My Beauty Idol: Mindy’s Story

Today, I’m so thrilled to share with you the story of my reader friend, Mindy and her journey to finding body image freedom. Mindy’s words are powerful! She breaks down this issue in a way that I know will help so many of you who are struggling to find clarity on it. Read what she says and encourage her with your story in the comments!


Dear Friend,

My name is Mindy and I have lived with body shame and revulsion for almost as long as I can remember.

The first memories I have of feeling ashamed of my body are from fifth grade and I cannot remember a time since then when that shame and revulsion wasn’t there in the background of my life, hounding me. I’ve had 25 years of it now.

There’s a lot I could say about how I grew to have this body image issue in my heart, but how it got there isn’t nearly as interesting as what God is starting to do with it. Let me share with you a little of my experience with body image struggles, how God brought it to the forefront of my life, and what he’s beginning to do about it in my heart with his glorious gospel.

I have not sat down without covering my middle with my arms or a pillow since I was a child. I have not looked in the mirror without an onslaught of silent words of disgust since sometime in late elementary school. Even now, as a grown woman, after I’ve met a new person or gone to a social event, I will find myself wondering if I put enough of my personality in the conversation to help people like me despite my appearance.

I wonder sometimes if all the beautiful women I meet automatically assume we have nothing in common. I get nervous to meet my husband’s clients or friends because I feel like they might have to work at understanding why my charming, handsome husband would marry me. In my darkest times, I worry that my two daughters might grow up afraid that they will look like me. I am afraid in my own heart that maybe they have too many of my genes.

You wouldn’t know any of this if you met me, I seem much more confident than I am. Generally, these thoughts are not in the forefront of my mind, they’re more like constant static in the background of my life. Body image static is distracting and takes energy and focus to ignore, so when I am low on energy or focus, it gets much louder. In the time that I’ve been married, my 5’7 frame has worn every size between ten and twenty and none of my toxic thinking budged from my heart anywhere on that journey. I didn’t feel at peace with my body or my performance as a dieter in any of those pairs of jeans.

I have done every diet and diet/bible study known to man, and the whole time I really believed that the problem was what I saw in the mirror. And the ugliness I saw in the mirror was there because I couldn’t pull it together and just force the restriction and physical punishing that was required to get and remain thin.

body-image-issue-my-beauty-idol“Mindy, don’t you know your body was made to be the temple of God? Look what you’ve done to it. You’ve ruined it. You were fearfully and wonderfully  made and you ruined it all. You’re an ugly mess now, especially that belly and neck of yours. You’re fat and gross and what does that say to the world about God? Apparently you love French bread more than your beloved Jesus. You’re a pig and you won’t just stop eating. Jesus died for you to be free from sin and you aren’t trying hard enough. Stop being a glutton. Other people do it all the time. Haven’t you got any resolve or self respect? Just imagine what people think of you. You know, you wouldn’t feel this way if you could just be thinner, prettier, and more together.”

Friend, I’m sorry you had to read that harsh quote from my mental life, but I include it because I know I have sisters out there who will feel a pang at reading their own thoughts in mine.

We have a common enemy who spews this kind of evil at many of us. This line of reasoning has been reinforced all over culture and in many words from important people across the years of my life. I am emotional writing those words up because although I see now how horrid they are, I believed them, and I’m fighting not to be embarrassed by them now. What cruel shame. What an unbearable burden and bondage.

You see, I didn’t know I had a body image issue. I thought I had a fat issue.

I didn’t know I had a shame issue. I thought I had a dieting issue.

I didn’t know I had an idolatry issue. I thought it was a failure issue.

I prayed and apologized to God for what I’d eaten, how much I’d eaten, or how I didn’t exercise enough on such a constant basis that I really thought he was as concerned about my thinness and dieting as I was. I thought he was as fed up with me as I was. I thought his first priority for my sanctification was for me to win the battle on the scale so he could use me to the degree he wanted to. I thought he was waiting on me to clean myself up in response to what Jesus did for me on the cross. I thought it all depended on me.

I did fasting and cleanses, and diets and starving and massive amounts of exercise. I also did stress eating, comfort eating, and no exercise and then I would throw in the towel and try to forget how bad I was, until the shame crept up again and I started all over. That sounds super healthy right? Clearly not. I thank God he hasn’t left me there.

This last year, my husband and I started going to a new church after a very long time at our previous one. God moved us at just the right time, and many good things have followed. One thing I hadn’t expected however was how uncomfortable I would feel in my body while trying to get connected to a new church family. These people didn’t know me. I was walking through the doors wounded by my previous church experience, feeling very exposed and vulnerable, and how could I show I was likable or useful when I all I could give them was first impression after first impression? I would find myself looking around the room at a lot of very beautiful women in beautiful clothes, and feeling out of place.

There was this one transformative moment in worship service several months ago when I was singing my heart out to the Savior I genuinely love while simultaneously worrying about looking fat while doing it. Seeing that duplicity in my heart, something broke off in my spirit and I got mad. I thought, “Ok, that’s it!! I am so sick and tired of thinking about myself and what I look like! I am standing here worshipping Jesus, the King of the Universe, with my mouth, but part of my heart is focused on fat?! That is wrong. It is sin. It is stealing this moment of worship away from me and Jesus. I repent! Lord God, I repent of this constant fear and focus on my fat. I know it isn’t right. I don’t know how to stop it. I am desperate to understand what I am missing. I know the beautiful gospel I’m hearing should impact this area of my life, but I don’t know how to do it. Teach me. Give me a new prayer.”

I believe God used that moment to show me there was a spiritual battle going on for my soul, and He answered my request for a new prayer right then and there. Into my heart fell the words, “Lord, captivate me with your glory, your beauty and your body.” I could see that I had been focused on my own glory in my concern over what other people thought of me. I had been focused on my own beauty because I was so ashamed of my perceived lack of it. I had been concerned about my own body instead of all the people around me. That’s how it started. Now, when I find myself focused on my glory, beauty, or body, I just pray this prayer over my fears. Some days I pray it a lot.

After that moment, God began to work in quiet but mighty ways. He showed me that I needed to let the Holy Spirit be Lord of my sanctification. I had been living with a mental list of flaws and failures and I decided which ones I needed to work on and prayed for God to help me—like he was some kind of power boost to my own aims. I repented of that as well, through tears, because I was afraid that God may not want to work on what I wanted to work on, and that was my weight. Here was this beautiful, good God with his hand outstretched and I was in tears because I was afraid to put down my trinket and grab hold of Him.

Once I really saw the lie in my fear, I could begin to call this mental prison what it was: idolatry. I believed happiness, security, health, longevity, better relationships, acceptance, confidence, respect and joy were all on the other side of losing weight consistently and finally. I thought they were in being able to stay on a diet plan so I could feel accomplished and more beautiful. I believed being more beautiful would save me from shame and guilt and give me the favor and peace I craved. I knew my mindset was wrong, but I didn’t know how to live without it. How should I eat? What about exercise? Should I stop dieting? How will I keep from getting fatter? How will I get thinner? How will I know when I’m bad, or good?

Did you hear that last question? It is a powerful question that held the key to my prison door. All of a sudden I saw I had been constantly asking myself this question through diet and exercise. When I got on the scale every morning I was asking, “Am I good or bad?” After every meal I was asking, “Am I good or bad?” When I looked in the mirror, when I did my hair, when I saw myself in a photo, I was asking it.ID-10017567

For me, there has been no way to be on a “diet” without it being exactly like this. It is no small thing for me, an overweight woman with a family history of diabetes, to consider letting go of dieting completely, but it’s where I started. I prayed and told God that I hadn’t lived like he was enough for my battle with food and weight. I figured the ancients just didn’t know about carbs when their promised land was called a land flowing with milk and honey, or when Jesus called himself the Bread of Life. I wanted to genuinely try to rely on him alone to show me how to live free of self imposed rules, and embrace consistent moderation in all things while really trying to glorify Him in my eating and stewardship of my body. I put the scale out in the garage and hoped it wasn’t the same thing as giving up.

I knew I needed help, so I went to the internet and typed in, “Christian and body image” and found the blog Compared to Who? I was riveted from the beginning because I was reading what I had never heard anywhere else. I will admit that I have read every post in the archive because they were like water to the dry places in my heart. It was on Heather’s blog that I finally found words to piece this all together. I have a beauty idol and that’s what gives power to all my confused and destructive behaviors with food, diet, and exercise. I gave my idol the power to declare me good or bad, clean or unclean, and I served it with tremendous energy, reverence and fear.

That’s the thing about idols. It’s not always what you have most affection for that will lead you to your idols, sometimes it’s what you fear. The Israelites didn’t serve false Gods because they had more affection for them as much as because they feared bad crops, harvests, fertility, and battle outcomes. When you worship an idol, you adjust your behavior, you make a sacrifice, you bow down to please your idol in order to get an outcome or prevent an outcome.

That’s what I have been doing. I have served beauty with the religion of dietism and it has failed me, stolen from me, and imprisoned me. By grace, I have since renounced this idol, and repented before my gracious Lord, who was so good not to let my idols save me. What I needed was the glorious gospel of our great God. Jesus is the hero of my story. He is the one who stepped in and paid in full for my sin and shame—even my body sin and shame. His grace is what makes me beautiful. His sacrifice is what makes me valuable. His righteousness is what makes me presentable. His touch is what removes my shame. Smaller pants, fewer chins, and more compliments can never ever do that.

I have a long road to go still.

As of today, I am still learning to recognize and resist when I am tempted to return to this rubbish of an idol, and I am learning to focus more on Jesus and his glory, beauty and body, than my own. I bought a swimsuit (that wasn’t even black) and took my daughters swimming and still looked people in the eye.

I have more peace.

I feel lighter.

I no longer struggle in worship service.

I have more frequent dance parties in my living room with my girls.

I have been more free in social settings.

I even forgot to wear makeup to the store one day.

I jumped like a kid across some stepping stones even though I was jiggly, and I was happy. I even took my shirt off and stood in a waterfall at the top of a hike in front of my husband (who was pleasantly surprised). I still also have lots of thinking and habits to unlearn. I still need to lean into grace in order to walk out the freedom Jesus has provided me, but praise God there is less static. I feel like I need continual deliverance, but it’s a start—a start full of hope and grace and the truest beauty.


Mindys pictureMindy Pickens a wife and mother who loves Jesus, her husband, their two daughters, coffee, books…and coffee. She spends her time homeschooling, tutoring in her homeschool community, and trying to figure out this whole home-maker thing. She’s a regular woman who is captivated by the gospel of Jesus Christ and is learning to surrender to the grace and goodness of God.

 

21 Comments
  • Emily
    August 27, 2015

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mindy, for sharing your story!! I felt like I was reading my own! I’ve come to learn so much about idolizing body image over worshiping Jesus through this blog and your story has brought just another stepping stone for me to walk on in my journey to freedom!
    And just so you know, the very first thing I thought when I saw your picture was that you have such light shining through your face! The Lord Jesus is there, in all His goodness and glory, shining through YOU!!
    (Oh, and blessings to you this homeschool season, we are starting our second year!!)
    Much love

    • Mindy Pickens
      August 27, 2015

      Thank you for the kind feedback. I love the stepping stones imagery. There have been so many times God will use a story or kind word to give me a stepping stone along the way. I’m happy to make any little offering to the way he uses his girls to help each other.

  • J
    August 27, 2015

    Thanks so much for sharing Mindy.It’s helping me this evening. Spiritual hugs!

  • Betsi
    August 27, 2015

    I don’t usually like to post comments, but I felt like i should. Sitting here reading this blog post, I almost couldn’t believe how similar our thoughts. Almost. But I believe my Lord was speaking right to me through your post. The part that hit me hardest was about knowing it was wrong, but not knowing what or how to do it right. I’ve always been super focused on my body, clothing, etc. the lords been showing me over the past few years my idolatry when it comes to food and clothes and being pretty. But I really wasn’t getting it. I tried to “dress for Jesus”, but it was still, “and how do I look?” A lot of the looking in the mirror thoughts you had are mine as well. “God doesn’t want me to be a glutton, why can’t you stop overeating?” I know he doesn’t want me to be a glutton, but when it came down to it I realized it wasn’t really that which bothered me. It was my fatness. I’ve known I need to quit thinking about myself, but I still couldn’t quite tangibly see my problem. You know what mean? Your words, Mindy were just right. I am so thankful for other sisters whom the Lord has graciously taught and that he has blessed me to find!! I am thankful for this blog, heather, which really got me thinking about my mirror focus. Oh Lord Jesus, thank you for looking on this sinner and loving me! My prayer is that I can have eyes for nothing but Jesus. To have need for nothing but Jesus. Even that I cannot do, unless He does it for me. All I can do is give it all to Him….and not try to grab it back!! I pray I can be where you are. “Self forgetfulness” I love that, Heather! Sorry for this long comment. I am just so thankful for this site and this post. Praise the Lord!! And to Him be all the glory!!! 🙂

    • Heather Creekmore
      August 27, 2015

      Thanks so much for sharing that Betsi! I know it will encourage Mindy as it encouraged me! You’ve got it right…He’s gotta do it through us! We’re all on this self forgetfulness trek together!

    • Mindy Pickens
      August 27, 2015

      Thank you for sharing Betsi. I do know what you mean. That all makes perfect sense to me. I stopped and prayed for you just now. You’re right, “Lord command what you will, and enable what you command.” It’s so amazing that he is willing and able to do both for us. I’m so humbled to be a little light for you on this today. God is so good.

  • Mindy Pickens
    August 27, 2015

    Thank you for the kind replies ladies. I’m really humbled to be of any encouragement at all. God is good.

  • Caitlin
    August 27, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am so grateful that I found this blog! Feels good to know I’m not alone. You are sharing hope and light, and it is truly beautiful. Thanks!

    • Mindy Pickens
      August 27, 2015

      It’s nice to know we aren’t alone in fighting to surrender to God’s way and lift him up over all our body idol bondage. He’s so gracious to teach us and stick with us. I’m grateful for Heathers blog too! Happy to add anything at all to the conversation going on here.

  • Linette du Toit
    August 28, 2015

    Your story is so beautiful Mindy. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing

  • Carole
    August 31, 2015

    Wow Mindy. There is so much to say and I’ll try and stay focused. Your mental life sounds just like mine. I can relate to every single word you said (ok, maybe not exactly every one) but it felt like you wrote my life story. After doing a bible study over a year ago (one on weight issues of course) I’ve prayed for God to break me and give me a contrite heart (psalm 51:17 etc)…and well…He’s breaking me alright. It’s like the song says “make me broken, so I can be healed….” My heart sure needs healing..its’ just that the breaking part sucks sometimes lol. I’ve never felt so ashamed about my thought life, BUT through this blog and my studies, He has shown me how much I esteem myself, weather good or bad and most importantly, He has provided me hope. Self-forgetfulness….it has been the theme lesson He’s been teaching me over the past year. Yet I relate to you when you say….what do I do, not do, where do I go from here, etc etc. How do I forget about myself without giving up. There is a book that Timothy Keller wrote: The Freedom of self-forgetfulness, I wanna get my hands on that one. It all comes back to what is being taught here on Heather’s blog. Forgetting about yourself is simply dwelling on Him more. I hear it, I get it….but I am not consistently living it. I don’t always believe it, but He will finish the work He has started in me Philippians 1:6 and all I need to do is press forward instead of allowing Satan to keep me wallowing in the pit of shame. Philippians 3:12-16. Verse 16 talks about holding on to the progress we’ve already made. That’s the evidence of the Lord’s mighty hand working in our lives; doing what I figure is impossible. Yup, my heart is still pretty filthy, but He is continuously transforming it; a complete makeover. I also read a book called love idol some of you might want to check out. Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval–and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes, by Jennifer Dukes Lee. It parallels the themes we’ve been learning here. I feel I have a very long way to go. But I am grateful for sisters like all of you; I learn from each woman that writes on this blog or comments here. I am grateful to finally have found a site that teaches me I don’t have a weight issue but a heart issue…and this heart issue has much less to do with food, exercise or weight than it does with self-idolatry. Sooooo hard to say out loud, but the truth shall set you free 🙂 This site focuses on the root problems, not the symptoms..without leaving you in a pit of condemnation and guilt. Mindy. Thanks again for being so courageously transparent. Thanks for sharing your waterfall triumph, I love it and I really felt your joy. Your blog post is amazing, I plan on reading through it again regularly; it’s filled with truth and hope. Isn’t God awesome….He can do all His mighty work without these blogs, but He uses it so we can enjoy fellowship and build each other up for His glory.

    • Heather Creekmore
      August 31, 2015

      Thanks for sharing all that Carole!!!

    • Mindy Pickens
      September 1, 2015

      Thank you so much for sharing Carole. What a beautiful testament to God’s goodness and grace to help us. I’m so glad to know that opening this discussion from my life has offered some hope and encouragement to you. God is doing things in the hearts of his daughters and it’s beautiful to witness. I pray that he will continue to lead and guide you through to next steps of surrender and freedom. Bless you for your feedback. That’s encouraging to me too. It’s been fascinating to see what happens when you say out loud that you struggle with not liking your body and idolizing beauty in your heart. I have had women take me aside, or private message me that they resonate with this story, but it’s like a huge dark secret no one wants to say out loud even though many of us struggle in the same way. I get it, I about had hives having put it out there myself. But I’m finding that my monster looks less terrifying when I look at it all the way in the Light. Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed. I hope you find this true as well. Bless you!

  • Cynthia
    February 21, 2016

    Totally blown away. Mindy, you have taken the last almost-50 years of my life and compressed it into paragraphs. While being a little older – older, I could be ya’ll’s mom – there’s still been that struggle with body image, relationships, oh the pile of cosmetics and creams! Throw in a heap of suicidal depression (healed from forever, praise God!) and life became a huge mess. While the depression is gone, the body image issues remain. Idolatry? Me? THANK YOU for bringing this to light! Be careful when you ask the Lord to reveal sin in your life – He will be faithful to do so. He lead me here for good reason. Again, thank you.

    • Mindy
      February 21, 2016

      Oh Cynthia, thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you’ve suffered under the weight of those many pains, and I’m praying now that God would make his presence so known to you as he walks you away from the idols of your heart, and into more and more freedom. It’s been 6 months or so since I wrote this post, and I’m so pleased to say God has been faithful to teach and correct and show me more of his awes love and grace. I’m going to be journeying for a while, but I can see progress and I’m so grateful. I’m excited for you to walk that road too!

    • Gina cappello
      August 1, 2016

      Thank you so much. This issue has so tormented me and I know my self- worship hurts the Father.

  • CARLA
    July 28, 2016

    Even when this post was published a long time ago, I need to comment!. This is amazing! Your words are my constant reality, Mindy!. I`ve been in this struggle for sooooooo long. When I got to know Jesus it became even more difficult. Cause, as you said, He died for me and I`m the Holy Spirit`s temple…..so, how could I eat to the point It gets difficult to breathe? why I just can`t work out like normal people? Why is so difficult for me? I couldn`t underestand it, If I can do anything trough Christ that strengthen me, why can`t I lose weight?
    Reding your story and remembering some things that God made me see I can finally look at the whole picture. I mean, the tought of not being enough for anybody was so strong in me (and sometimes still is). I`ve always had the feeling that I have to apologize for being fat, and compensate too. Like: ok, I`m disgusting and ugly but I`ll have perfect hair, or a quick and sharp sense of humor. Maybe I`m awful but look at my face! It`s pretty!
    I believed that the first thing that people saw when I appeared was my fat, And that was it….I could be anything I wanted but first of all I was fat and not worth it. What a horrible prison! I have to admit that I still have these toughts quite often. When I meet new people or when I`m alone and feel so weak for not being able to eat properly and work out regularly, even when I meet a guy that I really like I think: If I were thiner I would probably like him….but looking like this no way!
    I guess that I`m still in the process of finding the freedom you already found in Jesus…..the one he is offering me everyday. I want to take it so bad! I know that my value and beauty don`t depend on my weight, but there are moments when I can`t avoid thinking that It is that way. My reality has a name now, I have an idol and it is called beauty….I refuse to stay this way! I trust the Lord and He will help me. Thanks for sharing your story! Blessings from Argentina!

    • Mindy Pickens
      July 28, 2016

      Hello Carla,
      Thank you for your honest comment. I hear you, and I stopped to pray for you just now. I am still walking out the implications of what this post started in me. Maybe my other posts on the site here will help you see the progression I’m on, and bless your way of thinking. I still struggle too, but now that struggle has a name, idolatry, and I am less enchanted with it. I stumble, but I’m still going forward. Bless you.

  • Pam
    November 15, 2016

    I couldn’t believe that anyone else in the world has the exact same battle as I have. I weigh myself everyday and either get very excited, over a 1/2 pound lost, or very discouraged over 1/2 pound gained. I pray everyday and ask God to help me to not overeat. I ask for forgiveness everyday when I fail. I think about myself everyday, all day. That’s wrong, that’s sin. God’s word says, “seek ye first the kingdom of God” That’s where I have failed. God forgive me. Thank you Lord for leading me to this post. I have such a long way to go. Thank you Mindy for your letter. Who knew it would still be affecting lives over a year later.

    • Heather Creekmore
      November 16, 2016

      I’m going to let Mindy reply directly too, but I’m so excited to read your message, Pam! Praise God . . .He WILL set you free! 🙂 -Heather

    • Mindy Pickens
      November 16, 2016

      Hello Pam, I’m sorry for how you’ve struggled and the pain of that cycle. I do understand. It’s been quite a journey from this point, and it’s not been as linear as I want, but it has been forward progress. I stopped to pray for you just now and I know God loves to answer prayers to rescue his children from lies and idolatry. May he bless you with clarity and courage to follow him out of this place. If you’re interested, my other posts on my contributor page show the truths God used to inch me along from my beginning. Maybe they will continue to encourage you. Blessings to our today, daughter of God, beloved, and made righteous not by food or body, but by the finished work of Christ, now and forever.

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