When it comes to most areas in my life, I'm not what one could call skittish about sharing my heart or spilling my guts in writing. There are a few topics, however, that I shy away from saying what's really going on. Body image is one of those. And what woman (and many men) can't relate to that? Any of us can relate to being our own worst critic, of seeing ourselves in some capacity through broken glass, of never being satisfied with who we are or how we look.
I've come a long way.
I'm not sure any of my friends in high school knew I had an eating disorder. I'm not sure I even really admitted it to myself. I never made myself throw up or starved myself to hospitalization, but I hovered in the grayness of highly restricting my calories for all of my sophomore and junior years. Here I ran miles a day in track, cross country or off-season training. Sometimes running twice a day. And I was obsessed with not gaining weight, not being able to pinch any extra skin off my belly or arms or legs. I remember freaking out the first time I thought I saw the trace beginnings of cellulite on my thighs. P.a.n.i.c. Of course, it wasn't really there. Not yet, at least.
My mom and older sis knew, though. They saw my rib cage starting to poke out and tried so hard to get me to talk, to see a counselor, to eat more. I brushed them off, dismissed it all as being overly protective. I'm not skinny, I'd protest. My body's just fine. Well, fine but still in dire need of tweaking, refining, shaping, monitoring. The problem was, I knew too much. I knew all the signs of anorexia and bulimia, and I didn't quite fit the mold. So I figured I was ok. But I didn't feel ok. I felt like my life was ruled by what I put in my mouth and how much I sweated it off.
It's so ironic that the crazy things we do to ourselves in the name of "self-control" or "perfectionism" often end up putting the shackles on us.
Now, I'm not saying this because it's the "religious" thing to say, but in my story it was seriously the grace of God that saved me from starving myself. There was no intervention, no sign with neon lights, no huge decline in health that steered me off the path - nothing, but the simple realization that food ruled my life and robbed me of the joy of living. The cost just wasn't worth it any longer. I guess you could say, I began the process of relinquishing control in this area to God, the one who knew I really did have a problem, and the problem wasn't really food. Time to choose whether to believe the condemning voices from cultural messages or myself - that I'd never be enough - or believe what God said about me - that I'm always enough in him. I'm so thankful, to this day, that I stepped off that path before it had such a hold on me I couldn't have walked away so easily.
Today, I love food. I enjoy eating. I don't own a scale, though I admittedly feel dread in the pit of my stomach whenever I go to the doctor. I eat healthy in general, but I don't stress out about my sweet tooth or sweat the small stuff. I thought my self-image and self-worth weren't in any way tied up in this whole process, like they were before. I thought I'd healed from that.
Well, I still bear some scars.
After my injury and the abrupt end of all exercise, which I did intensely five times a week, I can feel the tension lingering just below the surface. The buffer I'd found between me and my food issues is gone. The struggle with anxiety - Will I gain weight? Lose all my muscle tone? Ever return to the same fitness level? I've watched my legs change shape (the injured one much more dramatically; the other, more imperceptibly) with a critical eye. And a critical tongue. Later, I wanted to cry when it sunk in I'd been bitterly calling my injured leg ugly. Or, in Spanish, fea. My ugly leg.
When I was sixteen, I didn't understand that life and death were in the tongue, in words spoken over myself, but I'm not sixteen anymore. I'm thirty-one, and I know better. I know what damage is caused by calling myself or any part of me ugly. I know that true beauty, worth and identity are not physical trophies to be won, degrees on the wall, career achievements, or how I measure up to peoples' (or my own) expectations. I know these things, and still, fifteen years later, I struggle.
And I know I'm not alone. So I challenged myself to write this today. Somehow brought out of the shadows and into the light, dusting off the cobwebs, it doesn't look very intimidating. But speaking the truth about who we are, to ourselves and about ourselves, is always healing, even when it's not pretty.
I am not an ugly leg. And you are not a pair of big thighs, rolls around your middle, jiggly arms, acne-scarred skin, wrinkled face, whatever it is you judge about your body. We are not these things.
So whenever I notice my tongue spewing sour lies about myself, I'm going to speak the truth, starting here. For me, the greatest, truest beauty I have is the life of the beautiful Christ making his home in me, transforming me from the inside out.