All the Ways to Be Beautiful
“Andrea, how much do you weigh? ‘Cause you were by far the heaviest person to pull back into the raft.” His words carried across the bus and hit me square in the face. I was on my senior trip in high school, in a bus full of my fellow classmates, on our way home from white-water rafting. My group had been playing a game where we would stand on the edge of the raft and try to stay on, during one of the more mellow sections of the river. When we fell off, two strong, former football player guys would pull us back in. One of them decided to share this observation in front of everyone on the way home.
I heard some of the guys around him call him out. I was usually not short on sarcasm, but this time his words caught me off guard, so I just sunk into my seat until my friend next to me said, “Don’t listen to him. He’s just being a jerk.”
The thing that bothered me, even before he brought it up, was I knew I was healthy. I had run cross country, played soccer, and just finished my last season of track that year as one of the top mid-distance runners. My body wasn’t going to get any more fit than this. But at 5’11,” I was still heavier than my smaller friends, and outside of starving myself and maybe losing some muscle, there was not a whole lot I could do about it. I couldn’t help thinking that even though I was healthy, there was something wrong with my body. I was never going to fit the standard of beauty I had seen in all the magazines and movies.
In college, I successfully gained the freshman fifteen because I wasn’t working out as intensely. I still went to the gym pretty regularly and tried to eat healthy, but my body became something I more or less just tolerated. It kind of felt like we were at odds a lot of the time.
Years later, I started ministry school and the first year of a three-year process of learning to love myself and my body unconditionally. It sounds like a beautiful journey, but it was mostly me snot-crying on the floor of the sanctuary or in my room or wherever I was talking to God really. He would bring up lies I was believing, past hurts, words people had spoken over me, and words I had spoken over myself. I would basically just cry it all out and try to let the truth of His Word sink into the empty places. I slowly started to break up with the unfair standard I was holding myself to.
In my journey to accepting my body, which was not an overnight success, I had to let go of who I thought I should be and what I thought I should look like. I had to let go of all the numbers culture used to define “ideal beauty.” I had to let go of the image in my head of what I thought guys wanted, and I had to accept all the parts of myself I couldn’t change. It wasn’t helping anything to be in a battle with my body. My hips were going to follow me the rest of my life, and my height wasn't going anywhere either. It was time to make peace with them.
This may sound weird if you’ve never done anything like this, but another thing I did was repent to my body. I told my body I was sorry for not loving it unconditionally and for wanting it to be something else. I put my hand on my head and blessed my height. I thanked God for the unique qualities that I could carry that no one else could because of the way I was made. I told God, even when I didn’t believe it, “The way you made me is good.”
I also started to notice something about the women around me who I thought were really beautiful. I noticed it wasn’t that they looked like supermodels, it was that they were happy with who they were. They weren’t trying to be anyone else. They were at peace with themselves, and because they liked themselves, other people did too. The beauty of the inner-world they had cultivated and stewarded drew other people in.
The truth is, beauty looks a million different ways. I've seen beauty in all the wrinkles that cover a grandmother's face when she smiles at her grandkids. I've seen beauty in a mother whose changing body is making room for new life. I've seen beauty show up in lots of curves and no curves. I've seen beauty in dark skin and light skin and faces covered with freckles. I've seen it in wild curls and in smooth, straight locks, and I've seen it show up in moments that photographs or videos could never do justice.
God does not limit beauty to a small range of numbers and features like society so often does. He does not hold back on the way He creates so that we all fit a certain mold. God has chosen to reveal Himself through you in a way that is completely different from anyone else. You are the only one who can wake up and be who you are. Don't listen to the lies that come in from other people or from the enemy. Don't let people put limits on you that God doesn't. Remember that even in the moments you don't believe it or feel it, the way He made you is good. Surround yourself with people, messages, and media that doesn't let you forget it.
Here is a resource from one of our friends at Moral Rev, Abi Stumvoll, that helped me a ton through the process of learning to love myself: Unconditional: How to Let Love Win