Self-Esteem

1. You are the only one who thinks you have weird elbows

Yup. You read that right. I had issues with my elbows. I used to wear oversize t-shirts to ensure that no one caught glimpse of my knobby elbows. I avoided shorts for the same reason. I’d suck in my bottom lip so people wouldn’t notice how fat it was. I huddled along the edges of rooms to hide my backside. My hands never knew where to go. And whenever I walked, I knew everyone secretly snickered at my funny stride. Turns out, the only people who ever really think these things of others are those who think even worse about themselves. Knowing how insecure we all are, somehow, gives me security in knowing that I’m not so bad and neither are you. Maybe I could have said that to people a bit more back then.

 

 

2. Even the cool kids need a friend

I was lonely. Deeply and severely. I just wanted a friend. I remember even buying a book one time entitled, “How to Make Friends.” There’s my nerdy side coming out. I’ve since learned that everyone is lonely. Everyone wants a friend. Our coping mechanisms look different, but we’re all lonely. The shy kid (me) coped by withdrawal, the popular kid by overconfidence or people pleasing. But we all did what we did with the sole hope that someone would like us for it. But the best way to make a friend is to be a friend because we’re all looking for one. Knowing this about the people I meet has turned everyone into a potential new friend. And that’s a lesson, I wish I knew a lot sooner in life.

 

3. You’ll miss your family

Someone once told me that when we are young, our parents know everything. Then, in our teenage years they seem to forget it all. But somewhere around our mid-twenties they remember it all again, and we are amazed at all our parents did for us. That’s how it seems looking back. But I now live a thousand miles from much of my family and there’s no going back to when we’d play football in the back yard or make cheesy popcorn for movie night. I just wished I’d appreciated my family more before we all moved away and learned the hard way that our parents weren’t so bad after all.

 

4. Grades are good, people are better

I never got straight A’s, but I tried. I worried about grades, tests, and college applications. But success, in all its forms, has always overpromised and underdelivered. I wrote a national bestselling book once, and I had a lot of old classmates call up to congratulate me. They asked me to come speak at their schools, make a video for their organizations, or post something on behalf of their causes. I made it to the top, I’m a bestselling author. But I’m no happier. I found some cheap friendships along the way, made some money, but, in the end, none of it really mattered. It’s not what makes me happy. Knowing I’m loved is all I need to be happy. Knowing that God loves me, my wife loves me, my friends and family love me, this is what gives meaning to life. Grades, career, and money never earned me any love.

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.


More from Doug Bender

Why your life motto can’t just be a wristband It’s a thing, nowadays, to wear your cause on your wrist. It’s a way to define yourself, to differentiate, and express yourself. It’s a way to shout to the world your life motto. But I want to push you to go beyond inspiration and interest.

13 Reasons Why NOT: an Open Letter to My Friend Who Committed Suicide- I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you.

The Sad Reason I Only Wear Brand Name T-Shirts– I find myself leaning on money and stuff for happiness. I haven’t learned to beat it yet. I’d like to be perfectly content with any financial situation. I’m not.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

 

The fluorescent lights on the ceiling wobbled in my vision as I pointed my foot in front of me.

“Spot!” my ballet teacher shouted over the music. I took a deep breath and focused on a picture on the opposite wall, keeping my eyes fixed as I spun across the room.  

At the end of class, I was gathering my bag when my teacher put her hand on my back.

“You look great,” she said. “Have you lost weight? Keep it up.”

I nodded, still woozy from a stomach bug that killed my appetite for days. I lost weight because I was sick, not because I was trying to. I wondered, did I used to be fat? Unsure of how to respond, I just smiled and politely accepted the compliment.


The pressure to control my diet in unhealthy ways was everywhere — from my teacher, from comparing myself to the dancers next to me, and from the floor to ceiling mirrors reflecting my spandex-clad silhouette back at me everyday.


When you’re an adolescent ballet dancer standing on her toes, weight matters. Leaping and spinning is just easier when you are lighter. The pressure to control my diet in unhealthy ways was everywhere — from my teacher, from comparing myself to the dancers next to me, and from the floor to ceiling mirrors reflecting my spandex-clad silhouette back at me everyday. Soon, I became preoccupied with my appearance.

Hearing my ballet teacher’s approval that day stuck with me. I wanted to look good and “keep it up.” I started to drink coffee and eat lollipops when I should have been eating meals. I controlled what I ate, but emotionally I was out of control. I had a bad attitude with my parents and struggled to pay attention in school. Eventually my parents took me out of dance classes altogether. I was disappointed, but over time I began eating healthy again.

In college I missed dancing and signed up for a class  — my first in years. It was a type of dance called “Modern,” and the emphasis was on movement in space and emotional expression, rather than modeling my body perfectly after the teacher.


It was the first time I felt free while I was dancing, like I could do what I loved and still honor God. It didn’t matter anymore how curvy my body was.


Growing up I wore ballet shoes that left my feet covered in blisters and skimpy clothes that showed off my body for high school dance shows. In this class, the students and I danced barefoot to bongos. The teacher actually reprimanded us for watching ourselves in the mirror!

It was the first time I felt free while I was dancing, like I could do what I loved and still honor God. It didn’t matter anymore how curvy my body was.

Now, I don’t want to throw ballet under the bus, because ballet taught me discipline and grace. But what I do want to throw under the bus is the notion that the approval of a woman’s appearance by others determines her worth.

The mistakes I made as a young dancer — comparing myself to others, determining my value based on my appearance, hating my God-given body — are things I think we all struggle with as women. They are temptations that we have an obligation to resist if we want to “Live Second.” We can’t love others if we are threatened by them or are preoccupied by self pity. And we definitely can’t love God when we reject the bodies we are born with.

As women, we need to remember that girls are watching and listening. When our body image is our priority, it models that for them. When we only praise girls for their physical appearance, it sends the message that looks matter most.

God looks at us and sees so much more than our appearance. In the Bible it says, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Essentially, what matters to God is our motives, how we are really doing, and how we are treating others. Dancing wasn’t the issue for me, but how I was doing it was. Shifting the focus away from my body, away from the mirror, away from myself, set me free.

 

Whitney Thompson is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas. She has written for several publications including Advocate magazine, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal, and Upper Room’s Teen Devozine.

 


 

More from Whitney

Kesha shouts redemption over resentment

Kesha’s emotional anthem, “Praying,” goes deeper with the theme of letting go of resentment. She hopes well for somebody who has hurt her, and it’s a reminder that forgiving those who have hurt us sets us free from hate that can hold us back.

 

I’m an undercover materialist  

In my gut, I know I’m going about this all wrong. I know because I wrestle with discontent on a regular basis. I wrongly believe nothing will ever be enough for my daughter. My double standard of clearance rack for me and on-trend designer dresses for my daughter tells the true story: I am an undercover materialist.

 


Follow On Second Thought Blog