It’s Memorial Day weekend and here in Ohio we’re thrilled to see cooler temperatures and dreary weather replaced by the warmth and sunshine of a new season. However, the brightness of summer’s coming arrival casts a familiar shadow affecting women everywhere. The shadow being the belief that the bodies we have fall short of the bodies we need to wear swimsuits and summer apparel confidently.
More devastating than those pressures themselves is the self-hatred they have the power to produce in us.
I’m callin’ bull shit on society’s efforts to tell us we don’t measure up to the unrealistic standard set for us as American women. More importantly, I’m sharing my very-present battle for freedom from a negative relationship with my body and the self-destructive habits it has perpetuated.
To give some context, I’ve gained and lost the same thirty pounds multiple times in the last few years and recently came to the revelation that my self-acceptance is contingent upon my weight.
I feel good about myself when I weigh less and I feel bad about myself when I weigh more.
When it’s broken down like that and I consider the fact that I let something as trivial as how much gravity it takes to keep me grounded affect whether or not I accept myself, it makes me feel really, really shallow. Not only that, it reveals a raw place of real brokenness that needs addressed.
We are three-part beings composed of body, soul and spirit and our bodies are the least compelling thing about ourselves. So why is so much time, energy and money wasted on obsessing over it and trying to “fix” it?
I’m a fitness instructor and an avid runner. I love to cook and eat healthy and I believe we have a responsibility to treat our bodies well. But this effort to micromanage our bodies through harsh dieting and abusive exercise in order to achieve a mostly-unrealistic standard is the opposite of caring for our bodies. In fact, it’s actually punishment fueled by hatred and fear. We hate our bodies so we starve them and over-exercise them in effort to force them to change. On the flip side, when we love our bodies, we eat well out of honor and working out becomes a fun and stress-free labor of love. Our thoughts aren’t consumed with what we are and aren’t “allowed” to eat and food is just food: We eat it when we’re hungry, enjoy food and use it appropriately as a part of how we celebrate life. In short, we consume it but it doesn’t consume us. We’re free.
Seeking to change our body from a place of self-hatred rather than self-love will inevitably lead to self-sabotage and disordered eating. Disordered eating is disordered eating, whether we’re eating too much or too little.
This is where my weight fluctuations have come into play. I have lived most of my adult life in either bondage to restriction or bondage to food. In bondage to restriction I was eating no sugar, or following some other strict regimen, counting calories and tracking my intake. In bondage to food I was abusing food as a source of self-comfort, eating well-past full out of boredom, stress or to numb my feelings. I was like an addict with junk food as my drug-of-choice. I’ve swung like a pendulum from the bondage of restriction to the bondage of food. Now I’m at a place where I’m desperate for freedom from both.
The journey to that place of freedom begins with true self-acceptance.
In the summer of 2018, I was on the low-end of my thirty-pound weight fluctuation. I was at my “best,” teaching a weight loss and fitness support group focused on inner-healing as an integral part of true transformation. I felt so good about myself; so confident. I rocked a bikini at the beach that year. A real bikini, not one of those high-waisted ones you can pull up and over all your insecurities. I truly accepted myself at that weight and I loved what I saw in the mirror. I was proud of her, confident about who she was and what she could accomplish.
Just then, several bombs dropped into my personal life that completely derailed me. I faced the unexpected death of a young family member, deep, gut-wrenching betrayal and—if that wasn’t enough—my Nanny (mom’s mom) was given 18 months to live as cancer began to suffocate her with it’s relentless grip. I was spiraling, trying to stay on my feet in the ring of life as I was hit with one blow after another.
As stress pressed in, the healthy habits I’d formed dipped out and I was left grasping for anything to numb the pain. I had a lifetime history of making food a safe friend and I began inviting her over nightly to help me hide the painful emotions I wasn’t quite ready to face.
It wasn’t long before nightly food binges paired with frequent glasses of wine left my pants digging into my waistline. From that point on, I went up and down in weight. I had a few stints with strict diets to get myself “under control” again only to run right back to my familiar, food-indulgent ways. I haven’t gotten true victory yet because I wasn’t fully aware of the deeper issue. I was trying to fix an internal problem with an external solution.
In my weight loss and fitness support group I taught that wounds lead to lies. Lies lead to false beliefs. False beliefs lead to negative actions which produce negative behavior. So often, we try to fix the behavior without addressing the wounds and lies at the root of those behaviors. Just like a bad weed, those behaviors will keep sprouting back up unless we completely uproot them where they’re germinating. We need to get healing to the wound, identify the lie and replace it with the truth.
What I’ve realized recently is there’s a wound in my heart that’s taught me I’m unacceptable unless I’m physically attractive. It’s also taught me I’m not physically attractive unless I’m under a certain weight. Society perpetuates these beliefs by affirming and validating those who are thin while treating those who are not as if they’re broken. What’s actually broken is a society obsessed with appearance. The fruit of such obsession is widespread eating disorders, narcissism and mental illness.
We are so much more than what we see in the mirror. As stated before, I think we all should respect our bodies, fuel them and move them well. But we need to put first things first. We can’t hate ourselves happy. We can’t shatter ourselves whole. True fitness begins on the inside and has very little to do with the weight on the scale or the image in the mirror. True fitness hinges on embracing ourselves where we’re at—accepting our bodies as a part of who we are; respecting them like we would respect a friend. Would you berate a friend like you’ve berated your body? Would you neglect your friend’s needs to manipulate her into changing? I’d hope not. However, that’s how so many of us have treated our bodies. That’s how I have treated my body.
Now, as I teeter on the high-end of that thirty-pound flux, uncomfortable with how I look and feel, I’m pressing into a question I felt God whisper over my heart a few months ago: will you accept yourself here?
God says I embrace you as you are. I embrace everything you are and everything you’re not. You don’t have to do more, try harder, or be better. Right here—in this moment—I embrace all that you are.
That is what acceptance looks like. It’s embracing ourselves despite the nagging thought we don’t measure up. Will I trade the acceptance of my Creator for society’s disproval? Will I trade my peace and sense of self for the self-judgement built by a broken society?
It’s a choice I have to make. It’s a choice you have to make.
I have two daughters and two sons and I want to give them something worth hanging on to when it comes to body image. I want them to see men and women of all shapes and sizes confidently wearing whatever makes them happy. I want them to see bodies as just bodies—not as a measuring stick for worthiness or a barometer for happiness. I want them to have a healthy relationship with their whole self, but I can’t impart what I don’t possess.
As I sit here feeling chunky, I’m also feeling grateful. I’m so grateful God has brought me back to this place where I’ve judged myself as unpleasing. It was easy to accept myself and feel confident when I was at a lower weight. Now that I’m not, it means my self-acceptance will have to be rooted in something deeper than the gravity it takes to keep me grounded and the image I see in the mirror.
Sometimes we go around the same mountain again so God can take the healing another layer deeper.
I’m repairing my relationship with my body, one choice at a time. I’m choosing acceptance over judgement; kindness over manipulation. I’m choosing to listen to what my body needs to thrive. I’m going to let her be free and celebrate without shaming and punishing her. I’m going to listen when she says she’s satisfied and I’m going to trust her when she needs to rest. Most of all, I’m going to stop shaming her for being something that she’s not and—instead—thank God for the miraculous gift she is.
Will you join me on this journey? Let’s root our self-acceptance in our spirits, where God’s unconditional love flows freely. Let’s not stop pursuing healing until we’ve struck a balance of true fitness and true freedom. Let’s give our children the gift of healthy self-love in a society motivated by fear and self-hatred.
And, in case you’re waiting for someone to give you permission, wear the damn bikini.