A letter to my younger self: Body image

Can you look into the mirror and tell yourself you are beautiful? Not out of pride or conceit, but because you are rooted in the knowledge that everything God created has a unique beauty that only it can show the world?

Body image. Self confidence. Personal love and acceptance. These were issues I struggled with for many years, issues that went spiritually and physically undiagnosed for a long time. And yet they were issues so subtly rooted into my psyche that I rejected their existence.

Maybe it’s best to introduce you to the girl I was. For most of my life, I would not have called myself beautiful based on societal standards. My hair would have been better suited to the frizziness of my mom’s teenage years as a girl in the 80s, and then there was the struggle of extra weight that I didn’t know what to do with despite being a two-season athlete.

But for many years, I was proud to say that I didn’t struggle with body image — or so I thought. I was confident — confident that nothing would change, so I told myself to just accept my body as it was and get over it. What I thought was a positive mindset — acceptance and tolerance — was actually the twisting of the truth about God’s hand in creation, leading me to complacency and unhealthy habits in both mind and body that would take years to reverse.

The lies I told myself

But that’s how the devil works. He takes a truth and twists it ever so slightly, distorts it just enough so that it is no longer true. Here’s how it played out in my heart:

Truth #1: I am made in the image and likeness of God. The Lord made me as I am, so my body is good.

Unfortunately, that truth became twisted. Instead of empowerment, I fell into a trap of believing that some things God created were lesser than others. The devil took God’s truth about my worth and unique beauty and planted a seed of doubt in my heart. This is what grew from that doubt:

Lie #1: Your body is the way it is, so you don’t need to change it. No need to workout or eat well, because nothing you do will change your appearance anyway. Learn to accept yourself exactly as you are right now.

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This lie led to years of ignoring the signs that I was not thriving. I avoided the gym like it was the plague. I wore larger, flowy clothing to try and minimize my size. I told myself I was eating healthy foods while refusing to regulate how much I was consuming. And while I was a generally happy person, this lie put a bandaid on my heart, not allowing me to hear the truth and learn how to thrive.

What I wish I had understood was that, yes, my body is good, but I need to honor and support it. This means focusing on making my body strong rather than changing it to fit a cultural expectation.

As is the case with all virtues and vices, they operate on a scale. On one extreme, people struggle with vanity — focusing too much on their external appearance through obsession on clothes, makeup, exercise or personal success. On the other extreme — the pit in which I lived for many years — are those who neglect themselves, forgetting that honoring their bodies through healthy and confident choices in turn honors the Creator. Both are an extension of pride — either caring too much or too little about oneself. And between both is humility — knowing who you are in the eyes of God and striving to be that person best.

It took me until my senior year of college to truly realize my aversion to the gym stemmed from pride; to workout in public would prove I needed it, and I couldn’t show that weakness — that was my mentality. But as I began to take steps toward honoring my body, I grew in confidence and realized the lie I had been telling myself for years.

Now, on to the second part.

Truth #2: The people who matter will love you for who you are, not for how you look or what you do.

Looking back, I don’t entirely know why this truth was so distorted in my heart. I had loving parents and loyal friends who never made me feel like I wasn’t enough. And yet, to some degree, I needed to prove to myself that my appearance didn’t define my loveability. So, again, I sought the extreme and listened to a lie.

Lie #2: There is no reason to put extra effort into your appearance. No need to wear makeup or dress nicely. If they can’t love you in sweatpants and T-shirts, that’s on them.

So, that’s what I did. For much of high school, I lived the grunge life, using my status as an athlete as an excuse for my affinity for sweatpants and messy hair. And makeup — yeah, I didn’t even own any.

What I wish I had understood at the time is that, yes, the people God sends my way will love me as I am. But I deserve to put my best foot forward, not in order to please or perform for people or prove my lovability, but rather to better show up and contribute to those I encountered. And — here’s the best part — this quality is attractive and will naturally draw people to me. I had to learn that wearing a bit of makeup and finding my own personal style can be a way to better reveal God’s beauty to the world, not try to put a filter over it.

In many ways, I wish I could go back and tell my younger self how beautiful she was, how she had only to discover it and let her unique light radiate out into the world. But as much as these lies hurt me for many years, hiding in the depths of my heart, I can’t thank the Lord enough for the journey of growth he has allowed in my life. When I began my healing journey in college, breaking down these lies and reclaiming the truths God had been trying to tell me, I found greater love and confidence than I could have had I known these truths all along.

So, since I can’t talk to my younger self, let me tell you, dear sister: Discover what health and beauty look like for you, united together and not seen as opposites. Dress up for no reason if you feel like it; don’t hide your beauty. Because yes, you are beautiful.

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