I’ve openly discussed body image many times in the past, specifically speaking to confidence. (A couple recent ones can be read HERE and HERE.) Major corporations have run campaigns as of late regarding body image, entire conferences are dedicated to body positivity, movements have been made in size acceptance, and, the bottom line is, our bodies are being talked about, discussed and dissected more than ever before.
But not always the way they should be.
It’s no secret that I’m fat. I’m not just pleasingly plump. I’m extra curvy with a side of extra curvy. I shop strictly in the plus size section, although I absolutely avoid the granny plus size section. And, I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not ashamed of my body. Every imperfection is a story, a tale of strength and triumph. How could I hate a body that has carried me through 29 years, 25 of which I hated it, I abused it, I even cut it on purpose? Very few people know this, but I used to cut myself because I hated my body that much, because I was that angry, that upset, that depressed. Because I felt trapped. I didn’t look at my body as a beautiful vessel that had gotten me through surgery after surgery as a child; I looked at my body as the enemy, the reason why I wasn’t popular, the reason why everyone hated me and spewed horrible words at me. I victimized myself in the worst way, and, instead of healing, I only caused more harm, more damage.
Often, we make the mistake of assuming that thin equals healthy. Likewise, we make the assumption that fat equals unhealthy. For instance, did you know that Halle Berry and Nick Jonas – thin, fit, “healthy” people – have diabetes? Further “proving” the point, Penn & Teller’s show, Bullshit!, did an episode on obesity. (You can watch it HERE. – Warning: they curse… a lot.) In it, they did something they referred to as the “Fat Olympics.” They put men who were all over the obese side of the BMI chart against someone at the top of the normal range. Guess what? The “fit” guy lost every single time.
Judging a body is like judging a book by its cover. Just because the cover is pretty doesn’t mean the story is, the pages inside are. Reversing, just because the cover is awful, (and, sweet cherry pie, have I seen some horrifying covers), doesn’t mean the story isn’t worthwhile, isn’t engaging, captivating, and awe-inspiring.
Your cover may not be what the world deems as ideal, as perfect, but that doesn’t mean your story isn’t worth reading, that you’re not worthy enough, undeserving, of popularity, of acceptance, of love. You shouldn’t be condemned to the dark, cobweb filled corners of society simply because you don’t meet the standards of others.
The funny part? They are so self-absorbed, so vain, that they don’t even stop to consider that they may not meet our standards. Because, yes, I am fat, I’m not what society believes to be healthy, beautiful or acceptable, but you’re darned right that I have standards, standards that not everyone will meet.
The difference? I don’t condemn them for it. I don’t alienate them for it. I accept that their standards are not my own, that their moral compass points to a different North. It doesn’t mean they aren’t worth knowing, aren’t worth a conversation. It just means that, while I could love them, I would never want to be them.
That’s the other shocking part of it all. I don’t want to be anyone but me.
For twenty-five years, I was angry. I was upset and hurt that my family hurled fat curses at me on the regular, that the ones that were supposed to love me the most, didn’t. I wasn’t good enough. My size cancelled all merit. My thinner sister was a troublemaker, but she wasn’t the one they punished. Because she wasn’t what they feared the most; I was. It took me twenty-five years to realize that they didn’t hate me, they hated what I represented. Everyone in my family is body conscious. They chronically sought, and still seek, the perfect size two illusion, and because I didn’t join them in the quest, because I didn’t strive to follow their manic example, I wasn’t worthy of their adoration, because being a successful fat student still made me a failure because of a single adjective. Still to this day, I’m loved, my accomplishments are acknowledged, but I’m not loved unconditionally, because I don’t fit their mold, because I don’t walk through the store admiring the thin women more than the products around us, because I dare to love myself as I am rather than to withhold love until I’m a size two. Because I’m the one who stands out in the family photos, twice the size of any other woman around me, and yet I hold my head the highest.
It wasn’t easy to get here. The journey is hard. It’s difficult to rewire your brain, to change what you were taught to think, to feel, and to believe. It’s hard to stop believing a lie you’ve held as truth your entire life.
Where do you start? How do you start? How do you turn your back on all you’ve known? How do you defy the people who raised you? Where do you gain the courage to give them the middle finger, to ignore every single back-handed compliment, every single negative slur, every single dirty look?
It starts in the mirror.
I grew up in church. We bounced around, never staying long enough for me to get too comfortable in a single congregation, but I learned enough at each one to build the solid faith-based foundation I hold tight to today. Every church preached the same scriptures, but they spoke of different truths in the same words, forcing me to decipher them for myself. Beauty is the same way. It’s perceptive; everyone interprets it differently. My family will always attach a ‘but‘ to my beauty: she would be so much prettier if she lost weight, if she did this, if she did that. My ex-husband said I looked nice, but then asked if I would ever lipo my thighs. What they all forget, what I had forgotten even after spending hundreds of Sundays in a pew, is that the Bible says that our body is a temple, and we are to treat it as such. What isn’t explained in verse, or gone into extensive detail about, though, is the definition of the ideal temple.
Look around you. No church looks the same; they all vary in size and structure. No temple is draped the same; they all vary in opulence and decor. No religious gathering place is treated with an equal level of respect. Synagogues have been burned to the ground, not because they weren’t pretty enough, but because they represented, they promoted, difference. Meaning, those that worshipped within those walls went against what others deemed ideal, sensible, believable, praiseworthy.
Being fat, having stretch marks, having a body full of flaws does not mean that I don’t treat it like a temple. Likewise, it doesn’t mean that it should be burned alive either.
Because beauty is perceptive. Jessica Simpson’s show The Price of Beauty took her and her friends to a remote village in Uganda where they deemed fat beautiful. The fatter you were, the prettier you were in their eyes. (You can watch that episode HERE.) In China, if you are over 30% body fat, not only are you a disgrace, you are not eligible to adopt a child in need and have other restrictions. (What polar opposites!)
So, which one is right and which one is wrong? Which continent’s beliefs, perceptions of beauty, are justifiable, are acceptable?
We are all entitled to our own opinions. We’re all entitled to our own perceptions.
But that doesn’t mean they always need to be voiced, need to said aloud. There is a time and a place for everything. Additionally, I grew up hearing the phrase, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” Even though my family doesn’t always practice what they preach, I take their wisdom with a grain of salt and then dissect it for truth, for beauty. These days, I try to find the positive in everything, even in the negative.
It’s rare that I don’t find the beauty in people. I seek out the beauty the same way I sought out the beauty in myself: one by one, piece by piece. My journey began in front of the mirror. Bit by bit, day by day, I chose something new to love about myself. It could be as small as a freckle or as big as the span of my hips. Study something long enough and you’ll find something to like about it. Study something long enough and you’ll see things you didn’t at first glance, you’ll see details that were dismissed, details that change everything.
When a child begins to lose their baby teeth, they are left with gaps in their mouths, gaping spaces that show caverns of darkness and tarnish what is deemed as perfect. We don’t yell at the child, curse them, admonish them for a temporarily imperfect smile. No, we often find it cute. Their temporary imperfection adds to their endearment.
Slowly, I realized that uniformity strips away individual identity. How could I find my child’s imperfections worthy of adoration, deem my imperfect children worthy of love, of praise and of acceptance, how could I find my children beautiful while still acknowledging their flaws, yet I couldn’t do the same for myself? For twenty-five years, I held tight to a prejudice against my own body. I hated the very things that made me unique, that made me who I was. I didn’t find my identity in my fat, nor is my identity tied to my fat, but, my beauty is. I’m not saying that if I lost hundred pounds tomorrow I wouldn’t be beautiful, that I wouldn’t love myself the way I do today. I’m saying that I would be a different kind of beautiful, and my perception would have to change with it.
You can love someone and not accept them as they are. My family does. What I’ve done is I’ve learned to love myself, as I am. I’ve learned to accept myself, as I am. Does it mean I am perfect? Does is mean that I have met my own standards? No. I’m ambitious and want to achieve so much more than I have, do so much more than I have. It simply means that I refuse to punish myself for not being more than what I am capable of being today.
I’m not going to lose a hundred pounds by next month. In fact, I don’t plan to lose weight at all (and my doctor says that’s alright for now; my prescriptions say that’s not possible right now.) My worth, my beauty, is not tied to a number, though. It’s tied to what I see in the mirror each day. And today, I saw an extra curvy woman who pays all of the bills, supports three children, two of which are special needs, three adults, and a handful of pets. I saw an extra plush woman who has stretch marks, who has fat everywhere, and not-so-perky boobs anymore; I saw a woman who has a thousand flaws, but doesn’t let them stop her from accomplishing what she sets her mind to, a woman who doesn’t allow what others think to stop her, stop her from loving herself, stop her from doing more, stop her from being more, stop her from rising above. I saw a woman who doesn’t allow anyone else’s flaws, anyone else’s hatred, to stop her from loving them, from accepting them; a woman who doesn’t allow others to change who she is or how she is, who she loves or how she loves.
Because my standards are not everyone’s standards, but I don’t allow my standards to be the reason they cut themselves. I don’t allow my standards to be the reason they cry at night. I don’t allow my standards to be the reason. I allow my standards to simply be my standards.
The same way the Bible doesn’t define the perfect size of a temple, I don’t define the perfect size of any human being, including myself. The Bible doesn’t tell me to go to Him, doesn’t tell me that I will finally be worthy of His love, His mercy, when I’m a size two. The Bible tells me to come as I am, and He will love me as I am. The Bible was the first to tell me that I am worthy; my God was the first to tell me that I was worthy as I was. My religious doctrine states that I am to liken myself to Him, that I am supposed to be as Jesus was and do as He did, that I am to follow His example. He didn’t loathe his physical form. He didn’t despise the scars on his palms or on his feet either. He didn’t cast Himself down, nor did He deject others. You can read every word He said in red. Not once will you find him calling a woman fat, deeming her undeserving of common courtesy and shutting her out of His home. Not once will you find him shunning the poor, shouting slurs at those with disabilities, challenging the meek with his strength. Instead, you will find Him taking a stand against the sinners casting stones, the imperfect people casting stones at imperfect people. You will find Him loving everyone, including those that betrayed Him.
On my Instagram, I post pictures of myself all the time. (HERE is a link to my profile.) I don’t hide my flaws. I don’t hold the phone high and angle the camera from above to slim myself. I show myself as I am. I come, as I am, and encourage others to do the same. You may hate what you see, but what you see is an empty battlefield full of stories, full of victories, full of reasons to be in awe of yourself. If you simply look long enough, look hard enough, I guarantee you’ll see what you didn’t at first.
I don’t hate those that bash my body. I don’t roll my eyes at those who voice “concern.” Is someone judging a book by its cover offensive? Yes. But I don’t punish them for it.
The truth is, most of the time, they are already punishing themselves. We project ourselves in everything we say and do. Their words are no reflection on me. Their words are a reflection on them. And to them I say, look in the mirror. Don’t glance. Stop and look. Look hard. Look long. Look and look again until you can let go of that fear, until you can let go of that hatred, of that bitterness in your soul. I am not you and you are not me. Don’t allow my presence to send you spiraling; likewise, don’t treat my presence as a reason to spiral.
No one is perfect, and the sooner we begin accepting that truth, the happier we’ll all be. My imperfection shouldn’t anger you. Your imperfections shouldn’t anger you. My imperfections shouldn’t anger me, shouldn’t make me want to create more imperfections on my body. Your imperfections shouldn’t anger me, shouldn’t make me want to rebuke you. Beauty is perceptive, and the sooner we start to perceive everyone as beautiful in some way, perceive ourselves as beautiful in some way, even an unconventional way, the sooner we can let go of the social pressures tied to size, tied to something only photoshop can offer. And the sooner we can move on to the more important things, like what I’m going to eat for dinner. I say that, because not everyone will have a meal to eat tonight. We’re over here complaining, arguing, admonishing each other over frivolous things, things that have no bearing on our capabilities, our accomplishments, or our worth, while children are dying of starvation, while IEDs are going off right and left in the Middle East, and while others are facing challenges that are affecting them in more prominent ways than the offensiveness of a stranger’s waistline.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to the body that has fought day in and day out to get you where you are. Even if it didn’t come through perfectly, it came through. Likewise, be kind to others. Be kind to them and their bodies, because, likewise, they’ve fought to be where they are today, even if where they are isn’t where you think they should be. We all have to move at our own pace, and we all will have to face mortality eventually. But casting stones, judging and dejecting never prolonged anyone’s life, nor did it change what was.
If you haven’t been told today, allow me to be the first to tell you. You are beautiful. You are worthy. You are wonderful, just the way you are. Whether you meet society’s standards or not, whether you meet my standards or not, has no bearing on the way I feel, on what I think of you. We are all here for a reason, and that reason is never to be the villain, the failure or the trash of the world. It is to be the light in a dark room. It is to be beautiful, to be loving, to be kind, even when you don’t always feel like you are, like you want to be. It is to be more than we are deemed, more than we believe, and to do more than we fathom. And, newsflash, you can do it all in whatever body you have, even if that body may need a few tweaks to do some of those things, because you only get one body, and pounds gained or lost won’t change the body.
And, just know, even if you need to lose a few pounds before you can go skydiving, or whatever else you want to do, it doesn’t mean you are any less worthy of love today. It doesn’t mean your body is any less deserving of praise for getting you through the past x-number of days of your life. Celebrate it. Celebrate your imperfections for all the reasons you ought to celebrate your successes. Love your imperfections for all the reasons you love your child’s, your niece’s, your sibling’s imperfections: because they make you who you are, and who you are is worthy of love. My Creator told me so. My Creator said that I am worthy, as I am. And if I’m worthy as I am, then so are you.
xoxo – Christin