D&C 18:10 states “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” In the gospel, we believe a soul consists of a spirit and a body, together. Though we may discuss the ways in which bodies are imperfect or weak, how often do we remember how God feels about our bodies? As the creators, our Heavenly Mother and Father see incredible worth in human bodies as they are admired and used to serve and love others.
As much as this may be true, however, it is a rare person indeed who loves her/his body with no reservations, shame, or fear. Moreover, developing eating disorders as a result of trauma, insecurity, and shame is much less rare than you’d think.
We are Here
Here are some statistics from the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders that may help illustrate my point:
Nearly 1 in 100 women in America suffers from anorexia nervosa in her lifetime.
Almost 2 in 100 women in America suffer from bulimia nervosa in their lifetime.
Close to 3 in 100 Americans suffer from a binge-eating disorder in their lifetime.
Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.
Eating disorders have a high correlation with anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
As a child, I knew a woman who, as a young mother, tried to return to her pre-birth weight by eating only a Diet Coke and a chocolate bar every day. I know men who work out obsessively, injure themselves, and work out more to turn every bit of energy into muscle.
Several friends of mine still struggle to keep big meals down because for years, they could not allow their bodies to digest. For a period of time, I myself only felt worth and satisfaction if, every day, I ate less than 500 calories and ran two miles. Eating disorders and poor body image are problems we all face, though we may not know it.
So, to whom it may concern, I write this letter.
Who You Are
Perhaps you’re a new mom trying to get her old body “back.”
Or maybe you’re a teenager, just trying to fit in and lose what makes you insecure.
Maybe you are an athlete trying to cut weight. Or perhaps you have suffered a major traumatic event.
There are many, many, more life situations that can lead to poor body-image and lend to eating disorders. For most of us, though, our day can be ruined by a second on the scale or a bad angle in the mirror. Our wardrobe choices aim to hide rather than highlight. One ill-conceived comment about our bodies sticks with us forever.
Well, I’ll have you know, whoever you are, that your body is beautiful. Don’t mistake my reasoning—it is not beautiful because it is imperfect, because there are no “perfect” bodies here. Try as magazines, movies, and social media might, the world does not have the authority to decide what bodies are acceptable and worthy of love. We, as individuals, do that.
Moreover, your body is not beautiful just because it is healthy; unhealthy or struggling bodies are just as valid and divine as high-functioning ones.
You’re Worthy Because You Exist, and So Does Your Body
No, your body is beautiful because it is yours and it exists. And so does the soul that lives inside you. Please remember this when you look in the mirror. Just as importantly, please remember this when you look at others whose bodies you may not understand. As often as we condemn others for their apparent physical flaws, our brain learns to condemn ours, too. Criticizing the body, no matter who it belongs to is a lose-lose game.
As for me, I have always been rounder and broader than other women in my family and my friends. I began to think my body was defective and that I needed to change at around age seven. It is hard for me to remember a time when I did not feel ashamed for taking up too much space. It is also hard for me to remember a time before I habitually criticized other people’s bodies in my head—just as I criticized my own.
Just know this: I know what it’s like to feel unworthy because of the shape you came in. And to love yourself and others less because of it.
It is a long, hard journey to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. We may compare ourselves to others until the day we die. But most of us have many days before then! And those days should be filled with nothing but compassion and acceptance for ourselves and others. Cutting out hurtful remarks about curves, angles, crookedness, size, shape, and weight will do much more for our bodies than cutting carbs ever will.
So What Can I Do Today?
For long-term help with an eating disorder, nothing beats attending therapy, asking about possible medications for concurrent mental illness, and seeing a dietician. These are irreplaceable steps in the road to recovery. However, to start, it never hurts to tackle the problem a moment at a time. Here are some small things you can do to love your body better today:
First, as soon as you can (maybe in the middle of reading this) look long and hard at yourself in a full-length mirror. Make a decision before making any evaluative judgments that you will appreciate what you see and treat your body as the dear friend that it is. Do this as often as you can.
Second, make a decision today to eat for your body and your spirit. Eating should be fun but it is also a responsibility. Be sure to fill your plate with vitamins, proteins, and foods that provide both short (carbs/other sugars) and long-term (fats) energy. Pay attention to how you feel as you eat, making sure that you’re enjoying your meal and eating exactly as much as you need.
Third, refuse to punish yourself or your body anymore. If you feel self-conscious, ease yourself out of it with positive self-talk—don’t feel ashamed of being ashamed. If you binge-eat, don’t compensate by starving yourself. The best thing you can do for your body is to make decisions for it lovingly.
The bottom line is this: Treat your body as if you love it and try hard to, and gradually, the love will come to you. I wish you the best. You are of infinite worth, and “you” includes your body.