Body Image and Inadequacy

I love social media. Despite its obvious flaws (trolls, mean girls, instant gratification, highlight reels, etc.), I prefer to see and use the good inherent in it. It connects me to friends that live across oceans, whom I would otherwise never see or hear on a regular basis. It provides me with opinion and viewpoints different from my own. On occasion, when others are brave enough to lift the Instagram filter veil, it lets me know that I am not alone in my struggles. I can only hope that I use my own social media presence to bring the information, encouragement, and happy entertainment that I seek for myself on these platforms.

This morning, on Instagram, Ann Voskamp’s feed gave me this soul nugget:

“The world has enough women who live a masked insecurity. It needs more women who live a brave vulnerability.” – Ann Voskamp

Let me get vulnerable for you. And don’t mistake it for bravery. This is just me working out my knots.

I’ve been struggling with a growing insecurity, trying very hard to mask it. It is deep sense of inadequacy that is directly connected to my body image. As the scale rises, as my closet shrinks, my self-confidence has dropped in correlation. As I made some preparations for trying to conceive (namely going off contraceptives), my stomach and hips have steadily grown. Despite increased efforts of diet and exercise, my hormones are in full control of my body size. I am insecure, embarrassed, inadequate in my helplessness to be the fit girl I identified as. I have connected a large part of my identity with health and fitness, also equating this with body image and body size. This is a mistake on several levels.

First, scientifically, your body size is not a reliable reflection of your actual health and fitness. A 2008 study in The Archives of Internal Medicine looked at several cardiovascular health markers, like cholesterol and blood pressure, in over 5000 adults of various weights. About half of the overweight or obese people in the study had concerning cardiovascular numbers. But that means that half of them were internally healthy! Thin adults were less likely to have unhealthy markers, but about 1/4 of them still had them. Logically, we know carrying extra weight can make you more prone for diabetes and heart disease. But this study clearly documents that body size isn’t a reliable indicator for overall health. There is MUCH more at play.

My head knows this; I have been lapped by many heavier runners on a race course. But it hasn’t taken root in my heart. Which brings me to the next part of my mistaken connection…

Second, and most importantly, body size is not an accurate representation of my identity. I am not my dress size. I am also not my health markers or my fitness level. If I were to get sick or become disabled, I am still the same soul. I am still a child of God, His creation, a daughter and sister in His family, a warrior for the Kingdom, and princess of the King. Every time I throw another too tight pair of pants in the growing pile on my closet floor, I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself. But this is a good lesson. I am learning that my reflection in the mirror doesn’t matter. It is my reflection in the eyes of God that I need to be worried about. I am still in the middle of this battle, but I see the way out.

Another of my favorite social media personalities, Jordan Lee Dooley, creator of Soul Scripts, posted this YouTube video. I want to watch it again and again and again.

 

One of my favorite parts about this conversation, is the recognition that being a child of God, embracing my defining identity as a Christian, does NOT mean that I am ‘letting myself go.’ I am still called to be a good steward of my body, God’s creation. It is a temple for the Holy Spirit, which calls that I treat it with respect and care. I am the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth; the stronger I am, the more I can do for Him. He is glorified in my strength, but He is also present and glorified in my weakness.

As the new year approaches, the temptation to jump into the diet and fitness craze is strong. There’s a motivation in the mob mentality of everyone getting fit, healthy, skinny for the new year. New beginnings are always exciting. I plan to take part in the idea of a fresh start and new focus on health, but I’m expanding the definition of that health to include mind, body, and soul. I want to accept and rejoice in my body, its limitations and its strengths, as a God-given gift. I want to devote myself to its stewardship for His purposes and His delight, not my own worldly concerns of dress sizes and flattering selfies.

Advent Thoughts: What Are You Waiting For?

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We are barely one week into Advent, a time of designated waiting. In the church tradition, we are waiting for the birth of Christ, the Messiah’s entrance into the world. We are told to be watchful during our wait, to prepare for His coming.

“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'” – Mark 13:33-37

The sense of anticipation and drive to prepare is echoed in our secular traditions. Advent calendars, Christmas shopping, holiday music… all of this increase our sense of excited anticipation. Children are the clearest mirrors of this, simply bubbling over with impatience for the day. We are all waiting and preparing for big parties and family gathers. I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed at the demands upon our time and budget. In our rush to please, we pack the calendar and our shopping lists. FOMO creeps in as we see others posting on social media about fun family activities, crazy Elf on the Shelf antics, and heart-warming charitable work. Yet we can hope and pray that all this frantic activity will mean we are fully prepared and can get the most out of the holiday. We are buying gifts, making lists, wrapping presents, decorating, cooking, sending cards, and generally scrambling to get it all done ahead of Christmas.

To sum it up, we are all waiting and preparing for fulfillment.

This time of year, whether you are religious or not, brings a sense of yearning to the front of our lives. Desire and anticipation. It is okay, expected, and encouraged to want for something around Christmas. Even in the Grinch-y-est of people, there is a sense of hope and possibility that the holes this imperfect world creates might be filled during Christmas. That we might get our wishes. That we might come out on the other side feeling complete. How else do we explain our love of Hallmark Christmas movies?

It’s pretty hope, with sparkly bows and angel trees. But it’s misplaced. And ultimately a dangerous lie.

As a stress-eater extraordinaire, I will never say that a bowl of popcorn or cup of hot chocolate can’t be therapeutic for your stress levels. But calories don’t fill that empty space in your soul. I know this on an intellectual level, though my stomach and will-power seem to still be in denial. While I get super excited when sweet potato casserole season arrives, that sugary pecan crust will not make me a whole person. Neither will presents, parties, wine, cookies, twinkle lights, Santa, shopping, or stockings.

Before you start thinking that I’m going to preach ‘Reason for the Season’ and beat that particular Bible over your head… that won’t work either. Even if you are putting forth all the effort in the world to create a Jesus-centered Christmas, with advent wreaths, Nativity scenes, and daily scripture readings. Let’s keep that Christian high-horse in the barn. True, you will likely receive much more personal spiritual edification that way. Anytime we genuinely come to Him for nourishment, we will be fed. But to imagine you will find complete fulfillment is denying a hard truth and setting yourself up for disappointment when the warmth of the hot chocolate and the glow of the candles die out. Our Christmas holiday does not fix our world. It cannot fix us. This world will reopen the wounds and create new holes as fast as we try to fill them. Until we go Home to Jesus or He comes to us , we are incomplete.

I’m not trying to depress anyone or dampen the Christmas spirit. We simply need to remember what we are waiting for and remind ourselves that we are still waiting for it after December 25th. The symbolic waiting and preparation of Advent culminates in our Christmas celebrations. We should certainly celebrate the birth of Christ because it is the birth of HOPE. Without Christmas, there is no hope in the future, no light in the darkness. But we wait for and celebrate a birth, a beginning. We are still waiting for the end of the story, for the true fulfillment that won’t come until He comes again.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,…
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him. – Isaiah 63:19-64:3

I am over the Christmas rush, the stress, the expectations. Before it even began, I was over it. But I still love to play my Christmas records and decorate the tree. In the midst of it call, despite the frustration, we CAN recapture the innocent wonder and magic we felt as carefree children. We CAN remember that our traditions and activities are symbolic of a bigger picture. This season can teach us wait with watchful anticipation, and to carry that into the rest of the year. It can remind us of what we want for the world, for ourselves. Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men pair just as well with pool parties and cookouts as they do with carols and eggnog.