In high school, I was 5’8” tall and weighed 190 pounds. I drank a venti passion tea lemonade with 9 (yes, nine) shots of classic syrup every day after school. I ate teriyaki chicken from Pei Wei three times a week. My midnight snack was a cup full of peanut butter with dozens of mini chocolate chips mixed in. I didn’t have an emotional vocabulary to express the deep-rooted shame, anxiety and depression I was experiencing, so I ate myself into oblivion. Day after day. Night after night. Coping. Trudging forward. Begging for acceptance.
Around sophomore year, a friend of mine lost a ton of weight and got “pretty” and I decided I could do the same. I researched celebrity diets and Victoria’s Secret model’s weights. I realized the only way I could achieve that standard was to stop eating altogether, so I did. I wasn’t motivated by anything other than acceptance and vanity. I wanted to be pretty enough, skinny enough, and appealing enough to fit in. I was, like millions of women especially this time of year, driven by shame.
I lost thirty pounds in three months. I amped up my workout plan and dropped fifteen more. I went from a size 12 to a size 4/6. My eye color dulled to a pale green, my hair thinned, and my skin was a mess…but I was finally skinny. I did it! Tons of people noticed, too, telling me how awesome I looked. They said I should be a model. But after the shine wore off and people stopped celebrating my appearance, I was alone again. Left to reckon with myself.
And even though I was skinny, I was still ashamed. I looked in the mirror and thought of all the other things wrong with me—my hair isn’t long enough, I’m too pale, my teeth are yellow. I’d watch movies and constantly compare my body to the ones on the screen. I’d sum up every woman on the street and think, “My stomach is flatter than hers” or “I want her arms!”
It was a vicious cycle of self-obsession and self-deprecation, one provoking the other, and I was too emotionally and spiritually unhealthy to see the damage I was doing to myself.
Jesus saved me around that time, and started to teach me about His embrace. He showed me that shame is a deceitful, short-term motivator. He showed me that vanity (even vanity disguised as self-care) is fruitless. He continues to remind me that my body is not for decoration or self-obsession, but for worship and glorying Him. Even now, after eight years, a million hours of therapy, and consciously removing toxins from my social media, movie, and TV life, I still struggle in long, delicate waves.
I’m currently on the tail-end of a harsh wave. My husband and I are generally healthy humans. We’re not chowing down on Pei Wei every day or eating our emotions with pounds of fudge. But my body is different than it used to be. I have an adult body now, not a sixteen-year-old, bouncy body. My tendency is to do what I did in high school—research every celebrity diet, starve myself, worship myself, get a new hair cut, wear more makeup, and base my identity on appearance. My tendency is to look at pictures on Instagram and compare my body to another woman’s body. My tendency is to objectify. To compete. To compare.
Last night my husband said, “Please embrace your body for me, okay? I love the way you look. I wouldn’t change a thing.” And I knew he meant it.
I wondered why I couldn’t accept and appreciate my own body? My motivation to change is certainly not my husband, because I have no doubt in my mind he loves my physical body. My motivation isn’t spiritual either, because I don’t think God’s acceptance is wavering with every pound on the scale.
I sat in bed, brutally honest with myself, and realized my motivation is a desire to be acceptable to the world. I don’t want people to look at my Instagram or Facebook and think, “She’s really let herself go!” I want people to not only accept, but to adore my appearance. Honestly, it’s sad that my primary motivator is people I either don’t know or don’t often talk to, but I’ve got a hunch I’m not the only one.
As the new year comes around and you see a billion advertisements about “finally” getting the body you’ve always wanted, take a minute to be honest with yourself. Is your motivation to steward well the beautiful, intricate temple God has given you? Or is your motivation vanity and shame?
I don’t know if this is ringing true with your heart today, but know this—beauty is fleeting and your body is wasting away (2 Corinthians). Wanting to change is not bad, but wanting to change for the wrong reasons will never be satisfying. Whether today or in fifty years, a day will come when you look in the mirror and realize there’s nothing you can do about the sagginess and scars and wrinkles anymore. A day will come when you, too, will be left alone to reckon with yourself. One day you’ll have to decide if your acceptability is in your physical appearance. One day you’ll come to realize how poor of a motivator shame is, and how vanity never fulfills her promises.
(This post was sparked by watching a movie trailer for Embrace. Check it out!)