It always comes back to the jeans. My relationship with a regular pair of jeans that hang in my closet is one of the last remaining pieces of evidence of my nearly 20 year struggle with body image. I’ve come along way from the lowest point in my struggle with my body, and on some days it almost feels like I am cured—until I see my jeans hanging in the closet. To be clear, my jeans are innocent enough, except for the fact that they don’t fit anymore. I can technically squeeze into them if I’m okay with having a little less circulation from the waist down. So why don’t I just buy new jeans that fit? Well, again, the jeans are how I can tell that there is still some healing yet to be done.
A past version of myself would have absolutely refused to buy the bigger size under any circumstances. Instead, my jeans would have served as a physical talisman of my perceived need to lose weight. I wouldn’t buy the size that fit as a matter of principle alone, and I would punish myself by not having jeans to wear until I fit into the ones I already had. I know some people that have no problem with a rule like this one, but for me, this kind of restriction led me down a long road of under eating and overexercising. My too little jeans reminded me that my body was not living up to the standard that my culture had placed on it. Over the years, I have worshipped this cultural standard like an idol, at the expense, even, of my physical and emotional health.
These days, though, I’m learning to love my body like the friend that it is. God is showing me that my body was never intended to be whipped into submission. Instead, my body is a precious gift from God, and I only get one of them. My body was meant to be cared for deeply, and with great care. The message of my culture, unfortunately, did not teach me that. Rather, it taught me that my body was more like an unruly child that needs strict discipline to stay in line. In the summer of 2018, I started to treat my body more like a newborn that needed constant and gentle care instead of like a teenager that needed to be scolded and then punished for noncompliance. The difference between these two approaches to my body cannot be overstated. And yet, my jeans are still hanging in my closet.
In some ways, in many ways maybe, I am healed. I refuse strict eating plans, or eating plans at all for that matter. I exercise only when it brings joy to my spirit as well as my body. I eat the cinnamon rolls when my colleagues bring them into the break room at work, and I buy the Peppermint Mochas from Starbucks. I treat my body like the friend that it is. I give it food when it is hungry, and I move it with grace. These are markers of healing, and I am so grateful for them. In other areas, though, I still have healing to do. Clearly, I’m hesitant to buy the next size up in my jeans, and I’m always tempted to weigh myself first thing in the morning. I’m guilty of getting flashes of jealousy when I see someone in super skinny jeans, and I occasionally have to mute someone on Instagram because I feel triggered to try to look just like they do. These are areas that I’m still working on. I’m learning, though, to hold my progress in one hand and the things I’m still working on in the other.
Healing, I”m learning, doesn’t always look like a complete shift. Sometimes healing is slow and fragmented. Sometimes it is one step forward and two steps back, and sometimes it looks like a pair of jeans that hang in the closet to remind me that I still have some healing to do.