I have some things that I really don’t want to tell you, but that I want you to know. I want you to know because I get this feeling in my chest when I think about typing it up. So I’m agreeing that my heart is fluttering because I need to let people like you know that someone like me feels these feelings, too. I need to let you know that you’re not alone. But this is hard for me to tell you because it’s messy and vulnerable and I don’t want the freaking internet to know my flaws. I think I want you to see my Instagram feed and decide I must have “it” all together. I think I want you to assume I’m confident in who I am and therefore must not struggle with body image. But those thoughts are a load of bowlshirt. And what I actually know is that if you thought I didn’t struggle, you might feel more alone and ashamed of having body image issues yourself. And what I actually know is that we need to bring all of it to the light.
This morning I woke up and everything was fine. Totally fine. I made a smoothie, drank some coffee, read my Bible, stretched and did some stomach workouts (I’m calling them ‘stomach workouts’ because I don’t have abs and never have, ha). I was feeling thankful. Totally fine. When it was time to get ready for the day, I decided to put on a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a while. Not too-long-of-a while, but, like, a couple months. I’m not even sure why I haven’t worn them, I guess I just prefer other pairs.
They wouldn’t go over my hips. It was as though I was putting on jeans I wore in high school because they wouldn’t_ even_ go_ over_ my_ hips. My mind raced, but I wore these in the fall, maybe, I definitely wore them in the summer (PS- I wear jeans through the summer, never shorts, because I’m insecure about my legs and thighs). I’ve worn these within the last 6 months. Why aren’t they going over my effing hips? Queue breakdown. I stepped on the scale. I cried. I looked in the mirror at my body and my gut and my hips that were now too wide to hold jeans I wore a couple months ago.
In a matter of minutes, I went from being totally fine to really-freaking-pissed. And confused. And sad. And ashamed. I haven’t changed my eating habits. I work out 5-to-6 days a week at the gym. Nothing about my routine has changed in the last few months. So how in the world did my body let itself store fat in areas I don’t want it to?
Because of the fiasco from this morning, I’ve been thinking about my insecurities and my issues all day. I’ve never been happy with my body. It’s always been a struggle for me to look a certain way (what does “a certain way” even mean?), and I can’t actually remember a time when I was content with how I looked. Right now, I weigh more than I ever have, which I hate. But as I was thinking of ways to lose 15 pounds today, I thought back to stages in my life when I had the same insecurities and brainstormed the same weight-loss plans.
This was me in 2009. The smallest I’ve ever been post-puberty (maybe even pre-puberty… I was a chunky kid, which is what led to my body image issues). I know for certain it was 2009 and I know for certain it was the smallest I’ve ever been because of the mental turmoil I went through that year. I despised myself and my reflection. I spent hours at the gym and limited myself to 300 calories a day. So, yeah, I lost a lot of weight, but it was never satisfying and it caused a lot of harm in my life: my grades suffered, my social life was essentially non-existent, I cried when I was alone, and I felt trapped. Never happy. Never accomplished. Always left wanting more (or less?) and wanting a different body altogether. Now, when I look at this photo, I don’t think I look particularly skinny, but I also don’t think I look fat. I look… normal. But I have vivid memories of looking in the mirror in 2009, even at this photo right after it was taken, and thinking a grotesquely fat creature was looking back at me.
I’m incredibly thankful for the people and events in my life that led to an end of that season and ultimately to recovery and a healthier mental state. I started gaining weight (because that’s what happens when you begin to eat more than 300 calories a day), which was an emotional rollercoaster at first, but eventually I got to a point where I was okay. And by “okay” I mean that I let myself eat food because I knew I needed it, but I definitely didn’t like the way I looked.
In late 2010 I started dating Danny, and for most of our dating relationship I critiqued my weight because I was scared that if I got too fat he’d break up with me for a skinnier girl. Throughout college I was regimented in going to the rec center and sticking to a diet. I longed to look like I did in 2009, but I only wished it could come with less mental exhaustion. In 2013, Danny and I got engaged, which meant my exercise routine and diet were now focused on an end-goal of liking the way I looked in my wedding dress. Then we got married, which meant I needed to maintain a weight for the same reasons I did when we were dating, but now with higher and more humiliating stakes. And let me say this loud and clear– Danny never put this pressure on me at all. It always was and still is only in my head. He loves me and is so kind to me. But there’s something (culture? the enemy?) that fed me these lies and I gobbled them right up and let them make space in my soul.
Now that we’ve been married for four-and-a-half years, my body is different than it was on our wedding day. It’s especially different than it was in 2009. Yes, I weigh more than I have in the past, and yes, I’d like to feel more healthy than I do right now. But today when I was having my breakdown, all I could think about was how I wished to look like I did in 2009. Or 2014. Maybe even last summer when those jeans fit. And then I remembered that who I was when I weighed what I did years ago didn’t like what I looked like. So how can who I am now trick myself into thinking that once I reach my goal weight I won’t decide I can’t really be happy until I get back to what I weighed in 2009? And we both know now that weighing what I did in 2009 didn’t mean I was happy.
Here’s my point: it has always been something. I’ve always created a reason in my mind that I needed to lose weight. I’ve always told myself that happiness was on the other side of a number. And then it wasn’t.
Who’s with me? I think we have a predetermined number in our mind that we “need” to be. Maybe it’s 125. Or maybe 125 seems scary heavy to you. Isn’t it funny how all of our bodies are different? I think in order to ever weigh 125 pounds, I’d need to limit myself to 300 calories a day and that is not living. Another woman my age might easily weigh 125 pounds. That woman and I have very different body types. But for whatever reason and whatever the number is, we choose one and we focus on it.
“I just need to lose 5 more pounds.”
“I’m watching what I eat so I can hit my goal weight.”
Where do these decisions come from? Who told you your goal weight? And if you have to restrict yourself to get to it, who’s to say you’ll be able to relax and stop restricting yourself once you hit it? Who told you happiness couldn’t exist within the person you are right now?
I don’t have an answer to this or even a pretty ending about how I’m better now. I wish I did, but I actually know that’s not what this post is supposed to be about. BUT I can tell you that if you’re feeling any of this, you’re definitely not alone. I’m right there with you.
Here are photos from over the years where I specifically remember feeling insecure. Now all I see is a normal-looking girl. In a lot of them I even think I look beautiful. I’m sharing them with you because maybe you’ll see her, too.
Oh, what I would give to be able to speak that beauty and truth over who I was when I was 18, 20, 22. I wonder if I’ll think the same thing when I’m 40 looking back at photos from this year.
I’ve heard this phrase used for another social movement, but I think it applies here: Don’t waste your life. My honest truth is that I don’t want to forever look back on dated photos of myself and notice my beauty at the same time I mourn how I despised what I looked like in that season. I want to live right now by loving who I am and what I look like right now. Maybe it’s actually less about loving what I look like and more about loving what my body can do. Loving how it has blessed me. Loving how it holds my heart and my brain and the parts that make me so special.
Here’s what I’ll tell you because it’s what I want to tell myself:
You are beautiful. Your body is beautiful and purposeful. Miraculous, even. Your hips and your butt and your stomach are good. You don’t look like you used to and you don’t need to. You were different then. You are stronger now because you’ve been through hard things and you’ve made it through. The girl you used to be couldn’t have imagined the good and capable and important woman you are today. Who you are is so much more than what you look like in a photo, or the pants that fit you, or the number on your scale. You are built up of a sound mind and a spirit that sees the good in others and generously speaks it over them. You are wise and discerning and believe other people hold immense value and aren’t afraid to let them know it. I only wish you’d see it and speak it over yourself as easily. You are more profound than a weight-loss success story; you have more depth than the space you take up. Your face glows and your heart beats and your legs move and that is worth a celebration. The beauty of who you are–all of you— every ounce and pound and roll and cell– is worth a celebration.
Here’s what I’ll challenge you to do:
Look through some old photos of yourself. Be honest and decide how you were feeling when each picture was taken. Do you remember? Speak to that girl in the photos… speak beauty and worth and love over her. Then, muster up every ounce of bravery and self-love this will take, and go do the same thing in the mirror.
I love you and I’m fighting for you to love yourself. I’m fighting to love myself, too.