In the second grade when I got my first pair of eyeglasses, my mother said, “My little girl isn’t pretty anymore.” A few years later, my brother told me I had ugly teeth and called me a rude name.
Years later, I overheard a boy I was dating say to his friends that he thought I was cute, except he thought my nose was too big. Another boy who was teaching me to dive commented that I looked great in a swimsuit, barring my large hips. Yet another boy told me I was a fun person but that I didn’t have much on top. I took all of these comments about my body and tucked them away in my heart. They have stuck with me over the years and negatively affected the way I see and feel about myself.
Eventually I got contact lenses and had my teeth fixed, which helped me feel better about myself. Yet, whenever I looked in the mirror I still saw a big nose, large hips, and a flat chest. I habitually wore long sweaters and shirts to cover my hips, padded bras to enhance my chest, and avoided wearing swimsuits like the plague.
These experiences have taught me that words can have a deep impact on people— for good or bad. Why do those careless, negative words seem to stick like superstrength adhesive while the positive ones slide off like soft butter? Why do we so willingly believe the negative words?
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It’s tempting to think that these negative beliefs about my body would be resolved if I could have nose surgery to make my nose smaller, liposuction to reduce my hips, and implants to augment my breasts. Then I would finally feel good about myself, right? Those modifications might have a temporary effect, but none of these surgeries would be enough. The surgery required must go deeper—it must cut to the heart, where my shame resides.
The shame at the core of a negative body image is not an easy thing to shed. Shame is a full mind-body-heart emotion, an intensely painful feeling and belief that we are so flawed we are not worthy of love and acceptance. One writer described it as the silent hemorrhaging of the soul. Shame makes us go into hiding. It prevents us from getting close to others for fear of disapproval or rejection.
We become perfectionists, compelled to prove our worth. The surgery needed to heal these wounds must remove the cancer of self-loathing that permeated every aspect of my being. A radical change in how I see and feel about myself is required—a surgery not to transform my nose or chest, but my heart.
Where can I go for such a surgery? I don’t think it’s a one-time event under the surgeon’s scalpel, although I wish it were. The change of heart comes gradually as I open myself to trust and love—knowing the very thing that closed my heart in the first place might happen again. But better a broken heart than an impenetrable one. Better a heart that is bruised and tender than a heart safely locked in a dark, emotionless coffin.
The change of heart comes gradually as I unwrap my layers of protection, refusing to engage in busy, numbing habits and allowing myself to connect to others—all of which bring with them the possibility of pain. But pain is good, a sign that my heart is coming to life. No more hiding, no more performing. This letting go of control brings up fears of loss, rejection, and abandonment.
As I expose all the hidden places of my soul, I learn that my vulnerabilities make me real, that I am not alone, and that being real is what connects us. Love—not competition—is the better way.
This intimacy with myself and others takes time—time for rest, time for walks, time for quiet reflection, time to tune into my inner knowing. As I become intimate with myself, I discover my connection with others and the divine. I learn there is a strength in stillness. I learn to trust the voice which beckons, “This is the way.” I recognize that I am loved and always have been.
Softly and gently I come to the awareness that who I am is enough. What a relief I feel when I sit with the possibility that I am enough. Can it really be true that I am not what I do or what I produce or what I accomplish? I will sit with this feeling of being enough and let it heal my heart. I will embrace God’s many creations of beauty—of which I am one.
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This story came from the new book, Why I Don't Hide My Freckles Anymore: Perspectives on True Beauty, now available at Deseret Book.
More about the book:
Women today are bombarded by harmful messages in society about their bodies and appearance. We often feel inadequate and overwhelmed by the impossible-to-achieve ideals touted in the media. And sometimes our harshest critics are the eyes looking back at us in the mirror. No matter the source, when our image of personal beauty is threatened, it's important to remember who the rightful beholder of true beauty is—our Heavenly Father.