Hey y’all. So this post is going to be a tad bit different. I’m spending a few days with my longtime best friend before we both head back to our respective colleges, and we have decided to do a joint blog post about self-image. Hannah and I have different experiences and backgrounds when it comes to body image, self-worth, and all that jazz, so we thought it would be cool to write together and share our experiences and how God is working in us. This may be a bit more geared towards our fellow ladies, but guys are most certainly welcome too as they aren’t above struggling with self-worth as well. So sit back and enjoy and we both pray that we can be an encouragement through our testimonies.
So, I, Kaitlyn, will be very frank. I did not care about my appearance much at all before puberty (and even a year or so after). During those early preteen and teenage years, I was all about t-shirts, hoodies, blue jeans, sneakers, and wild hair. I didn’t wear makeup until I was in 10th grade and hated clothes shopping with a burning passion. I was a big fan of ponytails and buns and didn’t really care to take care of my hair much (a HUGE mistake for those of you who know what my hair looks like…). Anyway, when some switch got turned on out of the blue and I actually started caring about my appearance, it turned into a slight obsession as self-image often does for teenagers. I agonized over every pimple and blemish, I stared at myself in the mirror for so very long to determine if my outfit would be acceptable, and I constantly worried about what others thought about me. I was never a popular kid. I was shy, a bit socially-awkward, and never wanting to stand out in the crowd. However, I wanted people to like me…especially guys. And I equated looks, attention, and relationships all into one massive, dangerous category. So many people told me I was beautiful, but I laughed them off. Yeah right. How can you call “this” beautiful?
As the years went on throughout high school and even into my early college career, I obsessed over how all of these categories related. I found plenty of things about myself to hate, ignoring the parts of myself that I actually kinda liked. I hated my thighs and the lack of a gap between them as a lot of the “skinny girls” had. I hated how pale I was all year long. I hated my curves and how disproportionate they made me feel. I hated that I gained weight after high school graduation (even though it really wasn’t that much). I hated the lack of control I had over my uber-curly hair. I hated having a more plain-Jane face than other girls my age. I hated myself, honestly. I focused on every negative thing I could find about myself. Then, when I started relating my lack of attention from the opposite sex with my view of myself, I started to have an extremely poor perspective of my body and my value as a woman. I figured all the things that I hated about myself were true. Why would a guy want to date me? No one wants a disproportionate, pale-skinned, frizzy-haired, and curvy girl. It was rough. Coupled with many other factors, my self-image was absolutely rotten up until the end of my freshman year of college.
Then, that summer, I gained some really neat perspectives. I reread a book titled Spoken For by Alyssa Bethke and Robin Jones Gunn (12/10 recommend). This book talked about our value and how it should be found in Christ, first and foremost. It reminds its readers of how God created each and every one of us in His image (Imago Dei), how He doesn’t make mistakes, and that God’s Word is likened to a love story to us. God’s love for me and value of me does not depend on how I see myself or how others see me. It is unconditional, and He looks at my heart anyhow…not my outward appearance!
“When Jesus died on the cross, He called out to you– you might say He proposed to you– saying, ‘I love you. I want to be with you forever. I’m taking your sin, your judgement, your shame and guilt, the wrath that you deserve to die for, and I’m taking it upon myself. I’m exchanging your clothes of wickedness for my robe of righteousness. Here, you are clothed with a royal gown. I want you. Won’t you be mine?’ You are wanted. You are pursued. You are loved. You have been called. You are of great value. You are a peculiar treasure. You are set free. You are covered. You are promised. You are spoken for.”
It was like a lightbulb turned on. That summer, I didn’t have a crush on a guy and I know God did that for a reason. He knew I needed to entirely focus on Him in order to learn how valued I truly am, rather than placing my value in the hands of others. Since that summer, I have been slowly gaining the proper body-image perspective. Instead of finding everything that is wrong, I have been learning to be thankful and positive about what I have…and learning to take care of it all! Instead of hating my thighs and my weight, I’ve learned that exercise and eating healthy are so important and being beautiful is not equated with any specific scale reading. I’ve learned that curly hair is super great and I have to take care of it in order to love it! I’ve learned that guys like various body types and just because I may not have been crazy about how I looked doesn’t mean everyone else was (my boyfriend has reminded me of that one!). I’ve learned that Snow White was the fairest of them all (my brother told me that once) and it’s better to take care of my china-white skin than get skin cancer from some sort of tanning bed or crisping in the sun all day. I’ve learned that everyone and their brother (and sister) gets acne. You just gotta suck it up and continuously clean your skin. I’ve learned over all that I am not junk. Granted, it is a long learning process. There are still days when I feel upset with one thing or another in relation to my looks. However, I was created in God’s very image, and to see myself as beautiful is one way that I can praise and thank Him. Hating my looks is like going up to a great artist and saying, “You know what? Your work here is pretty crappy. Why did you ever make that in the first place?” We are image-bearers. To shame ourselves is to shame God’s work, and essentially, His image.
How dare we call ourselves worthless when He made us priceless.
Wearing Osh Kosh Overalls with two long braids falling down my back, I’m eight years old and love being a kid. I’m at a family gathering, I’m at a church event, I’m at parade, take your pick. A well-meaning, good intentioned adult looks at me with wide eyes or a grin,
“Look at you, you’re so skinny!”
“Goodness, get some meat on those bones kid.”
Almost every time I sat on someone’s lap, “You have such a bony butt”
“Look at those little arms”
And my personal favorite, “Why don’t you eat a hamburger once in a while?”
I heard all of these countless times growing up. I still avoid sitting even on a friend’s lap around a campfire because I don’t care for a reminder. I’ve always been thin, it’s natural. It’s not because I don’t eat – trust me, food is a glorious gift from God that I enjoy taking full advantage of. It’s because I was “blessed” with a high metabolism. Growing up, however, I didn’t know that. I use quotations around “blessed” because I still sometimes have a hard time understanding how it’s a blessing when it hardly feels like one. As a child who didn’t care about appearance, all I knew was that adults, though with good intentions, would often make comments about how skinny I was and that I should start eating, but I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I couldn’t do anything about it, I was born that way, so why were they acting like I should do something to change it? I knew God had made me exactly the way He wanted me, so why didn’t other people know that? I was a kid, and kids don’t think about how they look. They don’t care- until other people start commenting on it. I didn’t understand why the adults couldn’t grasp the fact that I do eat, I eat quite a bit, in fact. I tried telling them that I do eat hamburgers. I pleaded that I eat all my meals and even ask for seconds. I’m Shimmel after all, I do my best to live up to our appetite. I begged them to understand that I do try to gain weight and nothing works. Couldn’t these adults see that I do eat enough, but it wasn’t changing anything? I couldn’t do anything about it, I was helpless. No matter how much food I consumed I wasn’t gaining any weight. I still had what others called chicken legs, a bony butt and meatless arms. I was a stick. I wasn’t big enough. I wasn’t good enough.
See, kids don’t think about their appearance. They don’t care how skinny or chubby they are. They don’t care what size jeans they wear and how their body has more edges or curves. At least, until other people begin to notice. In my experience, every adult had good, harmless, even humorous intentions. However, what no one realized, myself included, was that all those comments built up over time, creating a conscious mind toward my image. I had never given thought to how I looked. I was just soaking up every minute of being a kid and I got really beaten down when someone would comment on what I had zero control over. Even today I don’t have much control over gaining and losing weight, but I’m learning that it truly can be a blessing from God, if that’s how I choose to see it.
Around middle school I really began to pick up on the things I continually heard from people, and I began to realize that something must be wrong with me. I can’t be good enough. I can’t be beautiful. I can’t be taken seriously. I can’t truly be liked by a guy. What guy would ever want a girl like me? A girl who’s this thin?
There’s two sides of society when it comes to body image. There’s the side that shames curves and tells you that size zero is size flawless, size two is size beautiful. A woman who is thin, has a thigh gap, and a flat stomach, that’s the kind of woman men find desirable, or so they say. But don’t get me wrong, if this is you and you are a healthy and naturally thin woman (I’m not talking eating disorders), then I applaud you because many girls wish they could have flat stomachs without working for it. Many women wish they could look in the mirror and not see rolls, wish they could see that gap between their legs. Regardless of what other women want and what you may see, you are unmistakably beautiful.
There’s also the other side of society that shames thinner women, telling them that guys only want women with curves. Bigger girls, curvy girls, girls with some meat on them, those girls are the ones guys really go after. If this is you, a bigger girl, a curvier girl, then I also applaud you, because there are girls (like myself) that would kill for the curves we’ll never have and the extra weight we can’t gain. Not everyone loves having a thigh gap, believe it or not. Regardless of what other women want and what you may see, you are unmistakably beautiful.
Growing up though, this is the part of society that told me I could never be wanted or truly liked by a guy because I was too thin. Guys don’t want girls like that, right? Right, I told myself. Yet I was struggling with this because I knew in my heart that God had crafted me in my mother’s womb (shout out to Mama Shimmel). He knew me before anyone else, He saw me, He loved me, and I am exactly the shape my Creator intended me to be. I am made in His image. In His flawless image, I was made. I knew this. So why couldn’t I bring myself to truly believe it? Why couldn’t I stop hating what I saw in the mirror and stop being so insecure? Why couldn’t I come to terms with the fact that if Jesus loves me enough to die for me, then surely there’s another man who could love me too?
Just like many other girls, I’m still bringing myself to terms with the truth and facing these lies head on. I’m done with self-hate and I’m done crying about something I can’t change. Some days I cringe because my eyes play games and I see something I hate, but I look away and ignore it because I won’t let Satan distort an image God has proclaimed precious.
So, you’ve read my heart on this, and I’d ask two things of you. Remember this, that we are all different, all uniquely made in God’s image. Don’t you think that if all guys liked the same body type in a girl, there’d be a lot more single ladies? Generalizing the entire male population by saying they’re attracted to one set of women isn’t exactly accurate. And making generalizations to make yourself feel better about your own insecurities is not okay either. Like any generalization, it holds true for some, but not all. It hurts women to hear you’re only beautiful if you’re a size two. In the same way, it hurts women to hear you’re only wanted when you’ve got more curves.
Let’s celebrate all body types, and stop sending a message that guys like one or the other. At the end of the day, every one likes something different and we can’t all be the same, so why do we put so much stress on it? I know it can be much easier said than done, but let’s do our best to be who God intended for us to be, and I think we’ll be alright.
Lastly, my biggest desire is for all the little girls out there. We might have our insecurities, but please, don’t harvest insecurities in girls at such young ages by negatively commenting on their body image, even jokingly. Let’s talk about their actions, attitudes, words, dreams. Let’s encourage the spirit of little girls instead of their appearance. They haven’t put much thought into their image yet, so why make it a topic of discussion? Let them keep their innocence and free spirit as long as possible. Don’t let their sponge-like minds soak up the wrong mind set too soon. Teach the little girl you hold close how to be confident in her own skin. How to be loving, respectful, and selfless, so when she becomes a woman, she’s secure in who she is as a person and as a woman of God, and that when it comes to having a man love her, her body type isn’t the priority.
Let the Osh-Kosh wearing kids play with their dolls and trains without questioning their appearance, and remind the women in your life, of all body types, that the creator of the Earth created them unmistakably beautiful.