My weight has been an ongoing struggle for me for as long as I can remember. I actually have no memories of being satisfied with my appearance. I don’t hate myself – I actually believe I have a pretty face and there are features about me that I like. But, when it comes to my body? I live in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. Add to that some weird postpartum changes & weight gain, and I feel about at my lowest some days.
I don’t talk much about my weight. When I was probably eight or nine years old, I talked a lot about how I was “fat” (I wasn’t, but you can read about why I thought that here). I thought, if I go ahead and make sure everyone knows that I know I’m fat, maybe they won’t make fun of me or talk about it behind my back (example: Fat Amy). One day, a friend responded to my comments about how fat I was by saying loudly, “Stop saying that. You’re not fat.”
I learned two things from this encounter. First, on a positive note, I learned that it is unattractive, and can be a little annoying, to focus on your insecurities so often in front of people. It is a learned life skill to choose not to speak down to yourself out loud. People don’t want to hear it, and most people don’t care! I mean that in the sense that they probably haven’t noticed and/or are not actively thinking about whatever it is you feel insecure about. If you bring it up all the time, though, then they will be thinking about it. In music performance, we are taught to never let our faces betray our mistakes. The reality is the majority of people probably didn’t even notice, but if you make a face, they will. Same idea. Whether your confidence is real or a desperate attempt to fake it, confidence begets confidence.
The second thing I learned, though, was that this body image struggle was a little shameful. Obviously, this was a conversation between eight-year-olds so I in no way hold this friend responsible, but a better response might have been, “Molly, why do you think so poorly of yourself? You’re beautiful. And more than that, you’re talented & smart & funny & kind… you don’t need to worry so much about what people think.” But, she didn’t say that. And most of the experiences in my life have reinforced the belief that image is everything. Who you are is of little consequence.
Growing up, I remember feeling the distinct message that I was a nuisance. Everything about me was too big: my feelings, my personality, my beliefs, my body. I took up too much space in the world, I demanded too much, and that was bad. I became my own self fulfilling prophecy as my insecurities grew, I withdrew more & more from people, and found myself increasingly alone. By high school, I was a hot mess. I was trying to please everybody around me, play whatever part was asked of me, just so I could somewhat blend in and not rock the boat too much. There was a boy I thought I was in love with, and when he returned my feelings, of course my instinct was to cling on for dear life. Nobody else was ever going to love me, probably, so I better not let this one get away. He treated me horribly in the end. We weren’t allowed to date, so all of our “moments” together were somewhat hidden. When I finally demanded, after a few years of this, that we either get together or break it off, he chose to end it. Then he denied that the entire thing had even happened, and it only took a few weeks for our very small church youth group (including the youth pastor) to agree that I was, indeed, the possessive, psycho, stalker chick he made me out to be. I will never forget the humiliation of my brother coming home one night and telling me about a conversation all the boys had had about me being “too emotional” and “wearing my heart on my sleeve.”
When you are told that who you are is shameful, that what you feel is wrong, you have to stuff it all down somehow. For me, that meant eating. The last two years of high school I stopped caring. I stopped trying to look nice at school, I stopped trying to get good grades, I stopped all my activities, and I sank into a deep depression. I came home each day after school and ate as much as I could eat, watched TV, and usually fell asleep on my floor trying to care enough to study, but failing. By the time I graduated, I’d missed enough school that they almost didn’t let me walk, except for my saint of a mother who petitioned the school board and explained that my depression had literally ruined my life for two years. Not graduating probably would have resulted in suicide, and that is not hyperbole. I had no friends, I was heavier than ever, and I was completely hopeless.
To be fair, I don’t think I actually had no friends. There were a few dear people who stuck by me, or tried, but when you’re depressed, you can’t really see that. I see it now, though. Looking back, there were a few of friends who probably saved my life, and that’s not me being dramatic. A girl at school who was endlessly positive and relentless in her desire to be my friend, even though I was miserable. The boy who shared my melancholy personality whose house I would go to most days after school so we could hang out, watch TV, go to movies, and do whatever. The other boy who took me to prom, even though he’d graduated the year before, and treated it like it was his honour. Those small glimmers of hope kept me going. Please understand, I do not hold the people in my life personally responsible for the mess I’m in today. These are just things that happened to me – our brokenness affects others, and I am no exception.
Even after I lost 80 pounds it was only for about 2 months that I thought I was happy. I went to college and had the best year of my life up to that point, and yet, I was still insecure about myself. I thought I needed to lose even more weight – maybe 50 more pounds and then I would be happy. The problem was, I hadn’t addressed the problem. Sure, I was healthier on the outside and I “looked” better. But, my eating was still horrible, my heart still hurt, and the mental tape on repeat continued: Who you are is not good enough, and you never will be. It doesn’t matter what you accomplish or how many compliments you receive, if your heart is not convinced of its value, you will not believe any of it.
I’m going to fast forward to today because that was all ten+ years ago and I don’t need to bore you with even more depressing drama. Suffice it to say, twenty years of believing this lie has left me in an odd predicament. When you believe that who you are is undesirable or unlovely, the parallel belief becomes that you should adopt any qualities around you that are desirable and lovely, while hiding your own qualities away. That person is excellent at dance, why didn’t I become a dancer? That girl is so good at listening and asking questions, why am I so talkative all the time? She is so thin and everyone loves her- I need to be prettier. It’s probably better if I don’t mention my enjoyment of a good zombie attack. It will be easier for me if I keep my opinions to myself.
One time I was talking to a girl in college and sharing about my weight struggles and I said something to the effect of, “Most people just don’t understand.” She jumped right on me and basically said, “Why would you say something like that? Just because someone hasn’t struggled with their weight doesn’t mean they’ve had it easy, and it doesn’t mean they automatically love themselves.” In other words, “You don’t know my life.” Another loving correction from a friend. My weight is just one part of me- an outward part at that. It is my heart that needs work, and no amount of weight loss or gain will change my heart. And honestly, other than the need to be healthy & well, who the hell cares what size pants I wear??
We are all searching for our worth and our value. We are all desperate to know that who we are is enough. We are all wondering if our behaviour, our thoughts, our life choices, or our abilities will measure up and earn the approval of others. I mean, if you aren’t thinking any of these things then please email me so I can sit at your feet & glean from your wisdom, oh guru of life. As a practical person, I wish there were Five Easy Steps to Self Confidence, but unfortunately, this is a long and arduous road. I mean, I know the answer. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus can heal. Only Jesus brings truth. Only Jesus can gently hold our hearts and whisper love & affection the way we need to hear it. Only at the Cross can we find the balm of salvation which covers our wounded sinfulness and declares us whole and wholly righteous. Only grace breaks our self & sin imposed chains and bids us come and be free. The answer is simple, but it isn’t always easy. I can’t see or touch Jesus, and his voice is easy to miss in the clammer of day-to-day life. I am choosing to believe that one day I’ll be able to write a victory post about how I overcame my struggle with self-esteem, weight, and eating issues. I believe that God wants to redeem this area of my life & use it for his glory. I believe he wants me to be well and whole. But the truth is, I’m only just getting below the surface of this issue in a real way. I’m only just understanding how pervading and destructive these lies have been to my life. So, for today, I can see hope breaking through the clouds like little slivers of sunshine, and it is with a shaking voice and knocking knees that I am taking my first steps into who God actually created me to be.
If you made it to the end, thank you. Thanks for caring, and thanks for reading. I’d love to know what this struggle has looked like for you, because I believe we’re all fighting with it to some degree. Thank God for the promise of heaven.