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Cover Story


Starving for Truth



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 The year I turned 12 was the same year that I decided God had made a mistake with my body.

I was training as a figure skater, and I loved every minute of it: the 4:00 a.m. wake-ups, the ballet, Pilates, strength and conditioning classes, the four daily hours of ice time between my coach and technician and choreographer. I felt the most like myself when I was on the ice.

If you’ve never been to an ice rink, the perimeter has clear plastic panels, meant for stopping airborne hockey pucks from hurling into the crowds. Clear plastic is reflective, which is great for figure skating—for the first five years of my training, my reflection was a tool. But the year I turned 12, it was a reminder of everything that was wrong with my body.

I hit puberty like a launched rocket. My hips swelled, my waist thickened, I suddenly needed real bras, and my period started. In the span of like, a month, I went from jumping doubles (turning around twice in the air before landing) to feeling like I was so heavy that I could barely get off the ice. When I spoke worriedly to my mother about the changes in my body, she just smiled and said, “Me too, J—all of the women in our family are curvy and heavy. It’s how God made us.” 

My coaches, who I knew cared for me and wanted me to continue to do well, started to talk to me about diet and nutrition, as though I couldn’t feed myself properly according to my own hunger and intuition. And over and over, when I came to them frustrated and full of angst, my parents would tell me that my body type was genetic, a product of our ancestry—that my body was exactly the way God had meant for it to be.

Unfortunately, God’s plan for my turning-into-an-adult body meant that I had become a pretty rotten figure skater. Most of the girls on my team were small-framed, willowy, flat-chested, and hip-less. I was stocky and strong, with dense muscles and rounded features. I could no longer jump as high, which meant that I didn’t compete as well. I fit costumes differently, and I started skating low and heavy to the ice, while the other girls skimmed light as air.

When I broke my ankle for the second time after falling out of a jump, and after two and a half years of suffering tremendous blows to both my body and self-confidence, I finally made the decision to not return to my sport. Angry, confused, and wholly mistrustful of everything about my body, I stopped eating when I entered high school. I dropped a very large amount of weight in a very short span of time. I lost my period. I developed terrible acne. My hair thinned and fell out in clumps. I was constantly freezing cold. I was miserable and very, very sick.

It was after over a year of suffering and a lot of help from some seriously brilliant doctors that I started fighting against my eating disorder in my sophomore year. My body went (quickly and easily, despite the excruciating pain of gaining weight) right back to where it had been: stocky and curvy. I felt even more as though God had somehow betrayed me, that He had given me a body that was not physically suited for a sport that I loved or a society that praised thinness and constant self-bettering. I hated that my body image was such a struggle in my life, and I hated that I had to work so much harder than the rest of my friends just to maintain a healthy weight! I couldn’t at all see how my body was part of His gift to me; I was too angry . . . too frustrated.

I spent the next seven years in that same cycle: dislike my body, diet down, be hungry and angry, gain it back, dislike my body, repeat. Instead of praying to God about things that I knew truly were on my heart (the students I taught French to in the rural villages of Senegal, the unfairness with which women are treated all over the world), I prayed for thinner legs and a smoother stomach. I put an enormous amount of mental, emotional, and physical energy into “looking better,” into furiously fighting my genetic code. 

Then, in college, I made it onto my university’s drum line. A few weeks into school, I walked into the huge campus gym with some of the guys who had come to lift weights. I had never truly lifted before, so when the guys asked if I had ever bench-pressed before and I said I hadn’t, my captain suggested I give it a shot. “You look muscular,” he said, a word that would have made me cringe as a figure skater. “Go for it.”

So I settled on my back underneath the bar, plate-less and bare. “Grip with both hands,” my captain said, “and push it up above your head. Then lower it all the way down until it almost touches your chest, and push it up again.” I did so with no weight on the bar, 45 pounds––easy and quick. So they put 20 additional pounds onto the bar, and then 40, and then 60. I wasn’t a prodigy or anything, but I felt something that I’d never felt in figure skating: easy, natural, God-given ability. It was the first time I’d felt like my body was truly mine. 

God never says that He will love us only if we’re beautiful and perfect; in fact, the Bible is filled with messages that tell us that God loves us because we are broken and in need of tremendous grace. He also tells us that He made us in His image. I’ve never been one to take the Bible literally; I don’t think that God necessarily looks like me. Instead, when I hear that I am in His image, I take that to mean that my body is my least essential part—that it is my spirit and my inner self that most resemble God.

I started lifting weights regularly and also started long-distance running, tackling 5Ks and then 10Ks and then half marathons. For those sports, one needs to be strong and stocky—in other words, my exact, God-given, natural body type. I excelled, I felt joy, and when I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon race in under two hours, I knew that God had gotten it right all along.

Trusting God is rarely about feeling happy and solid all the time—no relationship is without questioning. But whenever my body image is low or my confidence shaken, I try to remember that God really does know what He’s doing, that my 24 years on this planet are nothing compared to His omnipotence and glory and love. 

Jacquelyn Rupp writes from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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