“You are precious and honored in my sight. . . .” (Isaiah 43:4).
I wasted a year of high school starving myself. Tall is fine when you’re 30-something, but back then my 5-foot 9-inch healthy frame didn’t fit the tiny sophomore cheerleader mold, and I concluded I must be a big girl.
I was a smart girl, too, who should’ve known better. Straight A’s looked great on college applications, but they did nothing to enhance the mirror image. So I did what good overachievers do. I set a goal. My goal was to be skinny—and I chased it with gusto.
For breakfast, I rationed exactly half a cup of cereal because the box said one serving was four ounces and by golly, I was going to follow the rules. At lunch I stopped joining my friends in the cafeteria for fear I might be tempted to devour something hearty like an orange or a carton of milk. Instead, I packed two slices of bread in a baggie and shoveled them into my mouth before English class while no one was looking. After school, I avoided the family dinner table and snuck a plain baked potato into my room where I silenced a gnawing stomach with homework. Such was my routine, day after dieting day.
The weight dropped, yes. I shed 15 pounds and got compliments from people who noticed a slimmer physique but not my low blood sugar jitters or crashing energy. Their praises only propelled my insanity. I convinced myself that constant hunger pangs were a good feeling.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that phase of high school, until a few weeks ago when I read another mom blogger’s bulimia story. Poor thing, she’s got issues, Present Me said. But then all of a sudden these memories came busting out of their mental cage, and I saw Past Me posting a “No Eating” sign in her locker, slipping down the same road to destruction as the sad skeleton girls and purgers who ended up in a hospital.
I never made it that far, though. I snapped out of it. How? Why?
At first I couldn’t remember—that’s how deep I buried my high school reel. Did I reclaim some sense on my own? Did I just give up one day and order a pizza? And then I saw it—a memory clear as yesterday.
I was 16 years old, crumpled like a rag doll on my bedroom carpet, dripping exhausted tears into long locks of strawberry blonde. My mom sat beside me, speaking gently. You are not ugly. Eating is not failure. A hot dog will not kill you. Starvation will. Do I have to check you into the fourth ward, Becky? Let the hunger go. Come back to us.
My mom detected the signs. She was watchful. She knew my heart, and she understood the lie.
Smaller is better. Skinny girls win. Beauty above brains.
What a load of garbage.
Now. I’m not suggesting we should all toss our kids a pack of Ho-Hos for breakfast. I’m on board the good nutrition train like any wise momma. But—I have two daughters. Lord help me, I do not want them to grow up believing their worth is found in a pair of size 2 jeans. My mom had the wisdom and the courage to pull me off the ledge. Do you know what that tells me? Moms matter in this area.
As parents, we can make the difference in how our children see themselves. Am I painting a biblical picture of true beauty for my girls? Do I emphasize their value in God’s sight above all else? For my friends with sons—are you training your boys to build character before muscle? To admire a girl’s faith more than her figure?
And what comments do we make about our own weight, shape, hair, flaws? Filtered through young ears and minds, a mother’s attitude can either combat or affirm the cultural lie that pretty is paramount.
These days, I have no problem popping a few cookies every once in a while. I feed them to my kids, too—although usually not until they’ve swallowed the prerequisite broccoli, of course. We’re thankful for abundant food, and we want to be good stewards of it. Maybe our mealtime prayers should go one step further and thank God for what food is not.
It is not our boss.
It is not the measure by which we are accepted.
It is not the thing that ruined my life—thanks, in great part, to my mom.