I was eleven when I decided I was fat and went on my first diet. I don’t remember a defining moment or a singular soul cracking incident that did me in. Maybe it was the night a family member saw me eating two Oreos after supper as dessert and started singing the fatty, fatty two by four song to me, maybe it was the time I overhead a boy in one of my classes at school say I’d be pretty if I weren’t so big, or maybe it was one of the many dressing room disasters I endured while trying to find clothes that actually fit my awkward stage of life.
I couldn’t really say there was ever one moment when I knew I wasn’t thin enough or how that translated into believing I wasn’t good enough.
I just always knew.
So, when a group of my preteen friends decided they wanted to lose some weight I joined in without hesitation. We all embarked on our first diet together. I quit eating cafeteria food and brought my lunch. I cut out snacks and sodas. I started eating salads and fruit. I convinced our parents to let me go workout after school at the local gym. But truthfully, I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, the internet wasn’t even a thing back then or I would have quickly become an expert in eating disorders. At my local library, I found weight charts that spelled out exactly how much I should weigh at any given height. Thus, began my daily weigh in sessions.
I also discovered no one noticed that the tape measure from the household sewing kit had taken up a new permanent residence on my desk. I measured every round surface on my body, arms and thighs, waists and hips then dutifully kept track of whether my numbers went up or down by a fraction of an inch. I really thought my plan would work. And I tried so hard with my eleven-year-old willpower, I just knew if I stuck to it I could lose the weight.
Then I’d be thin enough.
Then I’d be pretty enough.
Then I’d be good enough.
Back then I had no way of knowing that I’d never look at a plate of food again and not wonder, “Should I be eating this?” It occurs to me now that at thirty-nine years old I’ve been actively worried about my weight for seventy-one percent of my years. I’ve been beating myself up, comparing my body shape, and remaking workout plans for as long as I can remember, always hoping that eventually I would get the extrinsic factors right so the number on the scale would be a reflection of my strength and commitment.
What a terrific waste of talent.
What a bloody shameful waste of time.
Once, between having child number 1 and child number 2 I started running and working out with a vengeance. I woke up at five every morning so I could work out for an hour and a half every day. I followed my eating plan like a religion. Eventually I fit into dresses with single digits and I started seeing those things people call abs. And part of me was really proud but mostly I was just tired. Because truthfully, I had changed everything on the outside but nothing much had changed on the inside. The same heart still beat to the rhythm it did when I was eleven.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
When I found out my first little one was a girl, I cried, not from pure joy, but from fear. How would I raise her to not be like me? I vainly prayed God would make her pretty and give her the metabolism my older brother had inherited. Maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t have to navigate this world as the overweight smart girl in glasses. Perhaps, if I prayed hard enough the little girl I carried would be good enough to have a different life, a better life, an easier more beautiful life.
I was a foolish, foolish woman before Jesus took the wheel.
I tell you these things because watching my daughters with your daughters is as much magical as it is maddening. These tender girls are beauty’s I can scarce describe. They are fragile yet unbreakable beings that surprise me daily with their tenacity and strength. Their intelligence and compassion could run the world if the politicians would get of their way.
And many of you have these types of girls at your houses, you see them every day but somehow you see through them. You see through them to the sixteen competitive activities you have them enrolled in and the crown you are busy trying to bobby pin to their heads. God forbid one of them not be thin enough, or smart enough, or successful enough.
At times I have the rare privilege of having them sit at my oak kitchen table with their sock feet tucked under them, hair falling out of messy buns, with smudged eyeliner on their faces and I listen to their hearts while they nibble at chocolate chip cookies and sip cold glasses of milk. They pile into my not so cool minivan and fill my ears with the details of their lives, their doubts and exhaustions crowding the seats and floors to overflowing. And it breaks my heart every single time, with every single story because what I hear over and over and over is this.
I am not thin enough so I must not be good enough.
Mommas and daddies if I could clap my hands square in your faces and shake your shoulders until your teeth rattled to the heavens,
I would do it.
Hear me when I say this, your babies are not eating. The babies you breastfed and rocked and paid extra money for organic food are not being good stewards of their bodies. Your daughters are doing things that are unhealthy for the sake of how they look because they do not know who they are or to whom they belong. And they are tucking this secret knowledge into the well of their hearts where it is setting up camp for the rest of their lives.
We as their parents and loved ones are walking the paper thin edge of loving them and failing them all at the same time.
We have through active criticism or passive living allowed the world to define what beautiful is to our children and they are fruit dying on a poisoned vine because of it. And I have watched it for as long as I can without speaking out on their behalf. This is me, a fellow parent and recovering self-loather, waving the double red flag of disaster as high as I can reach so that you will notice how dangerous the water is where our daughters are swimming.
It is life threatening and soul stealing, this belief of being not good enough.
It is also a lie.
And I’m a big believer in telling the truth. So if you’re a girl or a grown-up woman who is still walking around believing that what you look like has anything to do with how much you’re worth let’s just address that right now.
Jesus does not care how much you weigh.
He does not care if you reside in single or double digit clothing. Your physical statistics do not impress the man who made your genetics. You have nothing to prove and you have nothing to hide. Our culture and Satan will consistently tell you otherwise. They will tell you that being thin is sexy and important. Then they will start defining what sexy and important is too. If you listen long enough they will convince you that everything you ever wanted is only a few pounds, a few dollars, or a few broken promises away.
And they will do it from the cradle to the grave if you let them.
Do not let them.
This culture is not meant to be our culture. We are called to live differently. But I think you should know something else too. Something folks often forget.
Living separate takes guts.
It takes nerve to survey this sexist world with all its judgments of who you should be as a woman and turn your shoulder into Jesus instead.
It takes power we don’t have on our own. But Jesus does. The same power that pulled him from the grave is more than capable of covering you as you create a new life steeped in him and safe for you.
And if you are living with people who are telling you different listen instead to what God has to say about you,
Listen, Daughter, and pay careful attention:
Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
Honor him, for he is your lord. (Psalm 45:10 NIV)
He calls you beautiful.
And I would think that the maker of the world would know beautiful when he saw it.
After all, he created it.