Growing up, I always had great self-esteem. I knew I was cute, smart, and well-liked. I worked as a teen model for the likes of JC Penny’s and Dillard’s and, due to being a twin, was constantly being told I was “ADORABLE”. I considered myself a contrarian, my mind firmly set against being a “normal teenager”. In fact, my Nana repeatedly tells the story of me announcing this to my family. In high school, I was a huge nerd and PROUD. I loved school and the dramatic arts and flourished in them. I was well-known (again due to being a twin) and joked about being the ‘popular nerd’. Being a late bloomer, my body really didn’t start changing until late highschool/early college (making my ‘awkward stage’ exponentially more awkward). I began to gain weight in all the normal places for women and, in the beginning, never paid it much mind. I embraced my body! I didn’t care. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and looked down on those who counted calories and watched their figure. “How silly and vain!” I thought. Then college happened. Everyone warns about the ‘freshman 15’ but amazingly, I lost 10 pounds. This encouraged my horrible eating habits that lead to weight gain and a blatant disregard for the importance of exercise. But again, I paid it no mind. Until one day, I started noticing. I honestly couldn’t tell you what started it. Maybe it was the fact I lived on a campus located in one of the prettiest and richest cities in Dallas. Or the fact that girls at SMU wear heels to football games and sundresses to class. All I know is something happened and I started caring. I started realizing that I didn’t have the body that was in the magazines, on TV, and on campus. Why now? Why did I decide to notice this NOW? The next two events that stand out the most on my journey down a slippery slope are my parents separating and my trip to NYC. I remember flying to NYC the morning after a very traumatic family event (I’m choosing not to discuss the event so as to respect the privacy of those involved.), seeing a musical that almost exactly represented my family’s current situation (Next To Normal), and sitting at Junior’s stuffing my face with a slice of the best cheesecake I have ever had in my life. I was sitting there, eating this cake, feeling completely full and disgusted with my inability to stop eating. That moment changed my life. I wish I could tell you that it was a positive change. Perhaps, it started out that way. Unfortunately, my control freak nature combined with a lack of control of my family situation and me being slightly overweight, turned into an eating disorder. I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic, but had an unhealthy relationship with food and my body. Though I did in fact need to change my diet and start making healthier choices, I took this to the extreme. Being an impatient person, I decided to cut almost all fat from my diet. I ate iceberg lettuce with only vinegar as dressing and gave up all fried food and most kinds of meat. I said ‘no’ to dessert and started working out daily. I would go to bed hungry most nights simply because I was afraid my body was ‘faking it’ and that I was in fact just giving in to my old “eat for the sake of eating” habit. All this sounds super unhealthy, which it was, but to be honest, I felt great! I had more energy, I was losing weight, and I had something to focus my mind on. But what started as an innocent attempt to get into shape turned into an obsession with attaining the ‘ideal’ body. Despite all my hard work, I wasn’t happy with what I saw in the mirror. If I could only lose X number of pounds or fit into “insert size here” pants. If only I could weigh under X amount. I ended up losing 25 pounds within a matter of months. I think the lowest amount I weighed was 111, which by health standards was the minimum on the spectrum of a healthy weight for my height and age. I was tired all the time and constantly worried about food. I had become one of those girls I had made fun of in high school. Throughout this whole process, I didn’t think I had a problem. I figured since I never skipped meals and was making ‘healthy’ choices, I was ‘ok’. I could control this. I could CONTROL this. I wasn’t starving myself or purging. I simply was hyperfocusing on my eating. Throughout all this, my family situation was getting worse and ultimately ended with a divorce. But I was ‘ok’. Or so I thought. Thankfully, the Lord brought two people into my life who cared enough about me to ask me some tough questions. I am equally thankful that the Lord humbled me to a point where I was eager to listen. A part of me was waiting on someone to call me out. Waiting for proof that someone cared about me and my life. After the confrontation, I opened up to my small group and shared my struggles. With accountability and the determination to be healthy, I adjusted my diet to a healthy one and began to teach myself how to value my body. Not by the world’s standard but by the only standard that truly matters: my Father’s.
Growing up in church, I was constantly fed the line “God made you special”. This is fact. No bells, no whistles, no fluff. God did, in fact, make me special. But sadly, this profoundly beautiful statement has become cliché. We hear it so many times we stop believing it. So about 2 years ago, I started re-teaching myself about the beauty and wonder of God’s creation: Me. I, Alexandra Braunwyn Faith Gatewood, am like no other. I was crafted in my mother’s womb before she even knew I existed (Jeremiah 1:5). I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-16). God crafted every inch of my body with an artist’s eye and a Father’s love. He designs for a purpose. He designed my height, my weight, the length of my arms, and the color of my eyes. He added special details to make me unique, different from any other person on this planet, even my twin. But the Lord made something even more beautiful. He made my soul, my spirit and being. And no amount of dieting, exercise, or plastic surgery can alter His masterpiece.
One of my all-time favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 31:30 which says that “charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” I love this verse because it reminds me that everything is temporary, even my body. In the end, we all wrinkle, we all gain weight, and we all ultimately pass away. But the single most important thing in our lives is our relationship with the Lord. We are not here to please man, who is fickle. We are here to know the one true God.
I think the hardest part about struggling with food and exercise is the fact that, in moderation, it is necessary to live a healthy life. It’s when you find your happiness and self-worth in these things that the problems start. The Bible even addresses this in 1 Timothy 4:8 saying, “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next”. The gym will only bring me temporary happiness but my quiet times, scripture memory, and fellowship with other believers will keep me eternally ‘fit’. My body is a temple and should be treated as such (1 Corinthians 6:19). It is not to be used for my glory but for His. I mentioned before that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. I recently heard a different translation, saying ” we are remarkably and wonderfully made”. I love this translation because it is true. It it truly remarkable how we’re made. The human body is complex, intricate, fragile, resilient, and made in His image. We have the fingerprints of God on every cell in our bodies. We are a miracles by every definition. Take some time to dwell on that.
Sadly, I can’t say that I am cured. It is a daily struggle and, with the omnipresence of the media, it is nearly impossible to escape the World’s view of beauty. But I am equppied to handle attacks from all sides. I have my sword of Truth and have surrounded myself with people who know the true value of beauty, loving me for the woman God designed me to be.
So for those of you out there, men and women alike, who struggle with something like this, you are not alone. You have a Father is Heaven who loves you and has put you exactly where He wants you to be, looking exactly how you look, and with the talents you possess. And He said, “It was good”.