My chase for perfection escalated in junior high school. I remember trying to be friends with everyone-balancing multiple groups of friends and trying so hard to be liked. I didn’t have pretty enough hair (it was straight then and wouldn’t curl), I had (blonde) but bushy eyebrows (so I tweezed them off!), I wasn’t thin enough ( I cried over my thighs and worked out every day), I couldn’t get straight A’s (always that 1 B), I wasn’t athletic enough (couldn’t do a pull up to get my colored shorts), I didn’t have the style that other girls had (or afford it), I didn’t have a “best friend,” I couldn’t keep that one boy’s attention. I was always trying but always failing. . I remember writing a poem for English and being embarrassed to say it aloud in class. It was called “Imperfect” and it was an apology to everyone-friends and family. I tried to explain how I couldn’t meet expectations, I ‘tried’ and I have failed. I repeated I am sorry I am imperfect.
As I grew older the self inflicted body hatred became worse. I used to stare at Instagram or magazines and wish that I could one day be as beautiful as the women I saw. No cellulite, no wrinkles or stretch marks. Perfectly symmetrical faces, great hair and eyebrows and curvaceous bodies. So when I got divorced, I thought I could eliminate the dark shadow blocking self love by getting into shape. While my “online” confidence grew, I still hated the body I saw in the mirror. I cried often and time after time failed to see my beauty because of women not only online but at the gym as well. I spent too much time getting spray tans and in the gym, obsessing how my body looked and asking for confirmation by posting selfies. I would ‘track’ my progress and feed off the attention I got. My love for my body was only affirmed by the amount of likes I received.
But, as I began to find myself in my faith the exterior self hate began to fade away. I stopped excessively focusing on my “problem” areas and found myself enjoying life a little more. My body served more of a purpose than a sex symbol and that shadow blocking my love for my outward beauty was eliminated by the light of the Lords words. Sounds like a great transformation of the soul right? Well, not so much…As I began to see the beauty in others in a complete different way, my shadow started to creep towards my light.
I began to admire women for their hearts, how they treated others, how gracious they were, how much they did for others, how their spirit affected the room. My shadow consumed me once again, why can’t I be like that? Wow, her spirit is so amazing, I wish people viewed me the same way I see her. Her soul is so beautiful, her heart is gold, she loves unconditionally, she is a light in every situation. I began tallying up “beauty” points and again falling short.
Most women would be upset if their boyfriends commented on how beautiful a woman was for her amazingly good looks. Luckily my man would never do that. But, with no intention to harm me or mean anything by his words-he did. With his kind words about a co-worker, he said she was a woman of God and had a heart of gold, he appreciated the way she managed everyone and brought her faith into working with the kids. He told me a few stories and was describing how wonderful this lady was because she was a god fearing woman. This sounds silly to be upset about, but I was crushed and wondered if he felt that about me. I wondered if anyone felt that about me. Now, he literally meant nothing by it, other than that there are good people in this world, something he rarely sees. But it felt personal, his words made me bitter and lead me to obsessively compare myself to her and women like her.
Am I that gracious? Am I giving, enough? Loving? Kindhearted? Do I do enough to shine brightly and illuminate our heavenly father? Or can everyone see the dark, ugly, shameful, sinful, tainted women that dwells in my shadow?
Randomly, I had a conversation with a stranger at Starbucks and the person told me not to hide who I am, to see my beauty in all of myself, even the part that I have deemed “bad.” This made me reflect back to a course in my graduate program where we read about Shadows. I remember the painful revealing I had with myself as I discovered “who” my shadow was. My shadow is selfish, jealous, depressing and judgmental.
We all have a shadow and unfortunately its is the “dark” part of ourselves that we do not want anyone to see. We all, no matter how good, have a shadow. The Japanese say you have three faces.
The face you show to the world.
The face you show to your friends and family.
And the face that you never show anyone, the truest reflection of who you are.
Recently, I have received so much love from strangers, followers, family, friends and old teachers that I had to reevaluate why I hated myself. My 6th grade teacher posted on my timeline, “I love you and always have known you are worth so much more than you let yourself be. Depression is such an ugly monster! I am proud that you were apart of my life and my kids, who are not so little any more!!! You are truly a role model to all young women!!!!” I then looked at my messages and realized I had DOZENS of women telling me similar things.
And I got to thinking…….Why don’t I see who everyone else sees?
I don’t have the answer to this yet. There is not an easy fix to self love. People can change what they say about you, how they say and give you all the affirmation, confirmation and reassurance of who you are-but if you don’t believe it, if you don’t own it, then their words are meaningless. I know how long it took me to be at peace with my thighs and outward imperfections, so I know this journey won’t be any different. I am thankful for God’s love and grace and remind myself everyday that God loves me unconditionally .
John 8:12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
This scripture captures the understanding that we will always have darkness here on earth, the only way to eliminate our own shadow is to walk in his light. That reminder takes away my burden of chasing perfection….instead I will chase him.
Even the brightest light casts out a shadow.