Monday, January 2, 2017

new year, new mindset... my journey in body positivity

i wrote this post several months ago... since it is now 2017 (happy new year!) and everyone is talking about their resolutions, this seemed like a very appropriate time to share what i've been learning in this area... more importantly, how i am letting it go and giving other things that high priority in my life.  this isn't something i plan on writing about in detail over and over, but it is a part of my journey and will, hopefully, give context and clarity to future posts and conversations!  <3

Something has been changing in my heart, my eyes, my thoughts...  I haven't shared many details, but I feel like I need too...  If this touches even one person, it will be worth the vulnerability.

I've never been happy with my body pretty much since I reached puberty.  I was raised by parents who never, ever commented on my weight and I am eternally grateful that my issues did not stem from my home life, as I can't imagine how much worse it would have been if my insecurities were fed by loved ones.  Once I hit my teens though, I was surrounded by people who thought constantly about their weight and looks.  My situation was different in that many girls commented how they wished they looked more like me physically.  Boys in my youth group would comment on how it wouldn't hurt me to gain a few pounds.  While you would think this would make me extremely secure even to the point of arrogance, instead it made me worry that people's opinions of me would change if my body or face ever was altered.  Culture certainly didn't help as it fed the mindset that my waist was never small enough, my chest never large enough, my skin never flawless enough.  I can't remember a time in the last decade when I wasn't trying to be smaller, with the exception of the time I was pregnant, even then though I was constantly receiving comments on my body. 

Then I gave birth to a beautiful child and my body was permanently changed.  And the compliments stopped almost flat.  No longer was it cute to have a swelling middle.  It was shameful.  It was tragic that I had to buy all new clothes for my mom body instead of fitting back into my old ones.  I would witness compliments showered on mothers who got right back into their skinny jeans while I was met with silence or comments that it was still possible to lose the weight with time, letting me know that's definitely something I should be trying to do and it wasn't okay for my body to stay this way.  Among the "you would never know she's had babies" moms I was the "she's only had one?" type (heartfelt thanks to the few who built me up during this time).
So I did tons of research.  Even as I fought not to collapse after sleepless nights, I looked up ways to tighten my skin, shrink my belly, hide my stretch marks (and don't get me started on the stress I faced as my chest changed with nursing and the crippling insecurity I faced with that).  I had prayed for years to have a child and now I couldn't hide the evidence of it fast enough.  In the meantime I wore shirts that looked more like tents.

My husband never encouraged this behavior.  He told me daily how beautiful I was.  I just couldn't believe it as I tried everything and the pounds still wouldn't leave.
And I spouted words of security here and on Facebook.  I talked about inner beauty and setting an example for my daughter, all the while trying to find some new method that would work to change me.  I would step out of the shower, catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and cry. 

Then my eyes began to be opened to a different perspective.  One of my dearest friends has been going on a journey of learning to love her body exactly as it is and through her sharing her heart with me, my own heart began to change.  I made the decision a few months ago to stop trying to lose weight.  For the first time since I became a teenager I stopped thinking about making myself "better" and just used my body as a tool to live. 
One month into this journey, I stared into the eyes of my husband and shared how happy I had been for those last four weeks.  Several days I had actually forgotten how I looked and just lived.  There had been no crying in the mirror.  It was so simple.  Once I stopped trying to change my body, I stopped viewing it as something in need of change.  I saw it for what it had and could accomplish, not merely how it appeared.  And the few times I did take a moment to look at myself, I actually felt happy.  Instead of nitpicking, I could see beauty.  I could run my fingers over my still-protruding stomach and smile: this was my daughter's house for nine months and almost exactly two years ago I would have given anything to be pregnant.  I don't need to get my body back, I still have a body.  It is a good body.  And I also don't need to flaunt my curves or become this "sassy big girl" to prove it, because I am still the serious (well, usually), bookish girl I always was. 
Just like my feet aren't as smooth as they were at birth because of the roads they have walked, every other part of me is changing with the miles.  And every chapter deserves it's credit.  I refuse to waste years of my life wanting to be something else when God has given me a perfectly useful and beautiful form unlike anyone else's.  I'm done trying to constantly change this shell, this temporary outer wrapping that will fall away when I enter glory.  I would rather pursue what lasts: God, my heart for Him, and the souls of others.  I don't owe it to anyone to live up to their expectations of how I should look, rather I owe it to God to look past the outer and see the heart.  And if you don't like my body as it is, I don't care.  It's none of your business anyway, just as it is none of mine to ever drag you down because of something of such little importance in the span of eternity (please know I don't say this harshly, just honestly).  When I stand before the Lord, I highly doubt He will praise my tiny stomach or my flawless skin.  Those things will be gone and rotting.  And while I do live in the body He gave me, I will not cheapen His creation by calling it anything other than beautiful. 

I am guilty of talking about the bodies of other women (and men, let's not forget them!) around me,  dubbing them good and bad (which I know from personal experience can both have negative effects).  That is stopping... except to say how beautiful you are... not just your body though, YOU.  We are not our bodies and no build, small or medium or large, is better than any other.  Drawing attention to them only feeds insecurities (even something as simple as saying someone looks great after losing weight heaps shame on their old and no less valuable self) and detracts from the things that actually make you who you are.  And, quite honestly, if you talk to me about another woman's body it only makes me wonder how you talk about me to others.  And this isn't just for us women.  My sweet husband has laughed along with friends who tease him about his weight only to come to me afterwards and share how much the words hurt him. 

I want you to know that you are beautiful.  God does not create ugliness.  While our world is full of sin and imperfection, you are something God has known since before He made the world.  He knew exactly how you would be in every season of your life and He thought you were worth purchasing at the cost of His life.  And if anyone says otherwise in my presence, I will defend you. 

This journey for me is just beginning.  I am not trying to criticize or demean choices in lifestyle you have in your own life.  This is just what I am learning and I want to be an encouragement to those on similar paths.

I love you all.  Thank you to those who have always seen me with eyes of love.



Hannah Barta said...

Rachel, I am SO happy for you! Last year, after realizing that my self-control was far too minimal to try to “diet” anymore, I just decided to stop, and tried to start eating the way God made us instead (gee, I wonder why we have hunger signals anyway ... haha). It didn't take very long before I stopped thinking about losing weight and stopped thinking about dieting. Sure, I have moments where I still feel fat or ugly. But I have more moments where I am happy where I am because my body doesn't define me anymore.

THANK YOU for sharing your story with us. I am so proud of you for your bravery in putting this out there. I commiserate with you on all the times you heard “You look so good!” and felt yet more insecure; that's happened to me too, more times than I can remember. If only we as women built each other up ALL the time and found beauty in everyone instead of only praising those who already look like, or who are trying to look like, people on magazines.

Anyway, long, rambly comment over. Have a beautiful day, Rachel :-)

Julia Ryan said...

can I just say that you're honestly one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen? And, I mean it, because I've noticed this through my entire time of following your blog. Your smile alone could bright up the darkest of rooms.

I'm just so encouraged by everything you said and the passion that you enforced the words with. You're not deciding on this - you HAVE decided. like *high five*

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing! As a double 0, I have felt expected to remain that size and help others get that way... Because I must have it all figured out, right?! No! I have health problems that others don't know of that decreased my appetite, made me vomit food and pass out often. I had eating disorders as a teenage that still plague and shame me now, and I'm 26!!! I'd wished I was a normal size, whatever that may be. And like you, I had a great home life, encouraging parents and siblings. But outsiders constantly compared my older sister and I, and have caused inner doubt and shame that I am still working through as a married women with a husband who loves and cherished me so deeply. I'm looking forward to other claiming their beauty in Christ, just as you have done. Thank you for being a wonderful encouraged. You have such a precious soul. Praying the lord continues to bless you mightily and brings great joy and peace to your life!
Love you, dear friend!

Alison said...

Love you hon. Keep on the journey. We both will!❤