One of the things I wrote on the sign on our front door keeps buzzing in my ear, because I think it needs further explanation. It reads “Young girls’ hearts are being grown here. Please don’t refer to diets or being fat when kids are in earshot.” So, although I think this may not be received well, here it is:
So many of us emphasize how incredible our daughters are, just the way they are. It would kill me to think of Cal or Lumpy standing in front of a mirror one day and beating her hips and belly, tearing at her arms or thighs, shuddering in disbelief at the foul beast that her body has become. Crying in a dressing room at a department store, hanging up the Misses size 16s and leaving in pain rather than admit to the indignities of the Women’s section.
Does this song speak to your heart?:
I know. I have been this woman. But, a while ago, I decided that I am not playing the game. You know…the game where we decide we want to be hot, so we tell our friends “I’m disgusting” and they deny it, then we declare we’re losing weight, then we decide to do it together. Yeah, that game.
I have never been on a diet for more than 24 hours. I simply can’t do it. Okay, I ate fat-free for six weeks when pregnant with Lumpy, and maybe 3 weeks with Hoss, but to diet all day, every day, with the purpose of losing weight…never. I have once lost weight. I lost 10 pounds before a friend’s wedding by not eating dessert for six weeks two years ago. So, was that maybe a diet? This friend and I both were pregnant within 2 weeks, though, and we laugh that it was all downhill from there.
But, I really don’t diet. As a result, I don’t hate myself on a daily basis. I know dieting must not do that to some women, but it does for me. I do like when I don’t look quite so lumpy, and I do like the feeling of going down a size in jeans, but I can’t do anything with weight loss being my goal. I just die a little inside.
But, I do believe in being fit. I can run as far as I want to; I can carry every one of my children up- and downstairs. My blood values are perfect and my resting heart rate and blood pressure classify me as an athlete. But here’s the sneaky thing. Women who are “fit” should look a certain way. And that way is not like me. If most women got up three days a week at 5:30 to run an hour at 6, but looked like me, they would be cursing their will power and begin waging the battle on the eating front.
I can’t do that.
I am made differently, I guess. I was raised with really unrealistic perceptions of my beauty (did you know I was the most beautiful child that ever lived?), and I kid you not: it worked. My parents never ridiculed my physical appearance…except to tell me “you’ll grow into your weight and slim down when your body is ready, like your sister did.” It was true. Then I went to college and ate my way through 6 pants sizes and all the anxiety I was feeling about my transition into grown-up-dom. I never really lost that weight, and got married at the exact same weight I am today. It was hard to love a person that size-especially because it was me, and now can’t be repaired after 4 kids.
Today, I think I am beautiful if I am functional. I am crazy functional. I can run. I can lift. I can push a full grocery cart while holding a preschooler’s hand, restraining the toddler, and wearing the baby on my back. I make milk. I make people. What is there not to love, here?
I have never dyed my hair, but granted, it is fairly fabulous hair-crazy thick and blonde highlights. I now have bangs, because I also have flat iron skills. I look half decent when I wear make-up. I even know how to put it on, and showed my mom a swank eye shadow trick last week. I have a brown melasma splotch on my face and this weird little bump on my nose, that if I thought about it, must make people stare. I don’t care. I got it cut off once and it came right back. It’s meant to be there. My lips are huge. My feet are my best feature. My body is lumpy below my waist, on my hips, and I have the most ridiculous calves. (I can’t believe I am doing this, but alas, this post has a full-body picture of me wearing mostly spandex…you’ll see I am not kidding about any of this.) I can see this body for what it is, because it doesn’t own me. It is my temple, and sometimes, my temple needs three desserts. For breakfast.
In fairness, sometimes a tight waistband makes me want to cry because I hate how that looks. Frumpy. Out of style. Out of control. Many people who have tried to support me have suggested I pursue my unstated desire when I complain: lose weight. But is that really what I want? No.
I am so torn, because I see friends posting weight loss achievements and posting new diet plans, or lower dress sizes, and all I can think is I don’t know what to say. I am so, so happy they are feeling awesome about themselves. I want to encourage that. But, I don’t want to encourage weight loss in general. Is the diet healing their body? Is it nourishing their soul? Or is it punitive and filled with health risks? I tend to err on the side of the latter.
Changing how you eat is crazy hard, and weight loss as the result of it is socially praised, and really rewarding and motivating. But, it’s so hard for me to praise because I’m not playing the game.
If we don’t like how we look, why are women encouraged to lose weight? In my world, if I look bad, I need a new haircut and clothes that fit. If I’m unhappy with my body, it’s because I’m unhappy with the way it functions, and that’s what I work on. The looks often don’t follow. I am at peace with that.
Because I know how weird this is, I just tell people I’m nursing, and don’t want to jeopardize my milk supply by reducing calories. But actually, I’m living with my body how I hope, and expect, my daughters to live with theirs’. I don’t care what they look like. I care what they can do. If 230 pounds, size 22 keeps her blood chemistry in line and her BP and heart rate where they’re supposed to be, and she can meet her fitness goal, I just can’t condone restrictive dieting for weight loss.
A friend called this week and asked me how I deal with post-baby weight loss, and instead of telling her about the one book I read about how women lose weight post-partum, I simply told her, I’m not the right person to ask. Because I just don’t think about it. But even worse, in my heart of hearts, I don’t think she should either. I know you’re not supposed to say that, to each her own, but it’s true for me. Eating a different way to become a certain size seems self-destructive, even if the size you became was by eating self-destructively, too. Because, isn’t that just more of the same? I hate myself, so I eat. I hate myself, so I starve…so I can love myself again. There must be something more than this destructive, punitive game so many women play.
In their incredibly affirming book, Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge speak about the very nature of woman. It comes down to this: A woman is defined by the beauty she creates, and by the beauty she possesses. God created woman to be this part of Himself to Earth. Every part of this essence reflects the beauty of God in relationship and in the Creation.
Call me simple or old-fashioned, but I believe very deeply in the destructive power of Satan. He works by separating people from God. This book helped me put words to this knowledge that was built into my heart: Separate a woman from her beauty and separate a woman from God. Satan delights in our self-doubt, as we actively dismiss our beauty.
What this means to me is that whether the woman actually is more beautiful by society’s standards at size 6 compared to 16 has nothing to do with the beauty she sees in her heart. If maintaining a size 6 is a daily, punitive, destructive commitment, that woman is shackled by her beauty. If eating herself sick into that 16 because she’ll never be a size 6 is a daily commitment, that woman is shackled by her beauty.
I cannot wish that for any woman, not just my daughters.
So while I would like to explain the rest of my journey that led to this peace, I won’t. For each woman it means something different. Maybe it means weigh-ins and using measuring cups at breakfast, but I doubt it. But maybe. But, I know that many, many women have a lot of grieving to work through about the pain their body has brought into their lives. If your heart is able, start today.
Even more, I know that God is desperately desiring you to realize the incredible woman you are, to go all Queen Latifah on every room you walk in to. To be the woman who has that special something, that confidence that means “all is right in my heart.” To be the person who can look out into a world of hurting women and offer them comfort. Offer them peace. Invite them to let this go. Take a friend shopping in the Women’s section and dress her to kill in a great size 18, or 26, or 4 that really shows the world that she’s got it figured out. Because there’s so much more that we have been made to do. So many better ways we can use our energies and time. I am praying that we all don’t waste any more of it in dressing rooms, crying in front of mirrors that lie.
If you can’t do it yet for you, start small, like me. Do it for her:
I’m putting this picture of me as a kid on the fridge instead of that “motivating” fridge photo-reminder of who I once was, or who I don’t want to be again.
Whose life are you shaping?
Isn’t she amazing?
Teach this song to her and make sure the words are written in her heart:
The risk is that you might end up looking like me.
The bigger risk is that you might like it.