I knew this day would come.
I dreaded it and fought it for weeks, months even, fearing the moment when I would realize its necessity. I lamented to my dad my concerns over its arrival, profoundly aware that the time was drawing near and I could put it off no longer. Then I caved – I had no choice.
On Thursday, I bought new pants.
If I had a nickel for every time I whined to my parents about how my pants were no longer fitting, I would be able to buy enough pants to weave a parachute.
“Dad, what if I have to buy new pants??”
“Then buy new pants.”
This conversation repeated itself like a broken record – my melodramatic sagas about how my skinny jeans were increasingly more snug around my slowly expanding thighs. My dad, though, steadfast and wise, has maintained a beautifully consistent attitude towards my pants tragedy. So what? If your clothes don’t fit, buy new ones.
The other day, running with one of my dearest friends, we discussed the fact that no one cares about what size we wear other than us. I fretted and fussed over the moment when my old pants would be no more and my once-so-unhealthily-small-sized jeans would fade into the vaguely-remembered depths of years-old Facebook pictures and craft projects. But my dad was right (what else is new?) – who cares? I have to continually remind myself that there are no prizes, no trophies for the silly standards I held myself to. I don’t win anything if I still fit into my pants at the end of the month. There is no medal for dipping under a certain weight, no accolade for obtaining any qualitative or quantitative measure of physique.
I haven’t stepped on a scale since this all started at the end of the summer and I’m not sure if I ever will. For so many months, years even, I was enslaved to it. I was chained to a machine that measured the force necessary to equal gravity’s pull on my body. When reduced to the scientific terms it deserves, the scale sounds completely ridiculous, yet it controlled me for so long. I was a number. If the number moved down since the last time I submitted myself to its unforgiving judgment, I was happy – if it moved up, I was crushed, scheming a new diet plan and exercise regime that would continue to depress the meaningless number it presented.
When would it end? If it weren’t for the Lord’s intervention, I don’t know. With only a few pounds left before I reached the lower threshold of a healthy BMI, I was on the short, horrifying path to anorexia. The numbers I lived by – my size, my weight – were tightening their grip and God is still slowly working to pry me from its suffocating hold.
Fortunately, pant size is becoming less and less of an issue. Yes – I’ve never worn this size before. And yes – these pants feel great. Loose, not continually reminding me of the places my body has been. My middle school theology teacher used to tell us that when Satan reminds us of our past, we can remind him of his future. As one of my closest friends told me the other day, we know who wins. And He’s already done it. My body-image-obsessed self is giving way to a new woman, comfortable in her own skin.
A few months ago, I would see magazines at the check-out, touting the latest fat-blasting work-out or shortcut to a bikini body and I would be hooked. I devoured these health articles, reading them on the elliptical or relaxing in bed after a long, malnourished day. I idolized the bodies of these women – I wanted to look like Kate Middleton (she’s still my hero – but I’ll just marry a British prince instead of adopting unhealthy eating habits. It’s a good back-up plan, right?). If they could have the six pack, I could too.
And then I did it. I got the body I wanted. Clothes hung off of me, limp and loose as the wet spaghetti noodles I refused to eat. The scale confirmed my success – my friends did, too. But I was miserable. I wanted more – skinnier, healthier, fitter. I would never be satisfied. This vicious cycle of binging and restricting – a nascent practice at the time – would continue indefinitely. I finally realized that I would have to count calories all my life, obsessively balancing consumption with exercise.
Now I look at these same magazines and I’m not filled with anxiety or envy, but with sorrow, empathy. These women are where I once was. They’re convinced that the perfect body will bring with it happiness, wholeness. But we aren’t made to be satisfied by our physical appearance. God tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” C.S. Lewis would agree, noting that “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
It’s not worth it. The body that the media tells us we need is a lie. It’s an empty achievement, leaving naught but a wake of destruction – physically, emotionally and psychologically. I’m convinced that Americans are the most miserable people in the world. When all of our physical needs are met – food, water, shelter – we need more. We have insatiability in our hearts, planted there since birth. No matter what we obtain, we’ll want more. Not matter how perfect our abs look, we’ll want them stronger, leaner. It’s a trap, beckoning with promises of fulfillment and satisfaction, masking the pain and slavery inextricably linked to a lifestyle bound by calorie-counting and compulsive exercising.
It all started by believing the lie that I controlled my body, and could acquire for myself more satisfaction by manipulating it into the shape I envisioned. False on false on false. My Daddy made me. He told me in Psalm 139 that He wove me together in my mother’s womb. He tells me over and over again in His word how deliberately He created me, with a purpose, an innate beauty dependent only on my identity as His beloved daughter. I pulled an Eve – biting into the lie that I would be satisfied, listening to the whispers that it was okay, wrapped in the guise of nutrition, to take my body into my own hands and pretend God didn’t know how I should look.
Put the apple back. Bite it and you’re out of the garden. I know – I did it. I’m still locked out, longing for the freedom inside, a freedom that may or may not come in this life. I might deal with unhealthy eating patterns all my life, but I can still glorify God. The doors to freedom from this disorder remain shut, but the gates of heaven are open wide thanks to a perfect Savior dying a painful death for an imperfect woman like myself. Pant size whatever – as long as they can keep me modest while I serve His children, invest in His word, and make a billion and five mistakes every day, stumbling as I run with wildly-fluctuating pace towards my Daddy’s always-open arms. And these new pants rock. Thanks, American Eagle, for reminding me that I am perfectly and wonderfully made.