An Honest Conversation About Body Image and Singleness

I follow an amazing woman on social media named Debra Fileta. She is an incredible Christian marriage and family counselor and writes all sorts of wisdom about dating, sexuality, marriage, and everything that goes with it. She posted a few days ago on IG that one of her single followers wrote to her, “Please stop posting pictures of you and your happy family. Your happy marriage. You have no idea how that makes a single person feel. It’s triggering. How dare you write to me about saving sex till marriage when you have been enjoying glorious marital sex for the last several years. It’s hurtful and painful” (I am paraphrasing of course). Debra thought a lot about this for a good while as she did not want to upset or trigger her influential base, but in the end she concluded that she wasn’t going to stop posting pictures of her husband or family because it was part of her journey and story with all the ups and downs.

This got me thinking about what we post on social media. On the one hand, I complete get the person’s point. I have heard similar comments about how seeing pictures of babies and children can be triggering and upsetting to a woman who struggles with infertility or a single woman who longs to be a mother. I know that pictures of a happy marriage can be upsetting if someone is walking through a divorce or now widowed. I know that seeing a picture of someone sharing about their new job promotion can be upsetting for someone who has been laid off work during the pandemic and I know that me posting about the church may be hurtful to someone who has been deeply wounded from spiritual abuse.

Here’s what I also know. I have walked that road myself. And this is where the body image thing comes in. I have never felt that I was particularly “good at being a woman.” My other friends seemed to grasp the concepts of fashion, make-up, hair and everything else whereas it has not been my natural default position. I have been overweight (I probably still am). I have never been obese, but people have still felt a need to comment about my looks. One of the most painful things anyone ever said to me was “you lack sex appeal.” This comment was made a few years ago right in the height of my dating and marriage obsession when I was finding singleness painful. Even though this person later said it was about a certain outfit on a certain day, the thought has stayed with me. When I go on a night out I now obsessively run through a checklist in my head: do I have make-up? Is the make-up ok? Is my shirt ok? Is my handbag ok? Are my shoes ok? Is my watch ok? This checklist sometimes keeps me up at night as I look through the pictures of a fun event. I also sometimes cringe looking at old pictures of me (even though the memory might otherwise be pleasant).

My marriage obsession took over my life and actually made me physically sick. The worst thing is that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I literally tried everything as the obsession grew stronger and stronger. Back at that time I would have done anything to have silenced it for 5 minutes let alone 5 hours or 5 days. A lot of it came from being told by Christian society that this was the role of a woman. Women were created to be a wife and mother, and to not do so would mean I had failed. And the reason it had not happened for me was that I apparently lacked sex appeal. I continued to feel this way despite the fact that I had several interested candidates online and even a few in person.

The journey out just came one day. In the height of lockdown I attended an online retreat called Came to Believe for 3 days. At the end of the retreat the obsession left it. I can’t explain how or why. I think it was a Holy Spirit moment. I obviously still long to be married, and I believe I would be a fun mum, but aside from a simple wish, it doesn’t control my life anymore. As I have come to love myself, as I have come to see my role as a minister as of primary importance (being married to the church taking precedence over being married to a man), and as I have come to realize that even my deepest wants are simply that “wants”, I have felt freer and happier. There are still a few times when I see a friend post a happy family picture online or a recent engagement shoot or photos of their wedding and I think “man, I want that.” But then there are many other times I have posted pictures of me on trips, travelling around the world, hanging out into the wee hours of the morning, and receiving other achievements and my friends think “man, I want THAT.” It has taught me that we don’t have to LIKE the situation we’re in. You may not LIKE being single, having a recurring illness, or having a certain character flaw, but you do have to ACCEPT it. And I found that once I ACCEPTED my singleness, in a way, I even started to enjoy it.

Now when I look back over the last few years I realize a few things. Firstly, when the majority of comments about my appearance have been negative it is hard to believe that I am a beautiful person, but I have learned the soul is the most beautiful part of any woman. After all, what exactly is a woman? So much of what we think about womanhood and femininity is simply a byproduct of cultural conditioning and gender stereotypes. I believe that I am a woman because I am strong, capable, and have a loving spirit. There are women who love to dress to the nines, and women who like to wear jeans and t-shirts all the time. Both of them are women and both are capable of loving and being fully loved. Sex appeal doesn’t come from wearing make up or clothes, it comes from having a kind, gentle and passionate spirit. If someone is secure in themselves it doesn’t matter what they are wearing or how they are looking. Anything else is superficial.

So to my friends who are posting happy family pictures, please keep posting them. To my friends who are engaged or recently married, congratulations. And to my single friends who find all these posts triggering and hurtful please continue to seek God and have faith that God wants the best for you and His purpose will be revealed. If you are meant to get married you will. If you are meant to stay single, you will. God will equip you in either case and use you in either case for His glory. One is not better or worse than the other, and God will use your individual circumstances to shape the world in a way only you can. There’s nothing we can do to speed up or slow down the process, it simply is God’s timing and God’s timing is best. And yes, you are not defective and there is nothing wrong with you, you’re just waiting for the person who really deserves you more than anyone else.

Pooh and the Great Saddness

Pooh woke up this morning and for reasons he did not entirely understand, felt panicky and depressed. He looked out the window and it was still dark out despite him knowing it was morning. His alarm had just gone off and he rolled over in bed, putting the pillow on top of his ear. His phone jangled. He looked at it and noticed it was his friend Piglet. Pooh didn’t answer. He didn’t feel like talking to his best friend. Piglet tried to phone again an hour later. Pooh still did not answer.

“Hmm…” said Piglet. “This is not like Pooh at all. Pooh always has a phone date with me Fridays at 9am. I hope he’s ok.” Piglet logged into his social media. Pooh had not posted for days. He looked at his text messages, Pooh had not even read them. “This isn’t like Pooh at all” said Piglet. “I think something must be oh so terribly wrong.” Piglet sent Pooh a text “Dear Pooh, I noticed that I haven’t heard from you in a few days. I want you to know that I am here for you. Is there anything that is the matter? Please tell me Pooh, you are my best friend and I care about you ever so deeply.”

A few minutes later, Piglet’s phone pinged. “Dear Piglet, I am really struggling. I don’t know how to put it in words. It’s as if all the sunshine has gone out of my life. I feel there is nothing to look forward to anymore. I just don’t have the energy to get out of bed.”

Piglet wrote back, “Can I come over? I’d like to cheer you up.”

Pooh answered, “Ok, but I’m not sure what good I’ll be. I don’t feel like talking today and I think I’d be rather poor and uninteresting company.” Pooh was usually an extrovert and he was always known for his long winded talks. Some said Pooh talked to much, but that was just Pooh. He was always funny and cracking jokes and looking at the positive side of life. For Pooh to say he didn’t want his best friend over was unusual indeed.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes” said Piglet. “I just need to change out of my jammies.”

Piglet arrived at Pooh’s doorstep with a box of chocolates and a card. “Can we sit in your garden?” “Ok,” Said Pooh glumly.

“What’s wrong?” said Piglet ever so gently.

“I don’t really know.” Said Pooh honestly. “I have no energy at all. I couldn’t even take a shower this morning. I don’t have any appetite. Even my best honey just tastes like sand. I feel just like Eeyore” He blurted out and then seemed to regret it.

Piglet just sat there and listened.

“I can’t help but think of what an awful bear I am.” Said Pooh sobbing. “I think that I am just a silly, old bear whom no one likes. No one would miss me if I left the Hundred Acre Woods and never came back. I keep thinking of all the bad things I have done. All the times I have stolen honey. I’m just a burden to everyone, especially Christopher Robin.”

Piglet gave Pooh a great big hug. “You’re not a burden. We all love you, Pooh and we would miss you oh so terribly if you moved away. We are all your friends. Everyone makes mistakes and does silly things because we are all silly little creatures. But please tell me, is there something that has caused this? Can you remember back to when you first started feeling sad?”

Pooh winced. He took a deep breath and continued, “I just feel that life will never be normal again. I hate Zoom. I have such trouble reading body language and always feel awkward on it. Zoom causes me such anxiety that I only log in one minute before I have to and leave soon after. I miss hanging out with my friends. I used to hang out with everyone in the Hundred Acre Woods, but now I’m only allowed to see one other household. I tried to form an extended household with Rabbit but he is away at the moment. I’m so worried about this virus and that I might catch it. I heard that it could kill a bear like me. I keep hearing in the news about people who are getting this virus and it worries me so. I miss going out to the restaurants and the cinema and even the swimming pool. It seemed like life was just getting normal and I started to feel better and like my normal Pooh-self, but then winter came and everything started locking down. Everyone keeps saying this will be a really bad winter. I always feel sad in the winter, Piglet, because there isn’t enough sunlight, but this year I feel even more sad because my family can’t be around me at Christmas. I had a great big New Year’s Eve party planned and no one can come. I just think that life will never get better. Never ever ever. We will always be living in this weird new way and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.”

“I know it’s so hard,” said Piglet. “These are really such awful and horrible times. It is only right to feel as you do.”

Pooh looked at Piglet with tears streaming down his face. “Oh Piglet, how much longer will this be??? I can’t take another Zoom call. I can’t handle this anymore.”

Piglet spoke soothingly to Pooh, “Yes, Pooh, that’s the trouble. No one knows how long this thing will last. But remember it won’t last forever. This too shall pass.”

“It feels like forever” said Pooh dejectedly.

“Then, I will be here for you and be your friend, forever.” said Piglet.

“I know.” said Piglet having a great idea. “Why don’t we make a plan together? Why don’t we think about what we can do that might cheer you up and take you out of this great saddness.”

“I don’t think anything can cheer me up” said Pooh defeated.

“Come now,” said Piglet. “I have a few ideas. Let’s start by making a list of people you can call if you are feeling really down. These are people who won’t judge you but will listen and help you to have a different perspective on the situation.” Pooh thought about it and wrote down Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga, and Christopher Robin on the list. “Now let’s think about if there are any groups you could join that would help you talk about what is troubling you.” Pooh remembered Eeyore was part of a support group and he wrote himself a note to get in touch with him and ask what the name of it was and if he might join. “What about something to distract yourself. Maybe a new hobby?” Pooh couldn’t think of anything he would like to try that didn’t involve meeting up with people physically, but Piglet reminded him that he loved to read and Pooh thought maybe he could try an online book club. Finally, Piglet suggested that Pooh see a doctor if it got any worse or if he still felt this great sadness a week from now.

Pooh put his foot down, “I don’t want to take medication, Piglet” he said.

Piglet: “Medication is not a sign of weakness, Pooh. If you had arthritis, you wouldn’t just take a pill, you’d also probably do some light stretching and have an anti-inflammatory diet. Medication can help with this great sadness you feel, but if you really don’t want to take it you should still talk to your doctor. They might be able to give you some other options. Please, Pooh. Even if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for me. Please.”

“Ok” said Pooh grudgingly though he really didn’t want to.

Pooh phoned the doctor. A very nice lady answered. Pooh told her that he didn’t know what to say but that he was feeling a great sadness. He told the doctor that he thought no one would miss him if he left the Hundred Acre Woods and didn’t come back. He said he didn’t know why he felt so sad, but he wished to feel much better. He said he didn’t want to take medication. The doctor told him that medication might be good in his case, but there were many other things he could do which would help the medication work even better. She suggested that Pooh keep a mood journal and track how he felt each day. She also said Pooh might benefit from taking Vitamin D tablets as many people feel especially sad during the winter, and finally she told Pooh about a special lamp he could get which would act just like sunlight. She reminded Pooh that it was good to try to eat healthy and go out walking every day even if he didn’t feel like it. And that Pooh should call back in one week to let her know how he was getting on. In the meantime she gave Pooh phone numbers for helplines he could call and encouraged him to talk to his friends.

Pooh didn’t feel better right away but he did everything that was suggested. He bought the lamp, he started taking the vitamins, he went on walks, he ate better, and he talked to his friends. He joined the support group with Eeyore and he found it really helped him each day. The sadness did not completely disappear but with each day it lessened more and more. Then one day, about a month later, Pooh was out on a walk. It was an especially glorious and sunny day and Pooh noticed a wild turkey scuttling across the snow covered grass. Then Pooh noticed a gentle deer in the distance. For the first time, Pooh felt a smile spread across his lips and let out a hearty laugh. When Pooh got back from his walk he noticed that he truly felt happy for the first time since the great sadness had appeared.

Pooh spoke to his group about it and they were all happy for him. Pooh learned that the great sadness might always be part of his life. There might be times in his life when the great sadness reappeared and many other times when the great sadness was but a distant memory. Pooh learned that the great sadness was not a sign of weakness, and he now had the tools to deal with the great sadness when it returned. Pooh also learned that many people experience the great sadness at least once in their life and many people experience it more than once especially during very difficult times such as a global pandemic. With this new knowledge, Pooh began to relax knowing that he was not defective and that many people around him cared deeply about him. Pooh resumed calling Piglet every week on the phone, took up his book club, and started feeling like his old Pooh-self again. For now, just for today, Pooh was content and today is all that matters.

~ Original piece written based on my own experience of depression during the pandemic