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UgLy Me

Who knows when I first started hating the way I look?

by Carla Barnhill

Who knows when I first started hating the way I look? It could have been in fourth grade, when I went to camp with my beautiful cousin who got more attention than slightly chubby me. It could have been in sixth grade, when I was suddenly taller than nearly everyone else in my class. It could have been in eighth grade, when I realized that my friends were starting to date and I wasn't. All I know is that from junior high all the way through high school, I can't remember ever looking in the mirror and being happy with what I saw.

I'm sure it didn't help to have an older brother who apparently felt it was his job to tease me. He started calling me "chubs" when I was in seventh grade and kept it up till he graduated from high school a few years later.

But he was just part of the problem. I couldn't help but compare myself to other girls at my school, girls who were thinner, prettier, smarter. Nothing about me seemed quite right. I had curly hair; everyone else had straight hair. I played tennis and the cello; the "popular" girls played basketball and the clarinet. And while I knew I was a good friend, a decent student and fun person to be around, those things just weren't enough to boost my sagging self-esteem.

What really clinched my whole self-image problem was guys. I couldn't figure out why, of all my great guy friends, not one of them wanted to date me. For example, one of my best friends in high school was a guy named Eric, and I had a major crush on him. Eric and I spent tons of time together. I knew he really cared about me and valued my friendship. But despite my obvious interest in him, he never wanted to date me. He'd tell me about his girl problems. He'd wonder out loud why other girls weren't as easy to talk to as I was. And as we became closer friends with no hope of romance in sight, I'd wonder, What's wrong with me?

I couldn't help but compare myself to other girls at my school girls who were thinner, prettier, smarter.

That was it my prevailing thought through junior high, high school and on into college: What's wrong with me? It didn't stop with Eric. All the way through my teenage years, I had great guy friends who didn't want to date me. I was smart and funny and could attract all the friends I could ever want. But that somehow wasn't enough. I didn't get dates, and I wasn't in the top echelons of popularity, all because I didn't look quite right. To me, that seemed to be the only answer.

While I felt horrible on the inside, I tried to act like it didn't bother me to be the "dateless wonder." I filled my life with other things, things I was good at, like theater and choir and the pompon team. And while those things helped me feel better about myself, they weren't enough, either. In fact, in some ways, they contributed to my feelings that I was fat and ugly. While I usually ended up with leading roles in school plays, I was never the leading lady the pretty girl who ends up with the guy. Instead, I played the character roles that got lots of laughs.

And the pompon team was no better. My senior year, I served as co-captain. And because I was the co-captain, my mom had to help out with organizing some of our fundraising events. After one meeting with a few of the other moms, my mother came home furious. "What's wrong?" I asked her.

"Well, a few of the other women were talking about setting a weight limit for you girls."

"Are you kidding me?" I said. It didn't take a genius to know that those moms felt like a few of us on the team were a little on the heavy side. And I knew that meant me. "So what do they want to do?" I asked.

"They're not going to do anything," Mom said firmly. "I told them that if they think they can force my perfectly healthy daughter into some kind of mold their skinny little daughters happen to fit into, they're going to have to take it up with me."

Go Mom!

And even though my mom stood up for me, even though no weight limit was ever set for the team, I couldn't help but feel the eyes of those other mothers watching me every time we performed. I knew they thought I was fat.

So I hated myself. I hid my feelings behind an outgoing personality and a sense of humor. No one knew how I felt, and I was determined that no one ever would.

But the spring of my senior year, something happened that changed all that self-loathing. One night, when I was in one of my usual "I hate me" funks, I rode my bike around town for an hour or so hoping the night air would cheer me up a little. I ended up at the playground of my elementary school. I got off my bike and sat on a swing.

It was a clear spring night with no clouds, a full moon and a sky bursting with stars. As I sat on the swing, I looked up at the spectacular sky and thought about how amazing God's creation is. And it hit me. Yes, the sky is beautiful. Yes, the trees are beautiful and the mountains and the oceans and all of God's earth. But in God's eyes, I am more precious, more valuable, more beautiful than any of it.

For the first time in years, I thought about myself from God's perspective. In my mind, I imagined God in his little workshop crafting me by handóchoosing just the right shade of brown for my eyes, the right shape for my hands, the perfect amount of curl for my hair. And then I imagined him watching me day after day as I looked in the mirror and criticized how He had made me.

God had put me together with love and pride. He had put me on earth and added stars and sunsets and hummingbirds and tree frogs and other beautiful things for me to look at. He'd given me great parents, wonderful friends, all kinds of talents and abilities. His love for me was more enormous than I could possibly grasp. And in spite of all that, I had the nerve to think he'd messed up.

I ran to my bike, rushed home and scrambled up to my room. I flipped to the Psalms for a chapter I remembered that spoke of the glory of nature. There it was, Psalm 104, a psalm celebrating God's incredible creation. As I read it, I kept thinking, Look at how amazing creation is. Look at how much care God took in making this world, and he's sharing it with you, Carla.

As I fell asleep that night, I felt something I hadn't felt in a very long time. I felt peace and contentment with myself. I knew that I was one of God's most amazing creations and that to doubt it, even for a second, was an insult to God.

I still struggle with my self-image. I still don't look like a model, and I know I never will. I don't always weigh what I think I should, and I always hate wearing a bathing suit. But you know what? That's just surface stuff. The truth is, God made me, and I'm fine just the way I am.

8 ways to feel good about yourself

1. Picture it. Flip to your favorite memories in an old photo album. As you reminisce about fun times in your life and the people you really care about, you'll see how many truly fabulous gifts God's given you.

2. Focus on the positive. Focus on the positive. If you're in the habit of keeping nice notes, cards and letters from others, dig them out. Or you can just listen extra hard for encouraging words. Sometimes other people are better at identifying your great God given traits than you are.

3. Make a change. Identify the behaviors and situations that undermine your self-confidence, then try your hardest to change them. Stop hanging out with people who make you feel crummy. Instead of criticizing your reflection in the mirror, give yourself a compliment. Smile more.

4. Come clean. Unresolved issues with other people or with God can weigh you down and trick you into thinking no one would love you if they knew the truth. Confession is tough, but it's a cinch compared to living with guilt. Plus, confession leads to forgiveness usually from other people and always from God.

5. Challenge yourself. Read a classic novel. Start an exercise plan. Try a new sport, or pick up a musical instrument. Memorize a book of the Bible. In the process of collecting new experiences and finding a sense of accomplishment, you just might discover a talent you never knew you had.

6. Excel where it counts. You'll probably never be the most athletic, attractive, intelligent, popular person you know. But you can make it your goal to be something even better. You could strive to be the most caring, the best listener, the most patient or the kindest. These things won't win you trophies, but they'll lead to the best kind of success: becoming more like Jesus.

7. Lend a hand. Try to focus on the lives of others instead of just your own. Volunteer whether that means helping a neighbor or caring for abandoned animals and you'll be amazed at the results. Making a difference in others' lives has a boomerang way of making a huge difference in your own.

8. Remember who loves you. The ultimate reason to feel good about yourself has to do with the ultimate being: God. He's starry-eyed, open-arms, head-over-heels in love with you. Read 1 John and think of it as God's love letter to you. Here's a little sneak preview (1 John 3:1). "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"

Copyright © 1999 by the author or Christianity Today International/Campus Life magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or e-mail clmag@CampusLife.net. July/August 1999, Vol. 58, No. 1, Page 34