I feel like I am ill-prepared to write a blog. I am not sipping on a cup of coffee by a window coated in beads of raindrops, freshly fallen from a poetically dreary sky. There is no adorably awkward pet to which I have given a beloved author’s name sitting at my feet. I am not wrapped up in a sweater, looking at my computer screen through thick glasses that make me look scholarly.
No. I am sitting on my bed in my dorm room, chugging my third LifeWater since dinner and praying that I won’t have to excuse myself to the ladies’ room before my spark dies. I am watching snow fall outside my window in the sweats that are still sagging since I pulled them down to tuck into my snow boots when I left for dining hall dinner. The only other living being in my room is my roommate, and while she is adorable, she isn’t awkward. Or named Hemingway. Her name is Abby. She’s cooler than Hemingway.
However, despite my less-than-artsy persona, I felt the need to sit down and write a blog. So, no judgment, folks, please. This is my soul you’re about to read.
Let it be known first and foremost that I am a follower of Jesus. I am a “Cradle Christian,” born and reared in South Georgia, so I was brought up to know, love, and fear God. And I do. And that is why I feel this blog is absolutely necessary–not just for me, but for every single person I know. Bear with me.
Earlier this evening, I was talking to a couple of my closest girlfriends from back home. I had made a sarcastic comment on twitter about how I was going to come out of this period of snow days granted by K-State having gained fifteen pounds. Granted, given my history, I shouldn’t joke about that matter, but somehow, that one tweet spiraled those two girlfriends into a pit of self-loathing.
“I look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
“I’m going to die alone.”
No matter whether they were being serious or not, watching them text those comments to our group chat broke my heart. I couldn’t understand how two girls that I think are absolutely beautiful inside and out could put themselves down like that, could convince themselves that they weren’t worth it.
Then I began thinking, and I realized that it wasn’t their fault that they thought those things.
The situation reminds me of when a toddler says his first bad word. He may not know the potency of his own words; he may not know what that word even means. But it’s there, and it’s not going away. And the saddest part about it is that the word is only there because he heard it somewhere. It really doesn’t matter where or from whom he first heard it because it is just there now. You can tell him not to say it, that it’s impolite or inappropriate, but that doesn’t take his knowledge of the word away.
My dear friends had heard a bad word. They heard the words that every woman hears and that every man is taught to repeat.
“You are not good enough.”
Every day, the media puts images in our heads that tell us that we are not good enough, that we are a number on a scale or measuring tape or tag. We are put into boxes and labeled–fat, skinny, big-boned, ugly, masculine, hot, athletic, butter-face. We are given role models and idols with unattainable faces and bodies–unattainable for even those models and idols. We are given fifty ways to get better, which also means we are given fifty reasons we are not good enough. “Improve, improve, improve!” the magazine covers say.
Improve because you are not good enough.
I, like most every other woman on this planet, was blessed with a beautiful body. Everything is there, and it all works as it should. I inherited my father’s stellar muscular definition, which was amplified when I started gymnastics at a young age, as well as my mother’s athletic build and high metabolism. On my short frame, I have a rather muscular everything–muscular thighs, muscular arms, muscular shoulders, muscular calves. I have never looked “big” myself, but every muscle on me is “big.”
That’s a blessing, I’d realize later. But not everyone seems to think so.
The other day, I was scrolling through my twitter feed, and I saw a post that one of my guy friends had re-tweeted from a Greek Life anonymous account. It was a picture that a girl had taken of herself in a bikini. Her face was cut off, so all one could see was her bronze skin, her large chest, and her legs. The caption read, “That thigh-gap, though.”
This brought back a memory of an image that I had seen on the Pinterest fitness page of a girl waist-down, wearing lingerie that barely hugged her skinny-mini legs. The caption read, “Do you want pizza, or a thigh-gap?”
What the heck is a thigh-gap? I thought.
What the heck is a thigh-gap? I asked dictionary.com
(Dictionary.com didn’t know what it was, proving that it was ridiculous before I continued my search.)
What the heck is a thigh-gap? I googled.
A: A thigh gap is a gap between the thighs that is visible when standing upright with both feet together.
I looked down at my big thighs, and mentally checked the box for pizza on that Pinterest image.
Why? Because a gap between my thighs isn’t attainable for me. I have narrow-set hips and humongous quadriceps. It’s anatomically impossible. I could work out every day for five years, and the problem would only get worse.
If you can get a thigh gap, that’s awesome. It genuinely is. But I’ll go ahead and tell you that your thigh gap does not make you any prettier or better than the girl who has a backside that looks like J-Lo’s and Kim Kardashian’s butts had a baby.
I thank God that I didn’t stumble across those posts three years ago because I wouldn’t have been safe. I would have gone down with them. After looking at them and looking at my big legs, I would be convinced that I wasn’t good enough because no one ever tells you. No one ever tells you that your body doesn’t do all of its changing during puberty. No one ever tells you that around the time you turn sixteen, your girlish figure turns into that of a woman’s. You get hips. You get a larger chest. You get larger thighs, and your metabolism starts to slow. No one ever told me this was normal, so I thought I was the problem.
In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I started what I considered a “diet.” I ate nothing but a protein bar for both lunch and dinner. I spent the time between those two “meals” out in the sun or at the gym so I could make myself “better” and keep my mind off of how hungry I was all the time. I took in probably one thousand calories–at most– a day. When I started doing this, I weighed a WHOPPING 114 pounds. It turned into an obsession. I couldn’t eat because if I did, I wouldn’t get better. I couldn’t slip up because if I did, I wouldn’t get better. I had to get better at all costs.
My family caught on to my eating habits about a month later, and I tearfully admitted to my sister, and to myself, that I had a problem and that I was going to stop.
But no one ever told me. No one ever told me that once you started, you couldn’t stop.
Even though I was eating regularly again, my head still told me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was fat.
I had heard the bad word, and even though I had been told it was bad, it wasn’t going away.
I knew that was a quick and stupid fix for losing weight, and it was filed away as a mistake… an effective mistake.
After eating basically nothing all summer and diving right back into my old habits of eating whatever I wanted, I gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time. Twenty pounds, to be exact. And here’s the thing. When you’re a 5’4″ muscular little thing, 128 pounds is not bad at all. It’s normal. It’s healthy.
But it wasn’t where I wanted to be.
So I sat down in early October and made a 40-day calendar with this title: “FORTY DAYS TO LOSE FORTY POUNDS.”
I mapped out a weight-loss schedule that had me losing a pound a day, which basically consisted of a number written every two days on the calendar and two boxes–a “yes” and a “no”–underneath each number. There was no give in the plan, no alternative. If I, for some unacceptable reason, didn’t meet my goal weight every two days, I would simply have to lose that weight plus the scheduled weight over the next two days.
My meals were a bottle of water. I would eat the fruit that my mother packed me for lunch just before I went to work out at the gym. I would burn about six hundred calories before I would allow myself to get off the elliptical. I would go home and make up an excuse as to why I couldn’t eat the family dinner. I would fake a bowl of cereal and go up to my room. It was a schedule. It was a routine. It was an obsession.
Within the first six days, I had lost eight pounds, so things were going my way. I was just a little more irritable, a little colder, and a little more fatigued than usual. But those things were worth it. I was losing weight.
The holidays came, and I was being forced to eat under worried and watchful eyes. And honestly, after a month of depriving myself, I welcomed the food. I love food. Food’s great.
I decided to quit my starvation and take up exercising in a healthy way. I asked for Insanity for Christmas, received it, and started on my way to becoming a new person.
“New Catherine” lasted for about a month, and then junior year got in the way. I was just too exhausted to get home from seven hours of school, going to do an intense workout for an hour, eating dinner, and then going to three hours of play practice only to come home to at least two hours’ worth of homework.
So are you still with me?
What’s the next step for a self-deprecating teen who is obsessed with her weight?
You guessed it–purging.
I’m not going to get into this phase as it grosses me and the rest of the natural world out, but it happened. It happened through July of 2012. After every single meal.
Then one day, after returning from a youth conference in Montreat, North Carolina, I was flipping through my Bible. I landed on Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
I. Broke. Down. I gave it up. I gave up the fight that my body had given up a long time ago. I gave up the fight that my mind had given up a long time ago. It was my heart that was clinging to the unattainable goal for dear life.
As I sat there, shaking violently with silent sobs of shame and resentment, I asked myself where God had been for the past year and a half, but I knew the answer. He had been right there. He had been there the entire time, but it was I who had run away. I was the one who had pushed Him out of my life because I knew that what I was doing was not God’s will.
So ladies and gents, here’s where you need to listen up.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Every single one of us is made in God’s image. You, lady, with the so-called “pear-shape,” you, ma’am, with the oh-so-coveted “thigh-gap,” you, sir, with the “man-boobs,” God made you that way. He, who created the majesty of the mountain, made you. He, who created the delicate nature of the butterfly, made you. He, who formulated every perfect and true mathematical sequence that society uses to judge perfection and beauty, made you. He made you beautiful. He made me beautiful. He made my friends beautiful. And if the Father of all of Creation tells us through His word that every single one of us is beautiful, then who are we to question Him?
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Let us not forget, though, that while our beauty might not be perceived by the rest of the world, the true beauty that God has given us lies within our hearts. We are not called to be attractive. We are not called to be beautiful. We are not called to be funny or intelligent or cunning. We are blessed by God with those traits. We are called to serve. We are called to serve our God and submit to His will. I’ve been told that the best aspiration is to be the kind of Christian that need not speak to spread the gospel. That is, we should be the kind of people who allow God’s light to shine through us. What is more beautiful than God’s glory? Nothing. So whether or not that magazine says that I am beautiful, I will continue to worship the Lord.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.
Song of Solomon 4:7
Guys, please understand that women aren’t the only ones who are pressured by society to constantly change their image. I know that y’all get as much media thrown at you telling you that you need to be manlier and more sensitive and more aggressive and more gentle and more assertive and more submissive. I get it. You’re struggling, too. (Ladies, take note.) But please don’t expect us to be the women on the covers of the magazine because that’s what they look like, and this is what we look like. And all of us are beautiful. Please understand that if we aren’t doing it for ourselves, we are doing it for you. Let us know that you love us for all that we are, be thankful for all that we aren’t, and if you absolutely must let us know that things are getting out of hand, let us know as gently as possible.
I am in the early stages of a relationship with a wonderful guy that I met the day before classes started in August when God dropped that amazing guy into my life. We have a fantastic friendship based on God, and because of it, we have grown as individuals and together through Him. He tells me that I look beautiful even after I have pulled two all-nighters and haven’t showered in a while. I’ll look up at him with bloodshot eyes, and we both know that he doesn’t mean it in that moment. He means it, absolutely. But he means it in general. He knows that I need to hear it, not because I need a confidence boost, but because I need to know that he cares about me.
Ladies, every time someone close to you compliments you, thank them and take it to heart. It’s something that I struggle with. I insist that they’re wrong and deny their claims in an attempt to remain humble. But they aren’t trying to boost your ego. Those people that love you are just trying to love you. So a, “You’re beautiful,” is really an, “I love you.” Accept the love and spread it. Same goes for y’all, guys.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Let’s not forget that everything we do, we should do it to glorify God. He gave us these beautiful bodies as vehicles to spread His Word and His Love. It’s our job to take care of them. So as it is wrong to deprive oneself, it is just as wrong to gorge oneself with food. That’s gluttony. That’s not good. I am guilty of both deprivation and gluttony. Both are obsessions with food, and they steal your attention from God. So go to the gym. Eat healthfully. But no matter what you do, do it for His glory. Don’t work out for the thigh gap. Work out to honor Him. It’s okay. Just keep your eye on God and not the scale. I am becoming the best version of myself for Him. I am not striving to be someone else or something else because if He had meant for that to be, I wouldn’t have this message to share with you people.
We are plagued by toxic images and toxic relationships that tell us that we aren’t good enough. God tells us we are. If that boy tells you that you aren’t good enough for him, God tells you that you are good enough for Him. If that magazine tells you that you are not good enough for society, God tells you that you are good enough for Him. So let’s rejoice in the fact that we are His, that he has allowed sinners to spread His glory, that He has chosen us–all of us–and created us to do His will.
So praise God for all of the blessings He has bestowed on you, and don’t measure your self-worth on how many of those blessings society values. Instead, let His love shower down on you and humble you forever because you are His perfection.