Recently I had an experience that churned up some old emotions in me. I couldn’t shrug it off because there was a lesson in it…but I wasn’t immediately certain what it was.
Earlier that day, I had a check-in with myself. I don’t do this very often, but every few months I weigh myself and take measurements, just to keep myself in a healthy-but-not-obsessed place. It was one of those check-ins that ended with me sighing under my breath and declaring, WHATEVER, body! You’re clearly running the show here!
Naturally this would also be the day that I had to do some (much-needed) clothes shopping. Fabulous timing. I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes because I prefer to avoid the “walk of shame.” You know what I’m talking about. Everything you take into the changing room doesn’t fit, and you have to rack it all or, worse yet, hand it off to a store clerk while avoiding eye contact. And no matter our size, this happens to all of us at one time or another.
This particular day I found myself in a women’s clothing store. I had just walked in when I saw out of the corner of my eye, a saleswoman helping a customer. They were joking about the smaller sizes, “Who even wears (this size) anyway?”
I was flipping through a rack of dresses and suddenly felt like a fish out of water. They’re talking about my size. Do I make eye contact with them? I didn’t feel like I could insert myself into their conversation, yet I felt them looking at me as they quickly switched subjects.
I had nothing witty to say anyway. I was tired, hot, slightly annoyed, and simply wanted to shop quietly. As I roamed through the racks, I encountered the saleswoman a few times. Wow, she’s putting off an ugly vibe. In a forced voice with judgment in her eyes, she asked me if I was finding everything I needed. I cheerfully held up a jacket that I had found and explained that I’d been searching for something like it and was happy to have finally found it. “Oh, that’s nice,” she replied, again obligatory and patronizing. Ok, I feel uncomfortable for being ‘me,’ but I’m going to take the high road here. Remember the iconic store scene sequence in Pretty Woman, the first time she goes in? I felt like that. Be kind to her anyway. Everyone has a story.
Yes, everyone has a story. I wanted to say something to this woman, but didn’t want my emotions to get in the way and cause more harm than good. All I could do was smile and keep shopping. I found what I was looking for (and then some), paid and exchanged generic-yet-kind banter with the saleswoman and her coworker, and went on my way.
In the car, I asked myself: What’s bugging you? If you could have a do-over, would you have handled it differently? Is there a lesson here?
After some prayer and thought, this is what I would gently say if I could replay the scene:
No one likes being judged or shamed by their outward appearance. Yes, I’m that particular “size” that seems out of reach, but there’s a story behind it…
First, I used to be 6 sizes bigger. I spent lots of hours in the gym and kitchen, taking it one day at a time, merging weeks into months and years. It didn’t happen overnight or accidentally.
Before you assume that somehow my life is easier/better/happier because of this size, look a little deeper. I’ve struggled with insecurities, frustrations with cravings, lack of progress with my best-laid plans, hormones scoffing at my attempts to balance them, major health issues, scars from an eating/body image disorder, questioning my calling in life, pushing back fear and anxiety, doubting my effectiveness as a wife, mother, trainer, and writer. I’m not always confident; ironically, I had a frustrating body image moment just this morning.
I’m more than what you see. I love Jesus, yet I wrestle with temptation and not-so-nice thoughts and emotions from time to time. I’ve tried to be perfect and have fallen flat on my face…lots. But, I’m grateful that He loves me anyway and sees fit to rescue me from the “pits” of life. I’m grateful that in my weakest moments, I have His strength and don’t have to rely on myself. In fact, it’s His strength that gives me the ability to rise above my emotions in a moment like this one, and to choose love. As a result, I’m aware that I’ve focused too much on my own perspective and that I need to take a moment to really look at you.
And you know what? I bet you and I aren’t all that different once you get a pesky number out of the way. We probably share some of the same struggles and insecurities because we are people first. I promise not to judge you by your appearance and instead to see you as a child of God, who has a story, as well as real fears, dreams, needs, questions, and emotions. I choose to see you as God sees you…with love and grace….because you are beautiful, no matter how you feel in this moment.
Whew! I wish I’d really said those things. But, I found what I was looking for (a lesson, not the jacket), and it couldn’t be more perfect for the times we are living in. That day reminds me that we need to extend more love and grace to one another in so many contexts. All of us. Myself included. And in terms of body image, women, let’s dare to look past the surface. I’m more than a number…and so are you!