Last week, I went into my dietitian appointment telling her all the lies that I was believing and speaking over myself. Lies from the enemy and lies from Ed, but lies that were growing in my mind and sprouting through my thoughts. She looked at me and said, “If you had a little sister and she came to you and said these things about herself, what would you say to her? I know you and I know that you would not let her speak such harsh things about herself.” She then challenged me to make one of my goals for the week (we set weekly goals; super helpful!) to notice who is talking and who is listening. That meaning, to notice my thoughts, and pretend as if my internal self is a younger sister who is telling these things to me. And if they are lies, to combat them with the truths that I would tell to a real little sister if I had one. Combatting lies for myself is hard, but I’d do anything for another little girl. So we’re going to practice this for a bit. Writing out my lies as if my little sister (or a younger me) were telling me them, and combatting them with truths. Here. Goes. Nothing.
I’m sitting cross-legged on the edge of my bed, scrolling through Instagram. My little sister had posted a selfie just a few minutes before, and when I see it, all I can think about is how beautiful she is. Her long, dirty blonde hair; her light blueish-gray eyes; her gorgeous smile. I go to comment on her photo, but when I do, I get a notification that the picture has been deleted.
Huh, I think to myself. I post pictures and then delete them a lot because I’m self-conscious a lot, but I’ve never seen sister do that.
I keep scrolling through my feed, and then eventually put my phone aside when the comparison becomes too much. I get up and go to stand in front of the mirror.
Fat. Fat, fat, fat. So. Much. Fat. I pull at my stomach, poke at my thighs, and stare at my stretch marks. This recovery thing is great and all, but this recovery body is just a little too much over the top.
“LUNCH TIIIIIIIIIIIIIME,” I hear my sister scream as she comes running down the hall. “Sarah Beth! I’m hungry! And Mom said that you had to come eat lunch with me, so come on!”
“Okay, okay, give me a second,” I say as I pull my shirt back down and put an oversized sweatshirt on.
“What were you doing in front of your mirror anyway? It look weird.”
“Oh nothing, just teenage girl stuff. I’ll race you to the kitchen!” I exclaim, trying to change the subject. She’s too young to understand. She’s nine, and she loves her body, just like she should. I don’t want to put any thoughts into her head.
Once we get to the kitchen, I begin to prepare my lunch. I check the nutrition labels on everything, trying to decide what I want to eat. Or I guess, what Ed wants to eat. Sarah Beth doesn’t check nutrition labels, but Ed sure as heck does.
I look over, and I see sister checking the nutrition label on the microwave pizza that she’s making.
“Sister, do you know what all that means?” I ask, surprised and confused.
She nods. “Yup! I’ve seen you do it before, so I asked my teacher in health class at school what all of it meant. She said that you’re probably reading the calories, and she said that too many calories make you fat. So she said the lower number of calories in a meal, the better!”
Oh. My. Gosh. I can’t believe her teacher told her that. Why would a teacher tell a nine year old that she’s going to get fat?! I had no idea that she was even watching me. I don’t normally check nutrition labels anymore, but I guess on my hard days she’s seen me do it.
I finally find words to say. “Sister, are you scared of getting fat? You know that calories don’t matter.”
“Well,” she says as she looks at her feet, “I wish I was skinnier. I have friends who are skinnier than me, and they seem to be more popular than I am. Like, I had posted a picture on Instagram earlier, but I deleted it because my cheeks looked too chubby.”
My cheeks flash red and I can feel myself beginning to get hot. How did this happen? How is this happening to my little sister?
She continues, “And my teacher said that watching your calories is important and a good way to lose weight. So I don’t know, it’s not a big deal. She told me everyone does it. You do it too, I’ve seen you.”
I look at her, my eyes big, trying to search her face. I set down the bag of chips I’m holding and go stand next to my sister. “Sister, I love you. Calories don’t matter. Remember how I went to nutrition camp last summer? When I was there I learned that a calorie is a unit of energy. That’s pretty cool, right? That means that the more calories you eat, the more fun stuff you can do! If you don’t eat enough calories, you’ll be tired. But when you eat enough, you have the energy to ride your bike and go to the pool and play in the backyard. And that’s what you want to do, right? Spending your summer outdoors is a lot more fun than spending it inside asleep on the couch because you don’t have enough energy in your body.”
“Wait, really?” She asked in disbelief. “Then why did my teacher act as if they’re little monsters who grow fat in our bodies?”
“Some people think calories are like that, but it’s not true. Those people have it wrong, unfortunately. But you know what you can do? If you hear someone say that calories are bad, you can tell them what I just told you. You can be their teacher! It’s really sad to live a life being afraid of calories, so it’s our jobs to help people live the same happy lives that we are.”
“That’s a good idea! I want to do that. I can’t wait to tell my friends when we go to the pool this afternoon!” She skips off with her pizza, going to eat it in the living room while she watches TV.
Crap, I forgot that I had to take sister and her friends to the pool. I haven’t gone swimming in a long time. I don’t want people to look at me. Okay, okay, no big deal. I can just wear a t-shirt over my bathing suit. And I won’t get in. I’ll bring a book with me and sit in a chair under the shade.
After I finish eating, I go upstairs to get ready. We have to meet sister’s friends at the pool in thirty minutes, and she is already getting ready in her own room. As I’m going through my bathing suits deciding which one to wear, I hear my sister crying in her room.
I walk down the hall and knock on the door. I find her in the same position that I was in just a few hours earlier – standing in front of the mirror and staring at her body.
“What’s wrong, sister?” I ask, trying to cover my concern.
“I can’t go to the pool. I just can’t,” she says through her sobs. “I know what you said about calories downstairs, but look at my belly. It is so big and round. And then my thighs become huge when I sit down. See, look, ” she directs as she sits down on her bed and points at her thighs. “They’re as big as Africa! I can’t go to the pool like this. I’m embarrassed.”
Tears well up in my eyes. Jesus, please not this. Not her. She’s beautiful! How do I make her see herself the way I see her?
I look at my sister. She’s sitting on her bed, her long hair pulled up into a messy bun. She put waterproof mascara on to go to the pool. She’s staring at her thighs with tears rolling down her face.
I walk over and sit down on her bed. “Look at me. You are beautiful. I know you don’t see it, but please try to listen to me. Your eyes sparkle when you talk. Your smile could light up any room. In fact, your smile is brighter than the sun. Seeing you smile makes me smile. You are kind, you are genuine, you are funny. You love others so well. You look for the outcasts and you befriend them. You don’t want to leave anyone out. Those things make you internally beautiful, sister. You have so much beauty inside of you that it leaks right out of you into the world.”
“But,” she looks up at me, “what about the rest of me? You said my insides were pretty, but I don’t care about that. My insides won’t make me popular. And yeah, you talked about my eyes and smile, but what about the rest? I want to be pretty.”
“Oh, sister. You are so beautiful and strong and powerful. Your thighs? They give you the ability to run and jump. You know how you can jump rope really well? That’s because your thighs are so strong! Your thighs are beautiful, but they are so much more than that. They allow you to do all the things that you love to do. And your belly! Sister, I love your belly. It is not too big; it is the perfect size. See?” I say as I pull up my shirt, “Your belly looks just like mine! I love having a belly that looks like yours. Because I love you!”
She giggles a little bit as she pokes my stomach and then pokes hers. “Are you sure? I just don’t feel pretty. My friends are prettier than me. Their bellies are flat and they have curly hair and they’re taller than me.”
“Their beauty is their own, but you have a beauty that is completely unique to you. You don’t have to be pretty like them because you’re already pretty like you. Comparing yourself to your friends isn’t worth it. You’re never going to be the same as them because you’re not the same. And that’s okay! Being unique is pretty cool if you ask me. Because guess what. Out of the seven billion people in the world, there is not another person that is just like you! That means that God thought you were so special and so cool that he only made on of you. Just be you, sister. You are worthy, you are loved, you are perfect just the way you are.”
“I don’t know…” she whispers as she looks back down at her hands. “Do you believe that about yourself?”
I look down quickly, but then look at her in the eyes. “I’m trying to. I’m not there yet, but I believe it more than I did a year ago. How about we make a deal?”
“How about we change into our bathing suits, go to the pool, and then get ice cream after? We’ll do it together. We’re not in this thing alone. Sometimes it’s scary and sometimes we’ll be self-conscious, but we can remind each other of some truths.”
“I like that idea!” She exclaims. “But how will I know what truths to say?”
I stand up and walk over to sister’s desk. I open the drawer and pull out a piece of construction paper and a box of markers.
“Here,” I say as I hand her the materials. “Let’s make a list of all the nice things we want to be reminded of when we feel bad.”
We made a list:
- You are beautiful just the way you are.
- You are smart and capable of everything you put your mind to.
- You are funny, and I will always laugh at your jokes.
- You are unique.
- God made you just the way you are because he wanted someone just like you.
- You are so strong and brave.
- Your thighs give you the ability to run and your stomach allows you to have deep belly laughs.
- You are kind and compassionate.
- You are the perfect size.
- You are you and I think that is pretty great.
- The size of your body does not define you, and just because someone’s body is different than yours does not make it any better or worse.
- I love you, I love you, I love you.
We smiled at each other.
“I love you, sister,” I say.
“I love you too,” she says as she leans over to give me a hug.
I stand up to walk back to my room to get ready for the pool. This is going to be hard, but I need to teach her how to love herself. I need to be a good example and speak truth into her, so that means I have to speak truth into myself. If I won’t let her say these things about herself, I shouldn’t say them about myself. It’s going to be hard and uncomfortable, but if I’m not going to do it for me, I have to do it for her.