Sun soaks in through the car windows, warm on my legs. There is a crisp, blue sky outside, devoid of the many rain clouds that have hovered over my parents’ house the past few days I’ve been home visiting. I sit back and soak in the vivid landscape while my dad is sitting in the driver’s seat, humming an old, familiar hymn. We’re on our way to a father-daughter date at a pizza place in town.
I consider myself one of the luckiest girls alive. My family is built on love and respect, tightly knit with a mutual love for Jesus. My parents are still together after thirty-something years of marriage, and are supportive of my sisters and me without suffocating our independence. My sisters and I are also close, rarely raising our voices at each other, but instead resolving conflicts with productive discussion, albeit tears (we’re girls, what can you expect?). With that, I know that I have a safe haven I can retreat to when the world seems cruel. And that is what makes me lucky.
My parents raised me to be loving, kind, hard working, and honest. That’s not exactly how I actually turned out, but I could have been much worse (that’s what I tell myself at least). When I left my parents’ house, I plunged into an ocean called the world that threatened to drown me with a multitude of other identities. My faith was the life preserve that kept me afloat so I could keep my gaze lifted. But my family was the anchor that kept me from drifting away from my own identity. They were an ever-present reminder of the girl I used to be and the woman I want to become.
I want to be loving, kind, hard working, honest, disciplined, joyful, thankful, generous, gracious, forgiving, and strong, among many other things. I want every aspect of my life to reflect these, because that means those characteristics are the foundations of my core being. Part of that means loving myself.
Loving myself means taking care of myself. It means accepting the body I have been given and maintaining it so that it runs at its best. Feeding it with nutrients to help it thrive. Exercising it to keep it strong. And striving to do what seems nearly impossible: stop comparing it to others. Because somewhere in my mind, there is a voice that reminds me that no one can be better at being myself, than me. If I waste my time striving to be someone else, I have no energy left to reach my own full potential. The false identity will drown me. Who knows who we could become when we are just ourselves?
It would be naïve of me to think that everyone shares my faith and can instantly understand my perspective. People all come from different places, bringing their own luggage. Not everyone is blessed with family, security, health, and love. Not everyone thinks the same way. Yes, I believe that my body was created intentionally by God and because of that I want to take care of it. But I encourage you to think of what motivates you. It’s perfectly fine, and sometimes necessary, to lose weight, gain weight, eat a certain way, etc. for health. But are you doing it because a magazine told you to, or are you doing it because you want to be a healthier version of you? What drives you to act the way you do? What is something that will encourage you to take care of your body for not just two weeks, but twenty years from now?
I still struggle with this. I struggle with maintaining my identity, and exercising and eating healthy for the right reasons. But if it was easy, then we wouldn’t have a lot of credit for the complexity of our nature. It’s a struggle that either gets easier for us to fight over time as we develop discipline or one that we give up entirely. I’m not giving up yet.