I grew up with a beautiful mother. I remember thinking she was the prettiest woman I had ever seen when I was small. She always looked perfect; perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect outfit, perfect body. I was so proud she was my mom. As I got older my world got bigger and I became increasingly aware that prettier women than she existed and they were, in fact, everywhere. Perfect women were at the grocery store, at my piano recitals, in my church, in my magazines and on my TV. I was surrounded.
My mom was aware of these women as well. She liked to comment about them as they walked by. These comments were never malicious. On the contrary, my mother worshipped their beauty. She would follow them with her gaze and immediately seek out her own reflection, fussing with her perfect hair and making self-depricating comments about what she saw in the mirror. This made me sad. I would tell her how beautiful she was in an effort to ease the obvious pain she felt, but my sincere words of adoration always fell short of anything that could make her feel better. It was heartbreaking to watch.
When I was a teenager, the sadness I felt for my mother transformed into something else. I had started to develop into more of a woman than a little girl and my mom noticed. She did not gaze at me longingly like she did the women deemed beautiful by her own definition. Instead, she was critical and seemed disappointed in my physical appearance. Disapproval of the clothing I chose to wear was communicated verbally, not because of the outfits themselves but because of how my body looked in them. She frequently asked me why I didn't run more and began to put my eating habits under the microscope.
At first, I felt like she was right and desperately wanted to make her happy. I became obsessed with my body and skirted dangerously close to several different eating disorders. I was unable to look in the mirror. I was ashamed and didn't want to leave the house (I haven't mentioned yet that at this time I weighed 120 lbs). My obsession with my body turned into obsession with being aesthetically perfect as a whole. I wanted to be beautiful, but more than this I wanted to be acknowledged as beautiful by the general public. I looked for this nodding in all the wrong places, and most of the time I got it. I was miserable.
It took years of therapy and many tearful prayers for perspective change in order to come anywhere close to being comfortable in my own skin. I think it's something I could struggle with for a long time. One of many things I have learned through my journey in therapy is that there are some unhealthy perspectives I will, in fact, always have a tendency to hold close. But these things do not own me or have any real power at all. Change is always possible. For me, this change will only come about in trying to see myself the way Jesus sees me - and to see others the way He sees them. What He created is beautiful. He doesn't care what size I am or if I wear makeup to work...He cares about where my heart is.
In light of the fact that I have gotten a little fluffy over the holidays, I have just begun to work with a personal trainer at my gym (MY gym...ha! I said that like I actually go). Before I signed up for this service, I had to do a lot of self-reflection about the reasons WHY I wanted to do it. I am not oblivious to the fact that the danger of body obsession is still very real for me. In the spirit of one of my goals for 2011, (to re-capture the passions of my heart), I thought back to when running was a healthy outlet for me. Running gave me energy and made me feel good. I ran Hood To Coast for years and it was an amazing experience. Feeling good about your body is not a bad thing as long as your motivations are healthy and don't involve your identity being wrapped up into it. So, I signed the contract and had my first session yesterday.
My time at the gym was frought with varying emotions. Men and women with perfect bodies worked out alongside me. It was intimidating and humbling. But as I sweat like a pig, (I am NOT a pretty girl when I work out), I realized I had already made some progress in my body image struggles. I wasn't worried about what people thought or what I looked like in comparison to the others there. I had taken another step towards a healthy existence and felt proud of myself. I would be lying if I said I didn't want a kick ass body in a bikini this summer. But for the first time in my life, I want it for myself and no one else.