Of Swimsuits and Swimming (Writing 101, Day 1 Challenge)

Maddie and Megan are going swimsuit shopping today with their mother.

I have to admit that a part of me is worried about what what sort of swimsuit they might bring back home.It’s not that I don’t trust them to pick out a nice swimsuit. It’s just that … well, standards are different between our two homes.

Jon and I prefer the girls to wear more modest suits. A one piece. A tankini where both pieces touch.  Plenty of coverage over certain areas of the body.

I realize not every family, even among Christendom, feels the same way.  But Jon and I both feel rather strongly about modesty, for both genders.

It’s hard when our children’s other parents do not agree and share the same values. And since their mother is purchasing the swimsuits, Jon and I have to simply trust our girls to make wise choices.

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I probably haven’t been swimming in ten years.

Actually, that’s not exactly true … more like six or seven. Still, it’s been a long time. In the past twenty years, or all of my adult life, I’ve probably gotten into a swimsuit less than a dozen times total.

I actually love the water and enjoy swimming. But I don’t do it very often. The reason?

I am insecure and uncomfortable with the appearance of my own body.

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I don’t for a moment believe I am the only woman in the world with a bad body image.

Yet, if you were to place me on a scale of one to ten (where one represents a great body image and ten is for a terrible body image), I’d probably fall off the chart with a score of 13. 5 or something awful like that.

It’s not just swimsuits either.

I avoid mirrors if at all possible. There is nothing worse than a full-length mirror in a bathroom. A couple of years ago, Jon and I were house hunting. We came along a really nice home well within our price range. I recall being very pleased with the kitchen, living area and spacious backyard. But when I walked into a master bedroom that had an entire wall as a mirror … well, let’s just say I was no longer an interested buyer.

I really dislike having my photo taken. If it’s a group shot, I always try to arrange myself on the back row.  While most people I know love random photos, to me there is nothing worse than having your picture taken when you least suspect it.  Well, the only thing worse than having your picture taken randomly is actually looking at the said photos. Especially if the photo is more than just a headshot. Especially if the photo is of me at any age older than twelve or thirteen.

I’d never judge another woman’s worth based on her size or on any sort of physical feature she might consider to be a flaw.

So why am I so hard on myself?

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Shortly after my 21st birthday, I was diagnosed with PCOS, but I began having the symptoms very early in puberty. There was the unexplained weight gain, the inability to lose weight, the anxiety attacks, the unwanted hair growth, and the severe acne among many other things. About the time I began to desire to look beautiful, everything about my outside appearance began to go wrong. As a 13 year old girl, it was extremely emotional.  I didn’t know the cause. The best I could figure, I was just destined to be unattractive. By the time I was finally diagnosed, I had been experiencing the symptoms for more than seven years.

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects approximately 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age.  In addition to all the health risks and yucky symptoms, PCOS is perhaps just as much an emotionally devastating syndrome for the women who suffer from it as the symptoms actually strip away at the very essence of femininity.

Originally, my doctors indicated it would just be hard for me to conceive children, as most women with PCOS experience infertility to a certain degree. That much was certainly true. But I was also blessed. After three years of infertility, God gifted me with three beautiful children in less than three and a half years.

And yet PCOS has been far more than simply experiencing infertility. It continues to affect me every day, from my physical health to my emotions to even the kinds of foods I am able to eat.  PCOS has even affected my relationship with God.

You see, I am guilty of feeling angry with God giving me PCOS. Were I to count the vast numbers of prayers I have offered which  were nothing but raging over this syndrome, questioning “Why me?,” and begging God to take away this burden I never wanted to bear, the sum would be far larger than any number to which I have ever counted.

I hate to admit it, but deep inside, a part of me felt like God didn’t care about me or this problem. I felt abandoned to an illness no doctor could cure. I felt unworthy of a healing. At times, I even wondered if I were being punished. Even more, I blamed God for giving me the PCOS in the first place.

While I worked through many of these emotions during my adult years and came to a place of acceptance of the way things would be in my life, I still didn’t exactly make peace with the skin God put me in.

Moreover, I felt righteously justified in having my bad body image.

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There are a lot of Bible verses that immediately pop into my mind whenever I think about trying to change my bad body image.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. ~Proverbs 31:30

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

Your beauty should not come from outer adornment … instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. ~1 Peter 3:3-4

While I am challenged by those scriptures I shared above, the one that convicts me the most is Psalms 139, the very prayer I used to pray when I was pregnant with my babies and over them as sweet newborns.  I still use this scripture today when one of my five kiddos has a moment of feeling physically unattractive. It goes like this:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~Psalm 139:14

Recently, I read these same words from The Message Bible, a paraphrased edition of the Bible (as opposed to a word-by-word translation) which tends to be more conversational in style.

Body and soul, I am marvelously made!  I worship in adoration—what a creation!  ~Psalm 139: 14

Wow. I never thought about my body being marvelously made. Nor had I ever once praised God for my body.

Perhaps I’m not perfect by MY standards, but I can see and hear and use my limbs. I’m relatively healthy. I don’t have a debilitating illness. And I was created by a loving God, who gave me life. What reason have I to complain? Why am I so against myself instead of loving me for who I am … a creation made in the image of God?

Perhaps even more wonderful is I discovered the solution to correcting my bad body image …

praising its Creator in worship.

psalm139_14

I certainly don’t think I’m completely over my bad body image.  After all, I still have no desire to put on a swimsuit or gaze at myself in a full-length mirror. I suppose after more than 25 years of believing a lie, it’s going to take some time for me to heal those parts of my soul.

And yet, just as there is hope for my husband to restore his relationship with his step-son, there is hope for me to grow to love the person God created me to be  … outside and inside!

I am definitely looking forward to that.

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Do you have a bad body image?

Have you ever had to come to terms with a “thorn in the side?”