I am a recovering bully.
If you asked most people to describe me in a few words, you might hear things like, “friendly,” or “nice,” or even “caring.” But those are lies. The truth is I have been a bully for over 20 years. And I have said heartbreakingly cruel, nasty, vicious things.
The victim of my bullying?
At the age of eight, I looked in the mirror and saw a fat little girl. I began worrying on a daily basis how my stomach looked. I began to believe that I would not be accepted by others if I looked large. I called myself horrible names, like fat, ugly, disgusting, and the worst – unlovable.
Magically, in 5th grade I had an epiphany of sorts. If I could still find a boyfriend, I wouldn’t feel fat anymore. So that is how the cycle began. I would feel bad about myself, find a boy to like, try to get him to like me back, and if I succeeded, then my self-image would be temporarily boosted. I say temporarily, because as soon as I won over my male “conquest,” feelings of shame would quickly overshadow my victory. Even then, I understood that using someone for personal gain was a bad idea. And as a Christian school-going, Bible-belt-living kid there was an extreme dissonance between my knowledge that what I was doing was wrong and the deep need to continue to fill the acceptance hole.
In high school I began to struggle with depression and suicidal ideations. I still bullied myself constantly, calling myself names I would never, as a “nice girl,” even call someone else in my head! But the voices haunted me. When I was ultimately medicated for my depression and gained 30 pounds in two years as a result of the medication, I knew for certain that I was not only unlovable, but I was CRAZY and unlovable.
The search for acceptance grew stronger due to my anger at my mental state. I gave up on God at this point. When I heard people talk about His acceptance and unfailing love for me, I thought, “yeah, yeah, that’s a nice idea, but where is He now?” I silenced any positive voices with negative, and began my downward spiral. Until the day I found out I was pregnant. Hitting rock bottom allowed me to face my lifelong demons, and the knowledge that this body, this hated symbol of shame, was carrying another human allowed me to look at myself with new eyes. Restoration came in the form of pregnancy. I couldn’t hate my body, because it was serving a purpose. I needed to take care of the one thing I hated for so long because it was holding something else that I unfathomably loved so much.
So for once in my life, I embraced my belly and loved looking at the mirror at my growing shape. While I was working on changing my self-talk, the Holy Spirit was working on changing my heart. My self-image concerns lessened as I continually relied on Him for strength to get me through such a tumultuous time of single motherhood.
Years passed, and the old voices crept up again.
I went on a diet, started working out to become healthier for my little girl. But it wasn’t enough. I desired a man to make me feel special and loveable. I met my husband just months after losing 25 pounds. He didn’t know the me that was 25 pounds heavier and insecure. He just knew the bubbly, newly size 6 version. And he loved me – all of me. I thought that was good enough, but for years, in the back of my mind was a voice asking, “Would he really still love you if you were a size 12?”
I finally learned the answer recently, after I gave birth to my son. And guess what – as a size 12, I was still desirable to my husband!
This is when another epiphany happened – my body image issues do not stem from what others think about me. They all begin with what I think about myself. And I need to change my thinking. I can choose to love my body, my temple.
Toward the end of the book of Exodus, God gives Moses all these detailed, over the top descriptions for what the Lord’s temple should look and how it should be decorated. My eyes start to cross when I read them, details about yarn and linen and hammered gold and what goes where. The descriptions are exhausting to read, but they also demonstrate how precious His temple is.
In the New Testament, we are told that our bodies are to be considered His temple. So if God treasured His temple in the Old Testament so much, how much more treasured are our human temples? How could I have spent so much time bullying God’s chosen temple?
Now, when I look in the mirror I will choose not to listen to the bully. I will choose to embrace the way I look. I will choose Truth. I will choose not to step on a scale and be defined by the number there. I will choose not to compare the old me with the two-kid version who proudly sports a “Roman and Isa-belly.”
I will choose LOVE.