"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:
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.
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??
The real starting place for me was motivated by two things: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.
1. Illness and 2. Faith.
1. Illness and 2. Faith.
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.