A few weeks ago, I joined one of my friends and her new running group for an easy three miles around downtown. It was dark and cold as we made our way carefully, guided only by the streetlights. I know running in the frigid darkness of a mid-January evening doesn’t sound appealing to most, but It felt so good to work up a sweat and mingle with new friends.
I came home feeling recharged and glad to have sacrificed some time on the couch for some movement with good company. Runners’ endorphins were doing their thing until I saw it: A picture of the run group posted on social media. I looked terrible. My big belly screamed for attention almost as loudly as the too-small vest I wore that begged for mercy.
Mortified. Do I really look like that?
My runner’s high dissipated in a cloud of shame. According to society’s standards, I have really let myself go. I weigh more than I ever have and I’m “less disciplined” than I’ve ever been. Those judgements and accusations started to emerge and bury my sense of self. I messaged my sisters and my friend and told them what was going on. I said that I was in a “shame swirl” from seeing an unflattering picture of myself. Their encouragement and validation brought me out of “the swirl” and back into reality. As I got my bearings, I began to anchor myself to the truth about what’s really going on in my life instead of making a compartmentalized self-judgment, rooted in society’s unrelenting and superficial value system.
In my last post, I shared my resolution to take exceptional care of myself this year. As a part of that process, I’ve committed to relinquishing my hyper-focus on fitness. We live in a society that overvalues appearance and undervalues everything else. I have been complicit in society’s tyrannical lordship over our self-worth by micromanaging my body, giving food and exercise way too much space in my head and focus in my life. To complicate things, this has been a two-pronged issue for me. I have used food as a source of self-comfort and my body has reflected it. I have also manipulated my body through harsh means as an attempt to “conform” to society’s unrealistic standards. Neither are healthy. Enough self-discipline could never uproot my lifelong struggle with food. Achieving my “perfect body” would never become a self-sustaining source of identity and value.
I’m going deeper, and if I gain a few pant sizes in the process… whatever. I’m not here to shrink myself. I’m here to take up space.
In mid-2020, I had committed to yet another healthy eating plan. As I filled my cart with “approved” foods, my heart was filled with dread. I finished the shopping trip and brought the groceries into the house. I looked at my husband and tears started to flow, unrestrained. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I said. He looked at me, concerned and confused. I clarified “I don’t want to spend time ‘fixing’ my body anymore. I don’t want to think about what I look like, how I’ll eat or how much weight I need to lose. I don’t have the energy to do this anymore. I want to be free.”
It was then that I decided that I would get free at whatever cost. If I had to “get fat” to get free, then so be it. According to how I looked in that unflattering picture and the way my jeans have been squeezing the living daylights out of me, I’d say I’m on my way (insert cry-laughing emoji here).
The Old Brittany would have seen that picture and dove into “fix it” mode, driven by self-hatred. I would have adopted a strict eating plan and a killer workout regimen STAT. I would shame myself into change to get out of this place of discomfort.
But Growing Brittany (pun-intended) is reacting quite differently. Growing Brittany is learning how to simply exist here—in this bigger but still awesome body—and maintain my peace. I’m learning how to stop giving my appearance so much power over my self-worth. Instead of launching myself into fixing my body, I’m asking myself some questions: Why did an unflattering picture illicit such a powerful reaction? Where have I agreed with society about what makes a body good?
I’m learning to be honest about where I’m at, focusing my energy on getting healed rather than being fixed. The truth is, I don’t like the way that I look right now and I’m uncomfortable. My bad eating habits have run roughshod as I pulled back my self-discipline to make room for freedom. My body reflects that I have been irresponsible with food and unmotivated with exercise. Rather than viewing this as a failure, I’m seeing it as a testament to the fact that I’ve focused my energy elsewhere. No, I haven’t been hellbent on “beating” my food addiction and I haven’t attempted to exercise myself out of a bad diet. I’ve simply begun to zero-in on what’s causing the overindulgence in the first place. Processing through some of those things will take time. This is no quick-fix and I’m no longer in a hurry.
I have so much more to offer the world than a desirable body. Why should I hinge even an ounce my joy, my zeal for living and my peace on something as superficial as how much I space I take up or how hot I look in my leather leggings? (Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pair of leather leggings, but I can love them in a bigger size, too.)
Hyper-focus on my fitness was a big band aid covering my lack of wholeness. I’m ripping the band aid off. Numbing myself with food and making up for it through exercise was a hamster wheel that drained all my energy and never took me anywhere.
Just like our souls, bodies are made to change. I don’t want to look like this forever and my bad eating habits and lack of consistent movement won’t benefit my overall health in the long run. However, I also won’t just modify this behavior—once again—in favor of neglecting what’s driving it. I won’t change so I can feel better about who I am. I will learn to feel better about who I am regardless of what I look like.
We live in a very broken society that objectifies women in horrendous ways (just look at the thriving porn industry and the havoc it’s wreaking on individuals and families). From a young age we are led to believe that our bodies are the most important thing about ourselves. Often unhealthy and unrealistic body types are touted as “ideal” while others are less worthy. This is the sickness. Diet culture then offers us a smorgasbord of ways to “fix ourselves” so we can move a little closer to the standard (which ends up always being a moving target). This is the cure. Society creates the sickness and sells us the cure. We sacrifice our voice and lose our sense of self in the process.
I’m at a point in the journey where I must trade judgment for acceptance. I need to simply accept myself here. I need to cultivate my own sense of worthiness here. I need to maintain my peace here, without any aggressive attempts at change. Most importantly, I need to deeply receive the Unconditional Love that transforms everything here, before I’m ever truly transformed. I need to accept the truth that I am so much more than a body and my body is the least interesting thing about myself.
When I see the unflattering picture I could think to myself– I have really let myself go. The truth is, I have let myself go. I have let myself go be so much more than a body. I have let myself go do everything God has called me to do even as I carry these 30 extra pounds. I have let myself go be free of a broken societal system that’s defined too much of me for far too long. I have let myself go in my identity as God’s daughter with a powerful plan and purpose beyond anything I will ever see in the mirror.
Rather than cling to the shame kicked up by seeing an unflattering picture, I’m hanging on to gratitude that I’m here. I’m in a place where I can see so clearly how I have been held captive to a lie. I’m in a place where I’m accepting myself and all my flaws, trusting God to complete the work He began in me in the timing He calls perfect. I’ll end with a quote from a blanket I bought a while back. It says “I love the person I have become because I fought to become her.” When others see that picture, they might notice my growing figure and my too-tight runners’ vest, but I choose to see a fighter whose kicking back against the lies that have held her bound. I choose to see someone who is bucking the societal system that objectifies and demeans women and blazing a trail for others to follow, right into the heart of God.
I choose to see me. And I am so much more than just a body.