I Was A Celery Stick
I used to be that girl. You know, the perfectionist. The girl who acted like she had her life together, who had everything figured out. The goody two shoes rule-follower, the straight A student, the perfect little Christian girl…you name it, I’ve been labelled it. While these labels are still true for me, I no longer act like I have all the answers because I don’t (and I’d be lying if I said I did). Another label I received, whether it be from myself or others, was skinny. To paint a picture for you, I was the equivalent of a short and cute celery stick until my sophomore year of high school. I was active and loved sports, but I was also blessed with a great metabolism as a child. I was skinny and I was “beautiful” in the world’s eyes, and it has taken me a long time to realize that label mattered more to me than the truth God speaks to us about beauty.
I never struggled with my body image when I was younger, but I was always very aware of my body and that I was skinny. I watched my older sister struggle with her body and thanked God I didn’t have to worry about being skinny or what I ate (our body types were very different growing up). This comparison only became worse the older I got. I sized up girls in my friend groups, or even just in a current room I was in, to make sure I wasn’t the fattest. As I grew older, my body also matured, grew, and changed (as it naturally should from a child to a woman, I might add) and I fought to keep it the same. When the natural forces won and my hips came in, thighs grew larger and face rounded out, it was as if my worst nightmare came true. This is where my body image struggle and journey began.
A Late Bloomer
I bet if you had met me in high school, you would have never guessed that I struggled with my body image, disordered eating, and body dysmorphia. When it came to my body, I was a late bloomer. I was always the shortest person in my class when we lined up on picture day. My twelve-year-old molars came at sixteen, and I didn’t get my first period until high school. So, basically puberty didn’t come for me until well into my sophomore/junior year of high school. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a puggy face, fat accumulating on my hips (speaking of my hips, where did those come from?!) and thunder thighs. When others looked at me though, they saw a thin girl they envied.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
I vividly remember a conversation I had with one of my friends while standing on the sidewalk waiting for the school bus to come and pick us up (no driver’s license yet since we were sophomores at the time). This conversation began with her declaring that she was the only one without a thigh gap of the four girls standing in a circle at that moment. I turned straight to her with an “are you crazy?” stare and then proceeded to immediately prove her wrong by putting my legs together. Is she serious right now? Why would she even say that when she can clearly see my legs are fat. Way to make me feel bad about myself.
While she was indeed wrong, I was also quite wrong. She scoffed and said I was still basically a “thin model.” I was dumbfounded. What is she even talking about? She must be crazy. Does she see this? While my friend was also struggling with body comparison, ironically, she still saw clearly, though she wasn’t fully correct.
Now you might be thinking, “Oh that’s pretty normal behavior for teenage girls who are feeling a little insecure.” Friends, it’s not. I couldn’t see my body for what it truly was, and that’s not normal or okay. There’s actually a name for this, and it’s body dysmorphia.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, Body dysmorphia is not only a body image disorder, but a mental illness, also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). While many individuals wish to change their “flaws” and fret about body imperfections, those struggling with BDD become overconsumed with real and/or perceived flaws. Often times, the flaws are imagined or, if present, exaggerated in the person’s mind and barely noticeable to others. In my case, I can now see that my flaws I believed to be true well into my college years were imagined and overly exaggerated (which completely explains my encounter with my good friend).
Roots that Run Deep
Unbeknownst to myself for a long time, body image was a deep-seeded struggle that crippled my confidence. What other people saw as a beautiful and skinny girl, I saw as someone who’s legs and face were too fat, as I mentioned before. Oh, and again, my hips? Definitely too wide! More young women struggle with body image than we realize. One study reports that “at age thirteen, 53% of American girls are ‘unhappy with their bodies. This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen.” I am sure this number continues to increase, especially with social media use. Instagram in particular elevated and perpetuated my body obsession and comparison.
If you look at any picture from me in high school, it’s sad knowing how I truly felt and saw myself. I not only failed to see my body how it was, but worse yet, I unknowingly placed my identity and worth in things other than God. My body image problems were not simply just my lack of confidence or self-love. They were my struggle with identity, worth, love, pride and vanity. To dig into these topics more, click here for more on my struggle.
So, What Changed?
What helped me see my body for what it was with new eyes? Honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint and remember what exactly did it, because transformation doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time, grace, and truth to stop believing satan’s lies and undo unhealthy habits. With that being said, the most helpful healing for me came through community. Opening up honestly and vulnerably with others out loud, rather than letting the struggle continue to live (and rage) only in my mind help me begin healing and transforming.
I have a friend though who prayed for me after I shared about my self-hatred in an unexpected conversation. This friend sat with me and showered me with prayers that changed everything for me when I looked in the mirror. He prayed that when I looked in the mirror, I would no longer see my flaws and imperfections, that I would no longer see the fat that my eyes perceived. He prayed fiercely that, instead, I would see a beautiful daughter running to her Father, the King of Glory and Majesty, whose waiting for her with open arms. This friend prayed that I would see God reflected through my living body, and that I would see His glory revealed. And friends, I know it sounds crazy, but it worked. For a while, this is all I could see when I looked in the mirror. Sure, it faded eventually. But by the time it did, I had learned to see God’s glory and majesty revealed through His loving, beautiful and perfectly imperfect daughter.
TILT THOSE MIRRORS!
I learned an important message through my friend that I will never forget and this is it: our mirror image is too flat. We need to tilt our mirrors up. When we tilt our mirrors up towards God, we can finally see what God does. We are made in image of God to reflect Christ. Not only that, but we were also placed on this earth to be His image bearer. When we focus on tilting our mirror up, it takes all the focus off of us and our outward appearance by reminding us of what truly matters. Our purpose is to glorify God through worship and we do that by reflecting Christ to others, not gaining worldly beauty.
- Am I preoccupied or obsessed with my appearance/body?
- Am I worried about how I look?
- Am I trying to hide or cover up disliked body areas or flaws?
- Am I seeking reassurance or questioning others about my appearance?
- Am I frequently checking myself in mirrors or other reflective surfaces (windows, phones, etc.)?
- What do I think, feel, and tell myself when I look in the mirror?