I bought yoga pants today.
It’s a simple statement, isn’t it? I went to Gander Mountain, took a pair of pants off the rack, tried them on in the dressing room, carried them to the counter, and swiped my credit card at the register.
But it was not at all simple. Yoga pants are skin-tight. And I don’t really like the way I look in them.
For nearly ten years, I bought two lies. The first lie was damaging: Skinny means beautiful. And, of course, even though I’ve never been overweight according to a doctor’s chart, I always thought I weighed just a little too much. But the second lie was devastating: Beauty makes me worthy of love.
Have you ever toured a museum that featured Roman sculpture? Have you ever stopped and pondered an image of Venus? She was literally the goddess of sex—the ultimate in erotic beauty for that culture, and that girl was at least a size 8. Or have you studied photos of archeological findings that detail ancient fertility cults? Some societies have glorified what we would term morbid obesity as the ultimate in sexiness. And now, with those images in our minds, we look at modern standards of beauty—airbrushed magazine covers featuring women whose full-time job is to look a certain way so that corporations can sell beauty products to the rest of us—and we realize that beauty standards have gone stark raving mad. Not only must we have flat stomachs and thin legs, but we also need big breasts and curvy butts. Our eyes should be large, our lips full, our noses curved up at the tips. Our skin should be oily enough to give us that youthful, wrinkle-free glow, but dry enough that we don’t subject others to our acne. And we must look like we achieve it effortlessly. We all know that these standards are crazy. We’ve all seen the videos showing average women transformed into supermodels through makeup and Photoshop. But we’re still afraid to try on those yoga pants.
Three months before my wedding, a woman at church saw me eating a cupcake and said, “Oh honey, if you keep doing that you won’t be able to fit into your wedding dress!” My gown was designed with a corset back. This means that it is fastened with interweaving laces that can tighten or loosen a garment by several sizes; it would have fit me, as if it were designed for my body, whether I lost ten pounds or gained twenty. It made me feel like a princess. But this woman had internalized the assumption that every bride buys her gown one or two sizes too small, shrinking herself down to the size of the dress with a wedding crash diet.
After years of unhealthy eating patterns that got me nowhere except into shame spirals, crumpled on the bathroom floor, I stopped dieting altogether; I refused to do it even for my wedding. Choosing to savor rich bursts of cookie dough chunks in smooth vanilla ice cream—in quantities that must be sinful—has proven to be a more peaceful way to navigate life than constantly counting calories and doing hundreds of sit-ups in hopes of achieving a flat stomach. (And let’s be real—that flat stomach ain’t gonna happen.)
I thought I had this confidence thing down. And then I went to buy yoga pants.
“But they show every roll of fat on my legs!” I wailed to my husband.
“I think you’re wearing a size too large,” he said. “They kind of droop on you.”
I pursed my lips at him. “I can see the outline of the scar on my knee through them.”
“You’re exaggerating. What size are they?”
When he found out that I was wearing a large—two whole sizes up from what I normally wear—he shook his head, went back out to the rack, and grabbed me a medium. “Try this on,” he said.
I still didn’t like the way my legs looked in them, but I had to admit that my fat jiggled a little bit less—the size medium compressed me a bit. I bit my lip as I glanced at the price tag. $29.97. When the price on a pair of pants ends in .97, it usually means they’re final sale. If I went through with this, I wouldn’t be able to get my money back.
With my shoulders squared, I trudged up to the counter, laid out my acquisition, and ran my card through the reader. It was done.
And then, I felt it—the sweet smell of victory. You see, I’ve been trying for years to buy a pair of yoga pants, and the fitting room mirrors have always talked me out of it. It’s hurled insults at me: “thunder thighs,” “lumpy,” “gross.” Like all the others, the mirror in today’s dressing room tried to talk me out of it. And I looked the mirror in the eye and told it that I was enough.
And you too are enough, my sisters. Because no goal weight or eye liner or wrinkle cream will fix our inner self-loathing. Our self-loathing can only be healed when we realize that we are fully, wildly, utterly loved. Does it seem like a catch-22? We think we are not worthy of love, and we cannot release our self-hatred until we know we are loved. Perhaps that’s why it takes us so long to walk this road. But tonight, perhaps, we can take another tentative step toward wholeness: meditating on the ways we are loved, whether by family or children or friends or a husband or a church. And while I’ve always thought that “God loves you, so you should love yourself” was such a cop out, let’s suspend our cynicism and bask, for just a moment in the reckless love of God for us. When we know that the perfect, divine One calls us worthy, our stretch marks can’t seem quite so important. For we are already loved gloriously, my sisters.
Some days I believe this more than others. We heal by degrees and in pieces, and there remain jagged edges that haven’t yet been made whole. But let’s celebrate the faltering steps we take toward healing and rejoice in the moments of breakthrough—like finally walking to the register with a pair of yoga pants in hand.
Catherine Jones Payne is the Managing Editor of Quill Pen Editorial Services, specializing in young adult fantasy and edgy Christian fiction, and an occasional writer. Her first published short story will be released in the Call of the Warrior anthology in May 2015. When she isn’t editing (when isn’t she editing?), writing, or reading, she can be found encouraging writers on social media, watching too many shows on Hulu, practicing yoga, playing racquetball, or scarfing down entire pints of Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream. She lives in Waco, TX with her husband, Brendan.