Disclaimer: This blog entry is not about pointing blame at anyone mentioned here, directly or indirectly. It also is not claiming that being overweight is a direct result or the only possible result of a poor self-image. It is not a how-to for fixing one’s self-image. This is simply a retelling of some positive progress I made yesterday with regard to my own personal understanding of who I am. Please read it from that perspective. I could write many more blogs detailing other aspects of this issue, but that’s not my intent here.

Yesterday I read a raw, honest blog called, “The ‘After’ Myth.” It was a blogger’s account of how reaching a weight-loss goal didn’t actually fix her self-image problem; about how learning to love oneself is actually a significantly separate task and loosing weight can’t make that happen [my summary, not hers]. I know that feeling all too well. I once lost 100 lbs in my adult life, and I liked myself for a little while, but it didn’t last. Even though I was a size 6 (granted, with a BMI that was still technically not in the normal range), ran a half marathon, and could wear almost anything I put on in the store, my life didn’t magically change like I thought it would. The first time the guy I liked picked my friend over me, all my underlying feelings of being unloveable returned, and the weight followed. It didn’t come back all at once, but when the feelings returned, it became clear to me that the weight-loss adventure hadn’t accomplished what I was hoping, deep-down, that it would accomplish. I still didn’t love myself.

The thoughts on this amazing young lady’s blog and my subsequent thoughts started bouncing around in my head and colliding with thoughts that were already there from the Priscilla Shirer Simulcast I’d attended earlier in the day. Priscilla Shirer spoke on the topic of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6. She talked about the “helmet of salvation” as more than just receiving the forgiveness of sins by accepting and believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. She reminded me that it’s about a complete change in identity. I am a daughter of God. I know that God raised me up and seated me with Christ in the Heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). I know that I am God’s handiwork (verse 10). And there’s so much more in the Bible about a believer’s new identity in Christ. And I know all that, and have known it for many years, but I don’t live like I know that. Maybe I live outwardly like I know that, but not inwardly. I know that I am rooted in Christ. Verses about being rooted in love and rooted in Christ are painted in murals on my wall, among other places. How can I know that my identity is rooted in Christ and still not love myself, all myselves (past, present, future Robbye), like I should?

Instead of slowing down at the end of my day, my brain started moving faster and trying to process what the Lord was putting right in front of me. I needed to look more carefully at a particular question: “When did I stop loving myself?”

In late March and early April I had a Facebook profile picture of my dad holding me when I was just a few weeks shy of 1 year old, at Christmas 1978. I love that picture for my look of pure joy, my dad’s red hair (I only remember gray), and the way that my dad was looking at me adoringly when the picture was snapped. I can remember other baby pictures and pictures of little Robbye that I think are super cute. I love her. When did I stop loving myself?

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I remember the disapproval of other people as early as 5 years old. Around that age there was a neighbor of the lady who kept me after school who told me I was such a “cute, little, fat kid.” I distinctly remember recoiling in my head at her words. I’m not sure what I said or did outwardly. I also remember being in a “fashion show” at a local department store where my mom worked and we got to pick out a new outfit in the store to model. I think I was 6 years old or less, but I honestly can’t place it in my history. I loved my new outfit and I wasn’t embarrassed to be on the stage, but I vaguely remember noting that I wasn’t the same size as all the other kids that participated. I was super young and I didn’t feel that different than others on the inside, but it seemed that I wasn’t measuring up for some reason. I played outside, rode my bike, walked to the country store down my road, and went to dance class like any other kid. I just wasn’t ever particularly tiny.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal last night:

I remember the first picture of myself that I recall hating. Perhaps there were earlier ones, but this one doesn’t require a photo album for me to remember it. It’s etched in my brain. It was my 4th grade school picture. I had forgotten that it was school picture day and was wearing a light pink t-shirt from my dance studio. I pulled my hair down from a ponytail, so it had the tell-tell wave of recent captivity in it. The worst part, and the part that I recall hating most, was that my body had begun to mature and I hadn’t yet been taught to wear a bra. I remember thinking that I looked unkept and misshapen, though maybe not in those words exactly. I remember instead the intense emotions that I felt when I saw myself; embarrassment, shame, and hate, to name a few. I hated that picture and I hated myself.

It only got worse from there. There was the kid in 5th grade who told me, with disgust in her voice, that I needed to shave my legs. I didn’t know that I needed to shave my legs. No one told me. I hated myself for not knowing and for having to be told that my legs looked disgusting.

I don’t believe I liked a school picture again until perhaps my senior year. I felt awkward and when I saw my pictures, I hated myself for looking so awkward. Even now, I cringe when I see those pictures because the emotions that I felt then flood into my mind all over again. To be honest, I still cringe at some pictures of me now too.

I think what resonated with me in the blog was that the writer mentions to her readers that she is still the same person in the “Before” pictures as the “After” pictures. My brain yells, “How can that be??” I look back in my mind at myself in all those unloveable years and I don’t love me. I think I look awkward, ridiculous, and utterly unloveable. Where is my sympathy for that young girl? With all the compassion God has gifted me with for others, why can I not see young Robbye (and even current Robbye) for her true identity? Why do I feel that the person in the pictures of my few years as skinny adult Robbye is more valuable than pictures of me now?

I pity young Robbye, and I pity current Robbye. I don’t see her as courageous, loving, kind, gifted, or talented. When I hear compliments along those lines, they bounce off of my view of her. I see her as someone to be pitied. WHY? LORD, HELP ME!

I ended my journal entry with a written prayer and closed the book because my body couldn’t bear to lay propped up on my elbows to write any longer. I lay in bed continuing to think about my former self. I pictured young 4th grade Robbye in her dance studio t-shirt with the wave of a ponytail in her hair. What would I say to her? “Keep dancing, Robbye, because it is through dance that you can express your true self and enjoy your body. You dance well and I know you love it!” How do I know? Because she is me, and I am still her. What would I say to 5th grade Robbye about her unshaven legs? To 6th grade Robbye? I continued to picture myself each year (I’m very visual), allowing images from each year to flood my mind. Images of my friends, my successes and giftings, and the joys. I refused to let in those awkward or embarrassing memories that usually surface when I consider those years. I continued to speak to my past self, congratulating her on being who God created her to be at each age, pointing out her courage or compassion as she walked through tough times personally or with her friends. I reminded her that it wasn’t anyone else’s thoughts or opinions that mattered. [She always knew that, in her head, but I told her anyway.] It helped her to hear those things, and it helped current Robbye to see younger Robbye in light of those words. I knew and know, in my head, what the Lord thought and thinks of me, but I was the one who needed to apply those things and say them to myselves so that I might believe my own words.

Lest you think I’ve had a psychotic break, I’ll return to speaking of myself in the first person and as one person. This morning I can look back at my younger years and swell with pride. I don’t think it’s the harmful or self-elevating kind of pride, but rather just a level of pride that indicates that I am happy with who I am, who I have always been. I suspect I will need to remind myself of all of this in the near future. Thought patterns don’t change quite that easily overnight, but it is a relief to wake this morning with a fresh view of myself (all of myselves). I know I will need to rehearse my identity often, to remind myself who I truly am in Christ. Hopefully I can believe it more easily now, with the Lord’s help, of course!

For the Christians out there: What are your favorite verses from the Bible about our identity in Christ? For those who aren’t familiar with what the Bible teaches about our identity: What do you love about yourself, in the healthy sense of self-love?

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