February 27th, 2010
As National Eating Disorder Awareness week winds down, I felt that I should address the issue of body image. I can’t really talk of my experience with an eating disorder because I haven’t had one–at least anything worthy of a diagnosis (I believe that most women struggle with some level of disordered eating), but I can talk about my own struggles with body image.
I think that all women, and probably a lot of men, too, struggle with body image. I think it would be odd not to. We live in a society that is obsessed with appearances. Hollywood only seems to love the pretty and the skinny and the handsome and just don’t feel like you’re good enough if you don’t fit their cookie cutter ideal of “human”.
I grew up with boys, and so did my mom, and I went to a small Christian school and there I also hung out with boys. Being skinny and dressing nice and putting on makeup was the furthest thing from my mind. It wasn’t until high school when I had a friend who was obsessed with how she looked. This was my very best friend and I spent most of my time with her so I was constantly hearing things like “I am so fat” or “I hate my love-handles”. I remember shopping for jeans with her once. When she was in the dressing room she cried out, “They are tight!”, and I offered to get her the next size up and she said, “No! I will NOT wear a size X”…as I stood there in size X, feeling less than perfect and less than loved.
Other times she would make comments about the size I wear compared to the size she wore. It seemed like all of her beauty rituals came out of girly, superficial magazines, so I started to read them, and I actually started to care. Who was this monster growing in me? Where was the Abby that was only concerned with fast-pitch softball and mastering the art of “fake-bunt-swing-away”? Where was the Abby who loved to hustle and have a catch with her dad and work on correcting her terrible side-arm.
Goodbye, concession stand food. Goodbye, trips to the local custard stand after softball victories (or HELLO guilt for eating it). I drank diet sodas, ate only salads but never lost a single pound. I tried to buy the right make-up or shop for clothes for my body type. I tried to live up to my friend’s perception of beauty–the perception taken right from the Hollywood “human”. It never happened.
Guess what? To be human is to be flawed. And to be human is to be unique. To be human is to do what you love and be yourself. Can you imagine a world full of people that looked, dressed and acted the same? If we never made a mistake, what would we ever learn?
For some reason unbeknownst to me, we stopped being friends. Although I mourned the loss of a friend, I found that a healthy body image returned slowly. I did lose weight, and I started running and was just all around happy with who I was and so thankful that God spared me from that sick cycle of emotional self-destruction. I can’t blame her for my body image issues, and I’m not, I make my own decisions in life. But surrounding yourself with those negative influences doesn’t help you overcome any obstacles.
Since then there are still times when I get caught up in poor body image, but overall I understand that being healthy is more important than being skinny, and being Abby is more important than being “Hollywood”. I have come to embrace all of my tom-boyish qualities. I love that I hate makeup and that I’d choose sweatpants over jeans any day. I love that my hair never looks right and I have no idea who the popular singers and actors are. I love that I don’t care for anything except what I should care about.
I care about my family. I love them all for who they are the unique characteristics they bring into my life. I care about being healthy because I care about my body as the Temple of God. I care about fueling it for runs and pushing it to work harder to run farther and faster. I care about my heart and my soul. I care about the fact that I am a child of God. I care about Proverbs 31:30 which says, “Charm is fleeting and beauty is deceptive, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
I haven’t overcome all of my body image issues, and I don’t know that I ever will. But I’ve come to realize that God made me and loves me and called me for His own pleasure and good will.
“Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, you have been bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
-1 Corinthians 6:19-22
If you’re reading this and struggling with your body image and self esteem, please know that you aren’t alone. Everyone struggles with it. But know that your worth will never be found in your pants-size or a pimple-free face. It’s found in your relationships-with God, with your family, and with the friends who put no other expectations on you except being yourself. If you need someone to talk to, please email me at ajackson415(at)gmail(dot)com. I can’t promise to give you answers, but I can promise to be your friend and love you for who you are.