Radiance, Body Image, and Identity
Letter from Maria Dossett
“Why don’t we talk about your body?”
Jesus’ voice pierced into my heart in the midst of Adoration. I have been doing my best to go once a week, trying to give Him time and space in the midst of my chaotic semester. Since then, He had been breaking open my heart in all kinds of ways. He spoke of how deeply He desired to be my friend, to heal me of all the wounds I never let see the light of day, some that I didn’t even know I had.
The week before had felt exhausting as I realized what regrets I held onto so tightly. The last thing I wanted to talk about was my rocky relationship with my body. The big “why” behind my insecurities and mistakes. Instead, I did what I do so often and brushed His thought away for later. I kept praying the rosary alongside the old ladies surrounding me in the small chapel.
I came home later that day to a package of new clothing I had ordered. I noticed I had gained weight in the fall semester, so I was so excited to have comfortable new shorts to wear for spring. To my utter disappointment, they didn’t fit, despite being advertised to fit my size and the size up. I knew it wasn’t a big deal, that clothing sizes are all over the place, especially for women.
But I still felt my chest tighten and my stomach fall. As I got ready to shower, I let myself break open. I cried and cried as the pain and guilt of the way my body looked spilled out of me, all the feelings that I tried to hide myself from because I so desperately wanted to love myself the way I know I should.
I grew up always being bigger than most of the kids in my grade. I was never bullied, never outcasted for being overweight. I didn’t even notice it until seventh grade, when every girl had a boyfriend except for me, or so it felt. Then I heard the first whispers in my mind: “it’s probably because you’re fat.” I remember the morning that I first felt this way, and the doubt that washed over me during first period. I suddenly found myself picking at my body, trying to suck in my stomach or pull at my clothing to be baggier.
The rest of middle school and into high school, I was consumed with the desire to have a boyfriend and believing that if I only I was skinnier, a boy would find me attractive enough to date. I started to hate my body because of this. I hated the way that it rolled in on itself when I sat down and spilled over the waistline of my jeans. I hated how it jiggled when I ran and made me squish between small spaces. I was always standing in my bathroom before showers, criticizing every part of myself in the mirror, from the hairs on my head all the way down to my toes.
I let the criticisms define how I lived my life. I didn’t try to wear skinny jeans because I believed they weren’t made for me. I straightened my hair every day because I hated my natural curls and believed my hair was the only beautiful thing about my appearance. I didn’t even wear my hair up because I felt like it made me even less attractive. I didn’t want to dance at school events because I believed no one would want to see my body move any more than it had to.
This self-hatred played a huge role in leading me to struggle with self-harm, depression and anxiety when I was just fifteen-years-old. I was fed up with myself for not living up to the idealization I had in my head: the same fun-loving, kind-hearted, creative Maria but was about eighty pounds lighter than she really was.
The longer I was depressed, the more I started to feel a tugging at my heart. In the faintest voice, I heard God calling to me, urging me to stop. He wanted me to find my joy and to learn to care for myself again. Even though I wasn’t praying during this time, God still spoke to me in His gentle and patient way. I decided to tell my parents and friends so they could help me begin to heal. I started opening my heart to my faith again. I started trying not to focus on how big I was, but I still didn’t feel very comfortable in my own skin.
I tried to do small exercises, striving to want to be healthier out of self-love rather than self-hatred. I would ride an exercise bike while watching Netflix or do dance workouts. I longed to be able to recognize my worth even in the place where my stomach stuck out and my thighs touched. I tried to distract myself from any negative feelings towards myself. By senior year, I told myself that eventually, it would be okay. I could go to college and lose weight and become the version of myself I dreamed of being, the one I believed God wanted me to be.
Here I am now, a junior in college, letting myself feel everything all at once about my weight for the first time in years. As I cried in my bathroom, I told God how sick I am of fighting against my body. I told Him how exhausted I am of trying to love myself only to fail. I told Him how I didn’t understand how I was good even in my overweightness. I told Him how frustrated I was that I didn’t feel comfortable dressing in the clothes I wanted to.
I got out of the shower and stared at myself in the mirror once more. Suddenly, God said:
“You are so, so much more than the clothes you wear. There is so much more to you than that.”
He did not say that to the Maria I always envisioned: a skinnier, more confident, put-together version of myself. He said that to me, right now. The Maria who still jiggles when she runs and gets self-conscious while shopping in different sections than her friends. The Maria who is kind and funny in her own messy way. He is simply waiting for me to live my life based on who He says I am and see myself, my body through His eyes.
I am so tired of not believing the truth. I’m so sick of not believing God when He calls me “radiant.” I’m so tired of denying my family and friends when they call me “beautiful.” And I am tired of limiting the person that I am to the number I see on the scale.
But I need God’s help. I need to call on Him every day to remind me of who I am and where my beauty comes from. I need Him to keep surrounding me with people who insist on showing me the truth of myself. I need God to shift my focus when I become too fixated on everything that is wrong with my body instead of all that is gorgeous within my soul. He wants His light to shine through my laughter and compassion regardless of what my physical body looks like.
Sister, you too, are not the number on the scale or the size of your jeans. You too are radiant, and your soul is gorgeous beyond compare. What an incredible disservice it is to forget that we’re handcrafted by God. Our Father is calling us to live beyond our comforts, to see past our insecurities, and breathe beauty into the world just by our existence, exactly as we are right now.
About the Writer: Maria Dossett
Maria grew up in a small town in western Kentucky, but always dreamed of life in a city. Now, she is a senior at Northern Kentucky University, right outside of Cincinnati. Maria is studying public relations, with a minor in English and honors. She isn’t sure what life holds after graduation, but she hopes her work will have a positive impact on others somehow. Aside from her studies, Maria is learning to surrender herself honestly to God everyday. Her passions include writing, reading and traveling to new places. She also loves eating Mexican food, watching Marvel movies, dancing to Taylor Swift, and laughing loudly.