I was in second grade when I thought I was fat for the first time. At eight years old, the societal pressure and overemphasis on appearance had already began framing my opinions of myself. Now, at 34 years old, I’m starting to pick off the scab of denial to address the woundedness festering below. The truth I’m confronting is this: The widespread objectification and sexualization of women has shaped my life. I have overvalued my appearance and undervalued everything else. In doing so, I’ve reinforced the lies being subliminally shoved down our throats by a broken culture which equates our appearance with our self-worth. This has caused me great insecurity, embarrassment, shame, frustration, pain, loneliness, emptiness and shallowness in relationships. It has caused me to question myself, make choices that don’t align with my core values and has—in many ways—stolen my voice.
At the start of this year, I pledged to truly take care of myself. Part of the obsession with appearance is the desire to control everyone else’s perception. We want to “present” ourselves as pleasing and acceptable. We want to fit in and be desirable. In doing so, we abandon our true selves—the deep needs of our heart that beckons our own unconditional love and acceptance, regardless of whether we are deemed acceptable by others. We don’t truly take care of us when we are obsessing over how everyone else is perceiving us.
With all this in mind, I decided that this year I would abandon any aggressive attempts at weight loss in effort to embrace self-acceptance and wholeness from the inside out. Over the years, I formed some destructive habits. I ate compulsively to numb and bury pain. Some of the pain buried was a result of the perpetual feeling of unworthiness coming from a culture that conditioned me to believe I’m “never enough” and “too much” simultaneously. My small-breasted, freckle-skinned, athletically (but also squish-ily) built appearance could never be enough to fit the bill of the American ideal. Alternatively, my hunger for emotional depth, authentic connection, and desire to understand and be understood crosses a line with most people who are content to float on the surface where they feel safe because they’re never truly known, conflicts are never really addressed, and confrontation is avoided at all costs. I have felt the sting of rejection from being both too much and never enough and the pain this caused was much easier to stuff with food than process with intention.
To compensate for overeating, I exercised compulsively. I vacillated between vanity and gluttony, desperately wanting to be free from both. Vanity told me to shut up and be pretty to be happy. Gluttony comforted me when I knew I wasn’t pretty enough. I was out of control and I knew the answer couldn’t be found in the next fad diet, magic pill or exercise plan. I had gained and lost the same 30 pounds over and over again and I was weary of the process. To be free, I’d need to uproot the belief systems causing me pain and disconnection. I’d need to unpack why I allowed my feelings about my appearance and others’ opinions of me to govern my sense of self. Consciously, I know I am so much more than what I see in the mirror. I don’t value my friends or family because of their physical attractiveness. However, among women, there is so much conversation surrounding appearance; so much money spent to lose weight, smooth wrinkles and hide imperfections.
Recently, we went on a trip with most of our siblings and their spouses. In preparation for the trip, we all bought new swimsuits and the girls had a group text going, sending bathing suit pics back and forth. Some of us shared our apprehension about being in a swimsuit and our lack of appreciation for our bodies. As I recalled the conversation while we were on our trip, a thought floated to the surface of my mind as I looked at my sisters… I thought “When I look at you, I see someone that I love.” Truly. Those I love aren’t defined by their physicality. They’re defined by love. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice bodies or appearance at all. I do have eyeballs. However, attractiveness and worthiness are in no way correlated. Appearance neither springboards nor hinders my level of love towards others.
Why do I rob myself of such a privilege? Why do I spend any energy lamenting over my body or obsessing over how to change it?
I have written much about this topic this past year. I think my conscious awareness of it had me thinking I was no longer affected by it’s dysfunction. However, it’s only been in recent weeks that I’ve seen the level of havoc my own objectification has caused me. It’s only been in recent weeks I’ve seen how over-sexualization has robbed me of the true connection and intimacy my heart so desperately seeks. My denial has been exposed and I’m discovering a new way to live.
In short, I stopped running. Physically, I stopped running to burn the calories I overindulged in to numb my pain. Emotionally, I stopped running away from the truth that I was so damn shallow to allow what I see in the mirror or what others may (or may not) think of me to influence my emotional wellbeing. I stopped running away from the fact that the frustration raging and bubbling within because of this misalignment was causing dysfunction in my relationships. I stopped running from the truth that I was contributing to the widespread objectification of women by objectifying myself when I derive my self-worth or engage in self-hatred due to the appearance of my body. I stopped running from the fact that compulsive eating and compulsive exercise were destroying my health and no amount of self-discipline was going to get me out of the mess I was in.
Yes, I have been aware and have addressed this topic many times, but I still needed real help to break the destructive cycles I was caught up in. And as I exchanged denial for acknowledgement, I was met with the resources I needed and a clear path forward. That is the power of confession and repentance. When we are willing to take off the blinders of delusion and minimization and call a spade a spade, God moves. I love the way Michele Harper so eloquently states it in her book The Beauty in Breaking:
“Speak these truths aloud, for it is only in silence that horror can persist. The courage to call a thing by its true name galvanizes the human spirit to address it. If that condition serves one’s desires, it will be embraced with a full heart. If it is destructive to one’s path, it will be deliberately dismantled over time.”
Denial prolongs our suffering and traps us in mediocrity. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. We have to want more and be willing to own up to our own ways of being that stand in the way of wholeness and healthy relationships; The coping and defense mechanisms that we don’t need any more, our inaccurate perceptions of ourselves and others, our emotional brokenness. These are all the things we can surrender through confession, trusting God to guide us and walk with us on our path to healing and wholeness. “Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139: 23, 24 (AMP)
In the last several months, I’ve engaged in therapy and support groups. Several books, podcasts and social media accounts have literally dropped in my lap as I’ve stepped out of the cave of denial and sought real, deep change. If you want to know more about my personal process, let’s go get lunch or coffee and I’d love to share. I won’t bore you with the details here because everyone’s journey is different, but hopefully this post is a spark that will fuel you along in yours. As for me, I’m no longer running around the same mountain, spending all my energy trying to shrink myself and bury my pain. Instead, I’m running with purpose towards a life categorized by radical self-acceptance that can only come from knowing who I am to God and facing off with my junk.
And finally, I’m making real progress.
Can you relate to anything I’ve shared here? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below.