On September 11, 1984, I arrived, red and wrinkled and screaming. The doctor counted my fingers and toes, checked my lungs, and pronounced me, “perfect.”
I was an ugly baby. My head was slightly conical in shape. My wide lips appeared too large for my face. My skin was a splotchy red. At least, that’s how the old pictures portray me. My mom gets upset at me when I say I was ugly. But I what I mean is that I wasn’t about to win any “Most Beautiful Baby” awards.
But as oddly shaped as my tiny baby self was, I grew into a happy, healthy toddler and kid. First drooling and crawling. Then running and playing. And swinging on the tree swing. Racing bikes with my brothers. Laughing and grinning. I wore pink plastic glasses and my two front teeth were bigger than the rest.
I didn’t care. I flounced around in my frilly dresses. I loved the wind in my hair during a bike ride. I gave hugs often. I was uninhibited. Even when my body grew and changed around the age of 12, I paid no attention. I just wore the extra “undergarments” my mom gave me and continued being me.
Sunny. Light. Unconcerned.
I enjoyed almost 15 years living in a body that moved and breathed. I think of those years sometimes as my “Eden” years. Before the taint. Before the harsh words. Before the shift in my senses.
It was summer. Hot and humid. Sweat dripped down my face as I stared into the mirror, examining my face. Tears stung the corners of my eyes. The words had just been spoken to me.
“You’re fat. In the face.”
The sting is still there a bit. After all this time. Even as I write it, I feel the urge to get up from my computer and run to the bathroom to check out my face.
Instead, I’m here, writing this.
That summer day altered the way I saw my body. I started to hate it. Later that year, I stood in front of my bedroom’s full-length mirror, naked. I took stock of my body and made mental notes of everything that wasn’t perfect. All the counts added up to the guilty verdict.
That’s when the taunt in my head began. The one that said, “You’re fat, therefore ugly…and therefore, stupid.”
Listening to this lie caused me to lose a gift. The one God gave me when I was born.
God created us in His image. We are made to thrive and to create and to grow. These bodies are His invention. He wanted us to relish them, to enjoy them, to take care of them. He desires us to live with the confidence that we are loved in greater measure than we could ever imagine.
But our belief in lies steers us from this truth. We then head on a path to destroy God’s own perfect design.
Because I let the lies about my body consume me, I spent many unhappy years. My journals are filled with lines of meanness and vitriol towards my body. I missed out on opportunities, lost out on friendships, didn’t pursue education, and was stunted in careers. All because the lie, “You’re fat…therefore you are ugly…therefore you are stupid,” consumed me.
Don’t get me wrong. The years between ages 15 and now have not been horrible. Not entirely bleak and sad. I enjoyed many good times. There was just an over-arching sense of disconnections between my mind and my body. It was like I was wearing dark sunglasses, seeing the world through the lenses of self-loathing and disappointment.
When I spiraled to my lowest point and contemplated hurting this physical body of mine, I sought help. Through months and months of counseling, I started to reshape the view of myself. I saw myself through the lens of God. He has filled me with the fullness of Christ.
I wrote in my journal, after 10 months of counseling, a quote from Walt Whitman, “I cannot be awake, for nothing looks to me like it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.”
I was waking up.
My counselor didn’t begin with big ideas and grand notions. She started small.
“Just part your hair a different direction.”
So I did. Parted the hair to the right instead of the left, and slowly began the crawl back to the carefree child I had once been. Over the last seven years, I have talked and cried and written stuff down. I ran a few half marathons. I married a guy who tells me every day that I’m pretty. I have lost a few pounds. I carried a baby. I retained several stretch marks from birthing the baby.
I’m relearning to move in this body. I’m trying to appreciate its capabilities. I’m reclaiming the gift.
Yet one thing remains for me to do.
One thing I have to change.
A pattern I have to break.
I still call myself, “fat, ugly, and stupid.” It’s my go-to phrase. It’s my fall-back mantra. It’s my comfort zone. (without the comfort….)
I have to retrain my brain to believe the good. That I am a daughter of the King. That I am all glorious within because of grace. That Christ is the One Who makes me whole. I now believe, it’s not just the words “fat, ugly, stupid” that matter. You can fill in any word. Any old name. Any negative memory. Everybody has the old tape that plays again and again in their head. Listening to those worn out mantras leads down the path of nowhere.
I’ve been mediating on the words from Psalm 16, where David exclaims, “You will show me the path of life—in Your presence there is fullness of joy!”On this path, there are no slurs, no hateful words, and no sneering comments. No shame. No guilt. God’s goodness just doesn’t allow it.
So, this, my friends, will be my gift to myself for my birthday:
I’m deleting the words “fat, ugly, and stupid” from my vocabulary. They have no place.
I’m hanging out on the path of life and am full of joy. I’m enjoying the gift God gave me on the day of my birth. This earthly tent, as the New Testament writer, Paul, would put it.
It’s pretty great.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some pie to eat and a 2 year old to chase.
“It’s a beautiful day…don’t let it slip away…”-U2