Crazy right? For a long time, I thought body image issues were something that I couldn’t possibly struggle with as someone who would be conventionally considered “fit.” It wasn’t until I started to interact with Compared to Who as an intern that I was able to identify certain unhealthy tendencies in my own thought life.
I grew up dancing. Since the age of 5, I pursued ballet training, with some modern, tap, and jazz on the side. By the time I was 12, ballet had become a 5-6 days per week commitment. I really loved it. The intensity, the friends, the performances, the praise. In daily classes, we stared at ourselves in black leotards and pink tights, reflected in the mirrors that covered every inch of every wall. We were instructed to pick apart ourselves in order to improve. In ballet, you are taught that your technique will never be perfect, but you should strive and work as if you could make it so. To a developing adolescent, it’s easy for that message to come off in one way: You are never enough.
Your body is never enough.
I was a lucky one; I didn’t struggle much with weight issues and was not often criticized by my teachers as so many of my friends were. I didn’t get the “fat talks,” when ballet instructors would tell children they were too fat to make it in the professional dance world, suggesting diets and even more intensive exercise. Yet even I, who was short and a bit more muscular, was told that perhaps modern dance would be a better path than ballet, a path where bulky muscles and short stature are acceptable. As much as I’d like to think that I was able to push past the comments of dance teachers and the culture of pre-professional ballet and freely accept my body as a vessel for God’s glory, saying so wouldn’t be true.
In college, I continued to dance through involvement in the theatre and dance department. There I was able to expand my idea of what a good dancer should be (and look like). I met individuals who didn’t let their body define their level of artistic expression. These people who danced to worship God with their whole body. This concept was nearly foreign to me. It took until my Senior year to begin to welcome such an attitude into my own dancing. I’d avoided this shift in light of my pride and my (somewhat toxic) idea of what good dancing is and is not. Nonetheless, the lingering ideal of the “ballet body” has a lot of weight in my head. And because I am more on the petite side, I would so often shrug off the idea that I could even possibly struggle with my body image.
Even though I was small and fit and regularly complimented as such, I still managed to find things to hate about myself, things that were too bulky, not toned enough, not flexible enough.
But that’s just the thing – it’s not about my physical reality.
No matter if I lose weight, get toned, or gain weight, the obsession persists, seemingly disguised as different problems when they are actually just varying permutations of the same issue.
When I started to work with Heather, and came to learn of her mission, I was exposed to a part of myself I had been seemingly avoiding, the part of me that is constantly comparing my body to others. Recognizing this part of myself hasn’t been “enjoyable.” It’s like finding rotten food at the back of the fridge. It’s certainly not a pleasant endeavor, especially in the moment of discovery. Yet, I am filled with joy to be able to say, out loud, “I have body image issues.” I suppose that’s the freedom of sharing and growing in a community that knows your hurt. The weight is not gone, but I have finally been able to confront my pride enough to share that weight. I can give it up to Him who has held me this whole way, even when I didn’t recognize His arms wrapped tight around me. Freedom is contagious. Joy is contagious. Especially when those two principles are rooted in God and His unrelenting and oh so patient love.
Here’s to a continued journey of healing and turning to Him at every step of the way.
Madeline Spivey is a recent Messiah College graduate with a degree in English and sociology. She was an intern with Heather this past summer and has a passion for encouraging others through writing and sharing stories. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, making music, and gardening, and she continues to dance to this day.