Science and Religion are Both Good Things

Do you remember seventh grade? In seventh grade, things got complicated. In so, so many ways. For the sake of time, I’ll specify that things got complicated, for me, in my social studies class. This class covered early human migration, an interesting and important subject completely appropriate to bring up with kids just starting to understand humanity from a more grown-up perspective. Really! I’m not even being sarcastic.

But that’s not quite how I saw it at the time. I’d heard rumors from other students that my teacher, Mr. Coram, taught evolution. Human evolution, no less. Sure, these rumors came from the same kids who couldn’t celebrate Halloween or read Harry Potter books due to their own special brand of Christianity, but I didn’t think things like that through as a self-conscious thirteen-year-old. Among my classmates, Christians were Christians, and that included me.

Shocked and disgusted, I tried to understand why my teacher, who was a very nice man, would be allowed to teach such a horrible thing. Without any speck of an idea what evolution meant, beyond “God didn’t create us,” I told my friends in disbelief that I just couldn’t imagine evolution coming up in our class.

And I’m not sure that it ever did. We discussed Pangaea and land bridges, early primitive living systems and hunter-gatherer societies, but not what came before all of that – where those ancestors came from and how we ended up here, as we are today. Maybe that was for the better. I still had a lot of growing up to do.

A couple years later, Biology class happened! That one took me by surprise. After enthusiastically learning basic genetics, species classification, and whatever else they teach you in high school biology, we finally broached that sticky subject. Quite badly, I think.

See, we had two options. Believe in God and be wrong, or believe in science and be right. I mean this literally. One of the first multiple-choice questions on the unit test specifically asked us to choose the most accurate description of the origin of life. One of the wrong answers was “a divine creator.” It pained me to choose “survival of the fittest, resulting in evolution,” over the clearly-right-to-me other answer, but my grade mattered, and choosing both was not an option.

It was a strange thing, understanding evolution without knowing if I believed it. I felt so torn, trying to figure out my identity as a religious person who didn’t want to deny science. Evolution made perfect logical sense to me, but outside forces told me that I couldn’t possibly believe in these controversial scientific issues while also maintaining faith in God.

A big misconception regarding the whole “Science versus Religion” debate is that its existence originates and thrives in the church house. I will readily admit that many members of the LDS church have anti-evolution ideologies, but it’s certainly not something taught as doctrine. In fact, we’re quite good at just letting it be. There’s still the occasional Sunday School “contributor” spouting off tales about dinosaur bones placed in mountains by Satan as a trick meant to test our devotion to God (really), or those who think the world literally began 6,000 years ago (where does that math even come from?), but I never took any of that too seriously.

What I did find important at the time were the modern church leaders who encouraged activity in science. Those who, while teaching of Adam’s role as the first man created in God’s image, also stated there’s not a problem with studying science in addition to nurturing a testimony. As Gordon B. Hinckley put it: “Studied all about it. Didn’t worry me then. Doesn’t worry me now.”

I will fully admit that religion has problems with science, but we too often ignore science’s issues with religion. I would have liked to go to my high school science class and learn that many fully-functioning adults, intellectuals even, believe that science and religion may coexist. But I don’t think my teacher understood that.

It took me years to realize that she was the one lacking perspective and understanding, not me. There is no reason, even as a staunch atheist, to single out students for having religious beliefs. Instead of forcing young, impressionable kids to abandon their previously-held worldviews, shouldn’t a teacher focus on gracefully integrating new ones, or at least introducing them in non-intimidating ways that encourage gradual, self-guided change of opinions? Is that way too much to ask from the public school system? Probably.

But my point still stands: science shouldn’t have to be atheistic. Conversely, religion shouldn’t have to be all that scientific. Religion isn’t scientifically quantifiable, by its very definition. How on earth could the vital concept of faith even exist if we could physically, scientifically prove the existence of a divine entity?

Faith and testimony are truths felt inside the soul, nourishing our spirits. For many of us, science and the studies of man feed the intellect in a similar way, but it is the eternal truths of Heavenly Father’s plan that encourage our souls in times of trial and grief that things will work out, that life is good and we will all be all right.

Science could never help me through my problems. Science teaches me that in two billion years, the sun will burn us up, if we haven’t offed ourselves or evolved into something more interesting already; it doesn’t help me understand why that has no effect on my eternal salvation, that humans are not doomed for destruction beyond our temporal lives.

Science tells me that bodies cease to work because hearts stop and brains no longer send signals, but it doesn’t help me cope with losing someone I care about.

Science says that I am insignificant, one of billions of other forgotten humans who were, who are, and will someday be using energy on this earth until our lifeless bodies return to the ground to complete the chemical life cycle. Religion is there to remind me that, in addition to all these physical truths, there exist a set of even-greater spiritual truths of my inherent value as a daughter of God created in His divine image.

And so we find a balance. I think science is beautiful, and that it is our duty as nature’s beneficiaries to seek out its hidden truths. The Earth is a gift, and we should get to know it the best we can, while we can. From a scientific perspective, we come from an intricate, incomprehensibly complex and ongoing process that started in the stars and finished with a human birth. I love that. Our bodies and the way they have come to be are incredible.

And religion teaches us where to go from there – what do we do here, and how should we feel? What is the best way to treat others, and how can I find meaning in my miraculous life? How do I cope with despair? How do I find hope against all odds?

It should be our duty to seek further knowledge regarding this beautiful, life-giving Earth we’ve been so generously blessed with, but as a faith-driven person, I refuse to allow that knowledge to shake my belief in a creator. Science does a great job at describing the what, and decent job at describing the how, but falls short at the why. That is the reason I believe. That is the reason I hope.

A few months ago I shared a section of a train from London to Edinburgh with two other LDS girls and a young woman from Scotland we had never met. After conversing for some time, the subject of religion came up, and our new acquaintance admitted that she couldn’t will herself to believe in God since scientists have found so much evidence for the Big Bang and human evolution. Though I tried explaining to her that it’s possible to believe in those things in addition to a creator, I struggled finding the right words to express my passionate conviction that the struggle between science and religion is one we have created ourselves.

It is a struggle, one that many of us face constantly as the influences of our peers, teachers, and the media bombard our lives, convincing us to doubt ourselves and root our faith in man’s lofty endeavors alone. But I know, and I hope you know, that beyond the chaos, beyond the high school tests and strangers on trains, beyond these physical things that intrigue us and add a lovely zest to our lives? – is a Heavenly Father who loves us very much, and wants us to know that, against all scientific odds, we matter.

Missions Aren’t for Every Girl, and That’s OK

Most LDS girls remember quite well the moment they heard about the Big Age Change. Some sat with their families in cozy Mormon living rooms. Others lounged in bed alone, appreciating a day of rest uncharacteristic of a college dorm room. There were probably a few hidden away, watching October 2012’s General Conference far from the prying eyes of disapproving family members. A select few, I know, saw a text from a better-at-watching-conference friend, and headed to the internet in disbelief of such a claim – that young LDS women no longer had to wait until the age of 21 to serve a mission; 19 would be fine and dandy.

I was on a school bus in Oregon when it happened. Being the heathen that I am, I had spent conference weekend at a very important marching band competition. It was on that fateful day that I got an excited text from my conference-watching friend as I rode home surrounded by my unaware nonmember peers, wondering what such an interesting turn of events meant to 17-year-old, LDS me.

Facebook quickly exploded with my Mormon lady-friends counting down the hours until they would serve. “Just two years, one month, and sixteen days until I will serve my mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints!” one read. “Six months, three days, and seventeen hours until I can submit my papers!” said another. They got tons of likes, and comments ranging from “you go girl!” to “If I could have gone on a mission before getting married at 21, I totally would have. Lucky!”

Meanwhile, my Facebook page remained untouched by such countdowns or words of praise.

The Mormon blogosphere had a lot to say about the Change. I remember reading several not-even-remotely-fringy posts regarding the announcement as obvious progression of women in the church. Suddenly, this policy-change, or as some saw it, doctrinal revelation, meant that the LDS patriarchy acknowledged EQUALITY between men and women, giving more women the chance to serve a mission with roughly the same amount of time to spare as their male counterparts.

I seriously questioned these people. Why does it have to mean so much, I wondered. Was this doctrine? Probably not. Was it a policy change that would effect and bless thousands of people? Certainly. Was it a policy change that effected me, at all? Probably not so much.

I never planned on a mission. Ever. The age change meant close to nothing to me. I thought for a little while that it would be fun to live somewhere different, but that is not what missions are for, friends.

Sure, I was happy for those girls who had been planning to serve their whole lives. Whether their mothers served and encouraged them to go as well, or they had their own independent personal revelation, I knew plenty of girls who knew they would put in their papers the moment they turned 21, and the shift to age 19 made a huge difference to them. I’m glad.

Other girls heard the news and impulsively decided, then and there, that they’d serve at nineteen, too. I wasn’t one of those girls, but that’s okay. Did they all end up going? Certainly not. But to those who did, I’m glad they had that opportunity open up to them.

But there were other consequences that were not so good.

Just to add a little a disclaimer, I attend BYU, and I’m aware that any small, probably-insignificant problem in the church is, like, 10,000X amplified in Utah. But I’m going to talk about it anyway, because I’ve seen too many young LDS women face unnecessary pressure from judgmental, misunderstanding people, and that’s not right.

Issue number one, freshman dorms are cesspools of peer pressure. I think. Full disclosure, I never lived in one, but I do know that entire floors of BYU on-campus housing are wiped out after Fall semester due to the two M’s: Missions and Marriage. THESE GIRLS ARE LIKE, MAYBE NINETEEN.

And all right, marriage is great. What seems crazy-young to me, or the outside world, could be exactly what’s right for someone else. I know plenty of girls who got married during freshman year to wonderful men, and everything so far has turned out great for them. They’re not all quite so lucky, but a stable, young marriage is far from impossible.

It’s the mission thing I’m more concerned about. A close friend of mine felt singled out at BYU-Idaho when two of her roommates immediately dropped out of school after getting engaged Freshman year, and the other three put in their mission papers as soon as they could. And this is a common experience. It’s always the same story: girl moves in, makes new college friends, all the college friends leave college, and girl feels alone and unable to justify her decisions.

I’m here to justify her decisions.

Women are given a Choice-with-a-big-C when it comes to serving a mission, and it’s for a lot of great reasons. While young men are generally expected to serve, we ladies should never feel expected to serve, unless that expectation comes from the Spirit influencing us to make that big Choice. Not our roommates. Not our relief society presidents. Not even our own families. We can listen, and appreciate what these people have to say, but the choice is ultimately ours. A mission is simply not part of every girl’s plan.

Choosing to forego a mission does NOT mean that your testimony is lacking, or that you don’t love Heavenly Father enough to devote 18 months of your life to him. It simply means that you have other aspirations while you’re still young. Not a problem, and not worthy of judgment, I assure you.

What, you may be wondering, are some good reasons to postpone and/or completely avoid a mission? Above all else, personal revelation. If you’ve been praying, and a mission doesn’t feel right, for whatever reason, do not assume it would be a good idea to submit your papers. I firmly believe that a girl should never, ever ignore a prompting of “no” in regards to serving a mission, because she realistically has no idea what awaits her in the future. Maybe she’s meant to finish her education before embarking, or perhaps an eligible young male awaits. Maybe she doesn’t feel mature enough, and maybe she just doesn’t want to. All those things are okay.

A mission is a huge responsibility. It is not selfish or unrighteous to choose other responsibilities, indefinitely or otherwise. Don’t let losers convince you that you’re worth less because you have chosen the road less traveled.

A few weeks ago, a high school girl I know posted a question to facebook: How would she decide to get married or serve a mission, if her whole life she’d been preparing herself to be a good wife?

One answer in particular irked me. An equally-young, smug know-it-all of a boy (can you tell he brought out my inner angry woman?) replied with, “If you have been preparing to be a wife, go on a mission because it won’t just make you a good wife. It will make you an amazing wife.” Wrong answer, dude. Such a wrong answer.

I’m here to tell my fellow Mormon teens and twenty-somethings that your ability to be an amazing wife, or even (gasp!) an amazing single woman does not depend on your mission status. Do missions help some women become amazing wives? Of course. Do college degrees, study-abroads, and work experiences also help women become amazing wives? Yes, without question! Don’t discount that, smug losers.

Maybe I just feel defensive because I blew whatever mission budget I may have had in my name on, well, studying abroad. The only part of a mission that felt right to me was the travel aspect, so I went with it. I paid the fees and packed my bags and fled the country for four months. I served in a ward there teaching young women, took hold of my independence, embraced cultural diversity, and learned a lot of important things about my field of study. Will I be any less of a wife in my future because of that? Heck no.

As I approach my 21st birthday, I’ve been wondering if things would have been different for me without the age change. I’m nowhere near married yet! Does that mean I need to think about serving? Would I have more seriously considered serving at this point in my life if I didn’t have the ability for another six months? I don’t know. For now, I feel pretty great about desperately clinging onto the side walls of BYU’s degree conveyor belt, trying to fit as many interesting classes in before they give me the boot, but, you know, we all choose our own battles.

I don’t mean to diminish the work of a sister missionary – they’re valuable resources in the church, and I have seen so many young women return from missions with new outlooks on life, confident and ready to take on the world in a way she couldn’t have even imagined before. Plenty of female RM’s finish school, and get married, and have jobs. That’s great, and I’m happy for them.

But the rest of us? Those who married young, still hold out hope to marry young (ha), or just didn’t feel like it was the right time for a mission? We’re pretty great, too.

Why I’m Just the Worst at Politics

The first time I remember hearing the word “democrat” was on a field trip bus in second grade, in my beautiful home state of Washington. Josh’s parents were democrats, he told our teacher. I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded like a yucky word to me. It had the word “rat” in it, after all. I wondered if my parents were democrats, but it seemed like one of those questions I would ask, and they’d think it was really cute and hilarious, and would just laugh at my very, very serious sentiment. So I refrained from bringing it up.

By sixth grade I knew that we weren’t democrats, thank goodness. I also started hearing words like “liberal” and “conservative” thrown around, but I was too concerned with conquering the early, wildly-complicated stages of adolescence to give it too much thought.

In eighth grade, good ol’ 2008, politics got real for me. Barack Obama wanted to let GAYS get MARRIED. TO EACH OTHER. He also wanted to allow women to kill their unborn babies. Whoa. That was enough for me. In preparation for my school’s mock election (TERRIBLE IDEA, MIDDLE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION. I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE TRYING TO FOSTER CITIZENSHIP AND AMERICAN VALUES. DO NOT LET FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD’S PRETEND TO HAVE POLITICAL OPINIONS), my two friends and I crafted “NoBama” and “John McCain 2008” badges out of printer paper, colored pencils, and rolled-up bits of scotch tape during English class. And wore them.

Where, you may wonder, did we get such an idea? See, our teachers were such excellent, upstanding examples. My digital media teacher wore a pin on his collar so cleverly quoting the Tina-Fey-as-Sarah-Palin “I can see Russia from my house!” gag, while my English teacher chose a significantly-more-subtle Obama logo motif for her wearable political opinion-piece. Inappropriate for school? I think so. Did I realize that back then and climb above that influence? Absolutely not. This meant war.

I wore that NoBama badge all election day. When voting time arrived, I’m pretty sure I decided on Ralph Nader in the last minute because I was super cool and thought it would be funny. My friend voted for John McCain. That was the only McCain vote in the entire eighth grade class.

The next morning, after, you know, the actual grown-up election crushed my dreams of a gay-free, abortion-free future for America, I wore my NoBama badge out of spite. A sweet older woman para-educator who’d noticed my conservative enthusiasm over the past few days (and so charmingly told me that not to worry, she would be voting for John McCain. Seriously one of the sweetest things in hindsight), asked me if I was wearing my McCain pin that day. Nope, I replied. It said “NoBama.” So proud I was.

The grocery store had post-election republican chewing gum on sale, and I asked my mom to buy it for me. She did, and I carried it with me everywhere. I even used it in a tongue-in-cheek social studies presentation and my teacher, obviously surprised that her unruly and outspoken student owned such as thing as republican chewing gum thought it was the greatest and most hilarious thing she’d ever seen. Pretty sure we got an A on that project.

Things were obviously great. I knew where I stood. I stood up for what I believed in. I liked being different. Then high school made things a little crazy.

Freshman year went by uneventfully. For whatever reason freshmen in my school didn’t take history. My English teacher didn’t bring up politics. It wasn’t a big deal, at all.

And then sophomore year happened. To this day I shudder at the memories of my AP World History class. I learned so much, truly. It gave me a greater appreciation for the world and its varying cultures. It also sort of sent me into a deep pit of cynical bad-world-syndrome-induced depression, but you know, why shouldn’t a sixteen-year-old go through that?

I should have realized I was way out of my zone when I walked into the classroom for the first time and saw the George Bush cutout, wearing a gold plastic dollar sign necklace. Above him hung an upside-down globe. Did I mention that my teacher taught us that Bush was probably a cocaine addict during his presidency? All right.

To put it simply, I learned how terrible white men were. Colonialism destroyed the world. Guns were the worst. We would, undoubtedly, without question, be nuked sometime in the next ten years, and we’d be deserving of it. Capitalism and the slowly-creeping westernization of the world would lead us straight to whatever agnostic version of hell she chose to teach us about that day. The Holocaust was something we could have prevented if only we chose not to bully people. White supremacy was alive and well, just hiding in various pockets of America. Jesus was all right, but modern Christians, oh man. Do not even get her started on them. Hope? Meaningless.

In the past I used to justify this teaching method by saying, “well, she’s a great teacher. She really cares about her students. She just has really strong opinions.” But you know what? She wasn’t a great teacher. Great teachers teach their students how to think without teaching them what to think, and she had major issues with the last part. She tore my value system apart. At first it was easy to decide that she was just crazy and didn’t know what was up in the world, but that method didn’t work out too well as the year progressed.

See, she read things. A lot of things. Books, news, philosophy. I didn’t know any of those things as a sophomore in high school, and I knew arguing would be hopeless. My history experience was highly lacking to begin with (thanks, school system), and her class, the first to comprehensively introduce history, was all I had to go off of. By virtue of education, she had the upper hand, always. It broke me.

Of course it was more complicated than that – I really did love learning the world’s history. I became passionate about things like stem cell research, Gandhi, and apartheid. I learned more about history in those nine months than I ever had before. I could no longer pull A’s in history with republican gum, and my success in the class became directly related to my rollercoaster-like capacity for happiness. I stayed up until 3AM some nights, crafting notes and urging my brain to remember every little thing it possibly could.

When AP Test season rolled around, I knew I would fail. I was convinced I was far too stupid to succeed, because my teacher’s over-preparation technique had me thinking a 5 (the highest possible score) was simply unattainable.

After literal weeks of anxiety, I took the test. School ended about a month later, and I remember feeling so unbelievably burned out. Sleep deprivation, combined with my new “sophisticated” worldview in which conservatism inadvertently became a synonym for old and stupid, had opened a nasty chasm of snark that I’m convinced still hasn’t closed all the way.

The college board envelope showed up a few weeks later, and I got a 5.

What did I learn from this experience? I don’t know. It’s still too fresh, four years later.

I guess it’s the first time my beliefs were fundamentally challenged, which in turn caused me to label myself more fiercely than I ever had before. I had to be a fifteen-year-old, anti-feminist conservative republican, because that was the only option presented to me, alongside this crazy neo-liberalism that had me scared to death that my predecessors caused any and all turmoil to our current state of existence. That was a lot of baggage.

For the rest of high school, I felt wildly conservative. Whenever I satirized liberalism in opinion essays, my teachers lauded me for forward-thinking as I internally guffawed at their blindness to what I was actually saying. I didn’t actually think disgustingly sexist, racist, vulgar rap lyrics expressed important issues facing black America, but my media analysis teacher didn’t know that. She thanked me for sharing my interesting and completely valid viewpoint. Gross.

Graduation happened, finally, and I could leave all those crazy democrats in my past where they belonged.

College in Utah was a very real Godsend. I no longer felt wrong for being religious, or having any hope at all in the world and its conservative-leaning inhabitants. My religion teacher taught me that American politics and religion did not necessarily connect as strongly as we may have thought growing up. My literary analysis teacher taught me that “liberal,” “feminism,” and “marxism” were not bad words, and that those concepts could open up a lot of interesting discussions when applied to literature. My biology professor taught me that evolution was a good, important, true thing to study. All this, from what many commentators consider one of the most conservative learning institutions in the country. It was perfect for me.

And then I realized that all those professors who I learned so much about and loved so dearly? Flaming Utah liberals, the lot of them.

Now I can’t tolerate conservatives blogging about why they think feminism is destroying the world, or how welfare is an evil institution that we should abolish immediately, or how guns literally equal freedom, or Muslims are out to get us and one day take over America with their rampant breeding. I see Facebook cover photos of revolvers sitting atop bibles, and I feel sick to my stomach, and sometimes I click on links about the conservative men’s right movement just to have a good laugh.

And then I stumble on crazy, feisty, legitimately mean and nasty liberals all over the place. And conservatives who think progressives want to eat their impressionable young children for breakfast. Liberals who want to teach sex ed in kindergarten, and conservatives who want to avoid the subject altogether until at least the age of 35.

What am I supposed to do with this? Can anyone really expect me to, after this weirdly-bilateral experience, actually align with a party? I know too many crazy, terribly-confused people on both sides (not to mention even more wonderful, respectable people on both sides) that I don’t even know who to listen to anymore. I try and read varying opinions, but op-eds so often smack with juvenile click-bate rhetoric that only serve to justify opinions their readers already have.

My Utah friends think I’m an outspoken liberal. My Washington friends think I’m an outspoken conservative. Neither of them are wrong. Does that seem weird to anyone else?

I like to think that what matters more than anything is truth. Beyond the bad blood, the contention, the sickening arguments between grown adults that never seem to end, is the capacity for actual truth, love, and compassion, and as a democracy we have the power to demonstrate what we think those things entail with a vote.

We shouldn’t choose a side because everyone else is, or isn’t. We should have the gumption to quit the petty Facebook arguments and put our opinions to good work, volunteering, sharing the message, and politely and respectfully sharing our views without demonizing opposing forces.

I’ve learned a lot about political leanings in my short time of experience with the subject, and I’m grateful I’ve had the chance to deal with such wildly varying opinions not only from influential teachers, but in close friends as well. Odds are, if you can back up your opinion with good reasons that aren’t “but Obama wants to let gay people GET MARRIED. TO EACH OTHER,” I will probably want to be your friend, because I like people who think about their opinions in enlightened, interesting ways that don’t rely on putting down the opposition. It’s awfully hard to come by sometimes.

I’ve learned over time that I have no clue how to fix the world’s problems, but does it count for anything at all that I’m willing to admit that? Is there something intriguing about the fact that the more I learned, the more I realized how very little I actually know? Maybe that’s what lifelong progression is all about: learning, repeatedly, how much we’ve got left to learn about the world, about ourselves, and about this freaking nightmare called American politics.

Why Modesty Matters in the Body-Positive Movement

Most of us have seen those posts making headlines across the internet: a woman, for some reason or another far from our society’s perception of traditional beauty, wearing a bikini. Or a revealing dress. Or maybe a plus-size halter top. She’s a size eighteen, or has had three kids, or maybe just doesn’t think she’s pretty enough, but she conquers her insecurities and she does it – with photographic evidence –  because she wants to show the world that she loves her body and isn’t ashamed to show it off.

I have to admit, I thoroughly appreciate the message behind this growing movement: love yourself, love your physical appearance, because it doesn’t really matter what other people think about the way you look. You have a beautiful, functioning body that’s fulfilling its purpose of keeping you alive, and it doesn’t matter if that body is skinny, fat, or somewhere in between. I consider all of these things resoundingly true, and the world does, indeed, need to hear this message in this era marked with Photoshop and cosmetic surgery literally changing the way we perceive our own natural bodies. Women, now more than ever, need to know that it’s okay to carry fat in your arms, or stretch marks on your waist, or cellulite on your thighs, because those things matter so very little over the course of a lifetime.

But I have reservations about the way this idea is portrayed so often in the media. Instead of showing us that, yes, a fat woman can be healthy, intelligent, powerful, flirtatious, confident, or demonstrate any other number of stereotype-defying qualities, these outlets are telling us that larger women may, in fact, show off their bodies just like anyone else.

And that’s frustrating. See, I’m fat. I’ve been fat my whole life. You can tell that I’m fat whether I’m wearing a baggy sweatshirt, or fitted blouse, or my one-piece swimsuit. I’m fat when I eat well and exercise, and I’m fat when I eat junk food and sit around all day. It’s not something I’m trying to hide from the world, if that were even remotely possible. How would going to the beach and wearing a bikini change any of that? Would it really give me more confidence? Would it somehow convince you, the onlooker, that I’m more attractive than I actually am? Does my nearly-translucent stomach-skin really have that much power, and if so, how can I harness it most efficiently to take over the world in all my pasty glory?

Future aspirations aside, all I see when I look at pictures of women my size or larger wearing what I consider to be revealing clothing is extra flesh. It’s not gross, or disgusting, and it’s not particularly attractive either, but that’s certainly not because they’re fat. I’ve simply been raised in a faith-based culture that encourages me to dress modestly, and have happened to grow up and mature in a way that’s led me to understand perfectly good reasons for both men and women to embrace modesty that transcend my particular religious traditions.

If we really want to teach the masses to understand and appreciate body positivity, we should be showing pictures of plus-size CEOs in designer pantsuits, or yoga-pant-clad mothers holding healthy, happy children. I would love to see a viral blog post about everyday women, size two or twenty-two, eating healthfully, establishing careers and rewarding lifestyles at home or abroad, living life without concern for their love handles, because that is what inspires me in real life. This is what the world needs to see glamorized in the media, because even a seemingly-perfect-looking body is worth significantly more than the layers of fat, skin, and glamour visually apparent from the outside.

Every one of our bodies is miraculous in function – input, output, respiration, perspiration, air in and air out, brain waves and hormones, nerves, blood flow, and cell production – so many tiny mechanisms we couldn’t ever dream of living without, at the risk of literally being faced with death. Our bodies, and the life that keeps them going, are beautiful, positive things, without any regard to the clothes and makeup that end up coming off at the end of the day anyway.

As a modest, larger-than-average woman, I dress myself thoughtfully. I choose clothing that complements my body type, and I’m lucky enough to live in a time period where large, flattering, fun clothes are accessible if you know where to look. I’m not living in a fashion world solely comprised of Hanes’ “Just my Size” sweatsuits, shapeless T-shirts, and elasticized boot cut jeans, though I wouldn’t dare say there’s anything wrong with those things. I have every opportunity to wear tank tops, booty shorts, or deep-v necklines, but I actively choose not to, because I don’t feel like I’m respecting my miraculous body (or, let’s get real, my family’s tendency toward skin cancer) by making those wardrobe choices.

And that shouldn’t disqualify me from the unashamed-large-person party. I happen to think school dress codes (applicable to both sexes, of course) are a good idea. I also have this radical notion that showing off one’s body doesn’t prove a thing about an individual’s self-confidence. Your bikinis mean nothing to me, dear plus-size models, but your positive examples do, and I want others to start seeing you in the same light. This doesn’t make me a slut-shamer, or a backwards product of my conservative upbringing, or anyone but another one of those young women trying to figure out how my body and portrayals of other women’s bodies impact my life and the lives of those around me.

I want to make it clear that I don’t cover my shoulders, chest, midriff, and upper legs because I’m ashamed of them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I cover my body in all the traditionally-modest ways because I respect it, and I think it’s special. I cover my body because I’ve been taught that it’s a good way to show my Heavenly Father that I love him, and respect his plan for me and the physical frame that comes with it. I cover my body because I love it, and its divine potential to not only support itself, but to create and sustain new life in the future.

Every woman should have the right to wear whatever she wants, at the risk of whatever consequences may come of it, but I don’t think that’s the point of body positivity. You can still foster fiery hatred for your cankles while wearing a g-string in front of a selfie stick. The true message of self-love should come from within; you should love your body and yourself whether you’re looking at yourself naked in the mirror, or wearing a marching band uniform, or swimming laps in a public pool. The clothes really shouldn’t be the end-all.

Don’t love your body because you can choose to cover it with varying amounts of fabric in locations of varying publicity, regardless of shape or size. Love your body because it’s yours, it’s amazing, and it’s the only one you’re ever going to get.