It’s hard to think there’s a woman anywhere on earth who doesn’t DIS-like some part of their body. From flabby arms to skinny legs, cellulite and everything in between, the world filled with picture-perfect cover models further perfected by master makeup and hair artists, tanning beds and posing angles makes us “common girls” feel like we’ll never measure up. Nevermind the hours of photoshop magic performed on the photos before they ever grace the cover of the magazines our boyfriends and husbands drool over while buying tampons and milk in the grocery store isle for their “common” girl at home! While the world sets a really unfair disadvantage on us, we set an even more unfair disadvantage on ourselves… and each other (more on that later).
One of the daughters of a former college athlete, I was the lucky one who got the “muscular build.” Born nearly 10 pounds, I entered the world busting out of newborn jammies and getting stuck in plastic backyard swings. Funny how you never notice anything “irregular” about yourself until you reach the age where children learn the ways of the cruel world around them and start pointing out others who don’t exactly match the mold. I imagine it was about then that I realized that most kindergarten girls don’t have to wear boys shorts to school. It was just the beginning of a beautiful love-hate relationship with my legs that would last several decades and cause more than a few scars along the way.
As humans we are taught that the closer we stay to “the norm” the less we will be noticed. We won’t be ridiculed for being an outcast if we just look and act like everyone else around us. Girls should wear bows and dresses and be gentle and feminine and boys should be rough and tough and strong and masculine. You see, the problem with that is that my father wanted a boy so badly. And the story just goes from there. Anyone who knows me well, knows I didn’t lead a life like most girls. There were few Barbies and even fewer pink ruffle dresses and ballet classes. I didn’t run off with the girls to the movies and make out with boys in the back row. I was too busy learning to clean deer, practicing being better at volleyball and ripping through “skinny leg” jeans (insert eyeroll). For having lived that “ungirl” life so fully, I’m actually quite proud of how feminine I turned out. I’m proud I like boys and makeup and spend 30 minutes putting creams and lotions and coconut oil on my face nightly. Praise Jesus some parts of my mother found their way through. But those legs of Dads… they just didn’t want to abandon me, even after I retired from college volleyball and working out 4-6 hours a day, every day.
In high school I always DREADED jean shopping. Mom and I would go into any department store and grab 87 pairs of jeans, knowing the poor sales lady would be sorely disappointed when we came out with only 2 pairs that actually fit to buy. I hated every minute of it; but I hated every minute of not being able to cover them up so others couldn’t catapult their crude remarks at me even more. I’m not sure whom the kid was in high school that gave me the nickname that would haunt me for decades after and rear its ugly head again just years ago as well; but he certainly never knew the impact his careless words had on me. Running from the locker room to the back girl’s gym for practice one day I passed him and his group of football buddies. Right at that age in middle school where you hated your zit-ridden face and doubted everything about this “woman” thing you were becoming, he threw it out there at me in front of the whole group … “hey Terminator!” And it just stuck. For 5 years he stayed at it, and so did everyone else it caught on to. Football pep rallies in high school, people signing my yearbook – “love you Terminator” – and me playing it off like it didn’t matter to me, like it was just some nickname that everyone gave me and I was ok with it. Fast forward to college when my Terminator legs got me a scholarship to go play volleyball at a major university. Finally recognized as an “athlete” with a body to match, I felt justified in walking around in volleyball bikers with these tree trunks because everyone knew I was a college athlete and, all of a sudden, I wasn’t some weird girl who had the body of a guy like in high school. I’ll never forget leaving Oklahoma that freshman year to come back and meet up with friends at a “pasture party” – old football player friends. Yea, you know where this is going, right? Miles of interstate 35 and a year of college behind us and I still couldn’t shake it. Walking into the party hearing it still sent chills down my spine. It was always noticed in college in Oklahoma too, it just felt less “uncool” because I was an athlete and I had a right of passage as one. Cool points were automatically assigned to me, even if I was anything but.
If I had to shorten this story it just wouldn’t have nearly as much power and authenticity, so hang in there with me, we are getting somewhere. Fast forward about 10 years to my early 30’s. Post college I still stayed very fit, worked out daily and even took up long-distance running. It thinned my legs out some, but there was still no denying whose legs WEREN’T fitting into skinny jeans under that dressing room door. Trust is a funny thing (que Josh Abbott Band lyrics), it gives you this false pretense that people in your life who have both told you and showed you they were in ‘the safe zone’ won’t do things to harm you or make you feel hurt or broken or anything but loved and cared about. So you open up, you share things that you wouldn’t with anyone else – memories, photos, life. Unfortunately, life teaches you that often the heart God gave you isn’t exactly the same as those you might have wrongly instilled trust in. “Gawd look at her legs… she’s like Chyna,” one said. “I know, that’s like a female body builder but without the steroids,” said another. Each time I slip into my running shorts and take off for a workout I can still see every word of the group text. “Innocent fun” shared between a person you trusted with your heart and feelings and a random group of his friends all unaware of the years of “terminator” talk that had haunted you all the years before. Let me be fully clear on one thing – once you have seen things that break both your moral code and your spirit, they are nearly impossible to erase. No matter how much grace you extend, forgiveness you expel or tears you shed… they still haunt you in your darkest moments when doubt sets in and you want to put on that short dress and shine, but you just can’t face the thought of even one person making some off-the-cuff comment about your legs.
Girls, even very close friends of mine, have admired and gushed over them for years … “oh gosh if I could only have your legs, I would trade them for my little skinny ones anyday,” or “oh you are so lucky to have such muscular legs, all mine are is cellulite.” How does that old adage go?… “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Truly, if we are living a grace and faith-filled life, God tells us we should never lust or desire what someone else has; but we all know we are born sinners thankfully saved by the son of God who gave his life so we could know sin and be forgiven for it. Therefore, we sin. We lust. We see Victoria’s Secret magazines and wish we could look more like them. Let me be the first to tell you that the day I switched my focus from (get ready for it, here it comes) lusting after the things I thought were cool, to embracing the two healthy, strong legs God gave me and thanking him for giving me two, beautiful, functional ones…. THAT was the day I stopped hating them so much. Do I still cover them up when I can, wear conservative skirts and shorts and joke about my “thunder thighs” quite a bit – of course. The paramount shift comes when you embrace what is, let go of what you wanted or wished for and make the best of what will and can be. WILL I ever be a size 0 that can rock a pair of skinny jeans like no one’s business… no. Not just no, but hell no. But CAN I run 4-5 half marathons a year even after 4 knee surgeries on the same knee…. Hell yes! Without muscles strong enough to hold the broken parts and pieces of ligament, secured by way too much metal in my knees, I wouldn’t stand a chance making it 3 miles, much less 13. I don’t love them… I probably never will. But I don’t let the memory of Terminator and Chyna paralyze me anymore. When someone points them out, I simply shake my head and gracefully say “it’s a long story, but I have come to love them and be thankful for them.” Whatever might be haunting you in the mirror, nagging at you when you look at that new Elle or Vogue cover, or even reverberating daily when you bake cookies with your incredibly skinny and fit best friend, I challenge you to find a way to own it. To admit that it is an insecurity (hey, admitting something is at least 70% of the battle), grab a pen and paper and write down the 9000 other strengths you have that outweigh that one “weakness” that you have coined the end-all, be-all of your physical self and find a way to love it. Maybe it’s not cover-model worthy, but I bet Tyra Banks feels a lot better about herself now after making thousands of people laugh as a host of a VERY famous TV show than she did eating 1 carrot a day and knowing teenagers all across the world were forming insecurities because Carol was able to photoshop an inch off her stomach. We laugh, but it’s true. Yet still we lust after that photoshopped stomach every time we look in the mirror at ours. Say it with me before we end in prayer… “ambition is good, lust is bad.” It’s ok to seek improvement on the things we know have been better before or could be better with hard work, healthier nutrition, better quality of life. What is NOT ok is stabbing a knife right into the heart of God and hating His creation because someone or something along the way told you it was different… ugly… bad. Stop beating yourself up over body parts that serve no real purpose other than holding another body part on. When your heart starts getting called ugly . . . that’s when we have real problems, and that’s to be left for another blog.
Like I promised in my first blog and like I like to do after all of the personal journaling I do, I’d like to pray with you. Given that this subject is something probably on the hearts and minds of women (and men too) daily, we are going to leave some time at the end for you to insert the personal struggles you might be dealing with and we will cover them in prayer too. Follow along with me – Heavenly Father we are bringing a heavy load to you tonight Lord, so we ask that you meet us with your kindness, grace and guidance like only you can. Father we know that you knew us and loved us even before we were conceived, even before you brought us here to this often-cruel world of the flesh. Lord your word teaches us that we should love one another and treat one another with respect and kindness like you display to us, but we often fail miserably at that. We sharpen our sword instead of laying down our armor and praying for each other. We call names, hurt feelings, judge, admonish, and disgrace your very creation. We are all guilty of it and it is because of this we come to you to cleanse us with your pure love God. With hearts wide open and vulnerability like times we might not have ever known before Lord, we now, in the silence of our hearts ask for you to enter as we pour out the things that are personally troubling us – the insecurities and inadequacies that we face daily. Lord only YOU know the true beat of our heart and can love us completely for exactly who you created us to be; but tonight we ask you to instill in us a Heavenly Might to defend the beautiful creation you made in us- unique in its every facet and feature- and defy the harsh stereotypes of the world. Work miracles over the scars from names we have been called, unfairness and anguish we have suffered at the hands of sinners. Lord create in us not only a pure heart that realizes that no one else’s sin is greater than our own, but we often find clarity through pain and in those moments is when we learn better than ever to truly treat others the way we would want to be treated ourselves.