It seems that lately I just keep being reminded of all of the struggles I have. Over and over, I keep being reminded that I am not perfect, and for the first time I am recognizing certain things as legitimate problems. After reading a blog post from The Reformed Libertarian (C.Jay Engle) where he quoted from his wife’s blog (Anna Engle, found here), I realized how much I’ve made body image an idol. The origins of this being a problem in my life were not necessarily caused by me, but it is a problem I’m having. Sometimes I don’t eat because I feel fat. I’ve gone several days eating only one sandwich (and not finishing it), I tend not to initiate going out to dinner with my boyfriend, and I don’t usually suggest having meals. When someone asks if I’m hungry, I usually have to be convinced that I should eat (even if I really am hungry and have not eaten all day). I go on one meal per day usually when left on my own regarding food. I have woken up in the night because of hunger pains. Gaining weight and getting fat are two of the scariest things in the world for me. That says a lot about me and sin doesn’t it? I’m so afraid of weighing more than 150 pounds, and currently, I do. Having an anxiety disorder does not help the issue, and actually, I believe that the anxiety disorder is partially to blame.
In my family, body image has always been emphasized, and I have picked up on that. My mom complains about being fat. My dad is strict about eating. My mom constantly tells me how skinny I look (but in my mind I need to be skinnier). “Skinny” is tied to being “pretty.” Overweight people are criticized by my family members. So are “ugly” people (people who don’t fit the world’s definition of beauty). I see so many people that I think are beautiful but I’ve never thought that I am pretty myself. No matter how many people tell me I am beautiful, I still see myself and can only pick out flaws in my face, my body, and my personality. I still have remnants of acne despite being nearly 20 years old (I was always under the impression that it went away by this time); I have stretch marks from my pregnancy and my stomach is not flat like it used to be; I have scars on my back where two potentially pre-cancerous spots were removed; I have more body fat now than I did before my pregnancy; my eyes are too close together; my pores are too big. I am only now realizing how much my identity is tied into how I look. Even having gone over this recently in my church’s current sermon series “Image Is Everything” regarding image (which is now almost over), I did not realize how much my identity was not in Christ.
For a long time, my identity has been wrapped up in my feminine sexuality and sex-appeal. Even at the age of fourteen, I knew that I could use my body to my “advantage” and I did. By the time I was sixteen, I was pregnant. Then my identity became muddled and confused, especially after placing my son for adoption. My identity was neither that of a mother, nor that of a normal teenage girl. Now I have stretch marks and wider hips than I did before my pregnancy. I was always afraid that no man would want me if I look this way, and especially if I have a baby. I tried to get rid of the scars, and I tried to lose the weight. Even now I am exercising and trying to eat less, eat better, trying to make my body fit someone else’s image of beauty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be healthy. But my thoughts about my body are entirely unhealthy. I know that even if I were ten pounds lighter, without stretch marks or acne, I’d still hate the way I look for some other reason. My hips are too small; my shoulders are too wide; my legs aren’t thin enough. Something would cause me to hate it. And not because I’m ugly, but because my identity is currently found in something other than Jesus Christ.
It’s an incredibly difficult thing to realize that so much of what I thought was perfectly okay is actually an idol, and that I really do need to be praying that God changes my heart. He created me for a purpose that only I can serve. I have tried to wrap my identity up in other things too: artist; nerd; bookworm; birth-mother; blonde; childless; empty; single; unmarried; in a relationship; girlfriend; depressed; anxiety-ridden; teenager; individuality; unique. But never was it Jesus. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. This world is not perfect, and neither am I, but God created me just as I am so that I could bring glory to Him through illustrating His redemptive power, even for someone like me.
One of the most helpful things for me was finding out that I’m not the only one who struggles with this. In fact, even men struggle with it. Think about it, if the girls on the covers of magazines can make me feel insecure, then those guys who spend seven hours a day in the gym must make men feel insecure. So if you’re struggling with body image, know that you’re not alone, not just in regards to other people, but God isn’t leaving you alone in this struggle either.