I’m not a YouTuber, but a couple days ago I imagined I was.
On the floor in front of a camera filming one of those Q&A videos, I read the question, “How has your body image changed since getting married?”
Here is my answer in a blog post (or seven). This is the first of a seven part series of scribbled notes, stories, struggles, and truth I’ve discovered about body image since marrying someone who sees me all the time. With my history in this area, I didn’t have a head start so I’ve had a lot to learn.
Disclaimer: This is not the equivalent of a glossy magazine article in a hip font saying, “Quick Tips for Amazing Body Image!” I am writing this because I am the worst at it, but I’m working on it.
The waistband of my green Nike running shorts were stained in sweat.
My body crying for a shower after a jog in the Texas humidity. On the balls of my Hoka tennis shoes, I bounced up the stairs, whooshed the door behind me, but paused for half a second.
Should I lock him out?
I glanced at my fingers circling the brass knob and didn’t. Left the button unpressed, let go, grabbed my bathrobe on the hook above it, and squeaked on the hot water.
How did I become the girl who hides from her husband? He’s never hurt me. Not physically. Not verbally.
I’m hiding from his eyes. Those muted brown and green eyes, pinched kindly at the corners and peeking above a rusty red beard. I should trust him.
Instead I believe this: If he sees me he will not love me. You can’t let him see you.
I got married 10 months ago, but for the past 10 years of my life I’ve been in a toxic relationship with my body. My first summer in college was spent in a treatment center for my eating disorder. Some people—and I was one of them—think eating disorders can be cured how my mom wished it would, by “eating a hamburger.” I found out the hard way there’s no surgery for it. There’s no a pill labeled, “Anti-eating disorder medication.” It’s a disease of relationship and break-ups are hard.
By God’s grace I’ve healed a lot since then, but I can’t be passive about. I have to fight it every day with my body as the battleground for the war over how I see myself. In my eyes it’s so muddied, so distorted, so twisted, so broken I can’t trust myself with it. How can I trust anyone else?
This is why the most vulnerable part of me is my body. For some people the most vulnerable thing about them is their emotions. Or an addiction. Others it’s their past. Or a weakness. Or a secret. Mine is the body I’m in.
People think I am a nice girl, but I fight the urge to flick off men who stare at me.
It’s always been like this. Boys in trucks. Men on sidewalks. Who cat call. Who crane their necks. Who strategically situate to get a better look at places I can’t myself.
I have a strategy too. It’s when I take my shirt off in front of the bathroom mirror before a shower. My eyes are disciplined, steady along countertops to avert eye contact from the mirror in all the fabric and movement. If I catch a flash of an unflattering area of my body, the knife of shame is poised my back and I’m hostage again. I’m scared of that. I hide from myself.
The middle finger feels right because I feel robbed by them.
A whitetail deer in headlights is probably less overwhelmed than I was whenever I’d remember that marriage means one of those men, a full blown semi-trucker man, will be seeing me—all the time and crushingly close.
There was one afternoon, I think a few days after our first Christmas as a married couple, when we had gotten back from the airport and AJ wanted to mess around. His hazel eyes sparkled as he started to take my shirt off, but I stiffened my wrist to the hem of it. My eyes welled.
“What’s wrong?” AJ asked, a little thrown off.
“I-I just feel ugly.” Still full from Christmas food and feeling sluggish from the hours of lounging and travel, I was sure I was unlovable. You can’t see me like this.
In the early months of marriage, it felt like ripping a band-aid off every time I was seen. I’d turn my cheek and comforter to my side of the bed, exhausted from exposure of the wound I had covered for so long.
It’s taken a lot out of me to be looked at in marriage, and I want to clarify that being seen isn’t just in sex. It’s my wet hair out of the shower. My patchy pink face after washing it. Changing into pajamas after dinner. My bangs clipped back from my face. The zit on my shoulder. The cellulite in my calves when I kneel to look at the zinnias. The lines on the back of my thighs from sitting on metal restaurant chairs.
How can he see this and love me?
I see this and hate me.
My natural reaction is to hide, but in marriage I can’t trust my instincts.
“Come, my shy and modest dove—leave your seclusion, come out in the open. Let me see your face, let me hear your voice. For your voice is soothing and your face is ravishing.” Song of Songs 2:14 MSG
Jesus would remind me of this when I was single. He would hold my cheeks in his hands, but I couldn’t let him look at my face. Slowly, slowly, I let him. He let me know it is possible.
“Lord, You have searched me and You know me.” Psalms 139:1
We cannot hide from God. Though I am clearly Eve’s sister with oversized tees for outdated fig leaves.
Here’s the scary beautiful truth: In order to be fully loved you must be fully seen.
To someone like me it seems contradictory. I’ve believed Satan’s lies that say if you let Love look at you it will hurt. The lie says you don’t know for sure that Love is capable to look past your ugliness. You might be rejected. So I reject myself first. Close the door. Shut off the lights. Bury myself in the blindness.
Marriage echos our relationship with God. Hiding is what hurts. There isn’t anywhere to hide for long and all it does is keep me from love. If you want to be fully loved, you must be fully seen.
Love looks brown and green to me.
The eyes of my husband love me no matter what they see. They absorb my flaws and never change color. They are not shocked or disgusted. They are safe. They look nothing like mine.
Not hiding heals. I don’t know how, but somehow it does.
The less I hide, the more love I find. Though I still have to resist the urge to flick him off every now and then.
But hopefully now I’m a little bit easier to find.