Is heaven full of only skinny, pretty saints? Between the spiritual fitness trend and the images of people in the stained glass windows of our churches, we might think so. Social media can lead us to believe that being a Catholic woman means winning some popularity contest, where the attractive women with a Bible-based workout routine and perfect diet are the model examples. What was Mother Teresa’s dress size when she founded the Missionaries of Charity? Did Joan of Arc have a thigh gap when she led France to victory? You don’t know? Me, neither – and that’s because it doesn’t matter.
Learning Body Acceptance from the Saints
The saints include women from every race, background, size, and shape. St. Teresa of Avila and Servant of God Catherine Doherty are just two examples of holy, beautiful women who refused to conform to the beauty standards of their time.
Most historic saints are depicted today as thin, with clear complexions and no wrinkles. We gave them “filters” on holy cards long before it was a thing on Instagram. We aren’t expected to be perfect – in body or mind – in order to be Catholic women. We should strive to be perfect in love of God and other people. Thankfully, we can do that in any dress size.
Even Pope St. John Paul II called out the fact that women have been valued for their beauty more than their work:
"Sadly, very little of women's achievements in history can be registered by the science of history. But even though time may have buried the documentary evidence of those achievements, their beneficent influence can be felt as a force which has shaped the lives of successive generations, right up to our own. To this great, immense feminine "tradition" humanity owes a debt which can never be repaid. Yet how many women have been and continue to be valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; in a word, the very dignity of their being!”
Remembering That Our Bodies are Good
Your body shape and size aren’t reflections of your ability to live as an authentically Catholic woman. When you were baptized, your body became a temple of the Holy Spirit. Congratulations! Caring for your body is a response to the reality that it was made in the image of God. And so, we shouldn’t take care of our bodies in order to make them worthy; we should care for them because they are already good.
Much of society – and even Christians at-large – reinforce the message that women must earn worth by looking a certain way or doing specific things. The beauty of our Catholic Faith is that we can rest in knowing that our bodies are good, just as God made them.
St. Catherine of Siena said, “What is it you want to change? Your hair, your face, your body? Why? For God is in love with all of those things, and he might weep when they are gone.”
No one remembers the great saints for how much they weighed or whether they were attractive by one society’s standards. They loved well; they lived their mission well. This is what we celebrate about every female saint from Mary Magdalene to Teresa of Calcutta. We must care for our bodies in order to have the capacity to live well, but that doesn’t mean that we need to conform to specific beauty standards – not at all. Our unique gifts are a reflection of a specific aspect of God, and the mosaic of saints is more beautiful because of its endless variety.