I started reading a new book a few days ago. As I was reading the second chapter my heart became heavy and a dark cloud started to form over my mind. The writer was describing her lifelong battle with food disorder. She started sharing her stories from middle school. This was when people first recognized that she was heavier. As she described these first moments in her battle I suddenly felt uncomfortable. I was at the pool with my husband and kids and I realized I couldn’t finish reading the chapter. It took everything to hold myself back from tears. At that moment I realized I had opened a box that I had to unpack. I’m in uncharted territory with this. I thought my main struggle in life was anxiety. And I can own that. I have come a very long way in that fight. In fact, recently, I feel stronger than ever. But what I had forgotten was that my first battle was with my appearance, what the world said I should look like, and feeling like I had missed the mark.
In middle school I was heavier than most of my friends. I wore glasses and had just gotten braces. Despite this, I still thought I was pretty. Until the world told me I was not. Several moments flood my memory when I think back to this time in my life. A few specific moments defined me at the time. When I was in middle school I found out from a TV ad that 140 lbs was not an acceptable weight. I was told in high school that I was shaped more like my dad than my mom. I remember once, in my late teens, weighing myself in front of a friend. I was proud because I had been losing weight. When she saw the scale she assumed I hadn’t and innocently encouraged me to keep trying. I wore sweatpants to school almost everyday of my junior year of high school because I couldn’t bear the thought of buying jeans in my size. I didn’t get asked to dances and I didn’t have boyfriends for most of my high school career. I pretended not to care that I wasn’t talked to, invited to parties, or asked on dates. Day after day I pretended to be happy, pretended to be uninterested, and pretended to be someone who I was not. All this to distract the world from the reality that I was completely devastated that I was wasn’t a part of it. That I wasn’t wanted. That I wasn’t invited.
By the time I was a senior I had straight teeth, contacts, and an eating disorder. And for the first time as a teenager I felt wanted. I was lovingly referred to as a swan. But it made me sad to think that I was once an ugly duckling. The world liked me more now though. So I decided I would make myself stay this way. Food became my obsession. And I would use it to punish myself when I didn’t feel thin enough or when I would overeat. “Nothing tastes better than thin.” Right? So I would eat as little as I could. When I would mess up a diet I would make sure it would ruin my whole day, repeating mantras in my head that I wasn’t good enough unless I was small. I remember looking in the mirror and telling myself, “you have a pretty face but if you aren’t skinny that doesn’t even matter.” A good day for me was when I would go to bed and feel hungry. That was the feeling I was looking for. I would fight this battle on and off until my early twenties. I was always trying different diets and never getting the results I wanted.
I would like to say there was a defining moment that saved me, but I think to be honest it was just getting older. The teenage years were extremely difficult for me. There came a point in my early twenties that I realized which voices mattered and which ones I should ignore. I am nearly 30 now. And I can tell you that I am a truly confident woman, mother, and wife. I am beautiful. I am happy in my skin. I adore my curves. I weigh 150 lbs and usually I have gained a few more by Sunday (weekends are for baking!). I work out 3 days a week because I want to be healthy, but I am not obsessed. I am not on a diet. I try to eat healthy, but I eat donuts. It’s all about balance.
As I look back now I can see what an important part of God’s plan every moment of this time was for me. We are all a product of our circumstances and our reactions to our circumstances. From my perspective, my friends were all smaller than me, more beautiful than me, and more wanted than me. I believed the devil’s lie that who I was wasn’t good enough. And so I made it my obsession to fix myself. I had a very difficult time in this season, but looking back I wouldn’t change anything. I learned empathy. I notice the person who is left out. I am sensitive to the feelings of others. I can recognize that everyone has gone through hard times, their experiences may look different from mine, but I can advocate for them. I can identify with others who struggle, because I struggled. Many people will never know what it felt like to be me at 16. I am stronger now because I do.
Be brave. Share your story. It may be just what someone else needs to hear.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:13-14