“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18
Living with Body Image Dysmorphia is like walking through life with an unflattering mirror chasing you – you try to avoid the mirror, but it follows you everywhere you go, taunting and teasing you like bullies on the play yard. You are throwing sticks and stones at yourself, and they hurt. They bruise your vision and make you want to retreat to the world of hooded sweatshirts, downcast eyes and social avoidance. Anything to not be seen. Anything to avoid those clown mirrors that frighten you with the message that you are fat and ugly, not worthy of the world around you. Your clothes feel tighter than they actually are, your movements clumsy and your reflection treacherous – and worst of all, you feel exposed and embarrassed, like your insecurity is on display for all to see and mock. When you feel unwell in your own body, every time you face a mirror feels like facing a monster and you are desperate for a different way to live.
Often, in this condition, your one recourse is your perfectionism. Physically you may be a disappointment, you may take up too much space, but you can placate – at least temporarily – these failures by refusing to fail anywhere else in life. It is how you earn your place in the world – your right to belong and to be seen. The problem with perfectionism is that it is an addiction and a numbing agent to the real pain and hurt you fear so deeply, strengthening the fear itself as you commit to fleeing from it.
Perfectionism is in many ways a drug, a displacement tool to distract you from really facing your inner fears and the deepest question you must face and answer if you want to live a life that is beautiful and fulfilling: do you matter? Perfectionism tells you that you do as long as you work hard and do everything right – that it is then that you are deserving of worth and value. Perfectionism convinces you that you can earn love and earn your place in this world, but the thinking is fundamentally flawed, because, well, those things that you are seeking through perfectionism are impossible to obtain because they already belong to you.
It took me years to see that perfectionism was blinding me. I didn’t realize that it was keeping me in the toxic fog of body dsymorphia and that it was blindly throwing me into a state of desperation, on a constant search to belong and matter. Thanks to years of emotional wrestling, vulnerable journaling and personal development work, I realized that I actually had belonged the whole time. I belong and I always have. I belong because I am uniquely and perfectly who God created me to be. I am loved and I belong, not because of how I look, what I do or how productive or successful I am, but simply because God loves me. The creator of the universe has moved the world for me – and for you – and He loves us beyond anything we can humanly comprehend. As I learned more and more about God’s love for me, I learned just how seeped in fear my life had been – that is, after all what perfectionism is based in, fear. It is fear of not being enough, of not being worthy, of not mattering, and it is false.
Thankfully, God takes our seasons of fear and of struggle and turns them into moments of transformation. Like a sculptor to a stone, He chisels away our dust, our dirt, our blocks that hinder our beautiful transformation. It feels like we are breaking, but the process is quite the opposite, it isn’t destroying us, it is creating us. The chiseling hurts, I know firsthand, but in retrospect, ten years later, I understand that God was breaking me down – from a stone into a diamond. Chunks of me had to fall, it had to be chiseled away, removed for the diamond of my heart to shine, for me to be fully confident in my skin God had given me so that I might pursue my purpose without chains or restrains to burden me. He lightened my load and made me shine.
During my season of breaking and chiseling, no one else was able see my invisible monster, that is, my body dysmorphic reflection, making the burden that it dredged down on me even more exhausting to my spirit. The challenge to be free was complicated by the fact that my battle was invisible and seemingly ungrounded, but it was real to me, and I felt like a stranger in my own skin. At the time, intellectually I knew my mind was warped and that it was lying to my heart. I knew my eyes were distorted and that I didn’t see what was actually there, but I couldn’t break the cycle and just accept myself for who I was. Everyday life felt like a constant circus and I spent all of my emotional energy flailing to maintain the facade that I had established that I had everything together and under control. The shame of my secret inner life saddened me and I did my best to keep the world from knowing the real me, to save them the disappointment.
Thankfully, the more I ran away, the more I ran smack dab into the inconvenient truth that I was exhausted and that eventually I would have to find a different way to live. The blanket of depression, the big sweatshirts, the perfectionism when in public were all temporary solutions to a more permanent problem … the problem of what I actually believed about God and what I believed about myself.
Fear doesn’t come from God. It fills our hearts with shame, worry, anxiety, loneliness, frustration, hopelessness and aggression. Fear paints over our eyes, tricking us into believing that we are unworthy of love. Our enemy loves it when we live in fear. It takes us out of the game of life, it takes us away from being a light for good in this world. Fear paralyzes us. It steals life away from us and renders us without influence and impact on the world around us. Fear turns the brightness within us into darkness. We go from being diamonds that sparkle as reflections of God’s indescribable love to rocks covered with dust, unnoticeable along the path. Surrounded by darkness, we often stay stationary, for we lose sight of the power of light. We must seek out the light and we must fight the darkness with all our might. You don’t need to have a complete store of energy to start fighting, you just have to be willing to fight. As soon as you stand up to darkness, the light of love will fuel you and fill your heart with the ability to keep pressing on.
Love is light. Love drives out all fear. It drives out the darkness. It energizes. It changes people. It changes the mirror. It gives you the ability to see your reflection for what it is: a beautiful child of God.
When you find yourself in the darkness of your own solitary confinement, saturate your mind with love. Go be with someone you love. Let them know that you aren’t feeling 100% yourself, that you’re battling some darkness internally and you just need to be around love. If you don’t have anyone close by, watch or listen to something uplifting and then journal your emotions in a love letter to God.
Body dysmorphia and body image insecurities may speak silently to others, but they are the loudest voices in the lives of those who suffer under their realm. I write and share my experience because I want others to know that they are not alone. I need them to know that there is light and love on the other side of the darkness that feels too thick to ever make it through, and I need them to know that God created them exquisitely and with purpose. It is when we choose the light, and let ourselves be chiseled into the diamonds we are – to allow our suffering to make way to strength – that we see beauty differently, not simply within ourselves, but also in relation to the world around us. It is in the act of living beautifully that we can subsequently free ourselves from the lingering shackles of perfectionism that hold us back from full engagement and full joy. A life that shines light makes every monster in the mirror that ever existed disappear for good.
You have a beautiful light within you, it was put in you by God Himself and it matters, the world is waiting for it to shine. Let it shine by leaning into love. Love will always drive away the shadows of fear. It’s time to come out of the shadows and start living the life you were designed to live.
PS > If this post resonated with you and you want personalized coaching on overcoming body image issues, body dysmorphia or self-doubt, I would love for you to consider joining me in The College of Confidence or as a one-on-one coaching client. Don’t hesitate to comment or email me directly (trish [at] trishblackwell.com) with any questions – I am ready to help you stop feeling stuck in the shadows and to help you stop hiding from the world. You were created for so much more and God wants so much more for you too!