A few years ago I did a little personal writing challenge and shared my musings via Facebook Notes. I used a 30 Days Of Writing prompt I found online for post ideas.
I’ve since removed those notes because after the project I felt extremely vulnerable having bared my heart in such a way. It’s not that I didn’t want my friends to read my thoughts (I wouldn’t have shared them if that were the case), it was the comments I struggled with.
I’m extremely uncomfortable with public feedback on my writing. While I love hearing when my story has been encouraging to others, I prefer to be told so in private, not on a public platform. Is that weird? Perhaps. But what can I say…it’s just how I am!
Anyway, so although I removed the posts from FB, the drafts remained on my computer, and I thought I might use some of them on this blog. They’ll fit in perfectly with my storytelling, and it’ll save time to use pre-written content #winwin ;)
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17th November, 2014
This morning Fidge and I watched her favourite Veggie Tales story, “Sweetpea Beauty”. So with the content of that video still fresh in my mind, I thought it’d be a good time to tackle topic #17 on my list of prompts…
Q. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF YOUR BODY AND WHY?
The short answer is, I don’t have a favourite part of my body. I love ALL of my body. I really do. Even now, in its less than perfect state, I love my body!
The long answer…well it’s a tale of brokenness and healing, spanning most of my current 36 years of life. I once hated how I looked, but slowly, God has brought me to a place of both accepting and embracing my physical appearance.
My issues with my physical appearance began around the age of 7, shortly after moving from a country in which I was part of the majority…to suddenly being in a country where I was the minority. Kids can be cruel. And I just was not prepared for what I would encounter in this new country. I was in a school where I was the only black child there at that time. In hindsight I know it was pure ignorance on the part of the children. But at the time it was happening, I wasn’t able to understand that. All I knew was that I hurt so much from the words daily hurled at me. Words that attacked all that I was as a person…making me feel that because of the colour of my skin, and the difference of my hair, I was ugly and worthless.
In addition to the external pressures outside of the home, there was the contribution of my parents (more so as I grew older) to this confusion and struggle going on inside me regarding my physical appearance.
My mother…(how do I put this delicately?)…she just didn’t seem to care. At least that’s the impression I got. If she wasn’t showing it in her own appearance, she was loudly voicing it in her opinions. She pooh-poohed all beauty products, was totally disinterested in beautiful clothes, jewellery, shoes (oh how I struggled with the
ugly sensible shoes she chose to wear! *sigh*) and simply refused to even try and look feminine. She gave off the air of being a very practical, no-nonsense, kind of woman. Looking back now, I wonder…was it really that she didn’t like any of that stuff or was she hiding from something? Was there a past hurt that had made her shun all attempts at looking nice and pretty? Even if she didn’t care what others thought about her appearance, I wanted to ask her why she didn’t want to do something special for herself? But I didn’t dare ask her back then. Perhaps I’ll ask her one day…
Anyway, her views on physical beauty made me feel guilty for even wanting to be pretty. And for liking pink (she often expressed her dislike for the colour). And painting my nails. And for getting my ears pierced (such a battle I went through to get her to finally agree to that – a battle that I won only because my father took my side and came home with earrings for me one day saying “well I suppose now she’ll need holes to put them in” *lol*) Basically, anything I did that involved caring for my body beyond basic hygiene, I felt I should not do. I felt like somehow I was sinning by just thinking about my looks…because the way she spoke, with such authority on the matter, you would think that anything to do with outer beauty was of the devil. No “good Christian girl” should waste her time on clothes, hairstyles, and makeup!
On the flipside, my father was the opposite. He wasn’t into primping and overly grooming himself or anything, but he did care about outer appearances. Unfortunately though, that concern for one’s outer appearance took him into judgement territory. He could be a very harsh judge of a person based solely on their appearance. I often heard him exclaim in disgust when seeing anyone with tattoos or body piercings (to him one piercing was ok, any extras on the ears or any other part of the body was a sign of ‘rebellion’ etc etc). He had very strong opinions about what was physically attractive, and what was ugly. And he was not shy about expressing his views. Looks mattered to him.
When I was 14, an incident happened that hammered the point home to me that 1) my father was more interested in the outer appearance of a person than who they were inside, and 2) I was ugly…hence unlovable.
I got chicken pox, and tho’ I tried not to scratch, it was just so hard not to and I was left with scars on my face. Add on to that some acne scarring as a result of normal teen hormonal fluctuations, and my skin was noticeably blemished.
One day, my father called me into his study and asked mum to join us. Totally out of the blue he hit me with the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said to me. He turned to my mother and asked her “What are you going to do about your daughter’s face? Look at all those marks!” She just sat there, not saying anything.
A long awkward silence filled the room. Then finally he turned to me and said “If you don’t do something to fix that face, you will never get married. No man will marry a woman who looks so ugly.”
He continued with his tirade. He spoke of how embarrassing it was to have a daughter who looked as I did. How my mother was a terrible mother for not preventing or fixing this sooner. How I had ruined my life by letting my face become so ugly. And how I better fix it, or else!
As I think back on that moment now as an adult, I admit there’s a part of me that feels a stirring of anger trying to flare up again. I can’t believe that anyone could say such a thing to a child. I was 14. FOURTEEN!! And age aside, I was his daughter…how could anyone say that to their own child?! My father had ripped any little self-esteem I may still have had left, to shreds.
That night was burned deep into my memory. Afterwards I kept replaying the words over and over in my mind, seeing his face as he spoke words that had shattered a part of me I didn’t even know existed. The part that craved (and thought I had had) his unconditional love and approval.
I hurt so much! Doubly so, since my mum didn’t come to my rescue. I wanted her to defend me and say “what has her face got to do with her being loved?” or something like that. Instead she just mumbled something about taking me to a skin specialist to see if it would help. But she was obviously very put out at having to do anything about fixing my appearance…and the skin specialist thing never eventuated.
I didn’t realise it back then, but some serious damage had been done that night. Both emotionally and mentally. It was years later as an adult, still struggling with my skin (makeup can only fix so much you know), that I finally had to accept I had an OCD problem regarding my skin. I just could not stop picking at my face. I had what is known as dermatillomania.
I don’t quite know when it began, all I know it that it started sometime after that night. I would pick at my face obsessively…trying to fix it…trying to remove the blemishes. Which of course only made them worse. And so my face was never truly free of spots. Which made me feel worse. So I’d pick some more. Until it became an obsessive compulsive habit. I was trapped in an endless cycle.
Eventually the teen acne years were left behind…but sadly the picking wasn’t. The habit had become deeply ingrained, and any emotional stress would start the picking cycle again. I entered adulthood with very low self-esteem about my appearance. Even when all made up and dressed beautifully, I struggled with what I saw in the mirror. I could accept that at times I looked ‘nice’ (e.g on my wedding day), but I never felt beautiful. Ever.
The bouts of weight gain over the years (due to a mix of pregnancy, sheer laziness on my part, and thyroid issues) also contributed to my feelings of worthlessness. I’ve lost count of the number of times I stood before the bathroom mirror in tears…because all I saw was ugly.
Then something happened four years ago that changed how I saw myself. For the first time, I saw myself through God’s eyes.
I’d had just arrived home with baby No.5 and one of the first things I needed was a proper shower (hospitals are ok, but there’s nothing like being back in your own bathroom!!). I got undressed…was about to step into the shower, then I stopped. I saw my reflection. And I just stood still, staring at the woman before me.
My belly was swollen as if I were still pregnant (she was only 3 days old), my milk had come in and I was oh soooo sore, heavy, and leaking like crazy. My hair was a mess. My eyes had bags under them. And under that harsh bathroom light, every blemish on my face was emphasised more than normal. Frankly, I looked a mess!
And then I heard Him. It was such a gentle and soft whisper into my heart. He said “Maff, see how beautiful you are. Look! Look at your beautiful, wonderful body. I made that. I made YOU. Yes, your heart is beautiful, but your body is beautiful too. You, my beloved daughter, are beautiful!”
That’s it. It wasn’t audible, but it may as well have been, because I heard it so loudly and clearly inside my heart. My spirit felt God’s spirit speaking to me. And I felt like I would explode from the joy that filled me in that moment.
I couldn’t stand. An intense presence surrounded me and overwhelmed me. I crumpled to the floor…sobs erupting out of me. I don’t know how long I lay on the bathroom mat, but I was completely spent when I got up. I had cried my eyes out – literally. It was such an intense moment.
God had called me beautiful! And…of all the times He could have chosen to tell me that…He chose right then when (in my human eyes) I looked pretty darn awful!
At the age of 14, my earthly father had broken my heart with his harsh words. 18 years later, my Heavenly Father repaired it with His gentle whisper.
As I showered, I sang. And sang. I was so happy. Oh I had never been so happy before. Not even on my wedding day, not even when my children were born. As wonderful and amazing as those experiences had all been, there was something different about this joy. I think perhaps I can’t compare them at all, the other joys were joys of life, love, family. This was a restoring, healing joy. When I felt God tell me that I was physically beautiful, something inside me seemed to fall back into place.
Later that night I was reading the book of Luke, and I came across the story of a woman Jesus had healed. A woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit for 18 years. As I read the passage, it occurred to me that what had happened in that moment in the bathroom was the same as what had happened to that other woman so long ago. I too had been crippled by a spirit of infirmity for 18 years. And in just one instant, the words of Jesus had set me free.
In the four years that have gone by since that bathroom encounter, I’ve had many moments where I could so easily have slipped back into my old mindset of thinking that I’m not beautiful because of how I look physically. I went through another massive weight gain at the height of my thyroid disease struggles in 2011, followed by another drastic weight loss, and then another gain…yo-yo-ing constantly until eventually being healed of the disease (a story for another time). I’m still not where I would like to be with my weight…and my skin is not as clear as society says it should be to deem me ‘one of the beautiful ones’. Still, I’m happy.
Yes, right now I could do with losing a few kilos. But my desire to improve the physical appearance of my body is because in doing so I will gain greater health. It isn’t healthy to have the waist circumference I currently have. I need to make changes in my diet and daily activities in order to better handle the demands of being a mother of such a large family. But should I find myself in a position where the weight loss just isn’t happening for whatever reason. I know that it’s ok. No matter what shape, size or colour I am…no matter whether my skin is perfect, or blemished…it’s ok.
I am beautiful on the inside. And I am beautiful on the outside. My heavenly Father told me so!
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