When I was 8 or 9, I was asked to be a flower girl in the wedding of one of my Sunday School teachers. I was a little old to be a flower girl, but whatever – there were pretty dresses and romantic stories and flowers. I was so excited. I remember shopping for the flower girl dress and how beautiful I thought I looked in it.
Another girl my age would be wearing the same dress and one night after church my mom and I stood at the edge of the parking lot chatting with her mom about all of the preparations. For reasons I don’t remember, the other girl’s mom was asking where we found tights, my mom replied with a store name and said they had several pairs in my size – implying that the other mom would easily be able to find tights for her daughter there as well. The other mom cast a critical eye at me, reached out and ran her hand down the side of my hip and thigh and in the dwindling light of evening said, “Well, she’s a little thicker than my daughter.”
I don’t remember how my mom removed us from the conversation, or the ride home, or really even much of the wedding I had been so excited about. I remember that comment. Between the cast of her eyes, the tone of her voice and the way she had touched me as though estimating the size of a horse in hands – it was abundantly clear that my body was . . . wrong. Defective. Obviously not as beautifully made as her daughter’s.
I’m almost 38, and I can remember every detail of that conversation easily. I don’t remember what I thought of my body before that – I’m assuming quite honestly that I didn’t think of my body much at all. I was young, and for all of my excitement about the wedding, I still liked climbing trees and playing dodgeball, and my body seemed just fine for all of those things. I’m also sure that if it hadn’t been that comment from the other mother, at some point some other comment from someone else would have made me aware that my body wasn’t perfect. It is a painful reality, almost a rite of passage for most girls. Mine just came exceptionally early.
Over the years I’ve bullied and hated my body in many ways and in many seasons. I had dreams of carving off my thighs, I’ve refused to wear clothes that showed my legs (I’ve literally spent entire summers, in the Georgia heat no less, in jeans – so that my hideous legs stayed hidden), I’ve kept exact diaries of my food intake – obsessing over every calorie, I’ve prioritized a brutal workout over my family, and I’ve cried and cried and cried. I’ve cried in dressing rooms, and in my closet, and after leaving the gym. I’ve hated my body so strongly that I’ve skipped gatherings and events on days when I’m feeling less secure, and even when I do go – its often after a complete meltdown around how I look. You add this body image issue to my anxiety and it can be a nuclear event.
Additionally, as an adult, I was diagnosed with a chronic physical illness that essentially means my body will be weaker and slower to recover and less responsive to workouts than other people’s, easily tired, and easily run down. And I find myself talking to my body in terms of how incredibly STUPID it is.
Ridiculously, stupidly, broken – in every way.
My body has grown and nurtured three of the most amazing humans on the planet today. My legs have carried me through long hikes to the bottom of the Niagara Gorge, and to the top of mountains, and up and down a million sets of stairs to do the laundry. My arms have hoisted crying children long past their infancy and my heartbeat has comforted them. My mind has worked through complicated math and coding problems and given me employment opportunity to provide for my family.
And yet – I look in the mirror and see nothing but a ridiculously, stupidly, broken body. Because it does not fit the mold that I believe it must in order to be “worthy”.
The body positive movement is so needed and I’m so grateful that it is happening. I make a concerted effort to talk to my daughters about how strong and healthy they are, about making healthy food choices, and that we eat food that fuels us and makes us feel good – and I make an effort to talk to myself that way as well – and I tell them that we are not defined by the size of our jeans. But it isn’t enough.
The world tells us – despite the growing focus on self-love and body positivity – that our worth is dictated by SOMETHING about ourselves. We are worthy because we are pretty, thin, smart, talented, kind, pick-your-poison. The problem with this – is that any of these things can change, either over time or in a heartbeat. It also promotes division between groups, superiority complexes and the ability to see ourselves – and others – as less than.
But God has made it strikingly clear, over and over:
We are worthy, each of us, all of us, because we are His.
Because He loves us.
Because He gives us worth.
He know us, completely and thoroughly, and still He loves us.
And that love will endure forever.
We do not need to be ANYTHING, other than accepting of the love He pours out to us. And that is where we find our worth.
You are precious to me.
You are honored, and I love you.
You are worthy, lovely, loved, and precious. Regardless of what it is about yourself that you believe makes you less than. God has called you honored and loved.
You are worthy – cling to it.
I promise that I’m trying to do the same.