If you're anything like me, you have a mental list of things that are extremely important to the way you live your life. For me, at the top of the list are things like - Be a good mom, Try to have a little fun, Say yes as much as possible, and Be faithful. But the one I don't often talk about is probably right at the very top, ahead of all those things. While I've carefully conditioned myself to keep the thoughts to myself for the most part, it could best be summarized as: Don't you dare forget to despise your disgusting and shameful body.
No matter how big or small I've ever been, I have prioritized this idea above almost everything else. I'll never forget standing in line to get weighed in kindergarten. Lined up alphabetically, I could hear the weights of all the other kids in my class called out as the person who weighed us told the person writing them down. I wasn't overweight, but I was a head taller than them and weighed a full 20 pounds more. As they called out my weight, my classmates stared at me in shock. Shame washed over me. The grown ups exchanged looks and weighed me again, just to be sure. It was not a mistake. The measuring stick was literal for me, and it was mortifying.
Drilled into my head for all of my life was this concept that my body was not good and it was my job to remember that, to treat it with the disdain it deserved.
I went to a new counselor a couple years ago and told her that I was desperate for help to stop gaining weight. The weight loss/gain roller coaster was making me feel crazy and I was desperate to finally feel sane. The counselor told me that she could help me and one of two things would happen.
As I healed my mind, my body would respond. I'd stop holding on to excess weight. My appetite would be normal. -OR-
I'd stop thinking that I need to be a certain size to be happy and successful. I'd accept myself the way I am.
She said either outcome would be healthy.
I was totally uninterested in option 2. I did NOT want to accept myself the way I was. I couldn't image that I'd ever consider my body to be just fine. I hated my excess weight and spent a tremendous amount of time obsessing about it.
I went back to exercising regularly, working on it from a physical and mental perspective. I was in a great routine, hitting the treadmill right after I got my kids on the bus. Rick would watch Redmond until I got back. But then we ran into some really hard things with Redmond's health. I pushed through, but when the Christmas rush hit, I had to take a little break. I promised myself that I'd go back as soon as the holidays were over.
But I didn't. Once the holidays came to a close, it was several more months before Redmond's health issues resolved, and I was pushed beyond my breaking point. My eating spiraled out of control as I reached for the familiar comfort of food.
I was back on the roller coaster again. Anger and frustration took turns beating me up inside. I continued counseling, started a new exercise program, and you know the drill...
Fast-forward to present-day: I was getting ready for a dinner party the other night and I had the strangest feeling. I didn't hate the way I looked. I chose my outfit without a thought for what best disguised the parts I dislike. Rather, I choose something I enjoy. As I moved through the evening, I didn't have the familiar feelings of self-doubt and misery. I felt comfortable and at ease. It wasn't until later that I considered how different I felt.
Then I ran across an Instagram post from @jamiebgolden, a beautiful woman I started following recently. She'd posted a close-up of her face, drawing attention to her double chin. She wrote a meaningful message about loving and accepting ourselves, even our double chins, and putting away the blasted measuring stick. She even quoted Scripture. I mean, how does God feel about us despising His creation??? (She has a website and podcast too, which you can check out at https://www.jamiebgolden.com) Warmth spread through me as I read it. I am not required to despise myself. I don't have to hate my body.
It seemed like such an obvious concept, one I've been thinking about for years. However, the message just hadn't been sinking in. That day, it felt like a clogged pipe that was causing a flood and damaging everything had suddenly cleared. I'd been accommodating the flood as best I could - wearing rain boots and trying to ignore it, but rot was causing the whole structure to become unstable.
I shook my head a little, unsure of how to handle this new idea. Can I actually live my life without this constant companion of self-consciousness causing me to feel like I'm wading through flood waters nearly every moment of every day? Also, how does God feel about this extreme "self-consciousness" - this extreme focus on myself? Shouldn't my focus be on Him or on helping others?
A few days later, absolute terror hit me. If I don't hate myself, if I actually accept myself the way I am, will I stop trying to be healthy and kill myself slowly through overeating and lack of exercise? Will I give in to diabetes and heart disease? If I don't despise the way I look, will I fall apart?
Now, if you don't have issues with your body image, that may sound ludicrous. But if you are like me, you probably have similar thoughts. Oh no, Kimberly! Don't start accepting yourself! You must despise yourself in order to change! You might even throw in some examples of my imperfections just for effect.
Here's the deal though: I've bought into that theory for 40 years and guess what? It hasn't worked! I've been a very faithful follower of the whole "despise your flaws" and "hate your body" society all of my life - and nothing has changed! I've tried to arrange my world in a way to quiet those voices - avoiding fashion magazines and skimming past the messages that tell us that we must live up to an airbrushed ideal who is glowing with health and vitality. This perfect woman doesn't obsess about her weight, is fun and vivacious, and barely seems to notice that she's thin and muscular. You'll probably laugh at me, but I watched Jessica Simpson years ago on her reality show with then-husband, Nick Lachey. I assumed that she was that woman I just described. If you want to know how very, very wrong I was, read her recent memoir, Open Book. Even Daisy Duke thought she was supposed to despise her body like it was her job.
So I've decided to try something new. I'm going to accept myself. I'm going to believe that I'm worthy of love - JUST THE WAY I AM. I'm going to believe what I say to my daughter and what I want her to believe. I'm going to stop despising the parts that society tries to tell me are unacceptable.
This doesn't mean that I'm going to stop exercising. It doesn't mean that I'm going to eat whatever I want because I accept my desire for junk food. It doesn't even mean I won't get Botox or color my hair or shave my legs. Nope.
I accept my body. Heck, I might even learn to love it one of these days... And because I care about my body and cherish it, maybe what will follow will be a smaller body. Maybe not. I'm not going to waste any more time with that blasted measuring stick. I'm scratching that item off my list.
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