Thoughts on Body Image from a Skinny Christian Woman

After my workout on Tuesday I went to take a shower-boy did I need it-and did the customary “look over” in the mirror before hopping in. You know the one I’m talking about. You kinda just take quick check on your appearance while the water heats up, maybe pluck a few stray chin hairs (don’t judge! You know it happens…) suck in your stomach and turn sideways, and then shrug and jump in to get clean. I’ve been feeling convicted a lot recently about body image. As I dive deeper into the Beachbody coach thing, I know I need to find places to draw my boundaries, and I know I want to promote a HEALTHY lifestyle-not necessarily a skinny one. But a lot of times I feel like a hypocrite, because I AM skinny. And that led me to dig even deeper and here are some things that surfaced.

I am ashamed of being thin. It’s not just the feeling like my boniness is ugly, or the wondering whether I’d be more attractive heavier (both things I thought a lot during high school and college). It’s this feeling that my size is a problem. My appearance is hurtful to others. Somehow, my being thin makes it harder on others who aren’t thin. My pant’s size is responsible for other people’s lust, envy, bitterness, and disgust. My tall, lean frame pretty much causes people to have eating disorders. Being skinny is my fault. And being skinny is wrong. If I were a super-villain, my power would be driving by and zapping people into anorexia.

Some of these points were driven home in college where appearance was everything and yet my body was apparently “up for grabs”. I often felt isolated from people I wanted to connect with because of how I looked. I managed to worm my way into a great group of friends-most of whom would be considered geeks or nerds to the rest of the world-but in the early stages one of them (bless him for his honesty) flat out asked me why I was hanging out with them, to not take it the wrong way, but I looked more like the sorority type. I despised my body during college. I was constantly slammed with the mentality that to be pretty was everything, and if I measured up to the mark I was a slut, but if I didn’t measure up I was worthless. This was all hateful, hurtful nonsense.

Through much prayer, and growth, and the confidence that comes from being in a supportive, loving marriage the hurt and disgust faded away. BUT, I’ve realized that there is still lingering shame I’ve been masking. I don’t like working out with people because I am very body conscious. I’m conscious that in many athletic settings I am usually one of the thinnest people in the room. I feel like that means I should be fitter than I am. I feel like this also means woman hate me for being thin and working out (both MY perceptions, coming from me, not grounded in reality). I make excuses for my size-good genetics, I love working out, don’t really have much of a sweet tooth to fight, etc, etc, etc. I focus on my weaknesses to try and put people at their ease-for example, I really am a SLOW runner. Like, sure, I finished two ultras, but I was second or third to LAST. I focus so much on the health benefits of eating well and exercising to try and write off my appearance as inconsequential. In fact, I may sabotage my own efforts at becoming fit because I am worried about the impact on others. None of that is emotionally or psychologically healthy-in fact, it is all rather self centered. Seriously, my body type is causing all these problems in others? Well aren’t I a celebrity. PUH-lease!

Downplaying my appearance gets frustrating, and eventually it boils over into almost furious diatribes of how I AM healthy and people SHOULD lose weight and they can just STICK MY PANT’S SIZE IN THEIR PIPE AND SMOKE IT. Which results in me then feeling guilty for being angry and bitter, and I’m back to being ashamed. Because secretly, guilty, oh so secretly- I like what I look like. I’m proud of my body and how it works. I like my appearance. There are parts I don’t like as much, sure, but overall, I feel like a good looking woman. But I shouldn’t, right? Because me LIKING being thin and fit means I’m giving other people body image issues.

Bottom line: body image isn’t easy, it’s a mess in my head, and I don’t have it all straight. But here is where I am in this journey-

First and foremost, we are made in the image of God. Our physical appearance matters, because it reflects our creator. He did not make our bodies for us to despise. Our physical bodies are the conduit for Christ on earth. The local church is made up of believers physically present together. I should not downplay my body, I should not despise it. I should NOT abuse it. I should love it, and care for it, and use it on this earth for the glory of God. Learning how-and implementing-a healthy lifestyle so that I can care for my body in all ways includes physically. This is not the same as worshiping my body. It does not mean I should put my physical needs over others. It does not mean I should be enamored with my own appearance or judgmental of others’. It means it’s ok to like how I look, it’s ok to appreciate how my body works, it’s ok to work at being healthy. It is ok to find joy-and pleasure- in this earthly form.

It’s true, my genetics mean my skeletal frame is taller and narrower than others-but that is how I’m made. It’s also true that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and if people look at my shape and become embittered or envious-that is their struggle, not mine. It is also true that I have my own issues-like anemia-so eating balanced and maintaining muscle are things I need to constantly do. Spiritual health takes continual, committed development. Emotional health takes continual, committed development. The health of your mind takes continual, committed development. The health of your body requires no more and no less.

So, I’m working on it. I am working on resolving the shame and being proud of the beautiful, strong body I have been given. I am learning to embrace my size as healthy for ME, and let go of the idea that my appearance is personally responsible for the issues of others. I do not advocate that everyone has to be thin to be healthy, but for my frame thin IS healthy and I am praying for help to remove the unwarranted guilt. I don’t have aspirations to be a competitor in any fitness arena-that just isn’t me-but I am going to keep building and strengthening and taking pleasure in the physical changes that occur as a result. I believe balance in all areas of life can be attained within a healthy lifestyle, and fear of something becoming an obsession is already an unhealthy way of filtering the world. I want to be fit. I want to have muscle definition. I want to look good-for myself and for my husband. But what I want most is to enjoy this earthly body; to take care of it and to take pride in it because it is a much appreciated gift.
The hard boundary, the line I will strive to never cross, is to turn the intentional habits of eating well and exercise into something I worship. It will be a vital part of my life, but it will not be the most important thing in it. Balance is key.

**I am aware that this topic goes much deeper than I have chosen to, and I have done just that-chosen-to not take it farther. Partially because I am not a theologian, partially because this is already a long post, and mostly because I’m still plunging the depths myself. This is a tiny segment of a continuous mental dialogue.**

I’ll leave you with these photos: the first taken my last year before graduating from Penn State. The second taken 6 months after the birth of my oldest. The first one makes me cringe- I am cynical, bitter, and sarcastic, wanting to some how take control of the body image mess by tossing it in people’s faces. I am silly, joyful, and free in the second. I would not go back to that point in college for all the money in the world. You are so much more than your appearance-but it’s fine to like what you look like. Balance.

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*credit for the second photo goes to Georgina who took some amazing photos of me, my husband, and Cade that day.