I’m not sure how it happened exactly. It didn’t happen overnight, or even quickly, and I certainly didn’t realize it. But somehow in the 6 or so months after my husband and I got married, I got BIGGER.
Maybe it was the date nights, or the fact that he was teaching me how to cook. Maybe it’s that I stopped worrying about it. My wedding dress had fit, the photos were taken, done and done. Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t peel myself out of bed in the morning — couldn’t bring myself to trade in the world’s greatest cuddler for a treadmill. Or maybe it was all the life transition we were going through — newlyweds in a new city with new jobs. New everything!
Whatever it was (likely a combination of all of the above), I woke up a few months into our marriage feeling lumpy, miserable, and mad.
I started noticing sometime around the fall. When I finally traded my shorts and sundresses for skinny jeans, I realized I wasn’t quite so skinny anymore. They didn’t fit like the glove they used to be. Instead they were miserable to wiggle into. They took a fight to get up and over my hips, and an army to close. And once I was finally in them (which was still possible, although barely), I began counting the minutes until I could take them off again.
I felt gross. I felt uncomfortable. But worst of all, I was furious with myself.
“How could you have let this happen?” I berated myself. I’d glare at my fleshy body every time it had the nerve to pass a mirror.
I think I thought that if I was mean enough to myself about it, or angry enough, or disgusted enough, that something in that would make me change.
Have you ever thought that?
I catch myself doing this with lots of things — trying to motivate myself through fear, or intimidation, or by being just plain mean.
I think I’ve always figured that if I was my toughest critic, nobody could be tougher on me. I found comfort in that somehow, although I’m not sure exactly how.
So I continued to wear my skinny jeans. I continued to force myself to put them on, and tried to squeeze myself into healthy submission.
“You have to eat a salad today. Have you seen yourself!?” I’d ask myself with distain. And when I’d inevitably fall off the wagon and order a cheeseburger, my inner critic was relentless.
Life went on like this for months until I’d finally just had enough.
“I desperately need some grace,” I found myself thinking one day. And so against everything I’d done before, that’s exactly what I decided to give myself.
My mom and I were going shopping a few days later and I made it my mission to buy the softest things I could find. Soft, flowy tanks, and loose fitting shirts, oversized sweaters that made me feel small and tucked in, cozy instead of squeezed.
For the first time I shopped like I loved myself, like I wanted to do something nice for myself, instead of punishing myself until my body got its act together.
And then I arrived in the jean section.
I wavered. I’ve always been the same jean size. Buying a size up felt like admitting defeat. If I bought a bigger size, what would ever make me lose weight? I reasoned.
But then I remembered grace. I remembered how those squeezy, awful jeans made me feel, and I remembered that I had decided to love myself. So I marched straight in and asked for the next size up.
The saleswoman knocked on my dressing room door and handed me a pair of jeans. “They’re the size you asked for,” she said. “They’re high-rise and they’re stretchy. I think you’ll love them.”
They felt like butter in my hands.
Slipping them on was one of the best feelings I’d ever felt. It was like slipping down between cool sheets at the end of a long day, or taking a shower for the first time after a long camping trip. They felt delicious. They were soft and forgiving and buttoned perfectly up over my hips, hemming me in just enough but not too much.
I could move in them, breathe in them, be in them without counting the seconds until I could take them off again. Best of all I felt beautiful in them. In them, and with grace wrapped around my slightly bigger body, I felt like maybe, just maybe, I was okay after all.
The thing is, we’re not perfect. Sometimes life happens and we end up in situations that we never intended.
We make a mistake, or lose our way, or get distracted for a bit too long and end up lost. We find ourselves being someone we never intended to be, or acting as though we’re someone who we’re really not. We find ourselves looking different, being different, or doing something that’s disappointing to us if we’re honest with ourselves.
And in response, it’s easy to berate ourselves. It’s easy to become our own worst critic, shoving ourselves back into line as though that will help.
But what I learned this winter is that we really don’t need someone in our head hating us. We don’t need to be berated or shown again and again all that we’ve done wrong.
It doesn’t make us hustle faster to be mean to ourselves, and it didn’t make me lose the weight faster to punish myself for putting it on in the first place.
What we really need is grace.
A few months later, I was getting ready for work. I grabbed my favorite jeans about to slip them on when I realized all that had changed in the last few months. I’d been able to get dressed for work without feeling awful about myself. I’d been able to concentrate while sitting at my desk because I didn’t have denim squeezing my middle too tight. I felt comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a long time, and much to my amazement, I’d even shed a few pounds.
“Thank you Jesus,” I began to pray. “Thank you for loving me, and accepting me, and giving me heaping amounts of grace…”
And just as I said that, I looked down at the pair of jeans in my hand. Stitched into the label was a word, plain as day, that I’d never noticed before.