I read a fascinating book last year by Kevin Leeman, author of “The Birth Order Book.” This one was, “What Your Childhood Memories Say About You.” The basic premise is that our earliest childhood memories are those “aha!” moments when we had a monumental realization about who we are.
One of my early memories is watching my mom exercise to Jane Fonda videos in our living room.
If I had to guess, I bet that isn’t a stand-out memory for my three brothers. Even though I was largely protected from damaging media, I still absorbed our culture’s not-so-subtle message that I must be thin and attractive to have approval, worth and love, from the angst of my mother as she struggled to maintain her slender figure.
I was never unhappy with my body growing up. People tell me I’m tall – I’m 5’7″ – but I always knew I should be 5’10”, and probably would have been if I hadn’t needed corrective surgery at 14 for a mild case of spina bifida occulta. My brother’s are 6’5″ and 6’7″, so I’m something of a runt in my family.
We’re doing “CREATION Health” in our Bible study right now, and last time we met, we each described a time in our life when we were most fit, and how did that feel. For me, that was in college. I was hitting the gym, jogging and biking in the wooded trails around campus, taking kickboxing classes and swing dancing on weekends. I felt strong, energetic and powerful.
My brother Jon and I backpacking thru Europe in 2002.
Lately, I feel weak, tired and vulnerable. I have a recurring dream that I’m being chased by an attacker and I just cannot move fast enough to get away.
When I was in grad school and my husband, Logan, and I began to date, I didn’t have as much time to be active, plus we were eating big meals together and were mostly sitting to study, talk and watch movies.
Several times, I wept in despair as I began to gain a few pounds. I was suddenly, for the first time, having a great deal of body image issues, very worried that as I aged, I would struggle with weight gain. Evidently, I had a subconscious fear of being fat that had never before surfaced.
At our wedding nearly 10 years ago, and at my brother Danny’s wedding last month.
When Logan and I got married, I was on birth control for a few months, which messed up my body chemistry in a big way, and I was gaining more weight. So I stopped taking birth control….and got pregnant immediately. More body issues, as my stomach, legs and chest broke out in impressive stretch marks.
When Josiah was born (all 10 lbs., 7 oz. of him!), I was spending eight hours a day breastfeeding. I won’t even mention how birth messes things up ‘down there!’ He has since been joined by a little brother and sister, two more large babies. When pregnancy and nursing were behind me, I was sure those lagging 20 pounds would fall off, but an emotional crisis last year bumped that number up to 50 pounds.
I have a closet full of lovely clothing that I cannot fit into. I have a muffin top that spills over the waistband of my pants and peeks out under my shirts.
I feel like this post belongs on WhiteWhine.com – “a collection of First World Problems.” Waaaaah!! Waaaaah!! I have too much food to eat and a comfortable house to raise my children in! But I’m not skinny!!! Waaaaaah!!!
I was already dealing with so much last year that I learned very quickly to be kind to myself. I read Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly,” and decided that I was going to “show up,” even if the only thing I had to wear were yoga pants. I am grateful that I learned to accept my body for what it is. I’m not going to diet anymore.
But I do still have that nagging dream of being chased and being too weak to get away. I want to get healthy and strong — emotionally, physically, mentally, and most of all, spiritually. I want to live life abundantly, not to attain the approval of others but to have the stamina and strength to fulfill my calling in God’s kingdom, to see my grandchildren and great grandchildren, to live pain free and joyfully. So I am not dieting, just strengthening my body.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because we all have our own body-image story. Many are dealing with deep, deep hurts and fears and insecurities that lead to eating disorders and body dismorphia. I pray that you can learn to be kind to yourself and know that God doesn’t look down on his beloved children and ask, “Are you sure you want to eat that?” or, “Come back and talk to me after you’ve lost 50 pounds.” He wants to talk to you and me today. His love is “never-stopping, always and forever,” and “He loves us as we are, not as we should be.” We are each made in the image of God, and as we grow in Christlikeness — not in conformity to superficial beauty standards but in strength of character, humility, love for others, etc. — how could we be any more beautiful?
Think about these questions:
What messages did you receive from your family about physical beauty? Did your mother, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, or the men of your family talk about weight? How?
Has media’s bombardment of skinny models and actresses affected your perception of beauty?
When have you been the most active and fit and how did you feel at that time?
Is being attractive a priority for you? Do you associate physical beauty with value and worth?
May we all grow more and more comfortable in the skin that we are in, and may we feel God’s unabashed, unrelenting love for us. He accepts us as we are and calls us His Beautiful Ones.
Blessings – Ruth
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P.S. Here is a spoken word poem about the power of generational influences that run in our families, and how we absorb them despite our greatest efforts not to.
So many good things here! The Leman book is wonderful and brought me so many personal insights, too. Love the graphic about fingernails. The video is powerful … and sad. And, of course, your words and thoughts. This was a great read. Thanks for the time and thought you put into it.
Thank you so much, Lisa! It’s one of those, “what did I just put out there?!” posts! :). Thanks for stopping by.
I love this Ruth.
Thank you, Desiree!
Ruth, that was fantastically truthful and beautiful. Just like you!
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If I may add some encouragement – I gained 40 pounds when I got married. No, I wasn’t pregnant. I just felt SAFE for the first time in years and every fiber of my being r e l a x e d. I got literally fat and happy.
And then I was unhappy because it had been a large part of my identity to be thin, fit, and cute. That stuck for a long time. Then I had an epiphany while watching Mo’nique on The Parkers … here is a big woman – way bigger than me! – who is GORGEOUS. What is different about her than me? Well, she puts on makeup and accessorizes (who am I kidding? I’m too lazy for that), and she dresses her body as if she thinks it’s beautiful. And because she signals, “I think I’m beautiful,” not in an obnoxious way but in a confident way, I perceive her as beautiful.
So I gave my wardrobe a once-over and went shopping with a tax refund. I also discovered that there’s a lot to work around with women’s clothing:
1) Low-rise jeans are problematic even if you only have 2 – 3 extra pounds (no I didn’t forget any zero’s). Just the way they sit they are EXTREMELY unforgiving.
2) If you’re broad-shouldered and big-chested like me, boatnecks, crewnecks, and cap sleeves can make you look like a linebacker.
My favorite things to wear as a larger person are:
1) Dark, stretchy, mid-rise jeans. Thankfully these are much more available now then back in my day (insert curmdgeonly glasses re-adjustment here).
2) Boots with a low heel. Always ALWAYS have sneakers as well, but have boots available for when you feel fancy.
3) Fun, bright, comfortable tops with either a V-neck or a sweetheart neckline that either: a) fit around the chest and are looser around the stomack, or b) cinch at the waist. Wrap tops are great for this.
And that’s the story of how a big, black woman inspired a white, small-town girl to feel beautiful at any size. 🙂
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Thank you for sharing this!! 🙂