Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"I'm Fat" ~ Letting Go of the Lies

"Susan has chubby legs."

I can recall those taunting words as if they were spoken yesterday.
Standing with my team mates, I'm #44, on the back row, far right.
1987.  It was the fall of my 7th grade school year.   Everything for me that year was new, including the opportunity to play school sports.  I loved playing volleyball and soon discovered that it was the best part of my nervous little life as a middle-schooler. After practice one day, my fellow team mates and I gathered outside the gymnasium, waiting for the bus, or parents, to pick us up and take us home.  While we chatted about homework, the upcoming fall dance, and girly things, the school football players rambled in from the playing field, clearing a pathway between us as they trudged down the hallway to the locker room, their cleats clicking on the polished floors.  It was then that one of them looked right at me and shouted out from a twisted grin above the conversation's buzz, "Susan has chubby legs."

I stood there in in front of everyone, sweaty hair stuck to my face, instinctively clutching my blue gym bag for comfort and listened, in red-faced shame, to the split second of deafening silence as it erupted into fits of laughter and mockery.  

And, that was the day that the "I'm fat" voice nestled down
and made itself at home inside my head.

The funny thing is, I was more upset with those around me, those whom I thought were my friends, who joined in unabashedly on the banter, all too intimidated by the fear of losing status and popularity to recognize the wrong and to comfort the hurt, let alone stand up and correct the jerk who made the remark in the first place.  Skinny, rude, disrespectful, bad-grade, bad-attitude, bad-athlete boy.  Why did I care what you or anyone else thought of my legs anyway??

Once the words were spoken, it was too late. The weight of his jest cracked open the lens of my looking glass, the one that I had gazed through for 13 years, viewing the world, myself and those around me in all it's goodness, innocence and charm.  Suddenly my vision shifted.  I was fat, and that was that.

It didn't matter that those sturdy legs meant that I could run fast, jump high, work hard, lift heavy....my legs weren't strong, they were fat.  All through high school and college, the insecurity I felt toward my appearance would surface, and my family and friends would kindly say to me, "You're just all muscle, Susan," and I would smile, their words repelled by the droning of the inner voice, "not strong...fat...can't you see?"

Like most teen girls, I had my little cry, and then resolved to fix it. The only way to fix the voice was to fix the fat.  Fixing the fat was always woven into my daily plans:  Skip lunch, nibble on supper, fat-free everything, exercise at night even after putting in 2 hours of practice for whatever sport I was playing.  Unhealthy thoughts bore unhealthy habits, but I didn't know any better.  All I knew was that I was afraid to quit, afraid of getting - yep, you guessed it - fatter. In hindsight, when I think back to those days of severe struggle with self image, I can truly say that it could have been so much worse.  I am  thankful that the internet and cell phones were not a part of mainstream culture back then.  If so, I know for certain that my state of being and mode of thinking would have been much more destructive.
Benchmarks for beauty are all around us. They're hard to ignore.  They even exist within our families.  My mother has always been strikingly beautiful, graced with compliments wherever she goes.  From my earliest memories and even today my father tells my mom every day, sometimes several times a day, that she is beautiful.  Growing up, I wish I could remember hearing her speak words of gratitude to him for his tenderness and sincerity, but I can't.  There were times when I thought to myself, "If she doesn't think she's beautiful, then I must not be beautiful either."  I know she would never want me to think that about myself.  Being unable to accept compliments is something that we inherit from our parents for one reason or another.  This inability, or unwillingness, rather, to accept compliments really bothers my husband. He tells me I'm pretty all of the time, and I have rejected his opinions often, being too harsh or critical of myself, giving in to that pesky voice from Jr. High.  How unfair to him it is for me to give priority to the airbrushed images that world portrays of beauty over the real knowledge and experience of beauty that my husband sees within me?  I have hurt his feelings many times because of this.  
Please, ladies, do not make the same mistake.  

I look back at pictures of the fat strong girl who didn't have the courage to accept herself, and I grieve for her.  I grieve for that girl who thought such ridiculous thoughts about herself, who allowed one little unkind opinion to seep into her soul and cause such an unfortunate amount of grief.
I grieve for all of the girls in the world who have allowed something or someone other than themselves, their very own personal dignity as a child of a loving Father, to be their measuring stick, to be their mirror for beauty, for goodness, for worth.  My grief motivates me not only to love those girls more attentively, but to SHOW them a better way, a higher truth, a greater joy. I often wonder what would happen if all of the energy that is poured into exterior perfection were instead poured into interior life - virtue, freedom, love, prayer, charity, hope - would it remove the scales of criticism, desperation and deception from our eyes, revealing only the clear vision of the inherent dignity and worth that is the real beauty of every single living soul?? 

But, that's not the world we live in.  We live in a visual world, and we can't control what other people put out there for us to see.  What we can control is what we choose to fill our vision with - those images will either feed or famish our souls.  I think women, especially, are depicted by standards which express expectation (spoken or unspoken) that you're a better person and better off if you look a particular way.

Recent exposure to such expectations and standards, filling our time and our attention, has come through the media site, Pinterest. Here are two of the "pins" that showed up on my page just today:


Pinterest does not control or promote this message, but this is what I think when I see these two clips side-by-side, everyone raving about them: Okay, so I'm supposed to be the thin, fit mamma who also bakes the sugary fatty ooey-gooey treats and shares them with my family like they're a bag of carrots??  The internal wrestling never seems to end. Thinking about this reminded me of a question that one of my friends asked me the other day concerning the struggle to lose weight after having a baby.  Here's my honest answer:

As a woman who has spent most of her life trying to make peace with her body, the answer isn't really about losing weight, it's about gaining a proper, honest perspective of yourself.  You see, I used to get so mad at thin girls who called themselves fat. In my mind they had no right to say such things when it was obvious that they were not. But, I was wrong.
Anyone, ANYONE who struggles with self image, no matter how thin or curvy they are, suffers from the bondage of a similar lie: If I am thin, and others think I am thin, then I will be happy and others will be happy with me.
I have known many beautiful, curvy women in my life, women without perfect hair or a perfect sense of style who embody and exude a remarkable sense of self-worth, self -esteem and self-confidence.  Those character traits express themselves in the outward displays of joy, a positive outlook on life and charity toward others.  You know it when you meet these people - they possess something rare and attractive. They have found the right perspective of themselves (and of others) have made peace with their bodies and live in the freedom of that peace.

After each one of my five pregnancies I always feel a surge of motivation to shed the baby weight and fit into my old wardrobe. To my GREAT surprise, however, with the birth of each child, the only thing that I have really lost is my overwhelming desire to be thin, to escape those chubby legs. That distorted desire has thankfully been replaced with a desire to be healthy, happy and whole - not just for myself, but for my husband and my children.  My muffin top, spider veins and saggy sisters, to me, are all evidence of the miracle that this one body has supported the lives of 5 beautiful babies!  No one is going to put that on Pinterest but WHO CARES??????

Sometimes I really am jealous of the pioneer women.  They didn't have time to cry over the shape of their thighs or experiment with the color of their hair - they were too busy trying to survive and to make sure their family survived too! What do we have to worry about? The survival of our ego? That someone might reject us or that the entire world doesn't think we're pretty enough or thin enough??
Surely we're too smart, too tough and too strong than to be duped into such deception, aren't we ladies??

So, how do you make peace with your body??  For starters you have to regain control - if others are controlling how you feel about yourself, and those feelings are negative then allowing them that power over you has to end. Figure out where the roots of negative self-image lie, and start chipping away.  Perhaps it's early memories like mine...or even something recent.  Those memories cannot just be suppressed - they have to be uprooted and replaced with something fresh, something alive, something real, something good. I'm not suggesting that it's easy or simple, it's just a place to start.

The real starting place for me was motivated by two things: 
1. Illness and 2. Faith.  
When Fibromyalgia entered my life at the age of 19, eating right and exercising were no longer matters associated with looking good...they were matters essential for feeling good.  Getting healthy, no matter what the mirror says, is good for everyone, and can help tremendously in the fight for a positive personal self-perspective. Next, and most importantly, the Love of my Father is the only thing that could ever and would ever suffice, the only thing strong enough to overcome that little inner "I'm fat" voice.  I wasn't strong enough to fight the battles on my own, and no one else could fight them for me.  I needed a sustaining, consistent and constant source of grace.

In the end, we might all grow old and weary, wrinkle, wither and fade.  Then, only one thing shall remain, that which is most valuable, our souls.  My soul shall shine out from within this body, thin or fat, weak or strong, and it shall shine out with this one truth:
My value and worth is not to be determined by others. I am the daughter of a King, who has made me in His image and likeness. A King who loves me, believes in me, has a purpose for my life, who knew me before He formed me in my mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5).  A King who has made me beautiful and precious in His sight (chubby legs and all). 

That is where I find my peace....I hope and pray that you find yours.








35 comments:

  1. Great post Susan! I have noticed that about pinterest too! It has taken me a long time (and I still struggle with it at times), to separate my weight from being healthy. I have always had a bigger build and I have envied others skinny arms (yes, I am totally being real). It has taken me a long time to realize that these muscles are a gift. That I am strong and God has made me this way for a reason. And that it is beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Muscles are a gift...they help us with all of our mommy duties, don't they?? Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  2. What a powerful post that spoke right to me, Susan. Thanks so much for your beautiful honesty - again! As a mother of 3 girls (and one boy but I worry about self image particularly for the girls) our world's obsession with body image concerns me. It always has. MY OWN obsession with body image concerns me - so I am uber eager that it does not rub off on my daughters. I am meticulous about never mentioning 'fat' or 'weight' or 'diet' in front of them. I even keep the scales on the top shelf in the cupboard - they have never seen me weigh myself, or are tempted to do the same. But I know it is only a matter of time before beauty magazines, or a fashion blog, or their 'friends' make them feel inadequate. I love your reminder that, "My value and worth is not to be determined by others. I am the daughter of a King, who has made me in His image and likeness." - Something I need to remind myself on a daily basis as well. You are awesome Susan, and it goes without saying, extremely beautiful. How exciting to know however that your exterior beauty is only the tip of the iceberg - you have a beautiful soul to match! - Susan Bell Flavin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Susan, your words are such a gift, thank you!!

      Delete
  3. Awesome!!! I think all of us have struggled at times with these issues. How sad that we pass them down to our daughters. The best mirror is the one that reflects who we are on the inside. The comments from others about our kindness, our compassion, our desire to right the wrongs we see in the world, this is the mirror we should care about!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow! You nailed this one, Susan. We can be so hard on ourselves allowing that negative thread in our heart and soul to take on a life of its own, interfering with that which God has created us [me] to be. Even as a women in her 60's, I have to fight that demon of unworthiness, whether it comes from self image or some other form of rejection. I want to do what Christ has called me to do or be today, so I must bury the little whispers of unworthiness in my heart. Today, HIS love is enough!

    My sweet, Susan I'm proud of you and wrap my arms around you.--Kathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're always such a wonderful support to me, thank you!!

      Delete
  5. Oh Susan! I feel like you are speaking directly to me in most of your posts! You are so beautiful & I cannot imagine you feeling this way!!!! I too felt fat because I had those same strong legs... I wasn't skinny, but (in hindsight) man, I did have nice athletic legs (not so much now... :-) It resulted in a very long-term eating disorder for me and horrible self-image which led to lots of bad stuff. My goal has been, since becoming mommy, to never talk about dieting around my home (my mom was ALWAYS on a diet and that's what I constantly heard). I have 2 daughters (3 sons) and I never want them to think they need to worry so much about their weight. I am extremely out of shape now & hope to get back on the ball here soon about exercising, but for me, it also isn't about looking good anymore. it's about feeling good. Anyway... I tend to ramble... I just wanted to say thanks for the awesome post which in all honesty, made me cry!!! love reading your blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, the feelings that I associate with the word "diet" are less than desirable. Good for you for recognizing the power of example for your children. I'm sure that they love you so much and will thank you one day!!

      Delete
  6. Susan this is beautiful. I can't even come up with any other words. You have such a beautiful soul and I am so lucky that you are my friend!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well written and sooooooo poignant.

    As women we are bombarded with societies "ideals" of what we "should" look like. Honestly, ask most men and they don't want those women, they want the curves what we think we need not have.

    As long as we are healthy, we are the ones who need to accept ourselves. Because, just as you stated, we have a Father who LOVES us, just as we are. lumps, bumps, curves, cellulite, double chin and all.

    XOXO

    Michelle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm heading over to your blog right now (LOVE the title!!)!! Thanks for stopping in!!

      Delete
  8. Thanks for your post! Of course, I encounter this topic every day on college campuses. However, it's a great reminder that women simply don't "grow out of" these thoughts and feelings. In one way or another, we all share the same struggle.

    If you haven't already, please check out my friend's new ministry for women with eating disorders: Made In His Image. It is a great resource for anyone you know who really struggles with this issue. www.madeinhisimage.org

    God bless you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Brea! I will post a link on my blog to your friend's ministry!!

      Delete
  9. I sat here crying reading this. My daughter just entered her first year of high school (9th) and is going through this right now. She has cerebral palsy and exercise is very difficult for her and she carries some extra weight because of it. Kids are so mean and they have no idea how hard she tries. She's so beautiful and it breaks my heart to see her hurting because of other's stupidity. If only SHE could see what I see.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will remember your BEAUTIFUL daughter in my prayers. She is so blessed to have your love and support!!

      Delete
  10. What a wonderful post. I need reminding of this as this is one of my down falls as a woman. Thank you for this beautiful reminder that we are all beautiful. You are truly beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Another good blog entry, Susan. Thank you for seeing such a good example of confidence and pride in yourself, in your appearance and your faith. I would never have guessed your experience in high school but teenagers can be mean, and in more ways than one, it made you the person you are today.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Another good blog entry, Susan. Thank you for seeing such a good example of confidence and pride in yourself, in your appearance and your faith. I would never have guessed your experience in high school but teenagers can be mean, and in more ways than one, it made you the person you are today.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Susan.....this is so awesome! Our daughter has already battled the mindless comments of others and also stood alone while friends joined in. Can't tell you how we watched her change overnight. By the grace of God she has risen back to her sweet wonderful self. This serves as motivation to teach her where her true worth lies. Thanks once again for your insight!

    ReplyDelete
  14. beautifully written and beautifully shared.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Tears streaming! Thank you for the reminder of the REAL and TRUE voice we should seek. Still working on that 13-year old inner voice myself, but constantly being reminded of the miracles this body has brought into this world and the GIFT that is!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know I love you, Jo!! You are one special, BEAUTIFUL lady!!

      Delete
    2. Love you right back!

      Delete
  16. Man, that reminds me of how much I hated 7th grade and how much it hurt not to be a "cool" kid. And prob the beginning of feeling like I could never be thin enough! I know it wasn't specific to B-ville, but I cannot believe how thoughtless kids could be! I still carry that critical voice in my head- but have become better at tuning it out. Great post- I hate that any kid hears something like that and believes it! -Megan Navis

    ReplyDelete
  17. lori houdek frybargerAugust 29, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    Gee Susan and Megan I remember thinking you guys were cool and popular. I hated high school. It was a terribly painful time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so sorry, Lori. I think we all had perceptions of each other in high school that probably weren't true. I hope that you are healing from the time in your life, and I wish you much joy and many blessings!!

      Delete
  18. Really beautifully written. I am going to share because the women that I love need to read this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I have visited your blog and am really enjoying it!

      Delete
  19. This is beautiful and well written! Thank you for being so open. I work with high school girls and if i could get them to understand some of this, it would be great. You have really giving me some great ideas to them down the right track.
    Thanks Deanna

    ReplyDelete
  20. had to keep reading as I wiped away the tears. What a touching post, it really hit home for me. I did not accept and love myself till I turned 30, but I teach my son to love and accept himself so others will too. Going to reread the post again. Going to follow your blog, twitter and FB. Found you on tea on tuesday blog hop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are such a great mommy - thank you for visiting my blog. I appreciate your kindness and support!!

      Delete
  21. Hello there, You've done an excellent job. I'll definitely digg
    it and personally recommend to my friends. I am sure
    they'll be benefited from this website.

    my site; Androsolve

    ReplyDelete

If you are having trouble leaving a comment, please feel free to send me an e-mail or leave a response on my Facebook page. Thanks!