Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyways. – Mother Teresa
What you’re about to read are five insights from five friends about body image. In preparing for my last blog in this Body Image series, I was inspired to hear from other women. In opening up the dialog, I realized the entire blog needed to be dedicate to their stories.
I hope you are as moved as I was in reading their struggles and victories.
Thank you five friends.
“Big, fat, yeast roll!” The older girls in my church group cackled as they compared my 8-year old frame to a popular restaurant’s dinner side item. Church girls can be so nice.
That same year, a boy on the bus pointed out my tummy pooch. In third grade I learned that a tummy “pooch” was bad.
For the next 6 years, I gained weight, even though I played sports and took dance. I was scared to buy jeans because I didn’t want to know what size I wore. What a sad thing to occupy the mind of a pre-teen, when I could have been thinking about enjoying fun things with my friends.
Then things got serious. High school. Cute guys, dances, football games, cool clothes, the even cooler “cool crowd”, and this Southern Baptist girl didn’t know what to do except take control. Enter anorexia.
I played basketball my freshmen year and we ran. A LOT. I began to lose weight and realized that the more I exercised, the more weight I lost. Then I began to limit the types of food I would eat. No more turkey sandwiches and chips. Only chicken and egg whites from now on.
My junior year, my six-foot frame became a size 4. I lost my menstrual cycle. My hair began to fall out. I blacked out often. My nails were brittle and I developed cystic acne. Goodbye self-confidence. But I’m skinny now! Shouldn’t my self-confidence be soaring now that I’m thin? Here comes Jesus to the rescue… or at least He wanted to.
A good friend gently pointed out my obsession. I began to get healthier as I pursued more of Jesus, hung out with the Holy Spirit, and went off to college on my genuinely merry, size 8 way.
In college I got involved in campus ministry. I stayed up all hours of the night praying with students who were struggling, all the while hiding my own demons. My obsession and need for control reared its ugly head again, this time not as anorexia, but as binge eating disorder.
I clearly remember a night of hanging out with a large group of college students, eating junk food and playing games. I was so out of touch with who God had made me that I spent the night devouring apple pie, ice cream, and cookies. I remember calling a friend that night crying, not knowing what to do. Many years passed with copious amounts of binging. I was never bulimic, but food was my master. Exercise, my best companion.
Enter Freedom. I went to this crazy ministry school in a tiny town in California that had this WILD concept that God is good. What? Like, ALL the time? Surely my out-of-control, previously anorexic, current binge-eating, shameful self couldn’t serve a good God. He was Judge. Doesn’t He think the same thing about me that I do?
I began to experience His Presence in ways I never had before. He was tangible and His love for me was fun, secure, and so sweet. He LIKED me. He ENJOYED me. If this God likes me, flaws and all, then maybe it’s okay if I like myself.
I was 24 when I finally became free of a giant misunderstanding of who God IS and who I AM in HIM. I still love to exercise, eat healthy, and stay fit. But it has ZERO control over me. That’s 11 years of freedom I’ve been walking in and I’ll be the first to tell you: I like myself, and you should too.
I have had “write blog for Liz” on my “to do” list for a few weeks now. I seem to find so many other “to do’s” to complete and even just finished up with an epic food prep session. Why has this been so hard for me to sit down and focus and write some words about my body? Oh, that’s why because I’m writing about my body. There’s some laundry that I need to put away, another project I need to complete tonight, and I really need to make my bed. Anything but take a look at what I need to work on…body image.
I have been in the “overweight” category for as long as I can remember. I didn’t have the “I was thin my entire life and during college just ballooned,” or the, “I had a kid and just never got the weight off”… Nope, I was blessed with the “I’m just going to be fat” gene from the get go. That can really contribute to some very poor self-esteem and self-talk.
I would say that a word that really resonates with me when it comes to body image is “journey” or the phrase “work in progress”. I have always dealt with some pretty negative views of my body. It has never measured up to what I think it should be. There are many, many years of scolding myself for eating the wrong food, for not doing the workouts I committed to during the week, or for not starting that diet that I keep saying I’m going to start. A few years ago I was doing some personal training and I remember my trainer saying, “it’s not about the destination it’s about the journey.” I know it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that but for some reason it really stuck with me. Body image really is a process and a journey. Sometimes I feel so great in my skin and other times I 100% wish I was someone else. I constantly struggle with comparison, disappointment, and not feeling like I ever do enough. But I know that it is a journey and each day I’m getting closer to seeing of my goals manifest. Once I reach those goals I will be able to build on them and I’m sure that will feel really good.
Another word that I equate with body image is procrastination. I feel like I am the queen of procrastination when it comes to setting goals for myself and seeing them crossed off the list. About a year ago, I was getting winding down for the night and reviewing my day and realized that I was really proud of my entire day from the projects I completed, the work out I did and the foods I ate. That night I decided that I wanted my days to end with the thought, “I’m really proud of today”, so I review the day and find what I can be proud of each night (well, most nights if I’m being honest). All right, that’s enough focus on body image for now, time to go put that laundry away.
Body image is probably one of those things that most women struggle with. As I write this now, it is as a woman who is has struggled and continues to work through this area of my life. I have very high expectations of myself and body image falls into that category. When I was thinking about the issue of body image the first thing that comes to mind is comparison. I know that comparison can be the killer of contentment. Sure, there are some really great things about my body, but when I start comparing myself to others, I see all the other things that are wrong with it. I want to become a woman who can walk away from comparison. Be someone who can appreciate the beauty in someone else without it tearing at the fabric of who I am. To be able to know that the way that I am is the way that God created me to be. I know that I am a work in progress. There are many more times that I see the flaws in my body rather than appreciate the things that are good about it, but I know that the Lord is giving me confidence in who I am in Him and that is how I will continue to overcome my issues with body image. I was reading a book the other day by Ron Mehl and there was a chapter about what we should do in response to knowing that God wants to do something new in our heart. Two of things really stood out to me. The first thing was to say yes. When you know that God wants to do a new thing in your heart, like help you overcome issues with body image, say yes! I know that I have felt the Lord stirring my heart afresh in this area. I need to say yes to the work that the Lord wants to do in my heart. The second thing was to do your part. I recognize about myself that I feel better about my body image when I am taking care of myself. When I am eating well, exercising, growing spiritually and getting rest. We can trust God to makeover our attitudes about our body, AND we can also actively work towards making our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19-20) that we are encouraged for them to be. As we say yes to God doing a new work in us about our body image and partner that with doing our part, it will increase our faith to see God do something incredible in our hearts and minds that goes beyond the image that we see in the mirror!
Body Image. Bleh! Those two simple words are enough to make a grown woman cry…although that’s not always difficult. Between hormones and well…holiday weight that’s lasted for several holidays, it’s rather easy to hop on a self deprecating band wagon. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter your size, there’s always something a girl will complain about.
I’ve been a pretty wide range of sizes. From a 12 to a 4. And every.single.stage. has been hard for a number of reasons. There were things i loved about myself as a 12 and things I loathe about myself as a 4. No, seriously.
What is it that makes living in our own skin a constant struggle?
I know Jesus loves me. I know I was created in His image. But with everything in our culture screaming “GET SKINNIER” and every T.V. or billboard ad vying for my husband’s attention, the noise from everyday gets in the way of me listening to the only 2 men’s voices that matter. 1-Abba and 2-my husband.
I’m not sure there’s a magic way to get over it. But I will say, making a daily decision to trust that what my Jesus says about me is what matters most, and that my husband’s not just trying to appease me by telling me he doesn’t care that my bra size is now a…well, never mind… is a pretty good start. Being happy in our own skin takes work. Every time a lie tries to sneak its way into my mind, I try practicing 2 Cor.10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Lastly, as a woman, I can say let’s encourage each other! Build each other up. I love complimenting my friends. There’s always a kind word we can speak to build one another up. A simple compliment could just be the one thing we hear that brings us down from the ledge that day…or backs us away from the tub of ice cream.
Growing up I always had the “athletic” body type. I played various sports but soccer was my main focus and because of this, I had “thunder thighs”. To any normal person they would see muscle and be excited their legs were larger, but to me, all I saw was “fat legs”. I grew up with an older sister who was beautiful in every way. She was tall, thin, dark skinned, and had dark eyes. She didn’t have to try hard to look pretty and all of her clothes fit her easily. I couldn’t help but to envy her and want to be more like her. When eighth grade hit I tried not eating and thought that might help me lose weight. Turns out, I love eating and that didn’t last long. I longed for a “perfect” body and would do anything to get it, that’s when throwing up became my new normal. That new normal would last for the next four years of my teen life. After every meal I would go and purge my body from the calories that flooded it and ask God why I just couldn’t be happy with myself. Every single time I asked he replied, “You are my beloved”. I never really understood the meaning until I began to research what that phrase truly meant. Beloved, a person that is deeply loved. God reminded me every time of how deeply he loved me. Every Time I looked into the mirror and began to belittle myself and hate my body, he reminded me. Every Time I would eat more than I should or compare myself to every other body type, he would remind me. When I was crying in my room, alone, and scared, he reminded me. You are my beloved. Today marks five years of changing my new normal and praising God for the pit he took me out of. I remind myself everyday that I am the King’s beloved and beautifully athletic.
Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.