Thank God for a God that actually cares about our well-being.
“Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.'” (John 13:7)
As we live in a culture obsessed with bodies – equally our own and each other’s – there will likely be many times in which it’ll become difficult to keep our opinions about ourselves in perspective.
Is it sometimes shallow? Maybe. Is it a challenge regardless? Absolutely. I, as does everyone else, struggle with insecurities about my personality and capabilities but that’s another topic for another day. Right now we’re focusing on the stuff that shouldn’t matter nearly as much, but does anyway: outward appearance.
After having relatively short hair for well over a year and being semi-overweight, I decided that I wanted neither of those things for myself ever again. I was convinced that if I was stick-skinny with hair that hit my waist, I would be considered “pretty.” My long thick hair acted as a shield to hide behind as well, so that was an added bonus.
When I achieved both the long hair and stick-skinny body, big shocker, I was still insecure. Sure I felt better about my appearance in some ways, but my attention just shifted from one set of insecurities to another.
On top of that, once I reached my goal it wasn’t enough. I needed more. It seemed counteractive to stop after all the time and effort I had put in, so I didn’t. I worked out for hours upon hours, kept a journal in which I made sure every bite throughout my day was accounted for, ate so little I got used to feeling dizzy and loved that I never felt hungry anymore. I made secret Pinterest boards of tiny girls with long hair as inspiration to keep pushing myself. I took notice of the sudden increase in positive attention I was receiving.
I haven’t touched my calorie-counting notebook in months. I still have it at hand, I know exactly where it is, but I haven’t touched it. I’ll get rid of it in due time when I know I won’t be tempted to simply start a new one.
The reason I’m mentioning some details of my problems with food is not to garner attention or sympathy of any kind. Dear Lord, this is not about me saying “Hey feel sorry for me even though I did this to myself!” I debated whether or not it was a good idea to share any personal information at all, but in the end I decided that it serves a purpose. I’ve learned a lot from it and while I’m only skirting over the details here, the lesson in the end is what’s worth sharing.
As Joyce Meyer says, “I may not be where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.”
I’m at a point where I have gained weight because I’m actually eating consistently. Though sometimes I still tell people I have eaten when I haven’t. I’m finding myself comparing my body to the women on Instagram who have unnaturally contorted their bodies, no matter what size, to appear curvy in all the right places. With my slouchy posture and my bodies natural tendency to send all my fat to my belly and face, I often feel quite literally like the grossest person to walk the earth. But man, I can eat and actually enjoy it most of the time. I don’t panic anymore because I don’t have the time or energy to work out for 5 or more hours everyday. I don’t panic when I don’t get to work out at all, though granted I probably should move around more than I do now. I can think about things that actually matter and leave the house without looking “perfect” and be okay with it.
God did this thing to me that I absolutely hated, and I’m still not loving, but I am beyond grateful for. He took away all my crutches at once. He made me feel uglier and more insecure than I have ever felt.
I decided my hair wasn’t good enough anymore. That it desperately needed blonde highlights. So after my failed attempt and a 5 hour hair appointment in which they turned my long curls into an actual rat’s nest that I couldn’t run my fingers through, I had to cut my hair insanely short. And it was a bad cut. Really. Bad. Hair: gone.
I felt like God was pushing me to quit the job that kept me working out consistently (for reasons beyond just that). Also I was at home more often due to taking a break from school, which meant quicker access to food and more people to keep me accountable for how much I ate. Weight: gained.
As an added bonus, my acne came back and it hit me even harder than it did when I was 15. Face: irritated and scarred.
When this all happened, I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to leave the house, I didn’t want people to see me, I didn’t want people to think I was okay with looking the way I did even though there was nothing I could do about it right away (and I didn’t even look bad, nor was it a big deal at all, but obviously my head was not in the rational thinking zone at the time). There was a lot of crying, some anger on my part, but thank God it happened because I learned firsthand about the difference between taking care of oneself and being obsessive.
I’ve never been satisfied with the way I look. I’ve had multiple drastic style changes, hair changes, makeup changes, weight changes, anything you can think of. I like to try new things because it’s fun, but mostly I do it because once I get an idea in my head I somehow convince myself that I need to do it or I won’t be complete. Which, obviously, is completely illogical. However, the insecure part of my brain convinces itself that that one change is what will make me feel better. Again, illogical, because it never works.
But God broke me of that mentality. Not only did he take away the things that made me feel “pretty” and comfortable so that I would be forced to appreciate the person He made me to be and stop freaking out about every insignificant and minor detail, but He also put people into my life who unknowingly helped a lot.
He gave me a close friend who supports me, talks about the way I look and dress positively, but would 100% kindly tell me the truth if prompted. She often greets me with an enthusiastic “You look so cute,” and looks for positives in the things I am insecure about.
He also gave me a boyfriend who doesn’t cater to my every whim. He loves me, he is kind, he does things for me, he compliments me often. He also recognizes that while he can encourage me, that’s all he can do. So many women look to their significant others to save them. To worship the ground they walk on and baby them every time they get a little bit down on themselves or knocked down by every little problem, but that only perpetuates an emotionally dependent attitude. I’m grateful that I was given a relationship in which we can support, love, comfort, and talk to each other about anything as a team, but at the end of the day we know we can’t change the negative things in one another. He can’t make me be less insecure and I don’t expect him to because that’s my problem I have to face. And in hindsight, I wouldn’t want a boyfriend who showers me with compliments solely to make me feel better because I know that every time he calls me beautiful, every time he hugs me tighter when I’m about to leave, every time he does anything romantic or kind or loving he wholeheartedly means it. Romanticism for the sake of romanticism has no real heart and I’m grateful that God gave me somebody who won’t coddle me.
So yeah, I’m not going to lie and turn this into some huge redemption story. I’m still insecure. Everyone is insecure to some degree. Confidence is just faking it until it doesn’t bother you anymore, but with God I was able to really put things into perspective and see how little the problems I have with myself matter. I still have moments throughout the day when I look in the mirror and I’m not happy with what’s looking back at me. I still have moments when I fail. I still have moments when I let my emotions get the best of me.
But they are moments. They will come and they will pass and we are given the strength to choose how we will respond to them and we can be forgiven when we mess up. I can choose to sit around and mope all day about the way I look, or I can get up and do something else or even go (healthily and within reason) do something about it.
God taking away what made me comfortable was what pushed me to realize how ridiculously caught up in myself I was, but I could have easily chosen to ignore it and feel sorry for myself instead. We are not made to be complacent bystanders, and God often puts us into situations and expects us to turn it into something positive and useful. Whether it is bettering ourselves or being able to relate to and help others with similar situations (or, more likely, both of those things simultaneously), there are no coincidences if you choose to look beyond only your feelings.
“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)