September 17, 2018

Beauty Sickness

I'm not really sure how to start this post, but I know that I need to write it. The other night as I was laying in bed, my brain would not shut off. All kinds of thoughts in regards to this post were flooding my brain, it was sort of magical in a way. One thought would flow into another and another and another. It was amazing!

I guess I should start with what brought these thoughts to the surface. I participated in a conference earlier this year where a woman by the name of Renee Engeln spoke, she is a professor at Northwestern University. I was intrigued by the things that Renee was sharing. When I learned that Renee had recently written a book, Beauty Sick, I knew I needed to read it. I checked it out at my local library and devoured it. I read parts of the book out loud to Andy and we were both floored by the things we were reading and learning.

Over the years Renee has conducted A LOT of interviews and done a lot of research studies involving women and girls from varying demographics. Throughout her book she cites research that has been done worldwide regarding women and how they view themselves and other women. What she discovered was that as a culture we have a big problem, we tend to base a woman's worth off of how beautiful she is. Beauty is considered power and is something that is highly sought after. While this may not seem like a bad thing, it is. It leads to depression, disordered eating, bad spending habits, it takes up brain space-- meaning that we focus so much on how we as women look that we aren't thinking about the things that truly matter and are of importance in life.

Think about it for a minute, how often do you find yourself adjusting your clothes? How often do you look in the mirror? How much time do you spend getting ready? How much money do you spend on clothes and makeup? Do you read beauty magazines? Do you obsess over calories? How much time do you spend working out?

Now take a moment and think about what else you could have spent that time and money on?

Are you starting to see the problem? It's called Beauty Sick and it is a real thing.

One of the things I noticed in the interviews that Renee conducted was that every girl and woman she interviewed had a story. They could tell you when they first became aware that it was important to be beautiful and how that affected them. For the majority of the women this awareness happened when they were going through puberty. It was often times brought on by comments they overheard other women making or a comment that was directed specifically to them. This caused me to pause and think about my own life.

Beauty Sick Timeline:

The earliest recognition I have came when I was in Kindergarten, I would have been 5 or 6 years old. I wear glasses for reading and a boy on the bus called me four eyes.

During 4th Grade we moved and I started attending a new school. A group of girls in my class were "The Spice Girls" and they wanted me to bring my athletic clothes to school so another girl could wear them and be Sporty Spice. I wasn't good enough to be in the group.

In 5th Grade I was invited to an end of the school year party/sleepover with the popular girls. They asked each girl present to close her eyes and they would tell her what animal she looked like. Some girls were told that they looked by bunnies or peacocks, I was told that I looked like a possum-- that stung. I quickly learned that those were not the type of girls I wanted to be friends with.

By middle school puberty had started, I was self conscious about my developing lady parts and didn't want people (especially boys) to know that my body was changing.

In P.E. we had to run a lap around the track each day and I was usually the first girl to finish. Some of the older kids would yell at me, "Run anorexic girl run!" I had what we like to call the "Noack Skinny Gene." I was constantly hungry and I would eat all the time. It didn't matter what I ate, I could not gain weight.

High school was brutal in some respects. My brother was a wrestler and they didn't have anyone to wrestle in the lower weight classes, I was small enough that they tried to recruit me-- I declined. Cross country was my sport. One day our coach decided to measure our body fat, he didn't like that I was 18% body fat. I didn't eat junk food for two weeks and dropped down to 12% body fat. Hindsight is 20/20 and I didn't realize that trying to cut body fat isn't necessarily a good thing.

High school also came with lots of comments from those close to me that I needed to dress more feminine, that I looked anorexic and that I would want plastic surgery someday.

I let those hurtful comments roll off my shoulders. I didn't care what anyone thought of me. I was happy just being me.

During my college years I found myself in a bit of a different situation, I found myself living with someone who made it their personal business to point out all the things they thought were wrong with my body. I was told nearly everyday for four months that I was fat and that I had a stomach. This particular individual would proceed to parade around and talk about how sexy they were.

Up to this point I had only ever been called fat once in my life, but after hearing it everyday for months I began to believe it. I would look at myself in the mirror and think, if so and so says I'm fat then I must be fat. I soon found that I was putting myself down and criticizing the way I looked. I wasn't happy and emotionally I wasn't in a very good place.

I began seeing a counselor for other reasons and she suggested that I start doing the things I loved again. I began hiking, writing and exercising again. Zumba became of source of not only physical strength but emotional strength as well.

I distanced myself from the person who put me down all the time.

It's taken several years, but I feel like I am finally starting to feel like the younger version of myself. Carefree and happy. I don't dress to impress, I rarely wear makeup and I don't compare and I am happier this way.

Beauty sickness is a real thing. It is important to remember that each and everyone of us is a child of God. We are created in his image. Yes, we may have flaws and imperfections-- but God doesn't make mistakes. Instead of focusing on the things we don't like about our bodies, we should be grateful for the many wonderful things that our bodies can do. Our bodies truly are a gift from a loving Heavenly Father. He didn't create us to be miserable and critical of each other, he created us to have joy. Let's not only be kind to one another, let's be kind to ourselves.