They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well I say “who are ‘they’? And why does beauty have to be beheld by the eyes?”
I have been struggling with body image issues for as long as I can remember. I remember being self-conscious about my knobbly-knees as early as the third grade. I felt awkward and clumsy and my knees were huge – they knocked into everything! Then the awkward stages of puberty started and I was doomed. It felt like everyone else was growing boobs, but I remained depressingly flat until 10th grade. However, I did convince my mom to let me get a padded bra in the 9th grade. During a mother-daughter heart to heart, I had tearfully asked her how long I would be stuck with this board-like physique. Her response included the words “late-bloomer”, which elicited a tearful tantrum from a despairing teenager about the unfairness of life.
I soon found out that if it wasn’t one thing it was another. I finally grew some boobs and my legs filled out so my knees didn’t stick out so much. But now I feared my legs were too large. My thighs rubbed together and one side of my shorts always managed to get wedged up my butt. This phenomenon always intrigued me: why just one side? Is it always the same side? Is one butt cheek bigger than the other? What’s wrong with me and how can I fix it so I’m not always pulling shorts out of my butt? It was that summer that I started dieting for the first time. I thought I was getting too fat. It never occurred to me that the problem may not be mine, but that of the shorts industry sewing crooked seams. It never occurred to me that the problem may not be my weight, but a negative self-talk problem.
I felt hideous, unlovable, and fat. I started to hyper focus on everything that was wrong with me – all the reasons why I was ugly. I needed to fix all these things.
For the next four years my weight would yo-yo multiple times. I would run religiously, count my calories without fail, and lift weights. If I missed a workout or ate something “bad” the guilt would rush in and I would start to sink like a ship taking on water. And I would give up and go down with it, eating everything in my grasp. But in the event that I did succeed to lose the weight, the excitement only lasted a week before I started to play my mind tricks on myself again and I once again I was “too fat” and “ugly”. At which point I would give up; it was too hard, I couldn’t do it. And thus, those 20lbs would come right back on.
It was almost two years ago that I consented to attend a Celebrate Recovery meeting with a friend. I wasn’t sure why I was going, but she had bugged me about it for 2 years before I agreed to go. It was at those meetings I started to recognize some major issues in my life. I’m hoping to write my testimony at some point, but to keep this blog from becoming a novel I won’t go into all the details right now. What you need to know is that I started to realize that there was a root cause for my constant struggle with weight, appearance, and negative self-talk: I truly believed I was worthless.
Flash forward to this year. I had been working my recovery for almost 1.5 years and I was starting to see a lot of progress in many areas of my life. However, in the summer I had a relapse of unhealthy behavior (it’s a little harder to spot than taking a drink or a hit) alongside of some really rough times. As a result I had an emotional breakdown. My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t eat for fear of making the wrong decision on food. My stomach issues had become so bad that food always held a risk of intense cramping for hours after consumption. I practically lived off bananas and milkshakes and my weight melted off. I was impressed with my appearance, but everything about it felt wrong. I wasn’t happy, I was anxious, I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t active, I felt weak, I was tired, and the list goes on.
But eventually my mental health slowly returned along with my healthy appetite and the desire to be active. Only this time I wasn’t obsessing, counting, and burning. This time I did things I loved: hiking, yoga, walking, etc. without a desire to simply burn enough calories so I could have those 3 pieces of chocolate and a cup of tea at the end of the night. I didn’t count my calories anymore. I ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full. I started speaking kind words to my reflection, “you’re beautiful”, “your legs are strong and capable”, “There isn’t a ‘right body type’ for this outfit, you can wear it simply because you like it”, etc. When I started this nice self-talk I didn’t really believe it. I still felt ugly and although I had dropped a lot of weight, it was starting to inch its way back on. But I kept the positive self-talk going and sure enough my thoughts started to change. I started to really believe I was beautiful. I started to love my legs! My legs have always been my most troublesome feature. My focus suddenly moved off my stomach ‘flub’ and started focusing on things that had nothing to do with my body image. During yoga I no longer thought “are my stomach rolls showing right now?” I felt like I had been released from a prison cell! Sometimes I find myself back in there, but it doesn’t take me long to realize that the door is wide open and all I have to do is walk out.
The other day I was feeling so beautiful, skinny, and loved. I thought I must have dropped a ton of weight (do you see old Liz starting to creep back into my thoughts?) so I stepped on the scale to see. The number shocked me. I had not lost weight, in fact I was back to the heaviest weight I had ever been (the year after I got married). I couldn’t wrap my mind around it, how could this be? I felt so pretty and healthy. There was no way I was the same weight. But then I thought, “Maybe I have put on some muscle so I look leaner now, while weighing the same.” I went in search of pictures. What I found continued to blow my mind:
HUGE DIFFERENCE RIGHT? No? You don’t see it? Yea, I didn’t see much of a difference either, apart from my hair (hey, how much does a foot of hair weigh? Just kidding.). So, if my body has naturally returned to the weight I was back then, how could I feel like a complete cow back then and like beautiful creature now?
I am in the process of learning this. I don’t have all the answers. But let me tell you what these pictures don’t show, because I know it has something to do with it (in addition to implementing positive self-talk and working my recovery).
- Past -> I believed I was worthless, unloveable, and I had to fix all my problems
Present -> I earnestly believe that God exists, I matter to him, and he has the power to help me recover (This is actually principle 2 of Celebrate Recovery)
- Past -> I had spent the evening comparing myself to other women and in most cases I fell short
Present -> I had just finished dancing in a downpour of rain
- Past-> My hair was done, my makeup was done, I was put together and yet I still felt ugly
Present -> My hair was soaked in rain water and matted, my makeup washed off, and I was just me. And I loved myself this way. I felt true, authentic, and genuine. (I felt that way before the rain washed away my makeup and matted my hair, but I just want to highlight the fact that I didn’t need those things to feel beautiful).
- Past-> My husband stood beside me and I doubted his love for me- how could he love me?
Present-> My husband stood beside me and I basked in his outpouring of love and affection. How blessed we are to have each other.
Do you see the difference now? Like I said earlier, I don’t have it all together. I still have days when I look in the mirror and say “ick”. I still have days that I feel “fat”. I still have days when I over indulge, or find power in not eating a meal. But now I realize I don’t have to fix that to be loved. I don’t have to be skinny to be worth something. God loves me now, just as I am, in all my mess. And the best part is, when I let go of my fear of getting fat and surrender to his love I just feel beautiful. When I fully surrender, my mind is so full of Jesus that I don’t feel the urge to binge on chips or skip lunch. I don’t feel like I have to run 4 miles every day so my husband can be proud of his beautiful skinny wife. I just want to go out and enjoy God’s beautiful creation and sometimes I do get the desire to run, just because running feels awesome and I can do it. My legs can run! I am beautiful, I am a masterpiece, and I am loved!