My body image struggles started early.
Even in elementary school, I wouldn’t wear pants because they felt tight on my thighs. Nothing seemed to fit me the way it did my super-skinny older sister.
The changes from childhood to adolescence further contorted my twisted body image. I grew taller and the scale’s number decreased. But in my mind’s eye I was still a chubby school-aged girl, awkward and homely. As I aged, my body decided to curve out, but not in the “right” places. No matter what I tried, I could not make my chest larger, nor could I make my thighs disappear.
Still, I believed if I worked harder I would look perfect. That’s what the magazines and personal trainers said. Working out and watching the scale turned into an obsession. I weighed in every day, often multiple times. The number shaped my emotions. If the number was “good,” the day went well. If I gained a pound, the day was over.
The drive for physical perfection wrapped its sticky fingers around my throat and choked joy from my life. <–Tweet This
I would go for days without eating, then binge because I couldn’t stand the hunger any longer. I exercised to extremes, usually without proper nutrition.
Until My Turning
One night at a youth event, I met a beautiful young woman. She looked so perfect in her jeans, so calm, so … everything I wasn’t. I didn’t hear a word our pastor said because I was focused on why I didn’t look like her and how I could change to be more … perfect. Just like her. That night, I found out that the “perfect girl” was in rehab for a severe eating disorder. Yes, the perfect person I compared myself to was in as much pain and trouble as I was.
My striving for physical perfection had turned to worship.
I bowed at the altar of my scale multiple times a day, giving it all my focus and power for my well-being. Weight and body image became my gods.
The Heart of the Matter
Pretty strong words, eh? It took me a long time to understand and admit the truth, even to myself. Through Bible study and mentoring, I learned part of my problem was a deep need for control, which was rooted in fear. As the stress in my outside life worsened, I grasped for a small space to control. Weight seemed, at first, to be a battle I could conquer. In my mind, having an ideal body would help me find a husband, grant me happiness, and make others see me as “better.” Instead of turning to God with my chaos and asking Him to fill the empty spaces in my soul, I turned to this external task-master.
My focus on the external left me empty.
Tying my self-esteem to something like body image was as foolish as building sand castles at high tide. My emotions washed out with each wave of life that hit me. Only God is worthy of worship. Only God can be worshiped and fill us at the same time. Anything else leaves us empty and broken.
What is the truth, then, about our physical image?
Is it not important? Should we just give up?
Check out The Message translation of Psalm 139:13-16.
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.
Since we are made with such care we should not take our bodies for granted, but we don’t have to focus on every wrinkle and fat cell either. The “breathtaking” one who deserves worship is God, not a person’s physical form. Jesus is the only thing that will never change. He is the only one who can fill us and satisfy us.
God is the ultimate authority. That means all control belongs to Him, not to me. I don’t have to chase empty dreams to find control. In fact, there is freedom in releasing control.
Are any of these emotions familiar ?
Ask the Lord to give you His eyes to see yourself. Ask God to free you from the perfect ideals that rob you of joy. And ask your mom, a mentor, or a leader from you church to help you discover your identity in Christ.
photo credits: Paola Kizette Cimenti