Every morning I do the same routine, following the same little rituals in order to feel ready to start the day. Except for on mornings when I need a bit more self-confidence. One those mornings I tend to add an extra step ... I talk to myself.
I tell myself how lovely my hair looks or how my eyeshadow brings out the blue in my eyes. I comment on my sweet smelling perfume or my perfectly coordinating jewelry. It doesn't seem to matter that I'm the one doling out the compliments. I somehow respond internally to these words of affirmation and feel infinitely more beautiful.
This extra ritual works so well that I have often wondered why I don't do it every morning. What I've come to believe is that I am afraid it will stop working and then I will be lacking confidence when I need it most.
I cannot remember a morning when I've woken up feeling beautiful. In fact, I cannot say that I recall very many times in which I felt like I was pretty. I know that there are so many women who struggle with body image as well, but my body image has always been especially low.
As a relatively young girl of 9 or 10, I remember looking into the mirror and thinking that if someone saw a photo of just my eyes that they might think I was actually a beautiful girl. I also thought that if you then showed my entire face, that same person might not believe that such an unattractive girl could have such pretty blue eyes. As if to only pound in that idea, in high school there was a competition to find the girl with the most beautiful eyes. My classmates elected me to be one of the representatives of our class, and a photo was take of just my eyes and placed on a bulletin board along with all of the other girls in the competition. I quickly realized that I was perhaps the most unpopular girl in the contest and yet I came in 2nd place in the competition. I remember thinking afterwards that no one would have voted for my eye photo if they had realized that the rest of the face belonged to me.
Now I look at that sort of self-talk and see how crazy it is that I was incredibly vain about my eyes while being overly critical of the rest of my facial features. It was as if I couldn't find reassurance about my beauty even when I was given small successes and chances to feel attractive. Self-doubt and self-critism were dominate over my ability to accept who I was and feel confident of my own self-worth.
As a young woman, I was diagnosed with PCOS. It's an incurable, hormonal syndrome that affects many body systems. It wrecks a body and robs a woman of the very things that make her feminine as it slowly chips away at the self-esteem. Thinning scalp hair; unwanted body hair on the face, arms and back; weight gain; inability to lose weight despite diet and exercise; infertility; acne, skin tags, dark patches of skin on face ... the list goes on and on.
Over the past two decades, I've struggled to accept who I am as a woman, shedding floods of tears and weeping agonizing prayers to God asking Him to take it away. In the process, I take two or three steps forward only to take those same two or three steps back. It's the dance of my life as I battle my own body image and learn to love myself for who God created me to be.
We are six weeks into 2012, and I've been on an emotional roller coaster for most of that time. I'll be celebrating my 40th birthday in September and I'm struggling with that particular milestone. On top of that, I'm dealing with recovering from the severe anxiety and panic attacks of 2011. Somewhere in all of that, I began to battle with self-esteem and body image again. It's the same old song sung to the same old tune, just a different verse.
Two nights ago I was up at 3 am, praying as silent tears rolled down my cheeks. I typed words, begging God again to help me lay the burden of PCOS down before His throne, to find beauty in who I was not because of me but because of Him. As the rain fell outside and the clock on the wall ticked the night away, I wrote the words that follow:
Father God, I want to feel fully woman, to be able to lose weight, to not be ashamed or self conscious of my appearance. I want to have a body that works normally in honor of your temple, instead of feeling like my body is run down and junky. I want to live a healthy life so that I am honoring where you reside ... in me!
Yet I am ashamed of the way I look.
I am ashamed of my thinning hair.
I am ashamed of the hair on my body in places where it should not be.
Father, help me.
There is the silence of the quiet night house, I heard God’s response to me: I was born in a barn, among the animal stalls. A manger is not clean nor is it beautiful ... and yet, Paige, what more beautiful place could there have been? Do not forget. I bring beauty to all places, and I bring beauty to all people who trust in Me. Beauty is defined in Me.
Peace ... peace from the inner struggle, peace from the doubt, peace from the fear, peace for the night.
I still don't wake up feeling beautiful, but today I'm not so consumed with my own perceived lack of beauty. And I'm learning again to embrace the words of Psalm 45:11 ...
The King is enthralled by your beauty; honor Him, for He is your Lord.