She walked around the room and handed us each a rubber band. “Put this around your wrist and wear it throughout this entire week,” she explained. It was my freshman year of college and I was in a Tuesday night Bible Study, my leader a lovely young married woman, just a few years older than me (though the age gap seemed wider given our different life stages). “I want you, right now, to think of a prayer that seems impossible to you. Something you could never imagine happening, something you could never make happen on your own.” We sat in silence for a few moments as my mental rolodex started flipping through each aspect of my life. I remember feeling so unimaginative in that moment: this whole world and I couldn’t think of one impossible prayer? What did that say about me? What did that say about my faith? Continuing on, our leader said, “Now, whenever you see the rubber band on your wrist this week, I want you to pray for that thing. Frequent prayers all week. They don’t have to be long or complicated, just keep praying for that one thing.”
As she finished her sentence, I knew what I would pray for: I wanted to stop hating my body.
You see, as a little girl, I was just that–a little girl. Because of my birthday and the school cut-off, I was always one full calendar year younger than most of my classmates and peers, so I was shorter and smaller than everyone else. Not only that, but I was naturally very, very tiny as a kid. Long, thin legs, and a lean torso. Twig-like wrists and arms. No hips, butt, or anything else. Just small. I was always on the top of the pyramid, the recipient of piggy-back rides, the “lightest one.” Below is a photo of me and my siblings in Disney, I’m on the far left and was in seventh grade at the time.
This remarkable smallness continued for a long time. I was a size 00 when I entered high school! I remember feeling so cute in a pair of dusty pink American Eagle corduroys that I bought in that tiny size (though in actuality I was intensely awkward with my frizzy hair and a still-round baby face). I loved being the little one, it made me unique and special. Truly, my size was an unknown source of pride for much of my childhood.
Things changed as I grew up and “became a woman.” I grew hips, my chest filled out, and my appetite increased. All this paired with going on the birth control pill during my junior year to combat menstrual cramps, which caused me to gain even more weight, and the scale was rising. I gained about twenty pounds in two years, which was more than a little alarming to me. It was then that I started down the slippery slope of hating my body.
It began with wishing that my hips were smaller, that I didn’t have squishy sides, that I was more toned. Then it became wanting different skin or hair. Wishing I was tiny again. I distinctly remember the night of the photo below…I was at a friend’s birthday dinner, and I remember hating my body so much that I didn’t even want to go.
It was around this time that I got a job working in childcare at a local gym, and though I enjoyed watching the children (and I loved my boss), it was a wholly unhealthy environment for me to spend 20+ hours a week in. I was surrounded by a lot of people who were absolutely obsessive about their appearance, which rubbed off on me in the worst of ways. I began to work out almost every evening (I got a free membership), which was stress-relieving in some ways, but entirely stress-inducing in others. Even though I was taking difficult AP courses which required a lot of time to study and prepare for, I gave myself no grace. I would feel like a complete failure if I didn’t make it to the gym each day.
The gym became my favorite place, my safe haven–my safe haven became striving, working, wishing for better. Hear me when I say that this is not healthy. I bought the lie that looking better would make me feel whole again, and that I would love my body again. But it didn’t work. So I began to diet, aggressively, all the time. I was tracking my meals constantly, and I would feel guilty for days after eating a single cupcake or drinking a can of soda. So, the cycle began of obsessively controlling what I ate and then crumbling into whatever-I-don’t-care-anymore-I’ll-eat-what-I-want. That, my friends, is a vicious cycle.
All of this was compounded by the fact that I was surrounded by many people who had very unhealthy relationships with their bodies and food. My family (both immediate and extended) has always been fixated on who is gaining weight, who is losing weight, etc. While for them, this may be just a way to sort-of track the people around them, for me it became an insanely unhealthy game of comparison and self-loathing. I come from a large extended family, and because there are so many of us, there isn’t a lot of keeping up with the day-to-day of each other’s lives, which is totally understandable. I think the greatest common denominator often was to comment on how each person looks and what they’re wearing because it’s much easier than asking about their heart. I felt like my value was in how thin I was, not it what I was accomplishing, or the work that God was doing in my life.
Clearly, once Satan had a hold of my mind in this way, he ran with it. Lies, lies, lies. He is the king of lies. You’re ugly. You’re fat. You’ll never have a boyfriend. You’ll never feel good about yourself again. And on and on and on. High school sucked (excuse my language, but there’s really no other word that sums up my feelings) already, I was fully overwhelmed and stressed with college applications and AP classes. I was dealing with friend-group changes and feeling alone. I was sorting through the mess of emotions surrounding several horrific deaths in my community. And, I was hating my body, which began to leak into hating myself, as well.
Time went on, I graduated from high school, got into my dream school (Elon University, #bestschoolever), and moved to North Carolina to start my collegiate years. What I didn’t realize was that as I packed my sweaters and boots and school supplies, I also packed my body shame and insecurities, too. And that is how I found myself sitting on the top floor of Moseley, our campus center, in a meeting room, at a Bible study, assigning the following impossible prayer to a rubber band on my wrist: I want to love my body.
I remember that darn rubber band, staring at me mockingly all week long as I wore it, as if to say do you really think that praying will change your mind about your body? Really?
But I’m not a quitter. So, I prayed every time I saw that rubber band. Walking across campus, in the shower, in my dorm room, as I sat in class. All the time I prayed. And I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what changed, I don’t understand the workings of my God and don’t pretend to. But slowly, and then all at once, I stopped hating my body. I began to see myself as a daughter of the King, I began to realize how much more God cares about my spirit, heart, and mind than whether my sides are a little squishy or not, I began to think of all the things I could do if I wasn’t so wrapped up obsessing over my earthly body.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
-Psalm 139:13-14 MSG
By the spring of my freshman year, I was vibrant. My newfound confidence helped me to follow God’s prompting to go through sorority recruitment, which led me into a group of loving friends who also loved Jesus. (My Sigma Kappa big sister was my MOH and I, hers!) Through loving my body, I began to feel more energetic, so I moved more and did more. I ate better, too, but not because I was angrily forcing myself to. I started to cherish my body and wanted to treat it well. By the end of my freshman year, I had lost a few pounds according to the scale, but much more importantly, tons of emotional weight. I came to learn that feeling light actually has nothing to do with the number on the scale, but with the freedom in my heart. Below is a photo of me goofing off at a friend’s apartment freshman year, this marks a period of time when I was starting to find my beat again and realize my worth. I just look happier!
I can love the body God put me in, flaws and all, because He put me in it and He doesn’t make mistakes. I love my freckles, they’re unique and youthful. I love my blue eyes, they’re my best feature. I’ve never seen anyone with my shade of red-brown hair, and I love that. My body can move and jump and run–it can walk Charley and hug my husband and make dinner. My hips will one day allow me to grow life, my squishy sides will be a great place for a toddler to perch. If I gain weight, if I lose weight, I AM HIS. I am not the number on the scale, I am not the clothes I wear, I am not how toned my muscles are, I am not how thin or thick I am. I am an adopted daughter of God and I have a unique purpose. God has gifted me with talents and abilities, a combination only I have. He has put me in a place where only I am.
I am not a body with a mind and soul; no, I am a mind and soul with a body.
No longer is body loathing a daily battle. There are times of insecurity, of course, and there likely always will be. These flare-ups can be squashed, however, with just a glance at Psalm 139 (quoted above). At church on Sunday, the pastor said, “If you thought about yourself the way God thinks about you, you’d never have an insecure thought again” (unfortunately, I don’t know whether it was his quote or if he was quoting someone else). Isn’t that the truth!? One last photo, a few months ago, on my wedding day. I felt radiant, not because of my body, but because of my spirit. When my spirit is soaring with joy and overwhelmed with Christ’s love, there’s nothing to feel but radiant.
When I am around people who [I perceive to] have an unhealthy relationship with their bodies, and they constantly talk about how big or small people are, what everyone is eating, how much everyone is exercising, this is when I have to be very mindful of my own relationship with my body. I urge you, when you greet someone, to comment on how their body seems to be making them feel, not how it looks. For example, “You look radiant,” “You seem really happy,” or “You’re glowing!” are all 100x better than “You look so thin!” or “Are you eating?!” A person can look radiant, happy, or glowing regardless of their weight…don’t make compliments weight-centric!
(Disclaimer: if you are close to a person who you know is working to lose weight for health reasons or otherwise, and you have noticed their success, it is always a good idea to encourage them in their journey. Still, this doesn’t have to be about the number on the scale. Things like “I am so proud of your perseverance, you look gorgeous!” or “I know it’s not easy to make lifestyle changes, you’re such an inspiration!” are ways to affirm the person and not her ever-fickle body weight.)
Have I convinced you? Do you believe it? You don’t have to hate your body. You too were created with a definite purpose, and I can say with certainty that your purpose was never lifelong self-loathing, body shame, and misery. Please, if body love has been a struggle for you, let me pray for you.
Jesus, I know that most women are dealing with the pain of hating the body that they live in. God, for Your glory, release these chains of self-loathing and hatred that keep us from living fully. Renew our spirits, remind us of our purpose. We know that we are wonderfully made, but sometimes it’s hard to feel that way in this broken, fake world. Affirm in us our beauty, our joy, our freedom, help us to see our bodies the way that You see them. Put positive, healthy people in our lives to encourage us on this journey. Thank You for Your perfect love, I pray that we would feel it pouring over us today. Amen.
If you’d like to talk more about this, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Big hugs and love to you! You are gorgeous and you don’t have to hate your body.
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