prophet of the Lord. Since that time, think what benefits the women of this world have enjoyed. . . . When the Prophet Joseph Smith turned the key for the emancipation of womankind, it was turned for all the world.” This last line is quoted in the book, Daughters in My Kingdom: “When the Prophet Joseph Smith turned the key for the emancipation of womankind, it was turned for all the world.”
Sisters, we have a prophetic work to do. Our foreordained assignment is to lead the way forward as women who know themselves and understand their heavenly origin, despite opposition from earth and hell. We will be seen as daughters of Christ who abide in Him. The strength and well being in our lives is and will be a beacon for women everywhere. We must not make the mistake of underestimating our influence. I am reminded of a quote by J. R. R. Tolkien: “Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world. Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”
If I could show you my heart, it would declare that our Heavenly Parents love their daughters. They know that before our Savior descended below all things, we, their daughters, fell too, seemingly far from their loving embraces, and we lost our way. Our Heavenly parents have heard the cries of all the women of the world. And through the gospel, they have restored precious knowledge of whom and whose we really are. By living in accordance with our true identity, we can light the path for our sisters of all generations on earth. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away,” leaving joy in their place. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.