Your appearance does not determine your worth.
It feels revolutionary to say that for a few reasons. The world tells us constantly that we have to look and behave a certain way to be accepted, valuable, and worthy. Our own inner monologues constantly point out our flaws, telling us we’re not good enough. Sometimes even the people around us can make us feel like our appearances are all that matter.
It also feels revolutionary because of my own history. Five and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. For the first few months, recovery meant gaining back the weight I had lost. For the five years after that, it has meant learning and re-learning this simple truth: My worth is not in my reflection, but in Christ.
Eating disorders come in a variety of forms; mine took the form of severely restricting food and overexercising. I thought about food constantly, even dreaming about it, but I wouldn’t let myself eat. People who suffer from eating disorders tend to have perfectionistic tendencies, and I am no exception. I have always hungered for control, and control is exactly what an eating disorder promises. My eating disorder convinced me that I could control how other people saw me by controlling what I ate, but all the while, it was controlling me. I counted carrots, weighed strawberries, and literally dreamed about baked ziti, all the while telling myself, “I’m in control!”
Before too long, my parents noticed something was up. They took me to the doctor, where I was promptly diagnosed with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). For my treatment (which is necessary for mental illness just as much as physical illness!), I met with a team of medical professionals who helped me begin the process of physical and mental recovery. Not only did I have to gain back the weight I’d lost by re-learning how to eat normally, but I also had to learn coping mechanisms for dealing with my eating disorder’s inevitable harsh criticisms and the temptation to relapse.
When I started to recover, I had to let go in a big way. I had to trust that living was better than whatever I was doing (which, looking back now, was certainly not living). I had to trust that my doctors and my parents knew better than this voice in my brain that told me skinny was better at all costs. I had to let go of the idea that I could control my reputation and my life. I had to let my body gain the weight it needed, whatever shape it took, but more than that, I had to admit that I was and am not in control of my life. God is driving. I am in the passenger seat.
The mirror and the scale used to dictate my mood. The number and reflection I saw would leave me either giddy or absolutely horrified. They determined how I ate and how I moved that day. My sense of self was attached to these two things; I truly believed that I was better if I was skinnier.
When I started recovery, I had to reinvent my relationship with the mirror. At first, I tried combating negative body image by naming things I liked about my body and appreciating what it could do. But while acknowledging how the Creator of the Universe made you is never bad, appreciating your body for its appearance or abilities will not bring about lasting joy or satisfaction. Even then, you’re placing your worth in something that changes.
About a year ago, I started running. When I was having bad body image days, I would often say, “I love my body! I’m proud of it because these legs are strong enough to run.” But then I hurt my calf and couldn’t run for two weeks. When my ability to run disappeared, so did my self-confidence, because I was still finding my worth in my appearance and my abilities. Read: I was still finding my worth in myself.
I needed a more radical frameshift. Instead of looking in the mirror and combating bad body image with noticing my best features, I’ve started to look in the mirror, say, “Okay,” and move on. Why? Because my appearance does not determine my worth.
Let me say that again:
Your appearance does not determine your worth.
Eating disorder or not, our bodies can become our identities. They’re the first thing that people notice about us. We’re constantly bombarded by images of models and athletes in perfectly-curated Instagram posts, and it’s so easy to compare ourselves to them. And when we look at ourselves? We scrutinize and criticize, poke and prod, pick out a thousand different things we’re not happy with, and think, “If only I could get rid of X or have Y, I would be so much happier. I would be so much better.”
Reality check (because sometimes you need to fight this battle with a lot of tough love): Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). He sees past your body right into your heart — which is to say, into your sin. He knows your most wicked thoughts, all your doubts and uncertainties, the ugliest parts of you that you don’t reveal to anyone. He knows you fully, which makes it all the more astounding that He loves you fully. But He does. You are both fully known and fully loved, and neither of those things changes when your reflection does. Regardless of your appearance, you are still loved, still redeemed, still justified.
If your worth isn’t in your appearance, where is it? Another word for worth is value: what you would give for something. Well, God gave His Son for you. When you think about the Gospel — about who you are in Christ Jesus, about the fact that you are a Daughter of the King who can come before His throne boldly — your reflection starts to pale in comparison.
I remind myself of this constantly, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out. I weigh more than I did in high school, and to be perfectly honest with you, that does still sometimes bother me. I am continually reminding myself that my identity and my worth rests in Christ.
Our relationships with our appearances are complicated, and in this fallen world, they may always be. But when you’re tempted to look in the mirror and pick yourself apart, remember that your worth does not lie in the mirror. Instead, it lies in Christ, who gave himself for your sins, and in the fact that you were fearfully and wonderfully made by your almighty Father (Psalm 139:14). You are not first and foremost a girl who weighs X pounds or has abs, but a daughter of the King. That won’t ever change, although your body will.
One day, we will get new bodies, and those bodies will be completely perfect and eternally suited to our heavenly calling. Until that day, we are free to look in the mirror and say simply, “This does not define me, because I am a child of God.”