A number on the scale? Or God's daughter?
I was 12 when I first felt ashamed of my body. Popularity, dreams about high school, boy craziness, celebrity news, and school stress overwhelm the minds of many middle school girls. I know those factors certainly impacted my formative years. What most middle school girls don’t publicly talk about, and what so many hide, is the ongoing struggle with food that connects to the deeper issues of self-image, self-respect, and self-love.
When I opened up about my issues with food to my Sunday School class, I was met with not an ounce of judgment—only love.
I had always been a little bigger, slightly different looking. Eventually, things I was seeing in the media, along with public opinion of girls with larger legs and heftier builds influenced me in a negative way. I had never been self-conscious, but as I looked around and realized I stood out, I couldn’t help but feel inferior.
For almost two years after that, I was in a battle with food. The idea of eating made me hate myself. By the time I was in eighth grade, I had lost close to 50 pounds. I felt blissful when I was starving, and grotesque with food in my stomach. Things got bad enough that people at school and at home began to worry.
But it wasn’t until I’d had a conversation with a teacher, who had noticed my decline and shift in behavior, that I knew I needed to change. She told me I might have an eating disorder like bulimia. That was something that hadn’t even crossed my mind. As soon as a label was put on the problem, I knew I wanted a solution.
After avoiding the Christian Science Sunday School for several months, I felt I was ready to put what I knew about God and my spiritual identity into practice. When I opened up about this problem with food, and about feeling ashamed of my body, to a room full of girls in Sunday School, I was met with not an ounce of judgment—only love.
In fact, my Sunday School teacher stayed and talked with me for almost an hour after class had ended. What most stuck with me was a single, rather simple idea. On page 388 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (an amazing page, full of help for people in situations like the one I was dealing with), Mary Baker Eddy explains, “The fact is, food does not affect the absolute Life of man, and this becomes self-evident, when we learn that God is our Life.”
It was absolutely freeing to know that God, Spirit, was my Life and therefore the only sustaining source, and that both gluttony and starvation are the outcome of mistakenly thinking that our substance and sustenance are material rather than spiritual. This realization sparked a defining thought—the message from God that I needed: Food was only as “evil” as I classified it in my own thought—and it was, in reality, powerless. It couldn’t affect my real identity, which is completely spiritual.
I was not only eating more normally, and looking and feeling healthier, but I was also incredibly happy.
I realized that the time I dedicated to counting calories, worrying about food, and obsessing over the way I looked could instead be used to glorify God. I returned to Sunday School for the rest of the year, pretty much routinely. As I dug deeper into the ideas on page 388, and reflected on the helpful conversations I was having in Sunday School, my progress continued. I was not only eating more normally, and looking and feeling healthier, but I was also incredibly happy. I felt pride, but not egoistic pride. I felt proud to be part of a spiritual community that consistently supports one another. Learning more about God and spiritual reality brought me a new sense of inner peace, which I felt I had lost during middle school.
As I understood more about myself as God’s image, rather than an image in the mirror, I lost the fixation on my appearance as determined by my weight and size. By the time I graduated from middle school, I’d gained back 25 pounds and was a happier, more spiritually-minded, better version of myself.
Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally felt a few of the old thoughts and impulses resurface after a large meal. And every now and then I think, “No, don’t eat that—that’s bad.” The difference is, I now know how to address these thoughts. Instead of retreating in fear and turning to binging, purging, and self-loathing, I turn to God. I listen for what He is telling me about my strong, beautiful nature as His daughter. And I focus on glorifying Him, rather than a number on a scale or my reflection in the mirror. I now know in a whole new way that I am God’s child, and that is more than enough.