Tonight, a friend of a friend Instagrammed a composite picture of herself with and without makeup. The caption included the user link and hashtag “insecurelymovement.” Curious, I followed the user link and was eventually brought to a website that consisted of several such composite-type images. Girl after girl after girl, of all shades and sizes, with a first and last name on each. As I scrolled, I told myself something I have told myself so often. I am ashamed of it but I am going to be vulnerable and share it. I told myself that, even with makeup, I could never be as beautiful as some of these girls in their naked-faced pictures. Maybe every girl feels this way, but personally I work so hard to set my face and hair and outfit to match a certain ideal…only to have the result be an average one. Nothing special, nothing unique. It’s just what is expected of women. And after however many minutes in front of the mirror, I see nothing special. So, congrats, Marinah. You just spend this much time to reach what everyone takes for granted, anyway.
I’ve read the Christian literature and listened to the speakers and even seen before-and-after Photoshop software. I know the tricks that the media uses to market beauty and value…but I still largely struggle with the girl at the gym whose thighs are literally the perfect combination of toned and slim. I know she isn’t Photoshopped, because I can watch her breathe as she does squats beside me. I’m not a stalker, but I definitely pay more attention to the appearances of those around me than is healthy. Raise your hand if you’ve visited a beach on vacation for a day and managed to compare yourself to only one other person. The majority of us will still have our arms down and our stomachs sinking deeper as we remember that one super-tan, super-fit girl/guy prancing around with a Frisbee or riding waves and still looking absolutely put-together. Envy is not easily forgotten.
I attend a school where, even in a thousand students, people shine. I live in a world that constantly forces two or more individuals into a parallel for comparison, placing value on whoever comes out on top for preset standards of beauty: best hair, best face, best weight, best body parts, best smile, best outfits, best overall appearance. I can’t answer why I do this, why every single human I have ever encountered struggles with measuring themselves against others and falling short…falling into the crack between better than X but not as good as Y, that crack that so often grows to a gaping abyss by those who search that darkness for acceptance. Maybe that’s why I compare myself to the other girls in my 9 AM Old Testament class, trying to see who wins the most put-together-for-early-class award of the day. Some consider this judgement, and I would agree…it is indeed judgement, but of myself rather than of the other girls. See, the main reason why I scrutinize other females I encounter is a desperate attempt to determine whether or not I myself am good enough, whether I fall above or below the line of expectation, of the average.
Sometimes I fail to see another girl as a whole, complete person. I’ll think, “Oh, she has a great face,” or “Wow, I wish my hair looked like that.” I don’t even have to know them…I don’t know Thigh Girl At The Gym. It’s difficult for me to remember that she is a female like me instead of just a great pair of thighs that I wish I had. She has a soul, a personality, strengths, weaknesses, a testimony, dreams, a favorite color. I don’t think about these things when I see her thighs; all I think about is me and my own relentless comparisons, ending in jealousy and bitterness when I look down and realize that my thighs aren’t like hers. I know this is wrong and I know this is sinful, and my guess is that you know that too whenever you do it. And I know that God creates everyone the way He has for reasons that only He knows. I know that everything He creates has beauty and value merely because He has created it in His own beautiful, valuable image.
And I know that this reality doesn’t always make it easy to accept myself merely for that fact, for that image.
Last month, a guy friend (who I consider to be notably intelligent and analytical) asked me what percentage of Covenant girls I would estimate had/have struggled with an eating disorder. Easily half, I answered. He was shocked by my answer, and by the answers of the other girls here who he had asked. This guy isn’t stupid; he has lots of friends who are female and clearly observes those around him. Dangit, he’s conducting a survey, for crying out loud. Don’t try and tell me he’s clueless about things in his environment. And yet he would have estimated somewhere between 5 and 10% prior to his talks with girls. That is only ten girls in every hundred; maybe ten girls out of all the females in my dorm building. To the guys who are unaware of this fact: whether or not a girl has been formally diagnosed with or shown symptoms of an eating disorder, we ALL have body image issues. In fact, I’ll go so far as to extend that to guys as well. If you’re human, you compare. You are dissatisfied. It could be in relation to other aspects of somebody, beyond physical appearance. And yes, comparing your leadership skills or laps for P.E. or church involvement or degree of singing ability…that’s still the same thing.
I don’t really have a solution to this. I have been told to “take every thought captive” as it says in Philippians; to stop whenever I compare and consciously choose to be satisfied with what God has given me. And I almost fell off the treadmill because of how often I had to halt my mental train of thought and change direction to something positive. This post is just me being honest about myself. I’m not looking for affirmation, but I am (as always) welcoming your feedback. If you’re interested in visiting this makeup vs. non site that inspired me to write about body image, the address is www.insecurelymovement.com. In the meantime, I’m going to continue being brave and list my top 5 dissatisfactions and why each of them are beneficial, beautiful, or unique to me. (This is another method suggested to me by the counselor who inspired me to become a psychologist…I would highly recommend trying it at least once)
1. W E I G H T. I currently weigh 137 pounds. Before I came to school last August, I weighed 120 pounds. Throughout high school, I maintained a BMI that was borderline underweight, and enjoyed a high metabolism…i.e., never needing to watch what I ate. Today, I have to count calories like some kids count their pennies: obsessively. But I love my current weight because it keeps me from looking down on anyone who struggles to eat healthy, it helps me to make good lifestyle choices in the hope of maintaining a healthy weight, and my weight gain also indicates an increase of muscle mass, not just fat.
2. F A C E. My face is round, not cutesy heart-shaped or dramatically contoured. But I love my face because when I smile, my cheeks make my eyes crinkle and I have lots of freckles that remind me of cinnamon sprinkled over my skin.
3. C H E S T. While I’m avoiding details, I have always been disproportioned between my top and bottom halves. But I love my chest because I can be more comfortable when I’m active, wear different kinds of shirts that might be too revealing on other girls, and possibly go undercover as a guy if I absolutely had to.
4. L E G S. Like I said before, my thighs aren’t that perfect balance of toned and slim. But I love that my legs are strong and thick for running away from zombies or rapists or clowns, and I love that I have RLS in my right leg because people know I’m really asleep when I start kicking. Also, my calves are my favorite feature because they are 100% muscle and look killer in heels.
5. H A I R. My hair is thin and light enough to show when I haven’t washed it, which is one of my biggest insecurities (crappy looking hair). But I love my hair because it styles really easily, doesn’t break my brush in half when I try to resolve a tangle, and is the color of Hershey’s kisses (and, with my delightful ombre addition, golden at the tips).
It all comes down to this, what I know to be true. You are loved by the One who made you…and the One who made the person you’re comparing yourself to, as well. Both of you are equally loved; both of you are equally valued to your Creator. As we fight the darkness of the comparison abyss together, remind me of this light when I lose hope….and I’ll remind you, too. I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and struggle, and so will you. And thank God for His grace to love even us.