This is my new friend Sydney’s story. Sydney contacting me a few months ago through the blog and I asked her to share with you all what she had shared with me. Sydney and I are a lot a like–our stories mirror in many ways. This shows me how much the devil lacks creativity–he tells us all the same lies and, sadly, we buy them. Here are Sydney’s words, I hope you’ll read every one of them because they are good! Here’s Sydney’s Story, My Body Image Robbed Me . . .
I was 6 years old the first time I thought I was fat.
I looked at another little girl, both of us in our little jean shorts, the thought crossed my mind, “My legs don’t look like hers.” And they didn’t. My little muscular legs didn’t match the twigs I saw on my friend. Rather than simply noting a difference, I saw a major flaw. I saw fat. I saw bad. Shame about my body quickly flooded my innocent heart and that moment marked the beginning of many years of an intense struggle with body image.
Little girls find many occasions for “wishing.” Maybe it is while blowing out birthday candles, seeing a shooting star, or catching a fallen eyelash on your finger so you can blow it off. Wishing is a precious part of being a little girl. My wishes were always the same. Every year. I never had to pause and think about my wish. It was always, “I want to be skinny.”
I dreaded going shopping because it meant I would have to find clothes that would hide my “fat.” I was envious of other girls who shopped for clothes they felt cute and confident in. I wouldn’t wear jeans or any form fitting clothing through most of my upper elementary school years. Just sweat pants. Lots of sweatpants. I claimed it was for comfort, but really, I longed to wear the cute clothes I saw other girls my age wearing. In my mind, I was huge…and I couldn’t let anyone see how big I was by wearing clothing that showed the shape of my body.
I look back at the little girl I see in old pictures and am in awe of just how skewed my perception was. I wasn’t big at all. I was pretty tiny, actually. It’s heartbreaking and it’s scary. I never told anyone how I felt about my body. I assumed they all saw me as huge too and I was afraid of hearing their agreement. Deep down, I was afraid that if my body wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t worth anything either.
Through junior high and high school I became consumed with food…counting calories and restricting, skipping meals and lying about it, feeling ravenous and out of control when I hadn’t let myself eat for an extended period of time, and exercising as much as possible. I aimed to burn off the exact amount of calories I ate that day. I was terrified I would never be able to live a normal life, not engaged in this constant battle with food. I didn’t know if it was even possible.
Not only was I battling this negative body image, I was also driven for perfection. I HAD to be perfect. The perfect student, the perfect athlete (in all 5 of my sports…good luck with that), the perfect friend…you get the picture. Anything less than perfect meant I was a failure. Anything less than perfect, in my mind, translated to not being worthy of love or acceptance. From the very depths of who I was, I truly thought I had to achieve love and acceptance.
I lost a substantial amount weight my sophomore year of college and hit the number on the scale that I thought would finally satisfy me. But to my shock, it didn’t. It was exciting at first, but then my fear didn’t disappear – it just changed its mantra. Now I was gripped by fear of gaining the weight back. I finally got what I thought I had always wanted, but I was still captive to fear.
My eating struggles and negative body image came and went in waves of varying intensity through the next few years. I got help from time to time but never fully came to a point of peace. I was never hospitalized. I was never deathly ill. But I was being completely robbed.
I was robbed of joy, of fun, of moments. I was robbed of the ability to focus on things that truly matter and bring real happiness. I was robbed of the chance to be confident and free. I was being robbed of the opportunity to truly see other people because I was so busy looking at myself. I was being robbed of the ability to actually enjoy my life. I was being robbed of purpose.
It wasn’t until recently God opened my eyes to help me see how much I was being robbed without even putting up a fight. When I clearly saw how many precious jewels of life were being stolen from me, I got angry. I decided it was time to put on my gloves and fight.
I’m on a new journey now. Its not a journey of fixing myself and simply correcting behavior– I’ve tried that…it doesn’t work. I end up striving, failing, and beating myself up. Over and over and over. This is a new journey of getting to know God, and getting to know myself – the “me” that He defines, not the one I have defined. I’ve had lots of ideas about who I am. Most of them were wrong. Some of them are obvious and others are buried so deep that I can’t really see the root of them under all of the layers, but they present themselves in various ways — in insecurity, in disordered eating, in control, in anxiety. Really though, it all boils down to one thing. Fear. Fear of not being enough, because if I am not enough, that means I am unworthy of love.
FEAR. That four letter word invokes so much emotion in me – mostly disgust and pure, raw anger. Fear is a robber and a liar, and I am making it a life goal to cut the head off of any fear I see in my life and in the lives of others. So if you like your fear…stay away from me, because I’ll chop it into pieces! (Ok, just kidding…kind of.) Fear doesn’t have the right to hold any of God’s girls captive.
Freedom from eating issues and negative body image won’t come as a result of deciding we love everything about our bodies. Don’t get me wrong…it isn’t a bad thing to love your body, but it also isn’t the key to freedom. I think that is where most people miss it. They think to be free, they have to go from hate to love. Negative. It isn’t a matter of love or hate, black or white. Freedom is found in an altogether focus change. Turning your focus to the God who created all things, to the people in your life, to the talents and qualities you have to offer, to being strong and healthy, to enjoying the everyday moments that make life beautiful.
Freedom comes as a result of letting God help us reprioritize. We can be easily deceived into believing a very insignificant thing actually an extremely significant thing. And the deceiver is good at what he does. He knows how to shift our focus off God and rob our joy.
The good news is the Redeemer is even better at what HE does. He makes things right in our lives. He heals our minds and emotions. He sheds light and shows us the truth. He gives us the strength to change. He hears our cry and gives us a solid place to stand. He brings peace that passes all understanding. Turning my focus to the Redeemer, and letting His perfect love cast out all fear in my life — that is where my freedom is found.
There may still a battle, but it is a new battle. Rather than fighting this battle from the pit, I am fighting it while standing on solid ground. I fight as a victor rather than a victim. I am still learning how to win the battles and walk in this freedom. I’m not completely there. But I will be. I will be completely free one day, as I keep my eyes fixed on Him.
I’m not afraid and I’m not alone. I know who my help comes from. I am victorious because I have the unstoppable God backing me up. His perfect love will set me free. Of that, I am fully confident.
About Sydney: Sydney is a big fan of Jesus, coconut sparkling water and sunshine. She spends most days running her business from local coffee shops, doing an assortment of physical activity, and being with with the incredible people she calls her friends and family. She is a big advocate of trips to Target, reading personal development books, and helping people achieve their dreams. She believes deeply in gratitude, enjoying the simple moments of life, and the beauty of friendship.