I saw the most ridiculous picture ever the other day. It was this:
This woman is not dying. She is not midway through cancer treatment. No. Actually, the picture was attached to this unbelievable ABC article. She was trying to lose weight for her wedding. Apparently, for $1500 dollars you can have nasotubal feedings…. basically, you get a liquid diet that goes from the tube to your stomach. It has no fiber and no carbs but you apparently don’t get hungry because you’re getting vital nutrients. I read the follow-up Yahoo news article which went on to say that, basically, it cuts a 2000 calorie diet to 800 per day. In 10 days, you can lose about 20 pounds via nasotubal feedings… and also that $1500 you gave away to get it.
This makes me so, so very sad.
I was in my Junior year of high school when I started seeing food as the enemy. By the time I got to my Freshman year in college, I was in real trouble. I lived in the dormitories during the week and went home on the weekends so I came up with a plan…. I only ate food on the weekends. This is a grand way to lose weight…. but it wrecks emotional havoc. I was in control… but not really. People thought I was pretty… everybody except me, that is. Deciding whether or not you’re pretty based on what number shows up on the scale is a terrifying and awful way to live because, pretty soon, your self-confidence and self-esteem depends on what number is on the scale. I used to stand straight up in the shower and look down. If I saw the slightest bulge, I panicked and “fixed it” by not eating at all until the bulge went away. It sounds crazy to the logical brain. I’m not a member of Mensa or anything like that and I’ve haven’t got any, you know, earth-shattering inventions to date like Einstein but, on the flip side, I’m really not stupid either. I know what it sounds like. But… I’ve always known that I’m not a very good person but, back then, that knowledge was like a red sign I couldn’t look away from. I didn’t deserve friends. I didn’t deserve to date. But… I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be loved. And since I didn’t think anyone would care about little old me, the only way to possibly obtain acceptance and love was by being pretty. Like I said…I’m not stupid. I know what it sounds like and I cringe today in sorrow when I think about the thoughts that crowded my brain as I stood outside vending machines looking at food I would not allow myself to buy. My self-worth was judged not by how much I helped others, not by my grades, not by my character but rather by how much weighed.
Today, there are more important things to worry about. Today, I know that there are hurting children on every block on every street in every city in the world and that knowledge shadows my every move. Today, I have two daughters. When they were born, I vowed I’d never say a negative thing about myself in their hearing presence. I vowed they’d never see a scale, except at the doctor’s office. I vowed that they’d never learn to associate themselves with a number. And I’ve stuck to it. I don’t talk negatively about myself in front of them. When we go to the doctors and they learn that they’ve gained 3 pounds, or 5 pounds, we celebrate. They aren’t afraid of gaining weight. They aren’t afraid of growing into healthy women. One of the children I teach is seven years old and she recently told me that she thinks she’s fat. Why, people, why is a seven-year old even looking at her body in terms of “fat” or “skinny”? When I asked her why she thought that, she shrugged and said, “I dunno. I just am.” She thought that because she’d heard the women around her say it about themselves and she wants to be like them. She wants to be grown-up and she’s learning to associate a fear of being fat with being an adult woman. Thirteen years from now, she may be the one paying almost 2000 dollars for a 10 day program designed to help her lose 20 pounds. Before I give in to the urge to start a rampage on the effects of magazines, TV commercials and famous actresses who look half-dead on our impressionable youth, I’ll offer a reminder that the way in which we view ourselves is likely to become the way our daughters one day view themselves. Is that a good thing or not?
I teach a class on Wednesday nights at church for a program that is very much like Girl Scouts, only with a Christian focus. We have sleepovers, we go on field trips to places around our city, we do community service projects, and we have both serious and fun units. Last night, we started a unit on Health. I showed them pictures of various types of houses. I asked them what kind of house God lives in which led to the discovery that, after asking Jesus into our lives, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us. Our memory verse for the next four weeks is 1 Corinthians 6:19 which says, “Your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit.” This led to a conversation about making sure we take care of our bodies, of God’s house. Finally, I showed them a box and said I had the name of someone super, duper special, someone who was very important to the world, in the box. I asked them to guess who it was. Then, one by one, I called them up to me and opened the box for one girl at a time. Each girl responded similarly to the name in the box; they laughed and looked at me strange. After each girl viewed the box’s contents, I asked whose name was in the box. The box held a mirror so that, when opened, each girl had seen her own face. This led to a discussion of what makes us special and what makes us different. I asked each girl to tell me what she saw when she looked in the mirror. I got some good answers but the one that affected me the most was by a little girl who said, “I see a girl with crooked teeth,” obviously embarrassed by the question. How often do we look for the flaws in the mirror rather than the light shining?
We’ve all heard the cliché saying that “beauty is only skin deep” but how many of us truly believe it? I mean, if I work really hard enough to be totally gorgeous…. wouldn’t some of that gorgeousness rub off on my character? I mean, when I think I look pretty, I do feel more confident, I do feel stronger than when I think I’m having a really bad hair day. A day at the spa does help me feel better about myself. With all added confidence…. wouldn’t I become a better person? It makes sense…. but it’s a lie. The woman who paid $1500 to lose 20 pounds for her June wedding will undoubtedly gain the 20 pounds back when she is allowed to eat again–just as that ridiculous weight loss is almost assuredly temporary, so is the confidence that a good mirror day brings. Real confidence, lasting confidence, comes from believing that what the mirror shows isn’t all I have to offer. Real confidence, real strength, comes from the bone deep knowledge that if I go out to a party and no heads turn…. I’m still worthwhile. Real confidence comes from believing that I’m capable of reaching whatever dreams I have. Real confidence comes from trusting the Bible when it says that I was made in the very image of God Himself.
There are a gazillion and three different bottles with different shades of every color in the sun to change your hair. There’s eyebrow waxes, pedicures, manicures, bikini waxes, a million and three nail polish colors, creams that will moisturize the skin, lotions that will exfoliate it and even fancy salt from the Dead Sea that is supposed to make the skin baby soft. There’s shampoos and conditioners that will make the hair shine, soft, strong and all but glow. There’s soap for your bath that will fill your nostrils with lovely scents like coconut and strawberries and vanilla. In the end, though, when the scent from paradise-in-a-bottle and the tanning bed color fades… what’s left? Multiple psychologists believe that it does the soul good to spend time alone, naked. Not doing anything sexual, just being naked…. eating, watching TV, reading, doing whatever we normally do. Does the thought make you uncomfortable? It does me. I don’t like being naked. But why? What is it about my body that is so shameful, so ugly that I don’t want to see it, that I’d rather use clothes as a way of forgetting it exists?
The truth is… my box was absolutely right last night. If I looked inside it, I’d see my reflection in the mirror. In other words, I’m important, and I matter. Anything that matters is beautiful. If you looked inside it, you’d see a reflection of yourself because you’re important and you matter. If Grandma Betsy looked in it, she’d see a reflection of herself, too. So would the obese woman across the street, the gray-haired, hunched back clerk at the grocery store and the anorexic teenager at the local high school. My eleventh grade English teacher, Stackhouse, confessed to my mom once, “When I first saw Tiffini, I thought, ‘oh no, she’s going to be trouble. I won’t be able to get her to talk at all” (in order to pass Stackhouse’s class, participation in the lively discussions was mandatory). He assumed based on my mannerisms and my appearance that I was shy. He had no idea books move me or that writing was my strongest passion. He would eventually put his hands on my shoulders mid class and say quietly, “Put your hand down. You’re starting to make me feel bad” because I was always jumping at the bit to add my two cents to the conversations. He saw that as beautiful. An 8th grader I taught once told me that he was going to frame a letter I wrote to him because it made him cry. He thought my words mattered. My daughters try to BE me–if I wear red pants, they want to wear red pants… not because I’m necessarily so pretty but because they love ME. It isn’t my eyes or my smile or my body that makes me beautiful to God…. it’s that I really do love Him.
I’ve seen lots of gorgeous smiles. They are all around me, actually. My daughters’ laughs are infectious. I’ve been on the receiving end of smiles so charming they’d put Brad Pitt out of business. But do you know what? The most beautiful smile I have ever seen–the one that was the brightest and the most meaningful, the one that rocked my world–belonged to a homeless man who was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. His smile lit up his dirty face and transformed his blue eyes into gemstones. He was beautiful because he was happy. He was beautiful because he reminded me that it doesn’t matter what I have, or don’t have, it doesn’t matter how much I weigh or if my skin smells like coconut and strawberries. I don’t have to wax my eyebrows to be beautiful, I don’t have to have French manicures and pedicures with cute toe rings. I just have to be me. Being me is good enough. All I have to do is keep loving my daughters and sharing my passions with those that matter to me. If I try hard, if I pray and love God, if I force myself out of the bed even when I don’t want to, if I smile even when it’s hard, if I tell the truth, if I hold out my hand to the person who’s most different from me…. then I’m beautiful. We all judge others from their appearances but we also judge ourselves. It’s sad to me that our culture values beauty like it does. It’s sad to me that our girls are learning to view themselves as advertisements. Mostly, though, what’s saddest of all is knowing that we compare ourselves to others who are comparing THEMselves to still others. We measure beauty even though it can’t be measured.
My children sing a song… it goes, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” We all have the light inside us. You light up a room when you enter it. Everyone does. Some of us, though, blow our own light out because we’re afraid others will laugh at it. Self-defeating thoughts are some of the most powerful lies Satan tells us ever y day. He uses our worst fears against us, taunting us with them and making them seem true. We can’t magically wake up one morning and feel different from we do today about our bodies and ourselves…. but we can work at it, we can gain strength and confidence from the inside out. My girls and I do this with our daily affirmations… every morning, it’s a household requirement that we look in the mirror at ourselves and say one good thing about ourselves. It can be about our bodies or our characters, but it has to be positive, and it has to be said out loud. The first week or so, this feels and sounds ridiculous. But it has come to be an absolutely cherished part of our daily routine. And because we often say the same things on multiple days…. we come to believe the best about ourselves so that when I see the latest weight-loss gimmick or product, I don’t feel the overwhelming desire to try it. Earlier, I mentioned that, as a freshman in college, what I most wanted was acceptance and love. The greatest acceptance I can offer myself is acceptance OF myself and, once I do that, my confidence grows and continues to grow because it isn’t reliant upon the opinions of others, or, worse, on the number on a scale. We are human beings… imperfect but loved, imperfect but accepted, imperfect but beautiful.
So… find a mirror and look into it. What positive thing do you see? If the answer is nothing, you’re not looking hard enough. If the answer is nothing, tell me what’s wrong with your nose or your ears or your chin.. if the answer is nothing, use the comments below to explain what’s wrong with your first finger, or your pinky. What’s wrong with your elbow? When you find something about which you can’t complain…. tell me what feature that is too: it is your positive affirmation. If you’ll tell me what you see in your reflection, I’ll share what my daily affirmation this morning was with you….