What does progress towards freedom really look like? Is anyone actually getting better without getting more beautiful?
I can truly tell you now, by the grace of God, I am more whole in my body image now than I ever have been before. I wrote my beginning story here, and it isn’t good, whole, or sane. I was in real bondage to beauty, weightloss, and dieting. I was consumed by body revulsion. It impacted more areas of my life than I even realized at the time.
I am experiencing the beginnings of real freedom now, and guess what? I’m still fat. Haha! Yes, you read that right! My body is only slightly different than it was when I began this journey.
It’s true! Body image freedom is totally a thing! Even for fat girls. Even for thin girls who believe they won’t be happy till the next personal fitness hurdle is crossed. Even for girls who enjoy white flour and wine. Even for girls who know they’ll never transform into the cultural beauty no matter what size they are.
The Pretty Lie
As I told you in my story, I idolized thinness and beauty, believing the salvation story presented in every “before and after.” I believed the lie that it’s my job to create myself after the image of a successful, fierce, fitness lover who would make everyone proud. We can call the “after” woman in these stories “Thin Fitness Beauty.” Idols of her are all over our culture to worship. You know her right? She never has to worry about health, or respect. She has a great man. She is hot and can do pushups so her man will always want her, and (secretly) so will all his friends. Her man will never notice other women with great boobs and perfect butts in yoga pants, except as a category of women to which his wife or girlfriend also belongs.
“Thin Fitness Beauty” has few problems. She can wear all the clothes. She doesn’t age. She’s smarter. Her house is cleaner. She has more money. She is embodied success. In her mom form, she has happy kids who love to run and never even want processed food. She does squats while nursing just for fun. She’s admirable and worthy. She’s just plain better than you. You can follow these fitness and food laws and sculpt yourself into her likeness, and you should.
I was a “Before”
I was a “before” and I was sacrificing at the altar of the diet and fitness industry to turn me into an “after.” Your fitspiration searches and diet scrolling may well be worship, just like mine. You may be looking for those who have been “saved” and trying to have faith that you can be saved into beauty too. That isn’t freedom. Even if you can make yourself more beautiful, you won’t be free. You may even be in more bondage than before.
Wait, what? Isn’t bad body image feeling like you look bad and good body image feeling like you look good?
No. No it isn’t.
Beauty is subjective and never complete. Achieving a beauty gain only makes you feel better for a flash, and then Beauty is out there ahead of you again asking you to submit to its rules and serve so you can have the next flash of success or sexiness. Looking more like Beauty doesn’t release the bonds of negative body image. If it did, your beautiful friends would be free. They almost exclusively aren’t. The models? They aren’t either. They look free, but it’s an illusion.
On the other hand you have me, a 37 year old mom with PCOS and all its resultant weight struggles and symptoms, whose two C-sections show, and who is developing wrinkles. I have thoroughly un-elastic skin, a prominent double chin, and I have to shave way too many things. I’m not saying I’m ugly, I have my own beauty, but nor am I culturally desirable. Not even. But I am walking in some freedom even so. It’s not about feeling like I look good. I don’t feel more attractive than I did at the start of this journey. I don’t feel like my chin and belly are pretty and sexy now.
That’s not what body image freedom is.
At this stage in my progress, body image freedom is being aware I have an imperfect body, but not experiencing shame and revulsion about it. It’s being aware I have body fat I would prefer I didn’t have, but not feeling embarrassed or unworthy because of it.
Freedom isn’t feeling more beautiful, it’s putting physical beauty in its proper place.
I’m not beautiful by culture’s standards, okay. But those standards aren’t so important in the grand scheme of my life anymore. I’m free to be in the body I have, and live my life with joy, even though I’m not hot.
What Progress Looks Like
I can now go clothes shopping and not feel like I need to do a shot of tequila first and commit to never eat again so I don’t tear up in the dressing room.
I no longer have a body image hang over for 2 days afterwards or avoid talking to my neighbors when my hair is back and I don’t have any makeup on. And, I no longer feel the need to diet/eat/exercise down my body shame. I weigh myself with objectivity, for the first time ever, as I progress in managing my endocrine disorder. I’m no longer exhilarated at losses and depressed at gains. I can eat all foods without shame that fat girls don’t deserve to eat yummy food. I can wear shorts and tank tops and swim suits without self-focus.
I just took my kids to a big water park in an ugly swim suit I had to buy on the fly because I forgot to pack mine. It had flowers and zebra stripes but it was the last one that fit. I walked around without a coverup and HAD A GREAT TIME playing with my kids in the water and on the rides and slides.
I could not have done that three years ago, or even 50 pounds ago.
Now, I genuinely enjoyed my family. I payed attention to them and their company without even thinking about being fat or ugly, or comparing. I just forgot. Like when I was a kid, I forgot to think about how my body looked while having fun. I can hardly believe that. IT’S FREEDOM!
I’m still working towards greater physical health, and part of that is fat loss, but that journey is no longer about self-hate or attempted self-love. It isn’t about fixing what’s wrong with me anymore. It isn’t about trying to hate myself less. If you struggle like I have, you know how big of a deal that is.
Yes, I still have lots of growth ahead of me, but I can see progress now and after all these years of struggle, it’s a beautiful thing.
It’s in the gospel of Jesus, not in the mirror, and you can have it too. Really.
Mindy 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. Follow Mindy’s blog, The Remedial Homemaker here. Read Mindy’s posts here.