A week ago, I had a near death experience.

I had to take author headshots.

By some miracle, I managed to survive, though I had my doubts in the days and hours leading up to the shoot.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with body image and fought to find a healthy relationship with food. The effects of having three children and hitting my mid-thirties, not to mention my solid, double-chinned, cellulite-filled genes, have not helped the situation. And though I do my best to ignore it, the constant pressure from society and the media’s narrow parameters of what is considered beautiful have left me drained and discouraged. On most days, I look in the mirror and feel nothing but disgust for the person I see.

I feel unacceptable. Worthless. Unlovable. Fat. Ugly. Gross.

I usually stand in front of that unforgiving reflective piece of glass and stay just long enough to do my makeup and hair. I avoid mirrors when I can, and only like being in pictures if I take them so I can control the camera angle and how much of my body is showing. If I don’t look at myself, I can forget. I can pretend I’m still the size I was before kids, back when I thought I was fat. (Hah!)

I’ve found this struggle especially frustrating in recent months as I’ve been trying to make better choices. I’ve been going to the gym two times a week. I walk my dog around the block at least once a day. I’ve gone without dessert, soda, chocolate, or sweet breakfasts for four weeks now with absolutely no cheating. I joined Weight Watchers. I’ll be the first to admit I need to be better at tracking my food, but I also haven’t been out of control and eating everything in sight. Yet I still can’t get under that 200 pound mark on my weight. I can’t slide back into those size 12 or even size 14 jeans. My middle remains stubbornly comfortable in my size 16s and 18s.

I hate the fact that I can’t just live my life without constantly thinking of my size. I see Facebook photos of my classmates from high school and college who still look exactly the same and fight feelings of bitterness. I feel secretly relieved when I see photos of classmates who are also struggling with their size. I agonize over every food choice, feeling guilty if I choose fries instead of a salad with my main course. I purposely look for people around me who are heavier than I am because it makes me feel slightly better about myself. I rarely wear sleeveless dresses or form-fitting clothing. I dress in jeans and cartoon character t-shirts, partially for comfort, but partially because dressing up holds no joy for me.

Revealing these ugly inner struggles is not easy, but I feel it’s important. There is no way to move toward change until I’m completely honest with myself and others.

As a child, I always liked to identify with the heroine of fairy tale stories. The lovely, kind princess. The sweet peasant girl with a heart of gold. Beautiful, good, pure, patient … and usually slender. Even as an adult, I still like to think of myself as the heroine of my own story. Yet the more I age and learn about myself, the more I see my ugliness.

Physical ugliness: every wrinkle, pocket of cellulite, stretch mark, open pore, bulge of fat.

Emotional ugliness: my lack of patience, my emotional outbursts, my selfishness and stubbornness.

Spiritual ugliness: my fierce determination to stand on my own and do things for God (or so I think), rather than surrendering my selfish will and letting Him do things through me.

The realization that I’m more of an Evil Queen than a Snow White is a heartbreaking revelation.

Sure, I haven’t hired any assassins or gathered a collection of poisoned apples. Yet just like the Evil Queen, I’ve bought into the world’s lies, cunning whispers from the Devil himself.

The lie that outer beauty is the most important thing in the world.

The lie that youth, health, wealth, and possessions are the only ways to obtain true happiness.

The lie that if I were only more slender, more beautiful, my life would be better.

The lie that I must constantly compare myself to others to find my worth.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall …”

I wonder how much crazier the Evil Queen would have been if she’d had internet access? Would she spend all her time on her phone or in front of her screen, stalking her “friends” on Facebook or Instagram, and panicking every time someone posted a gorgeous photo of themselves? Would she send off for every new anti-aging serum or detox diet advertised? Would she cook up even more poisoned apples to use on new, upcoming beauties, just in case?

It’s a bit of an over-the-top notion, I know. But how often am I guilty of looking for the same answers as the Evil Queen? How often do I get caught up in the trivial and superficial, keeping my eyes on myself? I’m not strong enough to fight these lies on my own. I have to replace them with the Truth.

The Truth that inner beauty and strength of character are the most important qualities I can have.

The Truth that my relationship with Christ, my love for others, and the things I give away are the only ways to obtain true happiness.

The Truth that if I’m not joyful as a 200 pound woman, I won’t be joyful as a 160 pound woman.

The Truth that my worth is in Christ, and that by filling my mind with His words, the importance of comparing myself to others will fall away.

This is not an easy battle. It’s one I’m sure I will struggle with all of my life. Thankfully, I have a strong Warrior Who will fight the battle for me, if only I will let Him. Too often I snatch the sword away from Him, determined to win on my own. When I do, I always end up defeated and broken. It is only when I release my death grip on the sword, let His strong hands surround mine, and allow His Truth to give me strength, that I can truly understand my worth.

I am loved. I am cherished. I am valuable. Not because of anything I’ve done, or how beautiful, fit, or successful I am, but because of who I am in Him.

I hit another low point in the battle last week, especially knowing that my photo shoot was coming up. My original plan was to work hard and lose at least five pounds in a month so I could be my “best” for the pictures. As so often happens, these plans fell flat. I was dreading my photos. Every time I shared this with my friends, they kept saying, “You’re so photogenic! Your pictures will be beautiful.”

I didn’t want to be photogenic. I wanted to be slender and gorgeous.

Then, after my gym class one day, my trainer mentioned a video that another gym member had watched about body positivity. It was called Embrace.

I looked it up when I got home that night and rented it from YouTube Red … and I cried. It was so overwhelming to realize how many other women, of all shapes and sizes, shared my struggle.

I feel I should mention that this documentary does contain some full female nudity, partial male nudity, and language, so please be aware. These issues aside, I found it was just the thing I needed to watch the night before having my pictures taken.

The fact that I have three daughters weighs heavily on my mind. I don’t want them to see their bodies the way I see mine. This documentary reminded me that the only way I can help them is if they see me accepting myself as I am. I must move on from the superficial and focus on cultivating my inner beauty, taking care of my health, and living life to its fullest.

Armed with this new determination, I went to my photo shoot with my oldest daughter. I did relapse and make one comment about my body at the very beginning of the session, but tried to be better after that. The gentle, teasing reminder from my oldest, who watched an edited version of Embrace with me, helped.

The pictures were incredible. Roxi Mueller of Roxi Mueller Photography did a fabulous job catching the beautiful evening light in one of our local parks. Here are a few of my favorites:

I would be lying if I said I looked at the photos and felt 100% confident. I noticed every shot that captured my double chin, and the weird, squinty thing I do with one eye when I smile too big, and the makeup under my eyes I’d forgotten to check and make sure it was fully rubbed in. I think I may have even had some lipstick on my teeth. But the pictures captured me as I am at this particular stage in my life, double chin and all. A wife, a mom, a blogger, an aspiring writer. A woman who loves fairy tales and still looks for the magical in the everyday. Beloved by her Savior and her husband, respected by her children (on most days, anyway). 😉

And even with all of my imperfections, I actually felt … beautiful. I’d had a reminder of where true beauty comes from. With a mighty swipe of His sword, my King and Warrior struck down the Devil’s lies, leaving only His Truth.

And for a glorious moment, I felt as beautiful as Snow White, radiant in the love of my Savior.

Until next time, beautiful dreamers.

~Hannah, God’s Plus-Sized Princess~