Tag: Body Image

Beauty

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This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on July 3, 2017. 

One of the most frustrating things about being a female is the ever-changing and multi-faceted beauty standards.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time watching Disney princess movies and playing with Barbies and Polly Pockets. All of the female characters I had in front of me shared the same qualities: small waists, flat stomachs, long legs, and skinny arms. Along these lines, the mannequins in clothing stores have always had those same features. So, growing up, I naturally believed that those physical features were the norm. They seemed to be the marks of a beautiful woman.


I also remember being exposed to the tv show “America’s Next Top Model” at a very young age and thinking, “Oh, is that what women are supposed to look like?” The women on that show were your stereotypical model: tall and skinny. Not only were they unhealthfully thin, but they were being praised and photographed in little to no clothing.

It was impossible for me to escape the image that was (at least back then) the “ideal” body.

During my younger teenage years, I thought of fitness as something to keep people healthy; to simply increase the heart rate; and to maintain a healthy weight. At some point though, a stronger emphasis on muscle definition and weight lifting seemed to arise for women. Now, fitness is even more focussed on achieving a “toned” body. It has seemingly become a new obsession. For a long time now, I’ve noticed this craze we have for perfecting our muscles and limbs.

Embarrassingly enough, the other day I caught myself in the middle of this thought process: I was at a red light in my car, and out the window I saw a woman jogging. She had a long line of definition going down her leg. While sitting there, I thought, “Wow, she looks really good. I wish I looked like that when I run. That’s some nice leg definition. Dang, I have a lot of work to do…” But then I stopped myself and thought, “WAIT WHAT AM I THINKING??!!!”

A line on my leg?! A stupid line?? Who says a line of muscle definition is a mark of beauty?!

Well sadly, our culture does. Through media, our culture sends us messages like…

Be skinny and tall.

Be toned or ripped.

Have a thigh gap and flat tummy.

Buy expensive makeup and trendy clothes.

Spend your time at the gym, and try this cool diet.

These messages have been perpetuated for decades, causing us to believe that we’ll achieve true beauty if we listen to them.

But we can’t ever achieve some perfect image, because it is ever-changing and perceived differently by every-one!

For example, some people say that “natural beauty”– less makeup – is better. While some people are avid makeup wearers who devote lots of time to it.

Or even yesterday, I was surprised to hear a guy say that “super skinny arms were not attractive” to him.

Or while the media most often emphasizes skinny, tall, and straight as the “ideals,” now days, more people are acting like curvy hips, thighs, (and yes butts) are a thing to be desired. Meghan Trainor’s song came out a while ago, proclaiming that “boys like a littlemore booty to hold.” Suddenly, a woman’s curves are like a trophy.

fullsizeoutput_b14So obviously, we have varying opinions on what is visually pleasing. That’s why it’s so important to simply embrace who YOU are!

We all have special genetics that have made us look the way we do. At our most clinically normal weight, we may not look like the media wants us to. Our natural body (without hours at the gym to tweak it) may not be what we necessarily want. We may not look like our peers, either. We all have a different looking “healthy body.” Our composition and build is unique to each of us; and it is dependent on our family tree. (Your close relatives can give you a clue as to where your extra weight may be carried and how you are proportioned). If we try to change our own genetics, we’re going to be miserable. If we compare ourselves to people who are from super different looking families, we’re only doing ourselves a disservice.

If I waited around forever to have a flat stomach and skinny arms, I’d be waiting till I die. Those things just aren’t natural for me. Even in my eating disorder, I wasn’t really able to achieve the thin arms I wanted. But I’m learning to accept this!

So maybe you have wider hips. Maybe you’re naturally tall and thin. Maybe you have a short torso and a tummy that rolls over your waistline. Maybe you have small arms and thicker thighs. No matter what you’ve got, you are beautiful. There will never be one image of an”ideal body.” There will probably never be a consensus about what is most physically attractive and desirable. So join me in embracing your own unique body, and let’s stop striving for a non-existent idea of perfection.

My Frenemies: The Mirror and the Scale

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on February 10, 2017. It’s one of my personal favorites!

I can’t count how many times I have looked at myself in the mirror and felt negatively about my reflection.

I can’t count how many times I have stepped onto the scale and felt my heart sink.

I can’t count how many times I stared at my thighs or the number on the scale, hoping and waiting for them to change.

So much anxiety, so many tears, and so much self-disgust have resulted from what I saw on a piece of glass and a metal, square thing.

The truth is, I have allowed the mirror and the numbers on the scale to determine the way I feel about myself for the majority of my life; But now I’m done with that!

I have recently discovered how to separate my emotions from these two objects, and they no longer hold the same power over me that they used to.

How have I done this? What has changed? Let me tell you. It’s pretty simple, actually.

fullsizerenderThe first step was covering my full length mirror! I took the challenge by someone I respect, and I successfully kept it covered it for about 10 weeks (I still used my bathroom mirror for my hair and makeup).  At first it was difficult, and I felt really weird when I’d hop out of bed every morning and not see myself on the wall. But I quickly realized that the mirror was something I sought comfort and validation from. In a strange way, the reflection I saw first thing in the morning was able to set the tone for my whole day. If I happened to feel good about my body, I’d go about my day with more ease. On the other hand, if I didn’t like what I saw, I would feel glum and distracted by  it most of the day. I would most likely wear clothes that were baggier and maybe even eat less.

Once I realized the behavioral tendencies and unhealthy emotional connection I had with my mirror, I was sad. These realizations, however, motivated me to disconnect myself from the mirror and keep it covered it up.

After a month or so, I noticed that I was much less insecure about my appearance; I cared less about my insecure areas; and I flinched less at my reflection when I looked in public mirrors. After another month, I felt almost zero body negativity. Eventually I was able to look at my full body and accept it in its daily state. I have also been able to appreciate all that my body does for me instead of fixating on how it looks.

Next came the scale.

I have always known I shouldn’t let the number bother me. I’ve always known that weighing myself obsessively was not healthy. Yet, in my eating disorder, I couldn’t stop.

Well, several weeks ago I was fed up with it. Because I’m in a much healthier state of mind than I used to be, I know that my over-all holistic “health” is not solely defined by pounds. Whether I’m gaining, losing, or stabilizing weight only tells me a small bit of information about how healthy I am. Realistically, I probably should only be having my doctor or dietician weigh me. They can use the information to help me make changes if needed.

So, in order to separate myself from my feelings attached to the scale, there was only one thing to do. After 5 years of having it in my bathroom, I put the scale away. And guess what: I don’t miss it! It was much easier to give up than I thought. I don’t miss the ritual of dread and anxiety that I used to engage in. I have decided to measure whether I’m “gaining weight” only by paying attention to how my clothes fit. I have allowed my dietician to weigh me instead.

Now that the mirror and scale hold less power over me, I feel so much better about myself! Sure, I have bad days. Sure, I don’t always love the way I look. But I’m much quicker to measure my self-worth by my internal characteristics and to thank my body for its hard work. The two things that used to make me cry – my weight and the “cushioning” on top of my bones – seem much less important now.

The reason I share this story with you is because I know that I am not the only one who allows the mirror and scale to dictate my feelings. I want to remind you of a couple things.

1. When you look at yourself in the mirror, your perception is largely influenced by “your mind’s eye. In other words, you might look at yourself and make a totally false judgement about your body, weight, or what other people must think about you, because you have your own unique standards and opinion of yourself. Even if you hyper-focus on one “flaw” or roll, or think to yourself “AHH, I’m gaining weight!” other people probably aren’t judging you as harshly. It’s all about our unique perceptions.

2. The mirror and scale are not the best measuring tools for us, and they tend to generate a lot of negativity. Why torture yourself?

3. If you truly want to track whether you are healthy, try determining that in other ways.

4. Just like any addiction or bad habit, the best way to let go of these two harmful things is to give them up. I promise that it’s not impossible.

5. You are beautiful and wonderful no matter what that number says and no matter how much “fat” you see on the mirror. You are one of God’s masterpieces. He made no mistakes with you.

6. Focus on the functionality of your body. If you appreciate what your body and mind do for you each day, you won’t be so easily disappointed next time you step on the scale or look in the mirror.

I hope this helps or encourages someone! Go out today, and use your body to change the world!

My Difficult Journey with Exercise

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on December 3,  2016. 

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I praise the Lord each and every time I recognize an area of my life that’s he’s transformed. Recently I’ve been feeling grateful for the redemption of my relationship with exercise.

When I was in the midst of my eating disorder and insecurity, I thought my issues were only about food. I’ve never been an exercise “addict,” and I didn’t think exercise was a problem area for me. Yet, I also don’t think I’ve ever had a completely healthy relationship with it. Going to the gym from probably ages 14-18 were torture…The reason being that I was doing it for the wrong reasons.

I would drag myself to the gym and force myself to perform harder than I should, because I wanted to change my body. Working out wasn’t a celebration of the body God gave me. It was an effort to change it. So I’d keep pushing myself in order to maximize my time at the gym.

I have a sad memory from a little over a year ago: It was a busy week, and I was undoubtedly tired. I knew I should study for the S.A.T, but the enemy made me feel like burning calories was more important. When I was on the treadmill, I distinctly remember thinking, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to exercise for the right reasons. This is torture.” After that day, it was a repeated thought pattern each time I’d work out. I would zone out and wonder if I could ever love my body enough to just exercise because it’s something I enjoy.

Then one day I got so anxious while running on the treadmill that my heart rate became really scary, and I had to stop. I went home and cried, feeling simultaneously scared, guilty, and sorrowful. I yearned for the day that I’d be able to exercise normally and healthily.

Fast forward to 10 weeks ago: School started, and I just couldn’t fit the gym into my schedule. That was scary for me, because I was super active in the summer. For the first time in a long time, I went 10 days without any form of forced activity; and it cured me. Somehow, having a break from it was exactly what I needed. I gained so much perspective, and I was able to let go of dependence on it. I think a large part of it was also that I was solely focussed on thriving in school, church, and relationships. There was a shift from where I was receiving my identity.

Now I can go weeks at a time without exercise and feel okay about it. The day that I was at the gym and realized, “wait…I’m not doing this because I hate my body. I’m doing it because it feels amazing, and I love it…” That was a great day.

Now, I know how to limit myself. I don’t go when I’m exhausted, I try new things when i’m there, and I don’t get anxious about it. I love it. But I don’t depend on it anymore. The Lord has been showing me constantly what it looks like to take care of myself, heal, rest, and appreciate the genetics he gave me. And I have discovered that I truly love to use the legs that he gave me to RUN. 🙂 (and release some endorphins)

I hope that you all find your identity from where it matters most and move your body because you want to care for it.”Healthy” looks different for all of us. And it’s never too late to treat yourself well.  img_0622

Our Bodies: Up for Discussion?

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on May 7, 2016. 

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature. . . For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” – 1 Samuel 16:7

fullsizeoutput_731During the time that I was in the midst of my eating disorder–and when my poor self image was at its peak–I got more comments on my body than ever before. You’d think that because I was purposely trying to be skinny, it would make me happy to get validation that I was small. But really, it made me feel disgusting. Many of the comments were made in a negative, concerned, awkward, or nosy way.

The comments ranged from a simple, “wow, you’re really small,” to a flat-out, “you’ve gotten so skinny! Do you have an eating disorder?!?” (A totally inappropriate thing to say while hugging someone at a party, in a room full of people).

During those months I would run into people in public, and sometimes the first thing they would mention was my body. The excitement I felt to see someone I had’t seen in a while was quickly replaced by shame,  frustration, and mostly hurt.

I understand–and I understood even then–that some people may have been genuinely concerned for me. But I did not FEEL cared about when they approached it by informing me that I “disappeared” when I turned sideways. Or when they told me–in front of other people–that I was “withering away!!!!”

They didn’t know that I was fighting the most miserably intense battle of my life. My mind was a war zone. My self-esteem was more fragile than my body.

All along, I knew the truth of what I was doing…I had the Holy Spirit convicting me, and I was sometimes really fighting to overcome my disorder. But those who made the comments could’t know that. Other days I was not fighting my disorder so hard. I was fighting to make my body skinner and look pleasing for the world. So, with all of the negative remarks, I felt like I could never win!

During that period of time I questioned why people didn’t comment on my appearance before I lost so much weight. Or why people felt it was their job to do so. If they really cared for my health, I wished they would come to me privately.

So after all of that, I’ve been curious about what is truly appropriate for us to say to one-another. Is it okay for us to comment on someone else’s body at all? We never know what someone thinks about themself. We don’t know what battle they’re fighting. We don’t know how strong or fragile their confidence is. We don’t know their past with food and weight.

Our words have a huge effect on people. The comments people made still echo through my mind sometimes. I can remember exactly who said what and how I felt.

One point I want to make is that the same ideas still apply to those struggling with being overweight. Or for making positive comments on someone’s body. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight because it’s healthy for them, a nice comment might be really encouraging! But it’s still risky. What if your words mean so much to them that they take it too far? By telling them, “you look really great,” you’re implying that their external appearance matters. That there is a measure of “good and bad” bodies. They might start to crave validation from people more and more.

By all means, still tell someone they’re beautiful! It’s just a fine line we’re walking on, people. So please. Be careful with what you say about someone’s physical body. There are insecure and hurting people all around us. (I’m preaching mainly to the teenagers and young adult women). We’re all children created in God’s image. If you’re not sure what to say to someone, compliment their necklace, their shoes, or their hairstyle first! Always be kind and considerate. And most importantly, how about building up their character? It’s cliche, but, “what’s on the inside is more important than the outside.” What truly matters is our hearts, our attitudes, and our relationship with Christ. Tell others when you see them DO something impressive or impactful. Tell them why you appreciate them. Build them up for being kind, loving, funny, brave, etc…

I don’t have the exact solution. But I just don’t want anyone to feel the things I felt. To be scarred, embarrassed, or made to feel like their body is up for discussion and judgment. Let’s be careful. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Waking Up to the Truth

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on January 31, 2016. This was the very first blog post I ever wrote, launching my blogging career. Posting it gave me a feeling of freedom and excitement, as I shared my struggles publicly and received a lot of verbal support from others who read it.

Hello there! Welcome to my blog, and thank you for being interested in what I have to say. I’m really excited to use this as outlet for sharing my thoughts and stories. I think A LOT; And most of the time I either bottle those thoughts up or let them spill out into my family’s ears…But, I believe I’m ready to start sharing my perspective with the world too. Please understand that my intention is not to gain attention, sympathy, affirmation, or anything like that. My heart’s desire is to bring glory to God through what I say. He’s gifted me with the ability to think hard, be aware, feel emotions, and encourage others. He’s also radically changed my life in the past several months; and I hope that by telling my story I’ll glorify him and be able to encouragement others who may be struggling.

Now, this first post will probably be a little longer and different than future ones. I want to set up for you how I’ve been shaped to be who I am today. Though I used to be embarrassed about my struggles, I have realized that what I’ve gone through is not so uncommon. I’m an imperfect human and I mess up like everyone else. I think hearing personal testimonies from others can be impacting. So, sparing some (actually, a lot) of the rough details, here’s my story:

If you know me, you know that I’ve been blessed with a great family who’s always encouraged my faith in Jesus Christ. I have loved my God for as long as I can remember, and I’d say faith is my strongest spiritual gift. I just haven’t truly doubted his existence or that he is who he says he is. – I’ve also had a life with minimal “big trials,” so why worry? Life was good! I was happy! Anything hard that came my way in middle and high school was an opportunity to depend on God and let him comfort me.

Somewhere along the way, though, I started caring too much about people’s perception of me and about the world’s standards. I become very insecure. In the midst of that, I developed health problems that made me feel physically defeated. In my own mind, my body wasn’t good enough. My self-consciousness made me want to hide. My body image got so bad over my junior year that I started restricting my food intake and exercising harder. These secret compulsive behaviors took over me. I wanted the satisfaction of feeling in control. I thought “If I can lose X amount of weight, then i’ll be happy and secure.” This lifestyle and these lies stole my joy. I became increasingly tired, anxious, and depressed. I gave up on social activities and even stayed home from church at times because I had no energy. Normal, every day tasks looked harder to me, and I was afraid of being vulnerable. My heart was hardening toward God and others, but I didn’t realize I was the only one hurting myself.

The world’s comforts looked so appealing to me that I lost sight of God’s will for my life. I eventually lost that X amount of weight…And even more pounds after that…But friends, that didn’t make me truly happy! Happiness from that was only ever momentary. Even after I achieved the thing I had longed for, I was miserable and clinically unhealthy. Migraines, naps, anxiety attacks, and feeling faint all occured more and more. After seeing a doctor, and after lots of tests, It was determined that there was nothing wrong with me except for my weight loss and depression. This was upsetting to me; But a few months later something snapped. I finally got sick of this lifestyle, and I missed my God whose truth I had been neglecting. One hard night I broke down and asked Him to help me escape this nightmare.

I strongly believe that when we surrender to God in prayer, he won’t neglect that cry for help. It IS the first step in any recovery process or escaping/letting go of sin. It says in the book of James,“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” This was my seed of hope.

When I started listening to God’s truth again, a verse particularly struck me: Jesus said in Luke 12-

“Therefore I tell you, DO NOT WORRY about your life, what you will EAT; or about your BODY, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

This passage was telling me that all the things I’ve obsessed over are not healthy for me! It also goes on to talk about how valuable we are to God, just the way we are. It convicted and encouraged me to get back on track. I didn’t know how to start; But since the things of the world (and my own self) weren’t working toward my joy, I gave God some control.  Isaiah 40:31 says “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. . .they shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” I had to wait on God, and trust in his promises.

I hesitantly started talking to a counselor who helped me with my depression. This was a good step. At the end of my junior year, I was told by professional nutritionist that i had “disordered eating” behavior and thoughts. I also hesitantly began following her eating plan. This was unexplainably hard for me, because I was giving up control. I slipped up a lot. I still felt sick, and my anxiety and body image got worse. But my relationship with God got stronger because I was depending on him more and thanking him when I would have good days or make progress. I recognized that a chance to redeem my past was possible.

This fall (beginning of senior year), overwhelming and sometimes uncontrollable anxiety struck again: Constantly feeling uneasy about possible negative outcomes and feeling so afraid that I slip into panic attacks. I was diagnosed with “generalized anxiety disorder” this recent December. I have been taking medication and seeing my old counselor since then. These are not things I ever wanted to have to do. But instead of feeling beat up and constantly insecure about it, I’ve pressed into scripture and prayer for comfort.

It’s not by controlling my circumstances, being affirmed by the world, or hiding that I’ve found peace. None of that satisfies and calms my heart for long enough. God tells me to take care of my body because it’s to be used for bringing him glory. So now, I fight my disordered thinking every day. I’ve learned how it looks to surrender in my times of panic and just let God’s truth calm me. I pray and remember these verses:

“Be still, and know that I am God.”- Psalm 46:10

“joy fills hearts that are planning peace.” Proverbs 12:20

Fighting against the battle in my mind is still something I deal with daily. At times I feel so weak. But, I go to sleep every night remembering that I don’t have to fight alone, and that continual growth is happening and shaping me. The physical health I have gained back is also something I think about every day as a reminder that my prayers have been answered. I’ve been humbled and broken down so many times. I go through highs and lows, but it’s only when I give up and surrender that I can see clearly enough to grasp God’s loving truth.

I do my best to listen for God’s directions now, and I believe He communicates with me through the Holy Spirit often. I’ve experienced what separation from Him feels like. It can feel deceivingly good for a while, but I know that there’s nothing as filling as being close to Him. He fulfilled his promises and SAVED me from so much. His plans for me don’t include fear, insecurity, or bondage. My life is in His hands, and I can have peace because of that. I’ll follow Him for the rest of my life because He cares enough about me to save it.

(If anyone is struggling with an eating disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, or feeling stuck; Feel free to talk to me any time! I love to help. 🙂