When I was a junior in high school, I was 5’8” and weighed 190 pounds. I’ll save you a Google search and show you my place on the BMI Scale. A few more pounds and I would’ve been in the dark orange section and everything.
I always knew I was overweight. My sisters were born skinny, and their combined waistlines equaled my upper thigh. I constantly compared myself to them and every 120-pound celebrity that gallivanted around the beach in a bikini with her Thor-like boyfriend and cute puppy. After a combination of neglected abuse and watching one too many Disney movies, I decided I would stop eating my feelings away. I stopped eating altogether, and in three months I dropped thirty pounds and three dress sizes. Going into my senior year, I felt confident for the first time in my life because everyone paid attention to me. Boys thought I was pretty, I enjoyed shopping for clothes, and the popular girls let me hang out with them. It was everything I ever wanted. I wasn’t simply accepted, but worshipped. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, but mine was packaged with self-hatred, self-love, starvation, and the occasional gag-yourself-until-you-vomit bit as a punishment for eating chocolate.
Adding to the mess, I fell in love with Jesus around the same time. As the months passed, God revealed the upside-down truth that I would not be satisfied until he was worshipped instead of me. I was competing for his throne by demanding the world’s worship and affirmation. After listening to a hundred million sermons on body image, I found that most teachings fell into one of two categories:
First, there’s the “You’re so awesome and beautiful and perfect and the Lord doesn’t find one single flaw in you because you’re a sweet daughter of the King” teaching. I’ve always been turned off by this because I’m flawed, you’re flawed, and we all know it. My body isn’t perfect. If I sit down, I can count on having a roll in my stomach. If I’ve had Baja burrito, a second one is bound to show up. Zits frequent my face. I have a birthmark shaped like a strawberry on my stomach. My thighs have cellulite. Sometimes a singular hair grows on my chin like an 89-year old British lady with boils on her face. I’m not trying to be unnecessarily hard on feel-good teaching, but it seems that, while sprinkled with hints of God, this ultimately ends with more unsatisfying self-worship.
The whole reason I started thinking about this is in the first place is because I dyed my hair purple last week and all sorts of self-hatred, self-obsessed feelings came rushing in. Then I thought to myself: If my security was drastically shaken by a bottle of purple dye and a pair of scissors, there’s a problem. I also realized how many thoughts I have that deal with my weight: my arms being too fat or my face looking swollen. It’s become normal for me to obsess over my body and myself. I’m startled by how fragile the foundation is on which I’ve built my self-acceptance. It’s an “incurvatus in se” foundation— turned inward on myself. In the midst of these emotions, the Lord reminded me of a parable in Matthew 7:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
I want to build my identity on a foundation that cannot be moved by society, the media, or “fat days.” I want to stake my acceptance on a Rock that knows and loves based on Hisworth, not mine. I want to remember that there is a better way of living, generously made available by a wonderful God. I do not have to be a slave to empty self-obsession. I have been made a worshipper of Christ by the cross. I have been founded on the Rock.
Children of God, be encouraged: you do not have to be enslaved by self-obsession, pride, eating disorders, and the like. Through the power of the Spirit, you and I can turn outward and become worshippers of Christ. If you are stuck in a cycle of self-obsession, there is room for you at the cross. Turn around and run to him. He makes self-denying worshippers out of self-obsessed rebels. There is hope. Run to him.
(PS: I don’t know if you’ve ever written a blog post, but sometimes you feel confident about them and sometimes you feel like you want to vomit. I am particularly nauseated about this post because it seems scattered and sloppy. But that’s also how I feel about the subject. That being said, please be gracious with me as I struggle through a difficult area. I’m not married to anything I’ve said; I’m just in the process.)