By Maryn H.
My friend Katie was having a pool party to celebrate her 12th birthday and I was thrilled to be going. Swimming was always a good time and this pool had a diving board and everything!
Getting out of the car with my mom, I was all ready to go with my swimsuit on under my clothes and a towel under my arm. Most of the girls were already there and sitting at a picnic table together laughing and talking.
As I walked up to my friends, one of them loudly exclaimed with that particular pointed look that only girls seem to master: “It’s Maryn – I can’t wait to see what she looks like in a swim suit…” And all of my friends laughed.
And all of my friends laughed.
I have never been petite. Thumbing through pictures from my childhood reveals a transformation from chubby-cheeked, fair-haired baby to broad-shouldered, tall-for-her-age girl with short ash-blonde hair. Up to this point in my life, I was rather proud of my big shoulders and height.
My strong shoulders meant I was good at the butterfly stroke, had well-defined arm muscles and a flat stomach (my chest was just about as flat, but I didn’t mind in the slightest). That moment at the swimming pool changed my self-perception almost instantly.
My mom, who heard and saw it all, was angry and offered to take me home. I shrugged and managed to sort of laugh while blinking hard to keep the tears out of my eyes and saying of course I would stay.
The other girls felt bad about laughing at me and tried to make up for it by being extra friendly, but the damage was done. Eventually, I did take off my shorts and T-shirt, but all from the safety of my big beach towel. The rest of the party, I hovered near the pool in my towel, but never went in.
I hovered near the pool in my towel, but never went in.
If I had to guess, I’d say many girls go through a similar experience in which they realize that their bodies are not just a useful tool for playing, swimming, dancing and enjoying life, but also a target for criticism and ridicule.
At some point we begin comparing our bodies to everyone else’s bodies and finding fault. We become more and more dissatisfied with our appearance and do all sorts of things to try to cope with our feelings of ugliness.
Ironically, one of the things we do is to start looking for the faults in other people’s bodies. As if by thinking “Well, I may be fat, but at least I’m not as fat as that girl!” we somehow make ourselves more attractive. Or, if we can’t find something physically unattractive about another girl, we find some character flaw or other perceived defect that we can latch onto.
After that day at the pool, I began the long journey through high school thinking I had an ugly body that I should be ashamed of. I hid my body in baggy clothes and thick sweatshirts. I avoided swim suits at all costs and almost never wore shorts even on the hottest of summer days. By the time I was eighteen, I was pretty nearly convinced that no one would ever think I was beautiful or want to marry me.
By the time I was eighteen, I was pretty nearly convinced that no one would ever think I was beautiful or want to marry me.
When I was 20, I started to get to know Jonathan. He was four years older than me and I had known who he was for years without ever really knowing him. Honestly, I didn’t really think anything of him at all.
I was too hopelessly infatuated with one particular boy all through high school and my first two years of college to pay attention to anyone else. When I finally gave up on my obsession, I was actually thrilled to be emotionally free from any boy at all!
So when Jonathan started to show signs of interest, I was not particularly willing to give him a chance. Especially since I thought he was nice, but kind of odd and funny-looking.
Fortunately, when he did finally ask me on a date after months of hanging out in group settings, I didn’t have the heart to hurt his feelings by saying “no”.
Our first date went okay. We saw a movie and it turned out he was really easy to talk to. He later confessed that he was worried that I wasn’t going to talk at all (a justified concern since I have always been rather shy and quiet) which is why he chose a movie instead of dinner for our first date. On our second date, we went to dinner and were the last customers in the restaurant – oblivious to the fact that it was closing time.
After that, I liked him better and better and found him more and more attractive. He no longer seemed funny looking or odd. In fact, I began to think he was beautiful – in a manly way of course.
That isn’t to say I didn’t notice anything objectively unattractive about him. I just began to see those things as completely unimportant and even as lovable and beautiful in their very imperfection.
I gained ten pounds our first year of marriage. I worried he would see me as fat and ugly. He didn’t.
I got pregnant and gained forty pounds, twenty of which I kept after giving birth along with stretch marks, wider hips and various other changes. I was sure that he would no longer be interested in my body. He was.
Throughout all these changes, my husband loved me and continued to think I was beautiful and attractive. He never once said or did anything that made me believe otherwise.
Lo and behold, after our second child was born, I didn’t find myself thinking of my extra ten pounds of flabbiness as hideous and unlovable. After our third child was born, I was able to look at myself, see that I was overweight and flabby and scarred, and somehow still think “I’m beautiful”.
What I have gradually come to realize is that I am beautiful no matter what happens to my body. That beauty comes from being loved. It took my husband to show that to me, but it was there from before I was even born. It was there in the love God has always had for me.
What I have gradually come to realize is that I am beautiful no matter what happens to my body.
I can’t say I’m completely cured of low self-esteem and negative body image. However, I can say that I feel happier with my overweight, out-of-shape, stretched and scarred body than I ever was with my body when it was a healthy weight and in decent shape.
My husband has been a window through which I can see the unchanging, unconditional love of God. That love is what has been gradually helping me to stop comparing my body with the “more beautiful” bodies I see every day.
My husband has been a window through which I can see the unchanging, unconditional love of God.
God’s love is the kind of love that I want to receive, and the love I want to give. I used to think that I am only as loveable as my body is beautiful. In fact, it is just the opposite: I am beautiful because I am loveable.
And guess what? We are all loveable. Every single person on this planet is perfectly loved by God – and that love makes them beautiful.