I grew up with more of them than I could count. They were doctors, airline pilots, babysitters, teachers, ballerinas, scientists and more. They had beautiful dresses with matching shoes and accessories. They were my best friends and confidants. They led extraordinary lives with amazing houses and cars. Everyday was an adventure with them. They were my Barbie dolls. For the longest time I believed that if Barbie could do it I could too and since Barbies spanned many different careers and looks I thought I could too. Until one day, in my early adolescence it dawned on me. I wasn’t Barbie, I was a Teresa. For those of you who don’t know, Teresa is Barbie’s best friend. She has brown hair and green eyes and since I was a brunette not blonde and had green not blue eyes, I realized I could “never” be Barbie. I was doomed to be the less fabulous, less popular, less known, less loved Teresa.
Whether you knew who Teresa was or you never played with a Barbie in your life or you loved Barbies like I did, I think we can all relate to feeling like we don’t fit the mold. For whatever reason, Teresa was how I identified with being the sidekick and not being the popular Barbie, for not fitting the ideal which I thought I had to. When I got to early adolescence I left my Barbies and it became magazines, models, and TV stars that “told” me who I should be and whether I fit the mold. I remember many times being alone in the dressing room frustrated and near tears because I didn’t look like “all” the other girls in the latest fashions. I remember picking my prom dress not based on what I loved but on which dress made me look the thinnest. I judged whether I was accepted by which cute boy passed me a note in class or called me pretty. I judged my beauty on whether my makeup looked just right.
I would like to tell you that this was just a short phase in early girlhood and that it didn’t last long but sadly it did, for over a decade. And the saddest part is I am not alone in this story of self torture, many of you understand it all too well. Ed used my thoughts of self worth to control what I thought about beauty. He told me that as long as I didn’t look a certain manner that I would never be beautiful and I would never be loved. He told me what I could and couldn’t wear because of how horrible it made me look. He told me what others really thought of me based on how they reacted to my appearance. He told me I would never fit the mold for perfection and that I was doomed to be a “Teresa”.
I spent years in the trap of not feeling worthy and it wasn’t until I nearly hit rock bottom that I began to redefine what my worth was really in. For years, my worth was placed in how I looked. I sought more than anything to hear I was beautiful but it was never enough. No matter how many friends, boyfriends, strangers told me I was beautiful, I never believed it. I nearly killed myself looking for a perfection and beauty that was skin deep. I wanted to be that girl that everyone stopped and starred at when they walked by but no matter if it happened or not it was never enough and I was never happy.
Those last few paragraphs are torture to write because my heart breaks for that girl who once thought all those horrific things about herself. I am not that girl anymore but my heart certainly still breaks for her. Once I began recovery for Ed my thoughts slowly, slowly, began to change to an attitude of loving myself rather than hating myself. I began to believe that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I began to believe that I was loved and given grace unconditionally. It was hard, it took work, it still does and I am not perfect at it but I am grateful for all the horrible times because it got me to this place of freedom.
I want you to know how much this freedom is a part of my everyday life. Freedom for me is about eating anything I want and that no food in my eyes is bad or good. Freedom is about wearing any clothes I want because I like them not because someone or something dictates my wardrobe. Freedom is about wearing no makeup for days. Freedom is about my hair being a mess and going out in public with it looking a mess. Freedom is about wearing sweats because I want to, not to hide my body size. Freedom is about not crying when I look in the mirror. Freedom is about playing to exercise and not torturing myself through exercise. Freedom is about seeing the beauty that radiates through me. Freedom is about knowing that beauty is NOT skin deep! Freedom is about realizing maybe I resemble Teresa more than Barbie and that is not only okay but also beautiful. Freedom even more is about not comparing myself to Barbie dolls or anyone. Freedom is about realizing that I am fearfully, wonderfully, and uniquely made. Freedom is about seeing beauty in others inside and out not because of their face or body but because of their heart. Real freedom is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
We are a culture that values the way that a person looks on the outside more than what is on the inside and it is so easy to get caught up in this idea. Whether you have struggled with an Ed or not you at some point have probably felt not worthy, not beautiful, not good enough. For me my worth was tied to the way I looked. Maybe it is for you too. Maybe it is about something else for you. I share my story here not because I have figured it all out but because I believe that in sharing our struggles we are able to help bear each others burdens and comfort each other in our trials. My story isn’t finished. I am always a work in progress as are you but I have found hope, real freedom and that is not something I want to keep to myself. I hope this week you come to realize that the beauty that you struggle with is not defined by what you do or do not see in the mirror it is defined by your heart. I hope you know how deeply you are loved and cherished for your heart. I spent over a decade figuring out this truth. I don’t want that to happen to you too. My friend may you find freedom amidst your search for beauty this week.