Updated: May 23, 2018
I cringed when I saw the photo pop up on my social media timeline. I didn’t see the smiles or arms locked with a precious, longtime friend. All I could see was my looking-like-an-old lady chubby self. My first instinct was to delete the photo. Instead, I decided it was time to deal with the secret struggle that has plagued me for decades.
While I have been transparent in my other blog posts and shared my struggle with the not-enoughs, the one thing I haven’t shared is the depth of my struggle with my self-image.
It all began with a curious sneak-peek at a brown-paper covered magazine. The image of that centerfold was branded on my preteen mind. It screamed “See, you’ll never look like this – and this is what men consider beautiful.” It became the standard of what I considered beautiful. The standard I could never attain.
When we moved to Hawaii during my freshman year, my insecurities amplified. Daily, for four years, I was surrounded by tall(er), shapely girls sporting teeny-bikinis. Beauty was flaunted in my face. I suffered in silence. I was a Laura Ingalls in a Daisy Duke world.
Then came adulthood and I reached a crisis point. After growing up in sheltered military-base communities, I was woefully unprepared for a job in the big city. My plan was not to be in the workaday world, but to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. The centerfold image from my past haunted me, “See, you have to work because you’re not what men want. I am the standard for what they want in a wife. And once again, you don’t measure up.”
I decided there was one thing I could do to be more like her: I would make myself thinner. While it didn’t have a name at the time, in my pursuit of perfection and beauty, I began a long, dark pattern of destructive behavior into what is now called bulimia. While my diet consisted of cokes and junk food, the weight started to drop off…rapidly. My desire was to go from my size 5 to a size 0. Affirming comments, about how I was able to eat so many sweets and still be so thin, confirmed I was accomplishing my goal. No one knew my secret; I became a master of concealing my actions.
This went on for several years. Then one night, when I was on duty as a volunteer EMT, I almost collapsed on a fire scene. Witnessed, a fellow fire-fighter, who was also a Navy corpsman, sat me on the curb and took my BP; it was 60/40. He looked me directly in the eyes and told me he didn’t know what I was doing, but I was killing myself. It was an ah-ha moment. I knew I needed to change my behavior.
I did change my ways and returned to health. However, pounds were still my enemy. I was aware of, and hated, every single one. I avoided the scales because I knew I could easily relapse to my old ways. No matter how hard I tried to lose weight, the pounds stayed. I hate seeing myself in photos, because it is a documented reminder that I had failed in my pursuit of beauty and perfection.
But this morning when I saw the photo, I decided I am done. I am done listening to the lies of a centerfold. I am done beating myself up because I don’t measure up to unrealistic expectations. I am done hating how I look in photos.
The truth is I am God’s beloved daughter and created in His image. I am uniquely me. And I am branding Psalm 139:14 on my heart:
I will give thanks to You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.