Yesterday was a frightening first step to opening up an avenue for people to read and talk about real issues that concern body image and self-worth. I have to be honest with you -- I kept everything very mild in order to protect readers and myself from the real pain associated with eating disorders and distorted body image. I left out details and even my real "voice" in writing, so that I could communicate something painful in a tolerable way. It's time to get down and dirty with you for a brief time today.
You or someone you know may be experiencing this, and I don't want you to think for one second that what you or they are going through is so simple. This is for the ones who don't speak about it yet, cannot articulate their own pain, cannot see through the fog and scream, "Help!"
It starts small. It's only a voice. It tells you for the first time how unworthy you are of anything. You know how some kids have an imaginary friend? I had an imaginary enemy. I'm not kidding. I had an enemy unseen by everyone else, and she continually told me my faults, everything I was doing wrong in my day. I don't even know why I listened to that pipsqueak - she could fit in the palm of my hand and looked sort of like Strawberry Shortcake, with short bristly hair and big vindictive eyes and a round little child face. I could have squashed her! I could have put her in the dog dish of my parents' malamute - wolf dog named Tecumseh and watch her get gobbled up in half a second, and then imagined up a nice girl who could be my bosom friend (an old term, but one I like. Look it up to avoid confusion ;) ). But I didn't do those things. I lent my ear to her, and I let her direct me because by age four, I'd already begun to think that what I had to contribute to my own well-being was not good enough.
And so it starts. Everyone has their own story, their own first feelings of self-doubt. We've all experienced it. While some people get diagnosed as "depressed" and get a prescription to help with those symptoms, others simply wallow in the wicked voices in their heads and starve themselves to try to attain total satisfaction. The symptoms are the same, beloved, but the treatment looks different. It all comes down to a soul condition.
What do you imagine a soul looks like while it's being attacked? I am currently reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, a true story about a man from World War II who survived some of the greatest trials one could ever fathom. There is a scene from this book where a small island of American soldiers is being attacked by the Japanese. It was an air strike, and everyone on that island was subject to the weapons of the enemy. An excerpt:
Outside, it was hell on earth. Men moaned and screamed, one calling for his mother. A pilot thought the voices sounded like "animals crying." Men's eardrums burst. A man died of a heart attack. Another man's arm was severed. Others sobbed, prayed, and lost control of their bowels ... As [Louie] had run through the coconut grove, he had moved only on instinct and roaring adrenaline, feeling no emotion. Now, as explosions went off around him, fear seized him. (Hillenbrand 108)
The similarity between that and how I've felt in the past is uncanny. Each individual "man" from this passage represents a piece of me, being attacked by a force I cannot control. In dizzy confusion, I felt like I was running and ducking and diving to the ground constantly. My hands were bloody, my face in desperation, my soul-legs sore from all the running away! I was at risk of dying inside, and I didn't even know if I was worth saving. But I would try to save myself, nonetheless. My soul would crouch in shame, hiding even from myself. The haze settled over me, and very few things had the power to clear that haze, even for a minute. On the inside, I was crouching and waiting for the next attack, shaken and bloody and bruised and forlorn. Since I could never see the enemy approaching my spirit, I was in constant fear. I felt incredibly alone because no one wanted to understand, they either wanted to fix me or ignore me. The source of my pain was usually of no interest to anyone. I was simply vain, simply dramatic, simply...fixable.
Instead of bombs being dropped, there are words. Words that kill or injure a part of who I am. Sometimes these words come from other people - anything about my physical appearance, whether it was good or bad. Other times they come from our unseen enemy, an attack on the mind and spirit. Often, when dealing with body image, it's as simple as driving by a billboard, turning on the TV, a magazine cover, a store at the mall ... anytime I looked at an image displayed by the media and felt inadequate, there was a bomb falling. Every time I lost a friend or gained an enemy because I wouldn't eat, it only fueled my desire to hide. I had nicknames in high school - things like "Annie the Anorexic." I would have people harass me at lunch and ask me where my salad was. I would go into the bathroom and cry until the bell rang. (Just so you know, I have long since forgiven these people as I've unraveled the complexities of eating disorders and realized from the outside-looking-in, there's almost no way to understand.)
In college, I did gain friends, but I kept many of them at a convenient distance. By that time, I was a single mom with eating disorders. I hated food, I loved food, I hated exercise, I loved exercise. I worked three jobs, was a full-time student, and I was creating my own loneliness. I thought no one could love me like that. I didn't want anyone to find out how messed up I was. I kept to myself more than a free, undamaged Cherie-spirit would have in her natural, God-given form.
For a time, a piece of me was covered in black, lonely darkness. All of my shortcomings in life might take time, but my body was to be something I could control. If I couldn't, then what good am I? Soon it became the only thing I could control, and I did it well. On many given days, I could give you my correct weight within a couple of ounces. I knew my body that well. But I had forsaken my soul. And that's the most devastating part of it all. I didn't even know that I had done that - but satan is crafty in his ways, and will give you all sorts of temporary satisfaction in order to distract you from the eternal part of yourself.
PLEASE LISTEN: This is NOT about me. There are many girls and women out there suffering this way and worse at the hands of the enemy. They don't know they're beautiful. If that's you, or if that is someone you know, THIS IS IMPORTANT!!! So PAY ATTENTION! Tell that girl (even if it's you), every single time you see her, that she is lovely, worthwhile, wonderful, interesting, and she is ETERNAL. Don't mention her weight, the look of her body, AT ALL. I had many people nag at me that I was "too skinny" and when I would gain a few healthy pounds, that I look "better" (to me, that meant fatter...so I'd start starving again). Don't tell her anything about her body. Spend time with her, love on her, remind her of WHO she is, NOT what she looks like. No matter what you tell her, she won't see reality in the mirror until she is delivered from her sickness. That part is not up to you - your job is to tell her how valuable she is, too skinny or not. And maybe someone is dealing with these feelings, even if they're not "too skinny" - the way that you talk to them is the same. The way you talk to yourself is the same.
What is true beauty anyway, if it's not from within? It is temporal. It. Will. Go. Away! Proverbs 31:30 says this, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." When you call upon the name of the Lord, you will begin to know yourself and your true beauty in ways you never thought possible. And many people will notice your soul-transformation. You will then realize your eternal worth; if the maker of the universe loves you and calls you beautiful, then my, my...what else is there?
Finally, ladies (and gentlemen), there is armor against this. I urge you to look up Ephesians 6:10-18 in the New Testament, either in your Bible or search it online. The Armor of God will equip you with everything you need during your personal trials, be they body image or not. You have armor and weapons, and the help of the heavenly Father. You aren't alone, and you aren't defenseless. You even get a SWORD (my personal favorite, as I spent much of my life feeling weaponless against all of this) !!!
And remember, you don't have to thirst and long for anything. Drink from those eternal waters. After all, you are an eternal soul more than you are anything.
I am praying for all who read this post. May your day and your life be filled with TRUTH about who you are because of Who created you.
Love and hugs,
Again, feel free to comment below or e-mail me with personal stories, suggestions, etc. This is for US.