I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty; I’ve got whose-its and whats-its galore…. But the thing I’ve never had a lot of? Confidence — especially when it comes to my appearance.
Okay, that was the cheesiest intro to an article I’ve ever written. Don’t judge me.
I know I’ve talked about it before, but self-esteem has been a big enough struggle in my life that I think it deserves more than a single article or two.
Growing up, I was never satisfied with my appearance, partially because being skinny has never come naturally to me — and if I wasn’t skinny, was I even worth anything? The memory of stepping on a scale in the fifth grade is forever burned in my memory. I got sick at school, so the school nurse did a quick checkup on me that involved weighing me. When my sister came to pick me up, the nurse loudly informed her that I was overweight. She made it, and me by extension, sound so repulsive that as soon as we left the office, I burst into tears.
At that moment, I learned that I was disgusting because of my weight, and this idea was only perpetuated by less-than-thoughtful middle school boys who called me fat; every magazine article I read; and every change of the TV channel, where ultra-thin and unattainably beautiful women graced the screen.
From that moment in the nurse’s office, I became involved in a seemingly never-ending battle with my weight. I was constantly putting myself on diets that I would inevitably break after basically starving myself for a few days; I was forever attempting to hide my too-big thighs with dark-wash jeans; I was continuously looking into mirrors to see if someone hideous was still looking back at me.
All throughout middle and high school, I was pretty much a wreck any time a boy I thought was cute (which was basically all of them) talked to me. All I could think was, “He thinks I’m ugly. He’s probably so grossed out by how fat I am.” I was so paralyzed by those thoughts that I could hardly form a single word when it came to the opposite sex. Looking back, I realize I probably came across as aloof and snobby, but the truth is that I was just absolutely, heart-stoppingly terrified.
Add to my weight qualms a firm belief that my nose was too big, my hair too frizzy, my lips too thin, and my eyebrows too thick and you had one deeply insecure teenager.
When I went to college, though, everything changed. I got really sick and dropped twenty pounds. It wasn’t the ideal way to lose weight, but hey, I’d take it! Suddenly, I was skinny — and, in my mind, worthwhile.
I was so much more confident in how I looked because I felt like I was finally prettier. I flirted with boys and felt more comfortable with myself than I ever had before! It was amazing.
Fast forward several years and all of the sudden, thanks to a thyroid-affecting autoimmune condition, I started gaining all the weight back out of nowhere. I was terrified. I went from feeling more attractive to, once again, feeling disgusting and unsure of myself. At this point, I was married and my husband was very sweet and loving, constantly assuring me that I still looked wonderful.
But of course, I didn’t believe him.
All my life, I’ve equated my worth with how I look. I know deep down that it doesn’t actually matter; that God’s love for us in not dependent on whether we’re a size 2 or a size 20 (although of course He wants us to be healthy) — but for some reason, I still couldn’t shake the thought that I was a significantly more worthwhile human being when I was thinner and prettier.
But here is what I have learned and am still learning: there is no wrong way to have a body. The purpose of my body isn’t to be a centerpiece that is on display for people to look at; it’s not a bejeweled ornament for people to ooh and aah over. It’s a gift from God; a tool to be used for amazing purposes. Because of my body, I can do incredible things.
And that doesn’t change based on the number on the scale.
Our Bodies Are Our Homes
Our bodies are our homes, the house of our spirits. And just like any home, let’s be real — it’s nice to have a pretty exterior.
But if a house has a beautiful exterior but the inside includes rotten wood, caved-in ceilings, backed-up plumbing, and shoddy electrical work? Uh, yeah. It doesn’t matter how pretty the exterior is; you’re not going to want that house.
What’s inside the house is what matters. If the exterior is a little lacking — maybe it’s too plain, the roof needs a few new shingles, or it could use a fresh coat of paint — but the inside is full of high ceilings, cozy bedrooms, and a functional kitchen… That house is one we’d be happy in.
A house’s worth isn’t nearly so dependent on what’s outside as it is on what’s inside, because a house’s worth — it’s literal worth — has everything to do with how functional it is and how happy and safe it makes us feel. Houses were made to shelter us from storms and give us a place to rest.
A house isn’t an ornament, although it’s nice to have a beautiful one. It’s a safe-harbor meant to shield and protect us.
The exterior of a house will likely change over time. It will be affected by age, weather, and a host of other factors — just like we are. But a house’s good bones will mostly remain the same, and that’s what’s important.
External beauty fades. Internal beauty doesn’t.
And no matter how beautiful you are, inside or out, we all have the exact same worth as children of God. The packaging doesn’t matter whatsoever, even though it feels like it matters so much right now.
Being Healthy Includes a Healthy Self-Image
We focus so much on being healthy, but I think we sometimes forget to apply that to our emotional self as well as our physical self.
Being physically healthy is wonderful, and obviously it’s an important and worthwhile goal to work toward. Our bodies are a gift, and we should do our best to take care of them.
But if your body fat percentage is amazing and your mind is a mess? Well, then you’re not really healthy.
Related: Breaking Free OR Shaking Off Satan
Which person would you say is truly healthier: someone who is incredibly fit, but is deeply depressed due to poor self-esteem OR someone who is a little chubby but happy with themselves?
I’d pick the latter, because being healthy is about so much more than angular jaws and washboard abs.
Medium writer Nia Shanks put it this way:
“Here’s a not-so-gentle way to put things into perspective. If you were told you only had six months to live (yes, I know how trite this cliche is, but bare [sic] with me) would you immediately think, “Nooooo! I need more time to lose weight and get visible abs!”? Chances are the appearance of your body wouldn’t even crack the top 100 things you thought about during that . . . moment.
You would think about the people you love. The memories you’ve yet to create. You would likely ask if you made a difference in this world and if it’s better because you were in it. You’d think about the amazing things you did, and perhaps regret the things you didn’t do. But I bet neither you or anyone else would go to their grave wishing they would have decreased their waist circumference by a few more inches first.”
(FYI: If you choose to look at that article in its entirety, know that it does include a singular instance of colorful language.)
If your weight wouldn’t be the focus of your life if you had six months to live, why should it be the main focus now?
That’s not to say that your physical health isn’t important at all and you should throw all caution to the wind, because being physically healthy is so important and it affects many aspects of our lives. But when it comes down to it, there will always be more important things in life than the number on your scale: your relationship with God, how you treat other people, and what you are doing to make the world around you a better place.
We are so much more than our weight, and being too large or too small will never change our inherent worth.
I’m going to be honest with you: I’m still not 100% happy with my weight or my looks, and honestly, I don’t know that I ever will be in this life. I don’t know that I’ll ever look in the mirror and think, “I love my frizzy hair!” or “That is one good-looking bod.” But thankfully, I’m realizing more and more that I am more than my physical appearance. I’m more than the number on the scale.
I always thought that more people would like me if I were thinner, prettier — but the truth is, none of the people in my life that really matter care much about whether I’ve lost or gained a few pounds.
They like me for how I act and how I treat them. They like me for what is inside.
And that’s what matters most to God — not the number on the scale.
Additional Body Positivity Resources:
“I Thank Thee for This Body” by Starla Awerkamp Butler
“To Young Women” by Jeffrey R. Holland
“Our Sacred Bodies” by Marissa Widdison (About teaching children body positivity!)