Show me a battlefield that saves
That world is still a world away, but you are my liberty
I remember a few weeks before school ended, I was standing with a group of girls before the bell rang as one of them commented about another girl who had just walked by.
“Ooo. Yikes. Her shorts are way too tight. Her butt is totally hanging out.”
“Yeah, I know. Geez. She’s gained so much weight.”
I stood there thinking, as some of them smirked about said girl’s weight, who, by the way, wasn’t even close to being fat: What if she’s healthier? What if she feels better about herself? She has more self-confidence than I’ve ever had. What if gaining weight is good sometimes?
Even though their comments weren’t about me, I felt the personal weight of their words. Since last year, I’ve gained 20 pounds (so I can have a properly functioning young-woman body), and an all-too-familiar insecure fear began rising within me. Could everyone tell I’d gained weight? What do they think of me because of it? Am I being talked about behind my back too?
As awfully vain as it sounds, and though I’m ashamed of it, these thoughts did (and sometimes still do) run through my head. They come from inner voices that still lurk in the muddy basement of my mind. Voices I think we all experience in different forms sometimes–voices that tell us we’re not enough–not skinny enough, smart enough, pretty enough, flawless enough to be accepted and loved by others. Worth nothing. Far too imperfect, so therefore, failures, unlovable.
In 8th grade, I developed a dangerously insecure mindset which allowed these voices to start to influence how I thought about myself. I had this overwhelming need to be perfect—more perfect than everyone else—and I saw how imperfect I was, and decided I needed to change or I would remain unlovable. This isn’t to say I didn’t have family and friends who loved me, because they did and still do love me very much, but I largely ignored them because I didn’t want to believe that I was beautiful. It started when I lost a little weight because of an illness. It gave me an artificial self-confidence to see numbers drop on a scale, so when I got better, I quickly made that my new goal. I started to eat very little and lost weight quickly, even though I wasn’t overweight at all. My weight soon dictated my thoughts and feelings. I would weigh myself several times a day, and when the scale read a number I didn’t like, I would feel defeated and crushed. Because calories and food were constantly on my mind, it was hard even doing fun things with friends and family because I was so worried that I would eat too much with them or expose my growing disorder.
After a few months of this, I became very unhealthy and underweight. People started to notice how much weight I had lost in that short time. I remember going to the doctor’s to get a physical in the summer between middle and high school so I could play high school volleyball. The doctor was very concerned about my weight, and said unless I gained weight, I couldn’t play volleyball. I remember feeling so bitter and irritated towards the people who loved me the most and wanted me to get better. I abhorred the idea of gaining weight, so I locked myself in a dark cell of bitterness and self-loathing that summer.
Fast forward to freshman year, and things started to get better. The worst of it was over, and I began to see with a new perspective how unhealthy I’d become. I went on a church retreat for the first time that November, and I confessed to our priest, which was the first time I’d told anyone, about what I was struggling with. He embraced me in love and reminded me of my true identity in Christ. There was no judgement, only understanding and compassion. This gave me a lot of hope, and I decided then and there that I would try with all my might to get better. So that marked the start of my journey towards recovery, especially my mental recovery.
And now, as a college-bound 18-year-old, I’m in a place that my 14-year-old self would have never imagined. I’ve accomplished and experienced extraordinary things that have absolutely nothing to do with what I weigh or what I look like. My 8th grade self would cringe if I told her I’ve gained back the weight she tried so hard to lose, but would she cringe if I told her that I made some of her dreams came true: I got my Gold Award, was editor-in-chief of the newspaper, sang in Honors Choir, now have a summer job at the Girl Scouts headquarters, and will be starting school at a beautiful college on the beach this fall, studying her passion? I think she would think that’s really cool. I wish I could go back and tell her that she is enough, that God has a plan for her, and that it’s her passion—not her appearance—that will give her wings to fly.
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
The question that’s been hovering over me these past few weeks is this: What do I do with these extra 20 pounds? Do I over-exercise until I fit into those tiny shorts again? Do I start skipping meals so I can again look like those emaciated grunge-era models? Will I delete every photo that I think I look “fat” in, even if it was a happy moment? No. I will do none of these things. I’m not a slave to that anymore.
No, I will give thanks for the 20 pounds I’ve gained. I will give thanks because my body is functioning how a young woman’s body should function. I will give thanks because 20 pounds ago I wouldn’t have had the energy to swim for hours with the kids I nanny and ride my bike places instead of driving everywhere. I will give thanks because I can sing and worship in church choir with all my heart without getting lightheaded and needing to sit. I will give thanks because I can lift and move heavy boxes and bags around my office job and in my house without feeling like I’m going to collapse. I will give thanks because I can eat a big bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream late at night on the back patio with my sister, and instead of feeling guilty over calories, I will feel happy and content from crying-laughing at inside jokes and having meaningful conversations. I will give thanks because these 20 pounds have helped me discover an inner beauty in me I never saw before because I was distracted by the mirror and scale. The truth is, my body is the healthiest it’s been in years, and I don’t need a scale to know that, because I can tell by the way I’m starting to live. Skinny does not equal beautiful, nor does it always equal healthy.
“Get off the scale! I have yet to see a scale that can tell you how enchanting your eyes are. I have yet to see a scale that can show you how wonderful your hair looks when the sun shines rays on it. I have yet to see a scale that can thank you for your compassion, sense of humor, and contagious smile…The scale cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, life force, possibility, strength or love. Don’t give the scale more power than it has earned. Take note of the number, then get off the scale and live your life. You are beautiful!” —Steve Maraboli
I am more than my body. I am more than my accomplishments, more than even my own personality. I have God living and breathing within me, and this makes me more than myself. It’s a beautiful mystery to know that we are both human and divine, “partakers of divine nature” (2 Pet. 1-4) and have the God who makes all things new constantly making us new. You are more than enough. You are significant and have a sacred, necessary purpose in this world, and this purpose is not to obsess over your body. We are meant for far more holy, far more extraordinary and profound callings. Let the truth of Christ’s words sink deep into the bruises on your heart.
I love you little rose, I love you more than you can fathom. Remember your body is my temple, my dwelling place, so sacred and beautiful to me. But even more than that is the beauty of your heart, more beautiful than a thousand roses. When you are tempted to weigh or scrutinize your appearance, remember that what matters is your heart, your zest for life, your passions—the things that make you colorful and vibrant as I want you to be. You are my beloved, my most holy daughter. Your past is wiped away. Do not settle for anyone who doesn’t see the beauty in your flower heart. Look to me always, and know you are treasured, made new, unfathomably priceless.
I realize this will be a lifelong battle for me, but I know that with Christ at the center of my life, those insecure thoughts and temptations will never take hold of me like they once did. In order to stay grounded I have to constantly ask myself, Where am I looking for acceptance? And if the answer is in other’s words, or society, or boys, or friends, or anything but God, I know I need to reconsider. I am no longer a lurking, unworthy reflection of a distorted society. I am a revolution. Free to eat and enjoy the food that God meant for us to enjoy. Free to run, free to smile, free to love my body for what it is: a temple for Christ.
As scary as it was for me to write and share this post, I pray that my story will encourage anyone who has ever struggled with body image and self-love. You are beautiful. You are His beloved, and He calls you by name. Even on your worst days. I understand the battle, but I also know that you will overcome, because Christ already overcame. He already won this battle for you, so wave your victory flag, and dance in the freedom of knowing you are immeasurably loved.
–Pope Emetrius Benedict XVI