In May 2014, at the tail end of a semester abroad, I solo backpacked across Ireland for two weeks. I became fixated on the idea of doing this trip after I read an article about the Dingle Peninsula—a stretch of land stationed on the western coast that you can hike the full length of in a little over a week. The hike involves walking from village to village, each daylong trip ranging from 10 to 20 miles. I chose three days for the parts of the hike I wanted to do and set off with my hot pink running shoes and a $5 Primark raincoat.
There were many challenges about this trip that I very naively didn’t foresee, but the hardest and most emotionally taxing was how difficult it was for my body. I was out of shape and ill-prepared and the hills of the Irish countryside were much more demanding than I anticipated. On my last hiking day I walked 18 miles on a beach. I thought I would finally find some relief on flat ground, but it was grueling and I was in tears for more than half of it. I had planned for something adventurous and worthwhile and my body was insufficient in aiding me in those things. That trip lit a fire in me, and shortly after I got home I made a list of all the hopes I had for my body. I wanted to hike Machu Picchu and outdoor rock climb and feel comfortable in a bathing suit on a beach. I didn’t want to be held back or limited because my physical health never made its way up from the back burner of my life.
When I started losing weight at the end of 2014 it was the perfect storm of healing. By the sheer grace of God, I began running and seeing a therapist at the same time, and I wholeheartedly believe both of those things by themselves would have caused me to crumble. I don’t think I could have walked through deep emotional trenches without having a way to relieve aggression readily available to me, and I don’t think I would have stopped downing cartons of ice cream at a time if I didn’t learn to quit numbing and process my feelings.
I had tried to lose weight a million times a million different ways before this, and they all involved a sort of “all or nothing” mentality. Either going to the gym 6 days a week and eating only lettuce or consuming all the sugar in my house when I screwed up and worked out for one less hour than I planned to. Not only is this mindset built entirely on the back of self-shaming, but it also causes burnout and is perhaps the best way to ensure failure. Shame is a terrible motivator.
This time though, my motivation was almost exclusively to get healthy and strong. I wanted to make good choices for myself. I made small baby steps of progress instead of subscribing to the Get Fit Fast culture that is constantly seducing us. I wasn’t spurred into striving for the perfect body by the thought that boys might find me acceptable if I just got down to 120 pounds. I felt deeply connected to God and myself when I was doing things that strengthened my body. I learned how to cook real recipes and I didn’t deny myself ice cream with friends. I cried the first time I ran for eight minutes straight because it felt like redemption and the culmination of a million hard choices. It hasn’t always been true, but it is now sweet for me to remember the first six months of getting healthy. I have never been more connected to the importance of health, and disconnected from the idea of being a certain weight, than I was when I first started running. It reminds me of the pure truth I was choosing to hold onto even as an overweight, emotionally turbulent 22 year old—my body is enough.
Lately, the idea of being enough has been at the forefront of my mind. When I start striving and becoming super anxious about a multitude of things throughout the day, it is usually an indicator that I am believing my value comes from external things instead of being something I innately possess. In all areas of my life, I have to start asking the question “am I doing this thing out of a place of already believing I am enough or am I trying to earn my enough-ness through this thing?” This is an incredibly potent question we need to ask ourselves in our relationships with our bodies.
“Am I working out because I believe my body is important and loved and deserves to be taken care of or am I working out to achieve importance and love and care that I don’t believe I already have? Am I denying myself chocolate because I am being a good steward to this vessel that has been entrusted to me or do I believe that 5 less pounds will ensure my worth?” Your body is enough right now, as is, no exceptions. Being enough is not something that you earn, it is just something that you are. It does not fluctuate with your weight. I believe it is a call on our lives to take care of our bodies, and that health is so important for reasons that don’t involve jean size, but it is absolute fact that your body’s value does not increase or decrease based on what it looks like.
And clearly (cc: my last two blog posts), I do not believe these things perfectly. It is easy for me to spiral down into the if this, then worth mentality. If my hair was blonder, if I had fewer acne scars, if my abs were more defined, if I just lost ten more pounds then I would finally feel worthy in my physical appearance. The if this, then worth mentality is a moving target and nothing will ever be good enough for it. My hair will never be blonde enough, my skin never clear enough, my abs never defined enough, my weight never low enough to convince me that I am enough—because those things were never meant to give me value.
Please hear me: being a certain weight won't fix your problems. Achieving what you think is the ultimate standard of beauty will never satisfy your longing to be known and loved. Getting the right job, marrying the right person, becoming financially stable will never fulfill your desire for importance. It is my hope, and the hope of the God who made you, that you believe that you are enough right now, as is, no exceptions.