If I could put a soundtrack to my battle with eating and appearances, this song would certainly be on it:
All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough
Never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it’ll
Never be enough
Never be enough
”Never Enough” from the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman
When it comes to your appearance, I’ve found that you can have everything you want – and it will never be enough. I’ve lost many years of my life to an eating disorder that never delivered the security it promised.
The quest for an impossible appearance affects the majority of women in America, and the battle starts young:
- Girls in their teens are most likely to develop eating disorders
- One survey found that as many as 91% of college-aged women try to control their weight through dieting.
- Over 50% of teenage girls use restrictive measures to lose weight at any given time.
- 75% of all American women endorse some unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies  according to a study by SELF magazine and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
No matter how you slice it, these percentages are high.
Over the years of working in the ministry with teenagers and young women, I’ve found that the quest for a perfect appearance affects women spiritually as well as emotionally and physically. I’ve also found that winning this battle requires spiritual tools; no amount of human effort has ever led to lasting change for me. I can’t just tell myself not to care about my appearance – it doesn’t work.
The only way I’ve found to end the quest for an impossible appearance is to fight it back with three truths:
- Living for your appearance will never be enough
- Living for your appearance has a dark side
- You need something bigger to fight for than how you look
Living for your appearance will never be enough
Charm can fool you. Beauty fades. But a woman who has respect for the LORD should be praised.
Proverbs 31:30 NIrV
I wrestle constantly with giving up control over my appearance and my weight. Who would want to be fat or ugly? But having a spiritual perspective about your appearance is not about being fat or ugly, it’s about accepting the truth that beauty fades. It was never intended to last forever, and it was never intended to be your source of security. You will get older, whether you like it or not. You will get wrinkles, and you will gain weight. If your appearance is your source of security, you will be insecure.
Insecurity about your appearance manifests itself in many ways. It is constantly checking the mirror, being afraid to go in public if you have a zit on your face, and comparing yourself to and envying other people’s bodies. In more extreme cases, insecurity about your appearance can lead to starving yourself, bingeing and purging, and overexercising, among other things.
One of my favorite Scriptures about body image and appearance is Psalm 107:
Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.  They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away.  Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.  Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind,  for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
Psalm 107:4-6,8-9 NIV
Whenever I have used body image and dieting to try to be happy, I have ended up unsatisfied. Even at my lowest points, I still felt too big. God wants to fill me with the “good things” really need – security, strength, confidence, and love – and these are things that the number on the scale or my jeans size has never been able to provide.
Living for your appearance has a dark side
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Ephesians 5:11 NIV
Here’s what I find is so rarely talked about – what happens to your health when you don’t eat right or take care of your body. Body image and eating issues thrive in darkness; if you tell yourself “I’m just being healthy,” or “I’m just too busy to eat,” you won’t take your battle seriously. But on the contrary, the more you expose the truth of what disordered eating does to your body, the less you’ll want to do it.
Eating disorders take an enormous toll on the body:
- Up to 20% of people who develop Anorexia eventually die from it
- Eating disorders lead to irreversible bone loss as quickly as 6 months after the behaviors start
- As you lose body mass, you also lose muscle mass – including the muscle around your heart. As your heart gets smaller and weaker, it cannot circulate blood effectively. Your pulse and blood pressure drop. These cardiac effects can be life-threatening and set in quickly.
- About half of all anorexics have a low white blood cell count, and one-third are anemic. These conditions will lower your resistance to disease and leave you vulnerable to infections
- Research shows that people underweight due to anorexia score higher for depression, anxiety, and obsessiveness than those with anorexia who had restored weight.
Exposing and facing facts like this has always helped me want to fight against the lie that having a “perfect” appearance will make me happy.
Finding something bigger to live for
Ultimately, one of the most helpful tools for me in my battle against living for my appearance is finding something bigger to live for. What kind of person do you want to be? What do you want to be known for?
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV
It helps me to decide to use my energy to fight for my faith in God and internal strength instead of fighting for an unreachable appearance. I know I want to make a difference in the world, and this will take faith as well as physical energy and strength.
What will you use your energy to fight for?