In 6th grade, my body image was so poor, there was a short stint of time where I’d order a salad for lunch, take a few bites of iceberg lettuce and then dump the remainder of the bowl – yellow-shredded cheese, plump-red tomatoes, crusty croutons, crisp-green lettuce and diced ham – into the trash can.

I grew convinced of two things. One, not eating made me look skinnier. And two, nobody noticed.

I was wrong on both accounts.

My pre-teen body with newly surging hormones didn’t care that I was eating as little as possible… my waist and clothing sizes stayed the same. And then, my friends took notice and told the counselor. A quick eye-to-eye meeting in the hallway scared me enough to stop throwing away my food and eating lunch again.

Although on the outside, I appeared cooperative, on the inside, I still struggled. Out of all of my friends, puberty knocked on my door first. The unwelcome changes of womanhood brewed a deep anxiety in me. I didn’t love my body.

Especially when it went haywire.

From Bad to Worse

Colon cancer at age 17 didn’t help things.

In fact, because I didn’t like my body in the first place, I didn’t speak up at the signs and symptoms of my disease. As a cancer survivor, I shared a message of “don’t be embarrassed about your body,” but I failed to take my own advice.

I’d gone through the motions of caring for myself and the recommended treatments because I didn’t want to die, but I lacked true appreciation for how God made me.

I knew the verses, “I’d been made in His image” and I was “fearfully and wonderfully knit together,” but I didn’t feel beautiful; I felt broken. I didn’t feel healed, deep down, I felt humiliated.

Thankful to be alive didn’t equal loving the “shell” I lived in.

Unpacking the lies of body image

Negative thoughts about body image continued to live in my unconscious mind for a long time. But every now and again, certain triggers brought them to the surface and I became aware of how severely I disliked my body.

Shopping, swimsuits and seeing pictures of myself were the worst. I couldn’t see what others did when they’d exclaim, “You look great!” or “You’re so beautiful.

With a smile, I’d shyly nod and accept their compliments, unable to receive them as truth.

A few years ago, I recognized this unhealthy pattern and saw the bitterness I held against my own body. I wasn’t only mad at what it looked like – so unlike the skinny models the world deemed “beautiful” – but I was also angry that it betrayed me and revolted against me.

I wanted to change.

danielle-downtownleessummit-beyourself

Recognizing the source of negative thoughts

A few years ago, I proclaimed victory when I bought a pair of larger red shorts. Little did I know, my work on body image had just begun.

I took inventory on my definitions of beauty and realized many of them stemmed from glossy magazine pages and commercials I gobbled up as a teen.

My heart broke over how much I still struggled with what I consumed as a teen, and how the next generations will be adding social media to the mix.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I started a diet together (we’ve both gained weight and recognized we need to eat healthier). As I pressed into the “hows” and “whys” of a new eating plan, more unhealthy thoughts came out.

I discovered the true source of my struggle to love my body:  fear.

A constant companion since puberty, fear’s whispered in my ear saying I don’t belong and I’m not accepted if I don’t have the body of a cover model. Fear’s convinced me I’m not beautiful because my skin’s not tan and my abs aren’t defined. Stripping out the joy of true beauty and the fun of accentuating God-given features, fear’s kept me from embracing the truth – I am beautiful.

Fear’s wanted me to give up and throw in the towel without acknowledging my healing and current (good) health.

Progress

This isn’t a post where I tell you I’ve got this all figured out and that I don’t struggle with negative body image issues anymore, because I still do.

But this is a post to tell you I’ve been dealing with them, and I’m experiencing a lot of freedom.

Do I look in a mirror and immediately think good things in the morning? Not every day – but sometimes I do, and that’s a victory.

Do I look at my body and embrace (what I consider to be) its imperfections and flaws? Not all of the time, but sometimes. I’m taking better care of myself.

And that’s a lot better than it used to be.