By Kelsey Klepper
I have some very specific memories of important people in my life “complimenting” my body. People always meant well. And it did make me feel good in the moment, but always left me with wanting more praise.
“You’re looking really good.” “You look like you’ve lost weight.” “Those jeans look really flattering on you.” (Those jeans make you look thinner.) “What have you been doing to look so good?”
These comments took a hold on my identity. I was constantly chasing the high of feeling thin enough, which also meant good enough. My body was never complimented if my weight was on the upper end of my average, so I always felt like I needed to be smaller. That’s where I found my worth – in my body size. By getting praise on my smaller body and not my larger body, I believed not only was I a better person and more likable in a smaller body, but my actions that caused a smaller body were also justified. I was being praised for my disordered behaviors– my excessive exercise and restricted eating habits.
Friends, I didn’t know I had a problem. I thought my behaviors were normal because the diet culture makes us believe that we should be obsessed with our bodies and should be trying to manipulate their size via nutrition and exercise. People that knew me and loved me didn’t know I had a problem. They thought that their kind words on my smaller body were encouraging. (I don’t blame them. The enemy has put a lot of lies in our heads.) Yes, it was encouraging. It encouraged me to continue down a destructive path of body hate and shame. It encouraged me to continue to revolve my life around my exercise plan and what I was going to eat for each meal. It encouraged me to continue to believe that my identity belonged to my physical appearance.
I’m guilty of praising weight loss and smaller bodies. I was one enslaved by the idea that body size matters. It’s only in the last two years that I’ve started feeling convicted for “complimenting” women (or men) on their bodies. Why? Why was I even commenting on someone’s physical appearance? Surely, you and I are more than our physical appearance? Surely, I can see beyond someone’s body? Surely, I can stop the cycle of reinforcing that we are only as worthy as our appearance says we are?
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (Samuel 16:7).
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him (James 2:1-5)?
We are more than our physical appearance. We are more than the size of our bodies. We don’t need to be complimenting or commenting on body size, period. We are more than that.
Would I have found my identity in my body size even if I didn’t have people complimenting my smaller body growing up? Likely yes, because we are surrounded by diet culture. But I do believe my identity wouldn’t have been so deeply rooted in a desire and need to be thin if I hadn’t been receiving these “compliments.” Maybe my obsession with my body wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did or taken over my thoughts as much as it had. I just know it affected me deeply and perpetuated behaviors that were harmful to my health. I don’t want to do that to other people. I want people to know they are more than the size of their bodies, and that is why you won’t hear me comment on your body or anyone else’s.