Sunday, August 28, 2016

Body Image Issues Be Strong - And This Post Be Long

:::stands up:::

Hi. My name is Tina and I have body image issues.

"Hi, Tina."

:::sips water and prepares to get vulnerable for a quick minute or 10:::

You know, I just find it so ironic how I have these daily, hourly, mostly constant chats with God, be it out loud or in my head, and I still haven't learned that...when I ask to be shown something, boy do I ever get hit over the head with it. I'm guessing that's because God knows I need that sort of delivery. My mind moves way too fast and distraction is far too prevalent in me for subtlety. Isn't that a strangely spelled word? Who did that?

See? Distraction.

Anyway. My ramblings went something like this: "I feel restless. Don't know why. Everything is good, so this doesn't make sense. Just show me what it is.  And You know how I am, so make it clear." I guess I'd liken that conversation to Step 7, but I never really had the attention span to work the steps and ended up tangled in steps/principles like the cord of my headphones after I've shoved them in my pocket. There's more than one way to heal, thank goodness ;)

I started those ramblings a couple months ago. Since then, I've seen friends make bold social media posts, sharing their stories of struggles with self and body image. The "open letters" to moms on the beach.  Bathing suit season will bring those feelings of shame and inadequacy and comparison straight to the surface, right?  It's become a recurring theme all around me.

"Oh, that? No, God. I don't need to work on that. I'm good.  Really."

But, more posts surfaced...then messages at church that spoke to our perceptions of our worth...conversations with friends over coffee...and finding myself on the receiving end of an absolutely beautiful person's sharing of her own struggles with unworthiness and self image, to which I was completely dumbfounded and immediately said - well, after listening - "Wait. Stop. You're absolutely beautiful. I don't know why you would ever feel less than that.  That is not how I see you.  How anyone sees you.  And it's definitely not how God sees you."

"What's that, Lord?  I just gave her all that truth, but can't own it for myself?  Well.  I still don't really want to work on it.  I'm good, seriously..."

A couple of weeks or so ago, I had been feeling kinda blah, because the school year is starting shortly, which means I need to start presenting to work as if others will actually see me.  My usual "week's worth of clothing" hangs in the closet.  Pants that aren't of good quality, meaning they've frayed and faded after too many washings, but I make them work. Five or six feasible tops - some of which are really old, but I make them work. One pair of shoes that are scuffed (thanks, ms!), but I make them work. I tell myself, "At least I don't get stuck in my closet anymore like I used to. There aren't any choices to weigh my mind down. Everything gets worn once. Let's call it 'simplification' and pretend I'm using it as an ms coping strategy! Yes! That will make me look resourceful and savvy." And that looks much better than the truth, which makes me vulnerable...

The vulnerable truth is - when I look in the mirror, I see something that others do not see.

This has been a struggle since I was a small child. I remember being in kindergarten, hating the image in the mirror. I started taking laxatives when I was about 10, but that didn't make me thin. As a teenager, I resorted to a regimen similar to what wrestlers followed when they wanted to make weight. Work out hard, wear trash bags and sit in the sauna, eat as little as possible, then eat all the things late at night after getting super hungry, feel horrible about overeating, beat self up with typical "you're fat and worthless" self-talk, work out harder, eat less, eat more, rinse and repeat. And, above all else...plaster on happy face, never let anyone in, because I had to keep my secrets game strong. "You're only as sick as your secrets", right?  That is a very powerful statement for me.  By the grace of God, over the course of several years, I've unearthed and dealt with all the roots of that too-many-years-long-mess-that-took-on-several-faces.  I've come to see goodness in the face staring back at me in the mirror.  But, the struggle to look at my body is still very real.  

MS totally has not helped this body image sitch. I'm no longer able to work out in the same ways I did, nor can I run, nor can I sit in saunas, nor do I view big trash bags as attire - come on, that's funny. I have to approach my exercise with caution and cannot push my muscles to the point of burning, which had always felt strangely fabulous to me, because now it just results in terrible spasms. My legs have become dimpled and unsightly from sitting.  Always had a belly, even back in the extreme work out days.  I can hate on my arms, too.  It's all so easy for me to do.

But seriously. Back to the clothes thing. A week or so ago (see how God kept hitting me over the head, time after time and thing after thing?), I received a message from a friend, who asked if I'd like to come take a look at some clothing she was unloading. I *knew* that nothing would fit my short and sturdy self, but she's seriously one of the most fun people to be around, so why not? I figured I would simply hold the pieces up, determine them not to fit, and just enjoy that half hour or so of hang time.

Instead? She showed me what seemed to be endless pairs of brand new, beautiful dress pants and jeans. In my exact size. The quality of these pants is unlike anything I have ever worn. As if I wasn't already spoiled? *Several* new pairs of capri sweatpants for the gym! Who am I kidding! Capri sweats for the gym AND the sofa!!!  But then, it got real.  Sweaters and tops were next.  When she announced that we were doing this, meaning I was trying them on, I started with a panic attack.  I thought to myself, "No.  I am not allowing anxiety to ruin this day (yes you are, your heart is coming through your chest). Clearly, this is exactly what God is trying to show me (not here, not now, no thanks).  Get over yourself (can't), get in the powder room (don't wanna), and put this stuff on (not gonna fit me, way too fat for every last one of those tops).  Then?  Walk out there (seriously? in front of everyone?) and (be judged)...okay, whatever.  Hold your breath if you must, but just rip the band aid off already (kinda wanna pass out now), open the door (still wanna pass out), and go (legs are shaking, but okay then...and we're walking...)."

Digression alert (italics time):  I've written before about my personal level of hell that is "being all up in the dressing room", because you know what's waiting for me in there? The multitude of mirrors. One glance in any direction reflects my entire body from angles unimaginable. What is *that* about? "Oh doesn't this look flattering if I'm standing completely still and people are approximately 165 degrees to my left? I'm totally getting this." Then, I put it on in the morning and decide it's hideous. I'll never wear it. Instead, I'll shove it to the far left of my closet and donate it.  I also struggle with sizing. My clothes are too big, because that's how I hide. From my window tint to my giant hooded sweatshirts to my pink Phillies hat...pulled down right to my eyes.  Straight up hermit who has to consistently check thyself against isolating.   /digression

When I finally walked out of the powder room, where I had no way to hide, I was met with compliments and smiles and love and a little bit of "what are you talking about, that looks really nice!"-ities.  Because I was busy playing the "I don't think this looks okay" record.  Not every single thing worked for me, but many things did.  And so?

This is a picture of my upgraded closet.  See the hangers that are not wire?  Yep.  She gave me those as well.  I'm moving up, y'all:

I can't possibly explain the joy that I am feeling over these clothes.  I'm not comfortable yet in several pieces, but I have already begun to challenge myself by wearing them.  My eyes don't see contrast differences in certain shades of peach, pink, salmon, or lighter oranges all that well (thanks, ms!), so I was all the more grateful to have ended up with colors I could easily match.  How perfect was it that one top had a matching peach/pink/salmon or lighter orange (because I honestly don't know what it is) already paired with it?  As long as I can keep those two together, I should be good to go!  And speaking of challenges?  I thought I might go to the store and try this dressing room throwdown again.  I mean, if I could stand in front of 50 people at my friend's house (or maybe it was just 4 or 5 people), surely I could conquer the dressing room!  Or at least kick it in the face more than before.  Which I did.  I even made some new BFFs in the salesgirls along the way.   

My heart is smiling.  My closet is full.  My BFF list grew by 3 in the past 24hrs.  And someday, with my Lord's help, I will be able to see the beauty in myself that I so automatically see in others.  ;)

/end session 

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