There are a lot of differences between me and my sister, but one of the significant ones is our different ways of thinking about our bodies. I’ve always been WAY more into the mind than the body.
In my preteen and early teen years, I started reading lots of Christian fiction for teens. In them I always found stories of girls who fought against the peer pressure to look the right way–wear the right clothes, put on their makeup the right way, style their hair the right way. Usually it was the “popular” girls who were pressuring them to change their looks ended up being really broken individuals, or really snobby and no one you would really want to be friends with anyway.
I also read nonfiction books on accepting yourself just the way God made you. I think the Christian teen girls’ magazine, Brio, may have had something to do with this. I really did take the message to heart: I knew God had made me the way I was on purpose, and I didn’t have to worry about it.
My sister wasn’t a reader. She was active and interested in being with people, instead of with the thoughts in her head. She never saw any of the books I read. She never heard anyone tell her she was okay just the way she is. I guess what she heard instead was my mom’s bitter comments that men only liked women who were skinny and beautiful. I guess that was the message my sister took to heart.
My sister hit puberty first, and then I followed, and our lives wildly diverged. Continuing to read Christian literature, I next heard about modesty and how important it was. Already inclined to a Pharisaical understanding of Christianity, I added “modesty” to my mental list of Do’s And Don’ts For Every Christian.
I watched in horror as my sister’s shirts got shorter, skirts got tighter, heels got taller, and makeup got wilder. I preached my Dos and Donts to her, creating a great schism between us. In the meantime, I adhered all the more to my T-shirts and slightly too-big jeans and steered clear of anything that smelled of body-consciousness, save the necessities: acne wash, deodorant, and showers– and even that I did minimally.
Later in our teen years, I figured out that preaching at my sister was doing no one any good. The rift was already established, and my heart had become so emotionally battered from the process that I didn’t pursue any reconciliation. Her emotional scars from it took a different form.
I remember learning that she had been anorexic for a time. It was in conjunction with a complaint from her about how skinny I was. I was horrified, not out of self-righteousness this time, but out of real distress that she’d gone to such lengths, and especially that it was in any way connected with comparing herself to me. She had never said anything about it to me before–that she envied my slender build. A build I hadn’t had anything to do with at all, and a body I was barely even conscious of.
My sister was guided away from anorexia by a mentor, thankfully. But her obsession with her body still persists today, and comments that betray her habit of comparing herself to me still surface regularly. In the end, her problems go much deeper than a simple disliking of what she sees when she looks in the mirror. The body-comparison game is only a symptom of the state of her heart, which puts fitness and beauty up on a pedestal above God. I tried to tell her this once, addressing the deeper issues of her heart in the gentlest and most loving way I could think of. She missed my point entirely and made some comment about my pants size.
I can tell I’m just too close–in her mind, I’m always going to be the sister she feels “inferior” to. I hate this, but there are some places of the heart no human hand can reach. There are some parts of the soul that only God can change. So I just pray.