Beauty and the Beast

vogue beauty and beastI was giving my testimony – and afterwards, someone came up to Glen.

‘Funny thing’ he said. ‘As your wife was speaking, her voice reminded me of a girl I used to work with. She was from Northern Ireland too. About the same age – except she was horribly disfigured.’

He paused, then continued.

‘Half way through the talk – I realised.  It’s the same girl’.

This is not an isolated incident. Last week, I bumped into someone else who knew me when I was ill.  I said hello and she walked past.  So I called her name. She looked back.  Did a proper, real-life double-take and set down her shopping.  ‘Emma?’ she said. ‘I can’t believe it. You look so… well’.

I write this and it makes me feel sick.  Like a horror film. What did I do to myself?

Glen describes it as taking revenge on beauty. ‘You want to be beautiful’ he says, ‘but you don’t know what to do with it’.

I don’t know what ‘beauty’ is – but it makes me angry and hungry and sad.  Part of me longs for it – and part of me hates it. I’ve had strangers recoil in horror from me, and I’ve had them wolf-whistle. I’ve  had them cross the street to avoid me, and I’ve had them pinch my cheeks and call me bonny. I hear the word beauty and I wince. It’s nothing I spit. And it’s everything too.

It’s struck me before, that many of those with eating disorders are naturally pretty.  I wonder if the disorder is in part a reaction to it.   I don’t agree that EDs are a way of trying to make yourself beautiful.  Often, they’re a way of sabotaging your beauty instead.

It’s easy to see how an ED destroys your body. But they crush your inner beauty too. Of course EDs affect people in different ways, but a common characteristic is someone who feel things a little too much. Someone soft – lacking emotional skin. Sensitive, empathetic and other-centered; with a desire to bless others and to connect. Like all of us, with great capacity for good. But then the ED takes hold and it’s all reversed. There’s no-one harder, more selfish or closed-off than an anorexic. The beauty God gives to bless is what the enemy seeks to destroy.

And it’s a model of sin isn’t it? Sin is parasitic – feeding off and distorting what’s intended for good.  It’s a turning away from God and from others – an internal folding of self-hatred and self-obsession.  It’s progressive, it’s obsessive and it’s addictive: a disorder that starts as choice and ends as a disease. Beauty is a gift intended for sharing. But with sin, it’s turned inwards and the beauty turns beastly.

If you recognise yourself in this description (and it’s certainly me), remember, Jesus never flinched from anyone. He never crossed the road to avoid people. He touched the untouchables and loved the unlovables. He looks you in the eye and – no matter what you’ve done to yourself – He rejoices over you (Zephaniah 3:17).

Real beauty is not in your control – either to flaunt or to flee. It is far beyond your ability to purchase or to punish. Real beauty is  in the eye of the Beholder. It’s a gift. And it’s already ours.

6 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast

  1. Ill or not ill, surely we all want to be liked whether we are physically beautiful or not. Everyone is a complex character and unfortunately we will not be every ones cup of tea. Maybe love is too strong a word for it, but it is nice to be included and accepted for who one is, but that is all the more difficult if we face behaviour in one we find challenging and simply don’t understand. That would be the case with ED’s because I may be emotionally undernourished but I like, except in high stress situations, my grub. I did , by the way, get appalled at the quality of supermarket offerings by the name of quiche. I set about the problem which was a home baked one. Then i could control what ingredients go into those things and there not that healthy anyway. So I had to stop making them – all that fat in the pastry. You can’t beat a good crunchy stir-fry : those mung bean beasties.

  2. Sometimes it has seemed that people I know who are anorexic are trying to make themselves so small they are invisible. And it’s true they were all lovely-looking before the ED and also all very deep-thinking and articulate. Reading this gives me a heavy heart but also great hope, if that makes sense. Thanks Emma. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your insight and honesty about so many issues not just ED.

  3. It works the other way too. It’s possible to make youself fat so you can hide yourself inside your weight,. It’s definitely true for me, anyway!

  4. Well, this blog made me cry. To think of the pain that some of my sisters in Christ with ED deal with.
    I wish I could pour out God’s love all over you, I wish you could see yourself through His eyes. I wish you could feel His presence right beside you.
    And I will pray those things for you.
    I don’t have any wise words, but this is the song, God put on my heart for you all. I pray it blesses you and touches you in those inner most parts, which only God can reach.
    (If the link doesn’t work – I never trust these things)
    It’s on YouTube it’s called
    *Make Something Beautiful*
    Made by younghearts4christ
    Song by Laura Story

    (I felt a bit sensitive about the happy pills shown – please don’t be distracted by them. But focus on the lyrics, I wanted you you to hear & see them)

  5. Lizzi – I agree. EDs take all sorts of forms – but they’re a way of writing with our bodies: and often the message is the same.

    FHL thanks for the link

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