Battling Body Image Demons
Breaking Free From the Babylon that Surrounds Us
Guest Post by Shereen Marcus
This is hard to discuss – hard to admit – hard to share, but I’ll jump right in. I have always had this gap. The gap of what I wanted to look like, how much I wanted to weigh, what size I wish I fit into, how small my waist should be, and what I actually looked like. Although I know the gap did not always exist, I honestly cannot recall a reality in which it was not there – it has consumed my reality for most of my adolescent and adult life. It has over time released its grip on me. But for a long while, the grip this gap had on me – the sheer shame I had because this gap even existed, was crippling. It sounds superficial and dumb – but many have a gap between where he or she wants to be (where they think they should be) and where he or she is. That gap is shame.
It’s important to understand that shame is not the same thing as sin. We tend to think of sin as morally wrong behavior we ought not to repeat. Shame, on the other hand, is an invasion of the mind that needs to be healed. Shame told me I was wrong. Not the behavior, but just me. If I ate less, made myself throw up, dropped 5 more pounds, then the gap would go away. However, it never did go away. It would somehow grow and deepen and widen. If I cover it up, put some layers on top of it, tie a jacket around the waist of it, then no one would see it. It’s no one’s business anyway. Shame can lead to sin, but the underlying problem is something deeper- something you cannot fix on your own. This distinction is important because “just stop it” is not something feasible for people with a gap.
I remember, in middle school, being diagnosed with something called scoliosis (curvature of the spine). As if I wasn’t self-conscious enough about the form of my body – I now had a diagnosed condition telling me I was deformed. Nope, it wasn’t just in my head, I truly was deformed. The gap grew. In high school, I had a friend who was constantly showing me new exercise regimens to help me lose that “baby fat.” “What a great friend,” I thought at the time, not realizing that I was allowing more poison in my mind. By the time I was a senior in college, I was running at least 10 miles a day, and eating virtually no calories.
What did this “disordered eating” look like? Well, I always had a mental calculation going on in my head on whether a bite was worth the calories (e.g., if I eat this, I need to run an extra 10 minutes on the treadmill; that bite will cost me an extra 1.5 miles; etc.). I would rotate between diets and shamefully force myself to throw up when I inevitably “cheated” on my overly restrictive rules. I decided that throwing away a lunch my mom packed me was equivalent to eating it because “either way it's gone.” Needless to say, I had an unhealthy relationship with food for many years.
I brought the disease into my marriage and even when I was pregnant with my children, I would not take care of my body the way I was supposed to. My second pregnancy ended up in a premature birth, and yet, I was ready to resume my rigorous diet and exercise regimen shortly after my son came home from the NICU.
And then… something happened. A very clear moment when I was reaching for a book, and a picture of my baby in the NICU - hooked up to all those wires and tubes - was staring back at me. Did I do this?
It just so happens the book I was reaching for was one of my favorite authors, Kay Warren, entitled Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes to God:
If we’re not disturbed by the world in which we live, we will be consumed with the trivial, the insignificant, and the temporary. We will spend our days pursuing all the wrong goals, living by the wrong measurement of success, evaluating our legacy by the wrong standard.
DISTURBED BY THE WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE
It became obvious to me that the gap in my life – it was formed from a place in my mind that was indeed consumed with something trivial, something insignificant, something temporary, and something that almost cost me everything.
How could I ever find freedom though? Maybe this is just how my brain is hard-wired. No, I recall someone named Daniel in the Bible who was very disturbed by the world in which he lived. Although he is best known for surviving a night in a lion’s den, long before he survived the lions, as a young man, he was taken from his home and forced to live in a place called Babylon. This place was where people worshipped pagan gods and their motto was “I am and there is none besides me.” (Isaiah 47: 8, 10). But Daniel “purposed in his heart” that he would not defile himself (see Daniel 1:8).
There is an underlying theme in the book of Daniel of a deliberate choice he faced on a daily basis: to be a Babylonian or to be a child of God. Babylon was an affluent and luxurious town with the best technology, food, and entertainment. Once the Jews were forced to live there, most of them slowly began to blend in. They made Babylon their home. Daniel, on the other hand, was different; everyone knew Daniel was not a Babylonian.
Daniel was seriously disturbed by the world in which he lived, and consequently, he lived a life of joyful contentment.
I believe this deliberate choice is the ultimate key to finding freedom from any gap: are we pledging our citizenship in Babylon? Or are we remembering that we are not citizens of this world at all?
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20.
A Babylonian for many years, I know firsthand the repercussions a gap can bring. It is easy to be engulfed by the wrong standards when you lose yourself to the world.
In my life, God staged an intervention for my own good. It took some painful experiences, but I believe I slowly started to wake up to the lies Babylon sells us and the devil gladly encourages us into believing. I became acutely aware of the crippling effect I allowed this gap to have on me. Don’t get me wrong – this is still a daily struggle for me, but I know exactly what I’m dealing with now and I make a daily choice to remember Daniel and reject the lies the world sells us.
If you share this struggle – the deliberate choice must start with you. Much like the paralytic man beside the Pool of Bethesda, you must answer Christ’s initial question, “Do you want to be made well?” (See John 5:6). If the answer is yes - God will do His part, but you must do yours. I urge you to start with one small step – remember your true citizenship; remember that you are not a Babylonian. Seek help from good sources, and start fighting for your freedom from that gap. It’s time to become seriously disturbed by the world in which we live so that we can find freedom from the lies it sells.
Shereen Marcus is a wife and mother of two boys working as a Judge for the Board of Veterans Appeals in the DC metropolitan area. She also has a passion for Children’s Ministry, she has a Masters in Orthodoxy Theology with a Youth Ministry Emphasis. She has done a wonderful job creating a new Sunday School curriculum, which you can check out on her site Bridges to Orthodoxy along with other Youth Ministry products.