At 14 years of age, I mastered squats, wall sits, pull-ups, bear plank leg lifts, and dieting. Because I didn’t like the way my body looked.
In high school, I biked, I lifted, I did calisthenics for 5 hours a day and I secretly followed my parent’s Weight Watcher’s plan. Because I still didn’t like the way my body looked.
I thought that once I achieved the right degree of thinness I would like myself more. By age 20, I was 20 pounds underweight. I was skinny! But I was tired, I was very weak, and I felt sick. And I still didn’t like the way my body looked.
Loving your body has nothing to do with how skinny you are. No doctor
ever told me to lose weight. No doctor ever told me to change my diet and get skinnier. In my twenties, Weight Watchers turned me away because I didn’t weigh enough to participate in their program. My BMI was probably never too high. But still, I thought loving myself and having a positive body image would come when I was the right weight, the perfect degree of skinniness. But it never did.
It took something else entirely. It took learning to see myself as God sees me – as fearfully and wonderfully made – to start to get my body image under control. And I’m not there yet; I sometimes still have to remind myself to be healthy, not skinny. To be strong more than slim. To love the body I have and not compare it to someone else’s. For too many of us, we see ourselves as ‘fat’ no matter how thin we are, because we try to compare ourselves to models in fashion magazines, to our thinner friends, or to young teenagers who haven’t even hit puberty. But God doesn’t compare you and me to someone else. He designed us, He loves us just as we are. I love – and I need- that verse in Psalm 139 that shows us that God’s works are wonderful – and we, yes you, yes me – are one of those works:
I need to let those verses sink in to my head, my heart, my soul. I need to see myself with the awe and the wonder that God created in me and recognize all of the amazing things my body can do (birth a tiny human, for instance). I admit, I still want to shed a few pounds that somehow appeared as I worked my way through seminary to earn my MDIV. But I’m working on healthier, happier ways to go about it because I don’t want my daughters or my sons to equate thinness with self-love. I want them to learn to love their bodies and show love to their bodies by eating mostly healthy meals, by being strong and fit, by seeing themselves as I see them, and most importantly, as God sees them. I wouldn’t love my children any less if they were short or tall or obese or thin – so why would I put the same pressure on myself? God’s love means I can love myself no matter what my outsides look like.
I’ve done Weight Watchers, Pilates, the Daniel Plan, biking, low fat, low carb, It Works!, Zyng, I’ve juiced, given up sugar, flour, and attempted just about every other diet plan you can imagine. And none of them ever filled up my soul and made me happy because my soul simply doesn’t need to be skinny. My soul needs Jesus. My identity is in Him, not in the shape of my outsides.
I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not totally sure what the right fit and healthy me looks like yet, but that’s ok. I’m just taking a little step at a time, finding the right balance between Paleo and clean eating alongside an occasional donut, staying active every day and exercising sometimes, and trusting that God loves me enough to have made me wonderfully. And that feels better than skinny ever did.