If you follow me at all, you know that my blog is generally focused on motherhood, parenting, marriage and how faith plays into all of that.
However, this morning my heart was pulled in a different direction. Today I want to talk about a topic that is lurking in so many hearts, but not talked about often enough.
Today I want to share with you my journey through body dysmorphia and an eating disorder and how God freed me from it.
First, let’s talk about what body dysmorphia is. Mayo Clinic states that, “Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that appears minor or can’t be seen by others. But you may feel so embarrassed, ashamed and anxious that you may avoid many social situations.”
This is exactly what I experienced from the onset of puberty. It consumed my thoughts and was the cause behind my foolish and boy-crazed actions. I was absolutely consumed. The question isn’t what was wrong with me, but why was it happening to me?
I grew up in a loving, Christian home where I was taught about God’s love and was shown it everyday. My parents loved me deeply and were always available for me. My brothers and sisters were my best friends and we all had great relationships.
All I can really think to blame it on is social media and the devil. I believe social media and Hollywood propagate this mental issue that is becoming more and more commonplace among young girls. It’s no longer an odd mental disturbance….it’s the norm.
During puberty I was okay… I was awkward and not sure who I was, but I was okay. I was sheltered and innocent. But somewhere during the aftermaths of puberty, I really struggled with my new body. This photo was taken at age 14, 150 pounds, and lots of yearning and searching to try to figure out what kind of person I wanted to be.
I had always been chubby and something inside of me was determined that I would not be an overweight woman. So I started on a journey of dieting, which took a detrimental path to a mild eating disorder. I still ate junk food and ate anytime I was around people, but if no one was going to notice I took every opportunity to forgo calories of any kind.
My normal, healthy body rested at about 145-150 pounds. It may sound heavy for my height of 5’5, but it’s always been a place I’m “normal” at. I starved myself down to about 128 pounds at my lowest. This picture was taken at age 16, probably around 135 pounds.
I wanted a flat stomach. That’s all I wanted. I was under the impression that I was terribly ugly in every possible way, but my weight was the only one of those things I could control. I believed I was absolutely hideous, but if I could be a skinny ugly girl I was okay with that.
Age 16-18 was the worst time of my entire life. The above photo was at the beginning of all of my body struggles. I had lost most of the weight I wanted, but I was still miserable. I still looked in the mirror and saw something disgusting. So, I went to boys.
When most people see girls that are chasing after every guy they lay eyes on, they usually assume that that girl has “daddy issues”. Thankfully, that wasn’t my problem. I had the best dad in the entire world! He told me I was beautiful, talented, special and that he was thankful I was his daughter. But for some unknown reason (*cough, Satan, cough*) I believed the lie that I had to look like Selena Gomez or I was worthless.
Every time I met a cute boy, I would flirt until I got his attention. While I didn’t have a lot of actual boyfriends in high school (only 1 officially), I just wanted them to look at me, to give me attention and to make me think that maybe I was actually kind of beautiful. If they didn’t pay attention to me, I would lose a few more pounds.
It was a terrible, awful, disgusting disease. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but it absolutely was a disease. The quick spiral from puberty-inspired self-consciousness to total self-loathing was quite alarming.
By the end of high school I was a skeleton full of self-hatred. I was terrified of what I had become and honestly didn’t see a way out of my depression and despair. I felt trapped with a crappy boyfriend that was manipulative and kept persuading me to stay with him, I felt trapped in my anorexic habits and ever dwindling weight, and the fact that I was constantly sorry for the people that had to look at my “hideous” face.
This photo was taken right after I graduated high school at age 18. I was around 125-128 pounds. I still hated my body and face and was so empty in every way… spiritually, emotionally, physically. I was drained and felt worthless and while I still struggled with feeling ugly, that wasn’t the whole deal. It had become every single part of me that I hated. Instead of a little girl embarrassed for being chubby, I was full of shame for the things I had succumbed to in order to feel beautiful, and all of them had failed me. I still felt ugly, along with a whole lot of other feelings that came with the things I had done.
I ended up going to a missions school, which is exactly where I needed to be, because there I found people who were willing to meet me in my pain and sickness and address my issues for exactly what they were: sin and a need for God. I wasn’t looked over. I was looked at eye-to-eye and met exactly where I was. I wasn’t treated as another annoying girl who didn’t think she was pretty enough. I was treated as a child of God who needed him desperately and who needed healing.
After lots of counseling with wonderful women who had been right where I was, listening to teachers telling me about the character of God, studying scripture and seeing the truth of who God says I am… I fell on my knees before God and wept. I let all of the shame and pain wash away from my heart as I surrendered my life to him.
And it was over. The pain, the shame, the self-hatred, the fear, the anxiety, the worthlessness… it was gone.
The thing that saved me wasn’t “self-awareness” or “bettering myself”. The thing that saved me was falling on my knees before an all-knowing and loving God and surrendering everything. It was an instant change.
I still struggled with my body image. I still struggled to get back to a healthy eating pattern. But what instantly changed was my self-loathing. When God took over, that self-hatred and disgust with myself was absolutely 100% gone. It was nothing short of a miracle.
I went on to several years of ministry, focused on God and service. I had another couple boyfriends that didn’t last long as I learned about what I was looking for in life. Eventually, in my path of healing and my brand new relationship with God, I devoted my life to God and told him I was done searching for something with men. I only wanted to find my identity in Christ.
At this point, I was absolutely THRIVING! I was joyful, back to about 150 pounds… eating had nothing to do with my worth or my happiness. I was just ME…. a child of the King, absolutely thriving in worship and ministry and satisfied in him alone. It was a beautiful time of contentment and adventure.
God placed a man in my life, who I ended up marrying. It was amazing falling in love with someone for the first time since my new body image had taken root in my life. I was confident and content, and our blossoming love had nothing to do with him giving me worth. All my worth was in Christ and he was just a new partner in that journey.
On the day I got married, I was 155 pounds and as happy as I had ever been. I remember seeing the rolls on my back in this photo and it was a few seconds that I “noticed” and it didn’t even phase me. I was totally content with how I looked and felt absolutely beautiful and adored by my new husband and by God.
6 months after our wedding, I conceived our first baby. Unfortunately, my contentment and lack of worry about my body turned into being careless while pregnant and I ended up at a whopping 220 pounds at the end of my pregnancy. I wasn’t super thrilled about it, but I don’t remember caring a lot. I was pregnant and it was fine that I was fat. I literally didn’t care. I was content with my body and I would work to lose some of the extra weight after he was born.
The thing I wasn’t prepared for, and that no one warned me about, was that my body would be DIFFERENT. Not just fatter. I had been fatter and I was okay with that. I was NOT okay with having a different body. No one had prepared me for this, and my heart absolutely dropped.
I will never forget standing naked in front of our full length closet mirror a few weeks after our son was born. I looked at my body and wept bitterly. It had taken so much pain and heart transformation to be okay with my original body.
My body was covered in dark purple stretch marks, loose and dented skin, a large flap of fat over my pubic area, saggy and stretched breasts and I was SO FAT. There was nothing that could have prepared me for that moment, but I was still mad that no one had even mentioned this.
But because God was with me, it didn’t take long to get through the transformation. I spent time soaking in God’s word, talking to other mom’s and submitting myself to God in the area of my health and my body. I worked hard to eat healthy so I could nourish my little one through breastfeeding and take care to be the best mother I could be in every way, which meant taking care of my own health.
4 months after our child was born, I had a life changing surgery on my stomach and intestines that would drastically change my body for life. I was told to expect to lose 10% of my total weight. So, I knew that I would lose around 19 pounds (I was 195 before the surgery).
But I didn’t expect to throw up every time I ate for 4 months. I had no idea that my body would be unable to digest food and I would have to be put on digestive medication that cost $1K a month. A year and a half later I would be 124 pounds and struggling to keep the weight on.
That surgery, as well as being both overweight and underweight, have taught me so much about weight and how our body has nothing to do with who we are. It’s absolutely disgusting how people started treating me differently. After I lost so much weight, I get more attention from everyone… old and young, men and women. Yet I am exactly the same inside as I was before.
I’m glad that God helped me to be content with my changed body. Even at 124 pounds, my breasts and belly are still stretched, saggy, and dimpled. Not only do I have a c-section scar, I also have scars all over my midsection from my surgery.
I’ve learned so much about myself from my ever-changing body through the years. I’ve learned that I can’t rely on my beauty for my confidence and peace. My body has already changed so much in the past 10 years… hopefully I still have many, many more years to go and my body will not stay the same. I will only get droopier, wrinklier and grey.
I cannot rely on my beauty or my weight to make me happy or content, for my weight will change and my beauty will fade.
I cannot rely on my mental health, intelligence or abilities to make me feel worthy. My mental state will vary through the years, my intelligence and talents will fade, and it’s possible I will lose some of my awareness and memories as I age.
I cannot even rely on my personality to be happy with who I am, because my personality has morphed in crazy ways with every situation I’ve been in. Relationships, jobs, sickness, marriage, becoming a mother… every step of the way has changed my personality and outlook on life.
The only thing I have to rely on that is never-changing is God. His love for me and his purpose for me are constant and reliable. I can trust him fully to always be next to me through every trial and every experience.
No matter what my next babies bring physically, regardless of what future sickness or life trials bring to my body and mind, whether or not my family stays the same or grows/shrinks through the years, I will always have this consistency: I will have the Lord Jesus ever present with me and making me more like him every day.
My new goal is not the be the most beautiful version of my self that I can become. My goal is to become less and less of myself so that I will look just like him, and if I look like Jesus I will always be beautiful and always have joy.
If you are struggling with self-hatred, an eating disorder or body-image issues, please remember:
- You notice every flaw more than anyone else ever will. No one is looking at you as closely as you are looking at yourself.
- You are never stuck in a situation or frame of mind. There is always hope for escape and a future.
- Don’t be afraid to seek out help. Without help, I may have never found freedom.
- Be honest with yourself. Spell out exactly how you feel about yourself and read those thoughts out loud, or better yet have someone else read them to you. Hearing them out loud brings realization to how foolish those beliefs are.
- Ask yourself: would you say the things to others that you say to yourself? Have grace for your flaws and mistakes, just as you would for anyone else.
- Ask God how he feels about you. This was a turning point for me. Ask him to show you why he created you the way he did and listen to what he has to say.
- You are made in the image of God, and he made you uniquely and perfectly for a purpose. If you can’t see that…even if no one around you can see it… HE can and his opinion of you is the only one that truly matters.
- Everyone’s opinion of “beauty” is relative. Beauty is also culturally relative. If someone has mocked your appearance or even your personality, remember that it just their opinion. There will always be people that genuinely find you beautiful and charming.
If someone you love is struggling with body-image issues:
- Be patient with them. You may not understand what’s going on inside their head, but their feelings are real and very painful. Be present for them.
- Never write off their feelings as stupid. Don’t discount their opinion of themselves. Stick beside them in their pain, while also telling them the truth about how they appear to others (the positive things only, obviously).
- Compliment them. Some people don’t like to give physical compliments, but in this situation I think it is very important to compliment the physical traits of someone. Each person has their own unique beauty. Encourage them to notice what they have that no one else has.
- Help them find help. If you love someone that is suicidal or in deep depression from their body-image issues (whatever kind they may have), encourage them to get help and remind them that there is no shame in asking for professional opinions and assistance.
“I thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is wonderful.”