What I am about to say may come a shock to some of you.
As a young girl I didn’t love Disney Princess movies.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved all things pink, dolls, and playing dress up, I just could never get into the Disney princess craze. While I didn’t trade my identity for Cinderella or Ariel as a child, I like to think I know enough to navigate some of the popular princess plots.
But regardless of your interest in princess movies – most of you are probably familiar with the plot from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But just in case – it goes something like this:
Snow white is a beautiful princess.
She lives with her evil stepmother.
Evil stepmother is jealous of her beauty.
Jealous stepmother always asks the “magic mirror”, who is the most beautiful of the land?
The mirror reveals, that in fact, Snow White is the most beautiful.
Evil stepmother then wants to kill snow white.
(Sorry for getting violent guys; it’s the plot.)
What’s the deal with the stepmother?
The story from Snow White is a classic example of the typical “jealousy/revenge” plot. The evil stepmother felt the need to seek daily affirmation from this “magic mirror.” Why did she do this? Because she wanted to be the best, the most beautiful, and the most noticed. She constantly asked “ Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
She needed this “magic mirror” to affirm her dignity, beauty, and self worth. The stepmother was only satisfied with one answer- herself. The stepmother failed to appreciate and recognize the beauty and gifts in other woman. She was the only one that mattered.
So what’s the point?
I promise I am not just blabbing on about Snow White for no reason at all.
The point is this: the stepmother in the story Snow White reveals certain temptations that take place in the hearts of women. We as woman face the temptation to compete with one another, be the most noticed, the most accepted and the most desired.
We have all been there. Shopping with our friends, secretly thinking “the shirt you loved” looked better on our friends. Or just insisting to your parents that you have to get the latest fashion item so you can be the most fashionable in your class.
Or maybe you feel the need to be the best on your sports team, even to the point of bringing your team members down.
Maybe you compare yourself to every girl you encounter, to somehow prove to yourself how much better you are than them.
Or maybe, you struggle with self worth and never feel affirmed or beautiful.
The scenarios are endless but as I said, we’ve all been there. I don’t know any girls that are excluded from these temptations.
Here’s the thing…
These temptations don’t make us evil, they just make us human. All female hearts are wired with the desire to be known, loved and wanted. Unfortunately, we sometimes seek to fulfill these desires in unhealthy ways.
Ladies, I want you to know something. You are all beautiful, worthy, special and desirable. Different and unique, yes- but all beautiful. There will always be “the next girl” until we truly come to believe this. Sometimes it can be hard being a girl (shhhhh, don’t tell the boys!). We drive ourselves crazy making sure our appearances our better than others, our grades, our sports, our profile pictures, our hair, makeup. You name it, we do it.
Let’s not be like the stepmother in Snow White.
We can only conquer competition among women if we recognize our own gifts as valuable and rejoice in the gifts of our sisters. We all have different attributes, talents, and gifts. Scripture speaks of the variety of gifts too! (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6) The desire to be known, accepted, and loved is a natural longing. These desires become healthy when we are thankful to God for the gifts and beauty of other women, rather competing with every girl we encounter.
But there is one more thing. It’s the most important part. We won’t be successful in this if we don’t recognize that we are noticed by God.
A lot of our desires to be the best, and the most beautiful come from the desire to be affirmed. We have to first live in the knowledge that we have a God who loves us, cares for us and sees us as his unique daughters. Only with this knowledge can we live out healthy relationships with other women and ourselves.
Easier said than done, right? Be patient with yourself. This is something we need to remind ourselves of daily.
Know that God loves you and ask Him for the strength everyday to believe this. Seek the Lord in prayer and ask Him to reveal these truths to you. He will.
There are two kinds of people in this world, the people who struggle with body image and the people who lie about it.
I think that no matter how confident you are, or how much your hair and outfit looks like it's straight off Wanelo (because it is, obviously) there's always a part of us that is afraid we're not good enough. Which is no surprise when skinny, photoshopped people are held as the ideal in everything from advertising to Abercrombie and Fitch stores.
Yes, body image is a thing. But let's not make the fact that we struggle with body image one more reason to beat ourselves up. Isn't the first step of healing from something admitting it's a problem?
It's difficult to let go of the constant, vicious cycle of body monitoring (pulling at your clothes, positioning your body just right) and the inner dialogue that sounds like this: 'Do I look okay? Do I look okay? Do I look okay?'
It is possible to get to a better, more peaceful place in your mind, but here are 5 things that aren't helping:
1. Sucking in your stomach for photos.
Or hiding parts of your body. Or deleting all the photos where you don't look as perfect as you know you're capable of looking if you put everything in it's place. You're the only one over-analyzing your body. If your best friend isn't a size negative 7, do you love them less? No! People feel the same way about you. Relax. It's not your arms but your heart that people care about.
2. Buying clothes for the size you want to be.
This is like buying peanut butter for the day when you get over your anaphylactic, face-swelling, peanut allergy. If you buy clothes that fit right, you'll be happier with yourself today and mentally in a better place to continue to pursue a wholesome, healthy lifestyle.
3. Talking about how fat you are.
Just stahp. If you want to eat a cookie, eat the darn cookie and don't announce to the whole room that it's your 'cheat day' or that you're going to the gym later. You're assuming everyone is judging you and all it does it highlight your own insecurities. Your own words have the most power over your mind. In the words of Christine Arylo (it’s okay, I don't know who she is either . . .): 'Be nice to yourself. It's hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.'
4. Commenting on how someone looks as soon as you see them.
It gives priority to something that shouldn't have priority (outward appearance) and conditions us to believe that looks are everything. Which is clearly bologna because Shrek and Fiona are actually very lovable.
5. Beating yourself up.
If you just realized you ate more than your date, and simultaneously failed your 7-day-miserable-chicken-and-carrots-crash-diet. Food is a good thing that God made to fuel our bodies. Starving yourself in anticipation of your prom or group beach trip will only make you unhappy and really hungry for chocolate.
You are more than your thighs. Obsessively counting calories isn't helping you to love yourself. You're not free to live life abundantly if you're a slave to the mirror. It's possible to feel awesome whether you're a size 0 or size 22.
Maybe it'll take doing a self-examination of your thought patterns 50 times a day . . . or maybe it'll take reminding yourself yourself you're beautiful every time you look in the mirror. Do whatever it takes. Give yourself permission to love yourself, however you look today.
If you want to permenantly kick your body image black cloud, focus on being healthy inside and out . . . don't focus on the number on the scale, or the muffin top in the mirror.
God made us all to be unique. How sad it is that we all want to be the same size, shape, and style.
Two months before graduating from 8th grade, while warming up before field hockey practice, I overheard two high school girls gossiping about a girl in my class who had a heavier build than I. Why are they speaking about her like that? That's so cruel! My mind raced, I wonder if they talk about me like that? What if they laugh about me and think I'm fat too?
I glanced down at my scuffed up oxford shoes and noticed my skirt, which was supposedly two inches too short for the school. Every morning one of the teachers reminded me, “Maura, your skirt is too short. Please tell your mom to fix it or you will need to get a new one.”
Then I panicked. Great, now people are going to talk about me because I'm fat and my skirt is too short. I was an exceedingly anxious child and when corrected or talked to harshly, I shattered.
Upon arriving home from school later that day, I told my mother that I wasn't going to be eating desserts again. My mother, an exceptional chef, looked perplexed. After all, what normal child says such things? Well I'm going to show them that I'm not kidding. I'm going to start running and swimming more and eating less. I'll prove it.
I was one of the thinnest girls in my class and have been a runner since I was five years old, so naturally, my weight was never something I needed to even remotely worry about.
But that night I stared intently in the mirror and decided that if I was going to be considered beautiful I needed to lose weight. All I could hear was the mirror shouting at me, “Beautiful girls are thin and you're ugly.”
Food, the enemy
My mom insisted I eat breakfast before school, so I started purposely getting up later so I wouldn't have time. I promised her I would eat my waffles as I walked to the bus stop.
But I lied.
Every morning I tossed the waffles down the sewer as I approached the bus stop. I have to do this because no one believes that I need to lose weight. What are they thinking? Why don't they see how fat I am?
As the weeks passed, the lies started darting out of my mouth daily and the person I was becoming frightened me.
Oh, I already ate breakfast mom.
Yes, lunch was delicious, thanks mom.
I had a snack on the bus. I'm not hungry.
I only ran five miles (when I had actually run 8).
See mom I ate lunch and there's my dish in the sink to prove it. (I had really just taken a clean dish from the cabinet and placed it in the sink.)
I weighed myself 20 times a day. I allowed myself 100 or 200 calories a day. If I survived the day on 100 calories, I considered it to be a good day. If I had overeaten, which meant 300 calories, I made sure to punish myself the next day by running more miles and eating more meager portions. I went to bed starving and most nights I couldn't sleep because my hunger pains kept me awake. My body ached.
I shunned every reflection of myself, whether that be through a mirror, window, pane of glass, or the pool. When I saw myself I shuttered. Ah, I'm so ugly. I can't even stand the sight of myself. How do people even look at me?
I had a pair of khaki J.Crew pants that I would try on multiple times throughout the day. Those pants defined me. They were literally my life.
If I felt like I had eaten too much or gained weight, I would immediately try those pants on. Ah, they are too tight!! Okay, I need to lose weight and run more. Or, Phew, they are still loose. Okay, I can relax for an hour or two. I was a slave to those pants for years.
When the doctor told me that I would still be considered thin if I gained thirty pounds I nearly passed out.
Thirty pounds?? Are you crazy?? I would explode if I gained ten pounds! I wouldn't be able to fit through the door or sit in a normal seat on an airplane, let alone look at myself if I gained thirty. Gross, I'm already ugly enough. Why does she want me to be a whale? Maybe because she is overweight herself? Yes, that's got to be it, she doesn't want anyone to be thin because she's fat. This doctor is crazy!
Past trauma in my life plagued me and my eating disorder was all I could control. I didn't think I was worth three meals a day.
I was terrified that if I started eating again I wouldn't have the self-control to stop. I convinced myself that it was better not to eat breakfast because, what if I couldn't stop and just kept eating and blew up to three hundred pounds overnight? I was afraid that if I stopped running 50 plus miles a week I would let myself go.
On the Brink of Death
Several weeks later as I was lying in bed I could literally hear my heart struggling to beat. I was petrified. I took my pulse and it was in the high twenties. I fought back the tears because I was afraid my heart wouldn't be capable of handling the energy my tears would produce.
My bones were protruding. I was freezing. My hair was falling out in clumps. My fingernails were purple and I had fine hair growing all over my body. I knew that I had to make a change in my lifestyle or I could die. I promised myself that if I was alive the next morning I would get better and one day be an advocate for women in their recovery.
After that night, I realized that I was missing out on life. I wasn't allowed to go to dance class anymore, compete on the swim team, run, or go to summer camp. Yes, I was breathing, but I wasn't living. I was simply surviving, hoping that tomorrow I would still fit into my J.Crew pants.
I wanted to be healthy.
I yearned to enjoy my life minus counting calories. I day-dreamed about what it would feel like to eat a bowl of ice cream without worrying about the caloric intake. I wanted to put half and half in my coffee like a normal human being. I wanted to lick the bowl after making brownies and not obsess over the fat content in the chocolate and butter.
I wanted to drink orange juice again.
I wanted to live.
Learning to Love Myself
As I recovered, I removed the towels I had put over my bathroom mirror. Over time, I was gradually able to glance in the mirror without cringing. For the first time in years, I didn't see an ugly human being anymore.
I learned that seeing my ideal number on a scale would never fulfill me. It's exceedingly empty and tiring. And trust me, I tried everything. At my lowest weight, I was thirty-five pounds lighter than I am today and it's a miracle I'm alive.
Instead of dwelling on what I disliked about my body, I tried to focus on what I liked. I wrote a list in my therapy journal and here is what it said.
I love my hair. I love my big blue eyes. I love that I have long legs. I love my cheekbones.
I love that I'm athletic and like to run. I love that I can create things with my hands. I love that I can swim in the ocean and know how to ride the waves.
It's interesting, I have one dimple on the right side of my face. I wonder why I don't have them on both sides? Anyway, I use to hate that dimple, but then a boy told me it was cute. It's growing on me. I don't love it yet, but I'm getting there.
I love my resilient attitude.
I contemplated how much physical exertion it took to exercise without any fuel in my body. Or how many hours I spent planning my 'meals,' which were more like small snacks. Along with the days I wasted obsessing over counting calories, keeping my eating disorder a secret, and the relationships my eating disorder strained.
I used to think, What would happen if I put all of the energy that I use to keep my eating disorder alive towards recovery? Actually, scratch that, what would happen if I just used a fraction of that energy towards my healing? I would be a changed person, I'm sure of it. I know it would hurt. But on the flip side, I can't live like this forever. Let's be real, I'm miserable. I'm destroying relationships and slowly killing myself. Alright, let's do the darn thing. Let's recover! I want to live again!
I tried to remember that just because I had a moment of struggle, defeat or a bad day in my journey of recovery it didn't mean that I hadn't made progress towards freedom.
I actively worked on being patient with myself and taking it one step at a time. I sought to embrace the change and when I fell, which I did, I didn't stay down. Instead, I dusted off the dirt and tried to embrace each opportunity in my life to seek beauty. And I started anew the next day and no matter how many times I messed up I never gave up.
I learned that recovering from my eating disorder isn't about being perfect. But it was about making smart daily choices, even if I didn't feel like it. Those daily choices eventually helped me to form new habits, which cultivated a lifestyle change.
Healing my relationship with food
In the beginning of my recovery, it was an intense challenge for me to put a spoon or fork in my mouth. I felt like I was shoving food down my throat. So in the beginning I had to eat with my fingers, forcing myself to stay at the table until I had eaten a serving of food.
Eventually I started using utensils again.
Today I can eat a bowl of ice cream at one o'clock in the morning and not give it a second thought.
I drink orange juice now, just like I desperately yearned to be able to do. I can go out to dinner at a restaurant or to my favorite coffee shop in Nashville and get a mocha and not obsess over the caloric content. I work out in moderation and I never run over five miles.
It's been over 10 years since 8th grade and reflecting on my journey I have learned that my validation of beauty and sense of acceptance isn't the width of my waist or my BMI.
I can never quench my yearning to be loved through the number that flashes back at me on the scale. My worth comes from my intrinsic dignity as a human being.
Today I can look in the mirror and say, I am beautiful. I am valuable. I am enough.
Do you ask God daily to show you your beauty as His child?
Do you seek to remain positive in your struggle, embracing each opportunity to see beauty in your cross?
What are you holding on to that you need to let go of?
Do you see eating as a way to nourish and care for your body?
Do you know that your body is unique and no one could complete the mission God created you to do?
Do you surround yourself with positive friends who uplift you and help you to see yourself as God sees you?
Check out the ministry Maura founded, on their website, Made in His Image and on Facebook (Made in His Image). The mission of Made in His Image: To begin a dialogue, a discussion, in a safe and compassionate setting, to foster hope and healing, and to empower women to turn from victim to survivor. Ultimately, to provide holistic medical treatment and healing for women suffering from eating disorders, physical, and or sexual abuse, which entails, educating all women on the nature and dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.
I'm definitely going to pull a Jekyll vs. Hyde . . . Beyonce vs. Sasha Fierce right now. What can I say? The Jonas Brothers have that effect on me; our relationship is tumultuous.
I love the song Pom Poms.
And I also strongly dislike it.
It's a multi-flavored mixture of emotions. Don't ask me how this is possible . . . the complexities of the feminine heart have been a mystery for a long time. I think it's mysterious-ness falls right under the mystery of the Trinity.
I love the song because when I hear the line 'put your pom poms down,' that's repeated over and over, I hear it translated in my heart as 'you're enough as you are.'
This strikes a chord in my heart because not being enough is something I've struggled with. Can you relate to this too?
Have you felt that unrelenting gnawing on the inside of your heart? It's the part of you that's constantly searching for the answer to the question, 'what am I lacking?'. You think you must be lacking something because you're not the most popular, you're not dating, or if you are, you feel like he/she doesn't love you, you don't get perfect grades, you don't always look awesome in photos. And all that was after you got your braces off!
'What's wrong with me?' you ask yourself.
What's wrong with you? Well, you're not good enough . . . so just keep trying.
That's what everything is telling you and I. Pornography says our bodies aren't good enough. Facebook says your social life isn't good enough. Twitter says you're not witty enough. Instagram says you're not pretty enough. Your mom says you're not productive enough.
So we spend money on clothes, energy on excessive workouts, and homework time browsing the internet trying to find the answer to this 'problem' of not being good enough. We enhance and accessorize every aspect of our lives and the parts of us that aren't perfect get hidden under the bed and deleted from Facebook.
But why? Ask any healthy, non-shallow person and they'll tell you the truth about you . . . the truth about humanity. You are imperfect and you're supposed to be. You're attractive because you're unique. You're beautiful without trying.
The negative messages about your worth only have the power that you consent to give them. You don't have to buy into the lie.
The power of femininity is that you have a beauty about you that's deeper than your skin and hair and clothes. It's more than pom poms. People are drawn to you when you're confident in that fact. You don't have to be the 'A' student, the beauty queen, the soccer star, the Regina George, or the cheerleader.
Put your pom poms down. You don't have to prove yourself. Put Your pom poms down. You don't need to accessorize. Put your pom poms down. You are enough as you are. You're beautiful without trying. Put your pom poms down.
Cool, right? Where's the room for hate? Oh trust me, doubting Thomas, there's room. While half of me is all gushy with warm-fuzzies over how much we all need to hear that message of self-worth, the other half of me wants to chuck a pom pom at a Jonas.
That wasn't really a joke. Justified anger, people. It's a thing. (Matthew 21:12)
They could have sent that message of 'you are enough' to every girl who listens to the song . . .
Instead they gathered a bunch of young people together, put them in a football field, filmed a music video, and subliminally told every girl that watches it 'you're not good enough unless you have a hot body and you shake and show that that body to the boys.'
Awesome. Thanks. Totally counter-productive to building up a girl's confidence and yet, not surprising. I just outlined all the other outlets that are sending you this message and I didn't exactly expect the Jonas Brothers to be different.
But a girl can hope, right? I can hope that someday, someone other than Dove and Leah Darrow are telling girls they're more than their bodies.
I can dream that men will see women as more than a means to a lust-motivated end. I can pray you'll be appreciated for your intelligence, your heart, your compassion, your warmth, and your soul more than the length of your shorts or you booty-shaking skills.
But for now, one more group of men has disappointed my lofty dream. How about you try again next year Jonas Bro's?
I'm not saying you shouldn't like this song. I know how catchy and fun it is. I understand the excitement over more music from the Jonas's. Trust me, I get it.
Just don't give in to the message of the video. Instead, allow the lyrics to transform your perception of yourself.
Christianity is about claiming the things of this world for Christ. Our mission is to wade through the crap and find the hidden gems.
Don't let the constant attack on your dignity drown out the truth of the treasure that you are.
A couple weeks ago a young college student posted this photo and the internet erupted with everyone's commentary on it. (Don't be surprised. They do that about everything.)
(If you didn’t click the link and check out the photo – go do that – and then come back! Or else this blog won’t make any sense to you.)
I think it's a brilliant photo because it makes me stop and think. I hope it does the same for you.
(I think it also might be a little inaccurate though because some girls can totally rock a long, maxi skirt.)
I also think it points a big, fat finger at those super conservative Catholi . . . oh wait . . . at us – those people who think every girl's skirt should hit exactly at the knee in order to be 'proper.' The girl who made the image even admitted that she thought of the idea because she realized this was something she was guilty of – making quick judgements about someone based on their skirt length.
Admit it – whether you’re a male or female, we’re all guilty of doing this. I would do anything to meet the person (it's probably Mother Teresa) who has never judged a girl based on what she's wearing – whether it's the girl walking down the hall of your high school, your sister, or a complete stranger. Why do we do this? It's not like we judge girls based on their hair color or body type. Oh wait. People do that too.
Object and Person
The main thrust of the modesty argument . . . as well as the talking point of every girl's session you've ever heard . . . is that women are more than their bodies. We deserve to be treated as unique individuals and not a collection of desirable body parts. Right? Agreed?
Then why, oh, why on earth do we reduce girls to their clothes and bodies when we judge them for things like skirt length? That's the definition of objectifying someone. The motivation behind it – lust or judgement – is different to be sure. But the fact that it's objectification is not.
In both cases, you're not looking at the person, or thinking about the fact that there's a soul in front of you. You're looking at them as an object.
Blessed Mother Teresa said, 'If you judge people you have no time to love them.' And isn't that what we're supposed to do? Love God; love others. That's the simple message of the gospel.
What's the point of judging a girl’s character by her clothes anyway?
To change her mind and get her to change her clothes? The idea that you should run around and say 'it has to come to this line and this line only' in order to be modest is such a legalistic approach and misses the whole point of the discussion about modesty. Since when do people – especially young people – respond well to being confined to a set of rules? It doesn't work.
No one wants to obey the ten commandments if they don't have a relationship with God.
And no one will listen to someone who only wants to tell them what they're suggesting with how many inches of leg they're showing.
There's something more going on.
Fulfilled, happy people don't post suggestive photos of themselves on Facebook.
Fulfilled, happy people don't need to decrease the amount of clothes they're wearing in order to increase their amount of confidence.
Instead of judging we need to look inward and ask ourselves questions like: What are we doing to help the people around us understand their dignity? How are we being Christ to one another? How are we loving each other?
It's the hearts not the hemlines we should be caring about.
Holiness over Hemline
Now, I've written about modesty before so obviously I'm not advocating that everyone wear whatever they want while we sit by silent and approving. But I don't want to give a lecture on what I believe the perfect skirt length is – or whether or not such a thing exists for every person. (No.)
There are some clothes that are modest and immodest. A half-shirt and a couple inches of skirt aren't going to lead anyone to holiness. And a bikini isn't going to either.
But the girl who puts that on probably isn't thinking about that in the first place. Whether it's a fashion statement, a cry for attention, or the need for a date, you won't know until she trusts you enough to talk to you.
Any conversion and any conversation about clothing choices has to come out of a relationship first. And a relationship can only be built when a girl knows you're looking at her personhood without a derogatory name in your head.
It's like the gospel story about the people who were condemning the woman caught in adultery. They asked Jesus if they should stone her for her sin and he said whoever has never sinned can throw the first stone. (John 8:1-11)
Well . . . if you've never done anything to get attention, if you've never done anything out of your need for love, if you're never made a choice you regret . . . then go ahead, call her a name . . . throw the stone of judgement.