As a child my parents had one dream for me – to be the next Miss Universe. At the time, that crown was a pipe dream for many, having been won by my people only twice. They were convinced it was a victory waiting for me. I cat-walked the long halls of SM as a child, auditioning, making it to top 12, not winning, auditioning again.
Sometime in the years that followed, I fell off that wagon and lived an entirely different life. I joined my last pageant when I was 13 or 14, and what cruel practice it was to pit myself against taller, prettier, clearly well-practiced ladies. I hid my acne under a thick layer of concealer (which didn’t do the job) and stood tall but I knew I was walking home as an ordinary teen. The pageant days were over.
I start gaining a little weight. I now look back at my high school pictures and get mad because I had no business thinking I was fat. I didn’t eat my lunch – my beef loaf and rice – because my classmates have bacon and I am getting fat anyway. I force my brother to eat my lunch so my mother won’t get mad. I look in the mirror and suck in my stomach, as far as it would go, thinking I might not be miss universe material anymore but maybe I can still be pretty.
Those years were brutal to my body – processed meals and diagnoses and heavy bags and crooked teeth and walking miles and miles to go home to save jeepney fare.
When Jesus saved me, He also saved me from that life, and I started getting the tools to fix my teeth, fix my hair, fix everything that looked like a con in my book.
Many years pass by. My body changed so many times. I cut my hair so many times. Growing into this adult body required a lot of patience, self-control, forgiveness. A few years ago I had this huge 3-month project for work. I came home from our final day, right as the sun was coming up. I took a shower before bed and surveyed my body – my badly chipped nails, my hair falling out in chunks, the cellulite on my legs, the cracks and blisters on my feet. It was 3 months of adrenaline and stress and I was spent, in every emptying sense of the word. I had what the books called a success, but I cried. Lord, why do I feel so ugly?
In a parallel life I was probably all made up, smiling in front of an adoring crowd, being crowned.
I share this story because I realized that there are a thousand steps I force myself to take before I fully love myself – or even begin to accept it – and my body takes the brunt of it.
I have to eat less.
I have to have shinier hair and keep it long.
My pores should disappear.
I should smile more.
I should stop feeling so tired all the time.
Every time I fell short, I withheld love from myself.
Maybe my hope was to show up as skinny as they want me to be, and as pretty as possible so I’m nice to look at, and they will tolerate all my quirks and jokes and requests. With defeated breath I also know I want to be smart and hardworking and excellent and giving and soft and kind.
The loud voice in my head tells me I’m not good enough but I’m close, I just have to push myself a bit more. It’s never enough. As if love is a transaction with myself and all the criticism cannot pay for the bankruptcy. This dissatisfaction with myself doesn’t only affect me but also hurts the people who genuinely love me.
Recently my best friend recalled that I had told her once, “you don’t have to side with me”. I told her she didn’t have to be there for me after I made a decision I knew she wouldn’t agree with. And it stunned her because she loved being there for me. It was her delight to love me and I probably spoke with disdain when I gave her an out.
I point the people who love me to the exit all the time. Not many of them take it, to my utter disbelief. Love freely given is so hard to believe, even love that God gives, because how? Are You sure You don’t want the shinier, polished version of me who won’t bring You any shame? The version of me you can parade in front of a crowd? Are you sure You want the unfinished, paint-peeling-off-the-walls house?
The Apostle Paul stood in front of the intellectuals of Athens and said,
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of Heaven and Earth, does not live in temples made by man”…
And told the believers in Corinth that their bodies are
the “temple of the Holy Spirit… bought with a price.”
The Lord doesn’t just say He loves me – He also showed up at the auction with a painfully silent crowd and bid the highest price for me. He put value where I could not find any.
He’s taken up residence in my body.
And oh, what a sin it is to hate my body this much, after being faithful to me everyday. I need to repent from the resentment and ingratitude I bring every time I face the mirror.
After some rumination and conviction and plenty of hard thoughts;
That I get to worship and serve the Lord in this body is breath-taking to me. I try not to despise the body the houses me. The Lord lives here too.
I walk barefoot on the hardwood stage, tiptoe around the glitter, look out to an empty theater after the crowds have gone home. I listen for One single applause – heavy with the weight of creation and dazzling like the birth of a star. It’s the only applause I need, from the only One who can call me redeemed and beautiful and crown me.
I crown Him too – who wouldn’t? His beauty is unmatched and His eyes are so kind and He’s no stranger to me. He is the love of my life even on days that it is a lie. And then I understand all of it – the desire and longing and beauty and repentance and forgiveness. My Savior paid for my body with His body.
The Psalmist said, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” and in the same breath said, “Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Far be it from me to loath the wonder God made, and instead of being a chore, may it be my delight to take care of my body.