There’s a girl that I’ve been mean to for a very long time. We’ve had a rather tumultuous relationship for many years. Oh sure, we’ve had our good moments, but mostly I’ve been pretty awful to her. I’ve said mean things, called her names, and had terrible thoughts about her in my head. It’s really quite despicable how I have treated her over the years.
Who is this girl that I have used and abused for so long? She’s the girl that looks back at me every time I look in the mirror.
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My War with the Mirror
From adolescence, I have struggled with a poor body image. I can recall very few times that I was satisfied with what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I always found something that was wrong.
My weight, especially, was a point of consternation for me. Once I hit my teenage years, I began to develop a noticeably curvier shape in my hips and thighs that I despised. I had friends who were tall and thin, and I compared my short and curvy frame to theirs with envy.
During my freshman year of college, I gained the dreaded Freshman 15 … and then some. I wasn’t fat, exactly, but it was enough to do serious damage to my self-image. Confidence and body issues plagued me for the next three years, and my low self-esteem infiltrated and affected my relationships.
All because I couldn’t seem to love that girl in the mirror.
My senior year of college, I began working out and being more conscientious about my diet. (I had a wedding dress to fit into and a honeymoon to prepare for! 😉 ) Those habits turned into a lifestyle, and I found I really liked the energy and confidence it gave me. I liked being healthy … but I’ll be honest, I also liked being a certain size.
Pretty and Pregnant
My size remained stable for the next few years … until I got pregnant. I am not someone who only gets bigger in the belly when she’s pregnant. I don’t know if it’s the hormones or just the fact that I can’t exercise as intensely as usual, but I swear my hips, thighs, and rear end start getting bigger the day I pee on that stick. I exercise and eat a healthy diet throughout my pregnancies, but the pounds seem determined to join the party.
I had a hard time being content with my appearance through both pregnancies. I compared myself to every other pregnant woman I knew or saw and always felt I came up short. I absolutely love being pregnant, but it takes a serious toll on my self-esteem.
After I had my first baby, with a lot of hard work I was able to return to normal after a few months. I assumed the same time table would apply for baby #2.
That turned out not to be the case. The diastasis recti I had developed with my first pregnancy had widened and needed a lot more work to fix the second time around. I’m just now, 8 months later (and after completing the 12-week intensive MuTu System), seeing real signs of the old me again.
Those eight months were hard. I hated not being able to fit into my old shirts. I constantly compared myself to the women I knew who had also recently had a baby. I didn’t like having to camouflage my belly. And I was frustrated that with all my working out and diet changes, I still wasn’t “bouncing back” in the way that I wanted.
And in the meantime, I was downright cruel to that girl in the mirror.
So when the opportunity arose to receive a free copy of Beauty Begins: Making Peace with Your Reflection by Chris Shook and Megan Shook Alpha in exchange for a review on my blog, I knew I had to take it. Something had to change.
I’ll admit, I was highly skeptical that this book would do any good for me. We’ve all heard the aphorisms like, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” or “beauty is only skin deep.” I’ve heard them a thousand times, and I have always thought, “Yeah, well … I want to be pretty on the outside, too!”
So I wasn’t all that confident when I started reading it that this book would be any different.
But it was.
Yes, there was a lot of the kind of encouragement you would expect from a book like this: beauty is more than physical attractiveness, everyone is beautiful in her own way, we’re all made in the image of God, etc.
But it was also so much more than I could have expected, and it changed the way I thought about what it means to be beautiful.
There was so much that was good and valuable in this book, but my favorite parts – the ones that most profoundly impacted me – were in chapters 2 and 3.
In chapter 2, “The Mirror Addiction,” the authors state that we have a God-given desire to seek out what the authors call our “sacred reflection” – our truest selves. The problem is, we end up consulting the wrong mirrors – mirrors that distort our reflection.
We may or may not be “pretty” according to our glass mirrors, but we are truly beautiful when we reflect the image of Christ. “We are always trying to imitate other people instead of imitating God,” they point out. But it is where we look like Christ that we are most beautiful. And reflecting the beauty of Christ should be our primary focus. Unfortunately, too often “we spend so much time trying to make our temporary bodies look good, but we spend very little time making sure our eternal character is beautiful.”
And you know? When I think about the most beautiful women I know, the ones I admire and hold in high esteem, they aren’t all the most conventionally pretty women I know. They’re beautiful because they’re lovely from the inside out. And some of the most physically appealing women I know are tainted by hearts and characters that are ugly. I’d rather be known for a beautiful spirit than a pretty face or an attractive figure any day, wouldn’t you?
In chapter 3, “The Selfie Obsession,” I was quickly convicted of how my preoccupation with my own appearance belied an obsession with self rather than a passion for others. Real beauty is becoming other-focused. Whenever we fall into the trap of dissatisfaction with our own reflection, we should look around to the needs of others.
At one point in the chapter, the authors hit the nail on the head for me. They said, “If we are not satisfied with ourselves, then we are more likely to be upset and feel our day is ruined…. This focus on self becomes self-destructive.” If that doesn’t describe what I was like, I don’t know what does. For years I wasn’t satisfied with myself, and it led to a lot of envy. And envious people don’t make good friends. They certainly aren’t beautiful.
Finally, I benefited greatly from their reminder in chapter 5 that recognizing our true beauty will be a daily battle. It might sound strange that it brought comfort to me to hear that this would be a constant battle, but it did. In the past, if my insecurities and poor self-image were not “cured” by a good book or study or encouraging word, I would think, “Well, that didn’t work!” But I see now I was giving up too soon!
In this book, Chris and Megan taught me that it’s not a one-time fix kind of issue. Rather, it’s a daily intentional decision and reliance on God to cast down my fleshly thoughts – thoughts that Satan plants to keep me off-focus and impotent. It’s daily choices to focus on God and others, rather than myself. Choices to be grateful for what I have rather than grumbling for what I don’t. Choices to seek opportunities to love others rather than attract attention to myself.
This struggle for beauty isn’t all bad. It’s actually an opportunity to draw closer to God, clinging more tightly to him in a dependence for my ultimate value. As with any struggle in life, I don’t need to run away from it – I need to run with it to God.
Favorite Quotes from Beauty Begins
There are a hundred quotes I could pull from this book, but here are a few of my favorites:
“Pretty is an ever-changing illusion that enslaves women … [and] keeps us in a constant state of discontent. … Beauty on the other hand is universal and never changes.”
“This addiction to mirrors is like every other harmful addiction. It’s the result of trying to meet a God-given need with the wrong thing.”
“The more time we spend looking at the mirror of truth in God’s Word, the easier it is for us to recognize the distorted mirror of Satan’s lies.”
“When I’m really down on my outward appearance, I have to admit I’m focusing on myself rather than on God and others.”
I won’t promise you that if you read this book you won’t ever struggle to feel pretty again (it’s a daily battle, after all), but I will promise that you will walk away with a new understanding of what it means to be beautiful.
What about you? Is there a “mean girl” that lives in your mirror, too? Will you join me in a pact to make peace with her? After all, if we wouldn’t talk to another woman that way, why do we do it to ourselves?
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