‘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.