In high school, I was 5’8” tall and weighed 190 pounds. I drank a venti passion tea lemonade with 9 (yes, nine) shots of sugar syrup every day after school. I ate teriyaki chicken from Pei Wei three times a week. My midnight snack was a cup of peanut butter with mini chocolate chips.
I didn’t have an emotional vocabulary to express the deep-rooted shame, anxiety, and depression I was experiencing, so I ate myself into oblivion. Day after day. Night after night. Coping. Trudging forward. Begging for acceptance.
One year, my friend lost a ton of weight and got “pretty” so I decided to do the same. I researched celebrity diets and different model’s weights. The only way I could achieve their beauty standard was to stop eating altogether… so I did. I wanted to be pretty enough, skinny enough, and appealing enough to fit in.
I was, like millions of women this time of year, driven by shame.
I lost thirty pounds in three months. I amped up my workout plan and dropped fifteen more. I went from a size 12 to a size 4/6. My eye color dulled to a pale green, my hair thinned, and my skin was a mess…but I was finally skinny. I did it! Tons of people noticed, too, telling me how amazing I looked. They said I should be a model. But after the shine wore off and people stopped celebrating me, I was alone again, left to reckon with myself.
Even though I was skinny, I was still ashamed. I looked in the mirror and thought of all the other things wrong with me—my hair isn’t long enough, I’m too pale, my teeth are yellow. It was a vicious cycle of self-obsession and self-deprecation, one provoking the other, and I was too emotionally and spiritually unhealthy to see the damage I was doing to myself.
Jesus saved me around that time and started to teach me about His embrace. He showed me shame is a deceitful, short-term motivator. He showed me vanity (even vanity disguised as self-care) is fruitless. He continues to remind me my body is not for decoration or self-obsession, but for worship and glorying Him.
Even now, after eight years, a million hours of therapy, and consciously removing toxins from my social media, movie, and TV life, I still struggle in long, delicate waves.
I’m currently on the tail-end of a harsh wave. My husband and I are generally healthy humans, but my body is different than it used to be. My tendency is to react like I did in high school—research every celebrity diet, starve myself, worship myself, get a new haircut, wear more makeup, and base my identity on appearance. It’s tempting to look at pictures on Instagram and compare my body to another woman’s body. It’s easy to objectify. To compete. To compare.
I’ve got a hunch I’m not the only one.
As summertime rolls around and you see a billion advertisements about “finally” getting the bikini body you’ve always wanted, take a minute, to be honest with yourself. Is your motivation to steward well the beautiful, intricate temple God has given you? Or is your motivation vanity, shame, and acceptance?
Wanting to change isn’t a bad thing, but wanting to change for the wrong reasons will never be satisfying. Beauty is fleeting and your body is wasting away (2 Corinthians 4:16). One day you’ll look in the mirror and realize there’s nothing you can do about the wrinkles and flabby arms and cellulite anymore. Will your acceptability be in the perfect bikini body or in the love of God?