“Mama? Whatcha doin’ with your shirt?” she giggled, reaching up to poke my exposed belly as I stood in front of the mirror.
I’ve been tall and thin all my life. I’m still thin by most standards. But I used to get “you should be a model” comments and “how can you eat anything and still look like that!?” retorts. A sensitive conscience and a sense of modesty kept me from flaunting shamelessly as a young lady, but I grew accustomed to turning heads. I got comfortable with the admiration and jealousy of my peers. I have so long allowed others’ thoughts about me, the outward me, to be my sense of acceptance and value, that it’s no wonder I started spinning out of control.
I don’t have a body image issue. I have an identity issue.
Who am I when I’m no longer a size two?
I started sucking in my gut around my husband. It began about a year ago when I was dressing to take the kids to school. He said, “I love your tummy. I really do! It carried all our babies and I think it’s great.”
Somewhere along the way, in my insecurity and pride, I never really learned how to live in that tension of being outwardly imperfect and loved anyway. His comment, which was earnest and sweet, was met with horror inside because I realized he sees me as I truly am. Forget the love and acceptance part; I need to get busy taking care of this “flaw”!
Working out made me feel better. It also made me slightly obsessive about my body image. I found that comparing myself to fitness models on Instagram was temporarily motivating, but eventually just disheartening. I was stuck. I lost a couple of pounds and toned up slightly, but my body is still the body of a 34-year-old mom of four. Working out a few times a week didn’t reverse the clock or make me receptive to a much deeper issue that needed “working out.”
God is so kind, so faithful, to keep bringing us around to the same heart issue until we “get it.” He orchestrated events in my life in such a way that I kept bumping up against this issue for a few weeks until I finally looked at it full in the face and said, “OK, Lord. Show me what’s missing.”
And all of a sudden, a trickle of understanding turned into a cleansing waterfall of revelation: I am more than my counterfeit identity.
I saw how my condescension of others’ “flaws” had cultured the bacteria of contempt in my heart toward myself. Every time I looked in the mirror and immediately sucked in my gut and promised to not eat any more sugar that day, I was reaping the judgments I had sown toward others for years.
I became aware that feeling disgust about how I looked was just as unhealthy as obsessively checking out my “gains” in the mirror.
I had to sheepishly admit to myself that my refusal to receive my husband’s feelings about my body was like saying, “Your opinion does not matter. I need the acceptance of every other stranger to feel good about myself.”
How foolish of me to spurn the dearest person in the world to me, to brush off his thoughts and perspectives about me simply because he sees me with covenant-love eyes. Foolish.
I remembered a cute Facebook post I had read recently called “An Ode To Mom Jeans” and it brought me full circle:
Sara. Stop. Stop trying to be the 20-year-old you.
I was spending SO MUCH energy trying to blind my eyes, to see myself differently than I really am, and I was being wrapped tighter and tighter in the suffocating lies of my counterfeit identity.
These thoughts were all percolating as I dressed for bed. I was bloated from dinner and I walked to the bathroom and pulled my shirt up to see my stomach.
I didn’t suck in. I didn’t judge. I didn’t try to see something that used to be there. I just stared at the woman in the mirror. Me.
And you know what? I felt more settled and secure than I have in some time.
I looked down as my daughter patted my tummy; she laughed up at me as it jiggled.
“Whatcha doin’ with your shirt, Mama?” she repeated.
I looked back at my reflection and said, softly, “I’m just . . . looking.”