When Beauty Doesn’t Feel Like It’s for Us

“I have trouble believing that I am His work. That I am wonderful. That I am beautiful.”

We’re nearing the end of our meal, nibbling on pie, when she says it, “I don’t really need this,” and pushes it to her husband.

I look down at my piece, and I really want it, but I don’t need it, either.

Because just this afternoon, when I changed clothes for the day, I saw that same stomach pooch I always see, and I saw those arms that are too jiggly, and I saw the face that used to have more structure instead of these softening lines.

Why is it so hard to believe in our beauty?

Why is it so hard to see those waist flaps, hanging over our pants, or those new lines marking our face, or all those places time has softened and believe we are beautiful?

Why is it so hard to finish a piece of pie and still believe we’re beautiful?

This cross I have carried all my life, in junior high when I stopped eating lunch; in high school, when I skipped breakfast and lunch and picked through dinner; in college, when I lived on a smoothie the days I ran six miles, and nothing the days I didn’t, so I could make sure I worked off what I ate before I ate it.

I remember my roommate bringing me food she’d smuggled from the dining hall, because she could see my wasting away when I changed clothes.

I remember my best friend trying to keep me out hours after dinner so she could make sure I wouldn’t throw it back up.

I remember my husband-to-be leaving that note on my computer: Skinny = beautiful, with a thick slash through the equal sign.

We who walk through eating disorders, we are never the same because of them, even if we are loved, even if we are accepted as is, even if we are beautiful.

We look in a mirror, and we do not see something worth loving. We look in the mirror, and we do not see acceptable. We look in a mirror, and we do not see beautiful.

It’s a sickness that blackens every part of a life.

So that piece of pie turns to guilt, because I shouldn’t have eaten it, not at all, not when I’m still trying to lose the extra weight from five babies. So that cookie at my son’s party turns into a “joking” “I’m going to have to do another workout later,” except I’m not really joking because I must account for those calories; so that mint dark chocolate candy bar in my bedside table calls to me, reminding me it’s still there, three squares left, every time I walk in my room.

I thought having children might change things a little, and that first one unfolded and stretched and grew, and for the first time since I was too old to care, I ate anything I wanted because I was growing a baby, and I had an excuse to watch that scale climb.

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And then he was born and I was left with forty pounds to lose.

Those first few days, I ate one meal a day, because I needed to lose the weight. I needed to. I had to.

I had to.

And then my husband, amazing man he is, took me by the shoulders and shook me a little and said, This is not the way.

And I knew this. I did. I knew starving myself or bingeing and purging was not the way. But the disease, the cross, never leaves those it holds.

I feel it in the way I work out, so hard, six days a week, racked with guilt if I miss a day.

I feel it in the words I say to my husband, “I just don’t want to look like I’ve had five kids,” because it’s a badge of honor, those coveted words, “Wow. You look great.” and I want to wear that badge.

I feel it, tonight, across the table from a piece of pie.

Fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s a whisper I remember, an old friend that pulls me up when I am beaten by this addiction, like I feel tonight.

So many days I forget.

Even still, all these years later, I have trouble believing that I am His work. That I am wonderful. That I am beautiful.

There was a baby shower, before we welcomed the first, and someone gave us a burp cloth that I never used, because there were blue words stitched on white, “Wonderfully Made,” and then my verse.

My verse I used to write on the covers of CDs when teenagers asked for my autograph because I wanted them to remember its significance, my verse I too often forget, my verse that says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well.”

I used to pull the cloth out, those days after the birth of my son, those months after each son, those months during the growing of two together.

And tonight, when we get back home, I pull it out again, for the first time in too long, and I trace my hands over those letters. Wonderfully Made.

The words whisper right through me. Oh, help me believe.

Rachel Toalson

Rachel is a storyteller, poet, and musician who is raising six boys to love books and poetry and music and art and the wild outdoors—all the best bits of life. She is the voice behind the popular humor blog Crash Test Parents and she blogs on life and love and family on her web site. She co-hosts the podcast In the Boat With Ben, sharing wisdom about intentional parenting and the pursuit of a creative career.

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