Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Does Beautiful Equal Thin?

Leslie Basham: Erin Davis was the wife of a youth pastor, and she asked her students what they wanted to study.

Erin Davis: Megan, who is a daughter of my heart, said, “I would love to know how to feel better about my body, and I said, “Anything but that!”

Leslie: Even as a youth worker, Erin was hiding her own eating disorder.

Erin: So I said, “Can you give me a couple weeks? I'll get back to you.” 

Leslie: You're listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, March 23. A powerful lineup of speakers is getting set to address the crowd at the True Woman conference in Chattanooga in a couple of days, and they include today's guest. She'll be addressing the youth. Here's Nancy to introduce her.

Nancy: We're talking this week with Erin Davis, who many of you know as the co-author of the Lies Young Women Believe companion guide—study guide. Erin Davis has been a friend and a colleague in ministry for a number of years. She is also a name that you'll see on the Lies Young Women Believe blog. 

If you have a teenage daughter or know some teenage girls, I hope that you'll encourage them, the girls in your youth group, to go to LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com and engage with Erin and others on that blog.

Erin, welcome back to Revive Our Hearts. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Erin: Thank you for having me.

Nancy: One of the things we talked about on the last program was that this culture has an obsession with beauty. For most of us as women, when we talk about beauty, we really mean body—body shape, body image, weight issues, and you traced it back to your childhood. You said that from the time you were in junior high, that weight was a core issue for you. It was a frustration, and it was a focus in your life. Take us back to those junior high and high school years. What did that look like for you?

Erin: Well, junior high is a difficult season in most girls' lives, and that was certainly true for me. I think it's where you first begin to play the comparison game, where you first begin to look around at the other girls around you and think, “I don't have that. I don't look like that. I don't have that ability, that outfit, or that physical attribute.” The comparison game is a no-win game.

Nancy: Everybody plays it, don't they?

Erin: Everybody plays it.

Nancy: Even the ones that you think are the knock-out beauties and the talented ones. They're playing it, too.

Erin: That's right. That was a huge lesson to me I learned later in college. My roommate was a magazine-cover beauty. No exaggeration—carved abs, toned arms, long, curly hair, smooth skin, not a flaw. She struggled with her beauty and value as much as I did. That was the beginning of sort of a light bulb for me in realizing maybe this issue isn't as physical as it seems.

There've been sort of markers all along the way where I defined my sense of worth. Sometimes it was because of what people said about me. Sometimes it was because of what I thought somebody said about me or perceived somebody felt about me.

Nancy: So can you think of an example, particularly in your teenage years, of a label that somebody put on you or you thought they put on you, that began to affect the way you thought and therefore acted?

Erin: Well, perfectionism is a label I've worn for as long as I can remember. I thought because I was a good student and a good athlete and a good leader—people encouraged those things in me—I thought I had to be perfect at all of those things all the time. I didn't have the freedom to fail ever, or I would be letting all of these people down.

Now, with hindsight to my advantage, I realize that they probably were indifferent whether I succeeded or failed. It certainly didn't matter to them as much as I thought it mattered to them. They may have just been affirming my talents or abilities or gifts and not thinking, “You better keep that up, Erin. That's who you are.” But that's what I heard them say.

The more I got complimented that I was good at or exceptional at—fill in the blank—the more I felt driven to never mess up in that area. I just misunderstood what they were saying to me. They may have just been complimenting me, but I thought they were saying, “You do not have the freedom to fail,” and that had turned into a big, ugly monster in my life.

Nancy: So how did that play out in your life as it related to physical and body and beauty issues?

Erin: Well, I just felt the need to be perfect and look perfect.

Nancy: And what did that mean to you? What was perfect?

Erin: That meant thin. I mean, more than any other area, it meant really, really thin.

Nancy: And for those who didn't have a chance to hear our conversation yesterday, one of the things you pointed out was that your mom, who was beautiful, was always dieting—yo-yo dieting, weight up and down. And your dad, who was not a believer, was quick to point out women that he would see on billboards or passing by that he thought were beautiful, and they were always thin. This is where you got these messages that beautiful equals thin.

Erin: That's right, and I would say out loud, “Thin equals beautiful, and you can't be too thin.” I really believed that. There was no such thing as too thin, and you couldn't be chubby, heavy, fat, overweight—any of those things, and still be beautiful.

Sometimes I was making choices that were making me unhealthy. I was making food choices that were so severe in order to be thin—really beyond, I think, my body design. To me, the weight I should be wasn't attractive. I really thought, “The thinner I can be, the more beautiful I can be,” and that's dangerous.

Nancy: Did you feel that you weren't thin?

Erin: Absolutely. I never felt thin, and looking back, I was very, very thin in the moments in my life when the struggle was the most intense. By every standard—by the world's standard, by magazine standards, by the people around me standards, I was thin! But I sure didn't see thin in the mirror.

Well, it's interesting now. I weigh much more than I did during that season, but I look in the mirror and see beauty now because this heart issue is fixed. Then, when my heart was such a mess and my body was thin, I looked in the mirror and saw flaws, so I really don't think it's that physical.

Nancy: And yet, when your weight wasn't where you thought it should be, when you didn't feel thin, you did, as you just referred to, take some extreme measures to get to what you thought would be thin and beautiful. I'm just going to ask you what some of those were because I think there are a lot of women listening, either themselves or their daughters, who are taking some of those similar measures. I want us to help them connect the dots about why these things would be true of women. You really developed some disordered eating and an eating disorder.

Erin: I did. Food was just the cornerstone of my thought life at that time. I thought about everything I ate. I thought about how it was going to impact my body. Sometimes that meant that I went and ate an entire bag of chips and then felt guilty. Sometimes that meant that I didn't eat for an entire day, or I didn't eat much for an entire day. The pendulum swung back and forth, back and forth with me.

Sometimes I would seem unable to control my appetite for a certain food, and sometimes I would do nothing but drink water for a couple days. I would look in the mirror or try on something and didn't look quite right, and I would panic. I would dramatically alter my food habits for a little while.

I used food as a reward for myself a great deal during that season. I felt like if I'd done well, then I deserved some sort of food, and so I was rewarding myself with food. I did lose a lot of weight during that season because I was also sort of an exerciseaholic. I was in college, and I was living with a bunch of other girls. Nobody was really paying too much attention to what other people were eating.

I want to stress that all of that was just physical manifestations of what was going on in my heart. I was a mess. I knew the Lord, was a Christian, but I wasn't grounded in His Word, and I sure didn't believe what His Word said about me, so my heart was messy. My spirit was messy, and sometimes that meant I ate a whole tub of ice cream, but it was just happening on the exterior. Really, the issue was in my heart.

Nancy: And you took those issues with you into your marriage. They didn't just go away.

Erin: That's right. I married a Christian man, the love of my life. I was so excited.

Nancy: A youth pastor, I might add.

Erin: A youth pastor. I was so excited to be his bride, and we moved to a sweet little community and were serving in ministry full time. I was pouring into teenage girls all the time and telling them about their value and worth. Almost every day, though, I was sitting on my floor of my closet and bawling because of my weight or my feelings of worthlessness.

My eating disorder followed me into that marriage. I was doing some binging and purging, and I would weep and feel shame and guilt. My husband, Jason, who hadn't lived with me, and in fact, we hadn't lived in the same town for the three years before we were married, so he had no idea that my eating habits were all over the map.

He began to speak to me about it and notice what I was eating, and so I began to eat healthy and be regular about what I ate. All of a sudden I was faced with this fact that it was about my heart. It was never about the food because once the food fell into line because somebody was watching what I ate, all of a sudden the feelings of worthlessness and anxiety were right there in front of me. I knew that it was a heart issue, something that God and I had to wrestle through, and we sure did.

Nancy: I want to talk about how you wrestled through that. But let me just back up for a moment and identify what you shared and what I think is true of so many, many women. This whole food obsession, beauty obsession, thin obsession really puts us in bondage. It creates a prison, and you related to being in that prison, feeling like this was something that you could not get out of.

Erin: Absolutely. I want to clarify that nobody knew that. I was a vibrant, young woman doing ministry, serving the Lord. I think I looked from the outside like I had it together, but I didn't have it together, and I medicated with food. As a Christian, it wasn't okay for me to medicate any other way. I couldn't turn to some of the other things that other people turned to, but I sure could soothe myself with food, and I see this so prevalent.

Eating disorders are prevalent and growing, but even more so than that, disordered eating is prevalent and growing. That doesn't just mean making poor food choices. That means that you are using food in a way that it wasn't ever intended to be used. You're using it to soothe you. You're using it to make you happy or using it as a social tool. You're using it in any other way other than for nourishment, and it's become a disordered pattern in your life. You're using it to feel better about yourself, your circumstances, and my is that prevalent among women!

Nancy: As you began to look at your heart, what did you see?

Erin: Well, interestingly enough, my heart and my pain were not enough to motivate me to do something about it. But there were these sweet, young women who I was ministering to in my community and church. I was watching them be swallowed whole by these issues of identity, beauty, and worth. I had a very small group of young women who I was teaching a Bible study to. We'd finished one study and were getting ready to start another one. I said, “What would you all like to study,” and Megan, who is a daughter of my heart, said, “I would love to know how to feel better about my body.” I said, “Anything but that! Let's talk about anything but that!”

But she was weeping, and I knew her pain was real. I knew that if we didn't hit this issue head-on, that it would turn into a lot of uglier things in their lives probably, so I said, “Can you give me a couple weeks? I'll get back to you.”

I used those two weeks to study God's Word about this issue in the hopes of finding an answer for Megan. But it didn't take very long till the Lord really started to convict me that the way I'd been living was bondage certainly, even sinful, because I was choosing not to believe His promises. I was convicted that I wasn't being very genuine because here I was ministering to all of these young women and recognizing the power of this issue in their lives but just feeling like I could continue to stuff it down in my own heart.

I realized how huge this was. I realized that I believed what God said about zebras and sunsets and all of the other beautiful things He's created but not about me. I realized, I think, for the first time that I was in bondage. I realized it was impacting my marriage, realized it was impacting my ability to minister effectively. Then I just said, “All right, let's do this. Let's address it.” I dug in the Word, and I took what I found.

It was the very first Graffiti. It was just kind of notes written on some pages to that small group of girls. We studied it for six weeks. It changed their lives, changed Megan's life, changed my life. I can't talk about it enough because it is truly liberating when women realize they're in chains in this issue and realize God's Word has the key to just walk away from all of that.

Nancy: Take us through some of that progression that the Lord took you through over those weeks. What were some of the first truths that began to shine light on the darkness in your heart, and I assume that you had been believing lies. What were some of those lies, and how did God start that process of setting you free?

Erin: I think the biggest lie that I believed was this lie of perfection, that even for God, I had to be perfect to earn His favor. That included how I behaved. The best example I give is that during that season, if I sat down to watch television, I would keep the broom in my hand and the remote in the other hand. And that way, if anybody came over, I would turn the television off and jump up and act like I was sweeping because I didn't feel like I had the freedom to ever relax.

That's a funny story, but at the heart of it, I was in bondage, serious bondage. So I came to passages like that in 1 Samuel, the story of when David is anointed king, and his dad, Jesse, doesn't even think highly enough of him to bring him in from the fields. But there's a verse in that story where it says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart” (16:7, paraphrased). That was probably my first clue that this was a heart issue.

There's also a Scripture, Psalm 45:11. It says, “The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord” (NIV). That was where I started to learn that beauty was okay. God was the creator of my beauty. I think God has a special affection for beauty. I think we can know that by creation, so I realized that I didn't have to walk completely away from beauty. I didn't have to stop combing my hair and taking showers and wear sweat pants. I can embrace godly beauty, and that was a powerful, powerful verse in my life.

But probably the truth He most liberated me with was He took me to the story of the creation of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant is a place where the presence of God dwelt in the Old Testament. It's a powerful box. There are all kinds of great stories about the power of God's presence contained in the Ark of the Covenant.

But there are two paragraphs dedicated in the Word to the description of the Ark of the Covenant—how many cubits by how many cubits it is. It's inlaid with pure gold. There are cherubim at the top, facing each other with their wings overhead. Why? Because they're protecting something precious in the Ark of the Covenant. What is it? It's the presence of God.

We fast-forward to the New Testament, and where is the presence of God? It's in me. It's in you. It's in these girls. He knows how many cubits by how many cubits I am. My running joke is that I wish I was a few less cubits, but He designed my cubits. He inlaid me with good things, like the pure gold in the Ark of the Covenant. We know in the Psalms that He says He will command His angels over us just like those angels on the Ark of the Covenant protecting His presence in them. He's protecting His presence in me.

Now, do I still have fat days? Yes. Are there still days when my skin doesn't do what I want it to do? Yes, but those things seem so less significant in the face of this truth that I am the new hiding place, holding place of the most high God. He now lives in me and He has created me as purposefully as He created the Ark of the Covenant. I won't forget the first time I connected those dots. I just probably said, “Hallelujah!” right there in my living room because that is a powerful truth. It just made the things of the world grow strangely dim for me. That's all that it did—it made me realize those things that I was wrapped up in were pretty, small, and insignificant.

Nancy: You began to get a different perspective on what we would consider flaws, which we all have, things we wish were different. God has made us different one from the other. How did God begin to renew your mind about these physical flaws, the things we wish were different?

Erin: Well, in Song of Solomon it says, “Sixty queens there may be . . . but my dove, my perfect one, is unique” (6:8-9, NIV). I can't imagine the beauty in a room of 60 queens. I imagine a room of 60 beauty queens. I mean, there is a lot of beauty in that room, but the Word says, “My dove, my perfect one, is unique.”

What makes us unique? Those things that are different about us, those things that we see as flaws. I've learned to really embrace those things that I once saw as flaws as little testimonies to the fact that God created me purposefully, intentionally, fearfully, and wonderfully we read in Psalm 139.

I have a twin sister which means we have the exact same DNA. Scientifically we're the same, but my God created us differently. She has a birth mark. I have a birth mark. They're two different shapes in two different places. She has naturally curly hair. I have naturally straight hair. She's a few inches taller than me.

My famous example is I have these flaps over the corners of my eyes, and I don't like them. I've never liked them, but God gave them to me and not to my sister. We're unique. He created us at the same time with the same DNA, but He loved us enough to add little touches to know we were created on purpose, not by accident, and they're great testimonies.

As we look in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, He uses flawed people, does He not? I mean, He doesn't look for perfect people to use for His glory. It almost seems like the more flawed we are, the more He is glorified. So I've really learned to love my flaws, not because I necessarily would give them to myself if I were the one with the paintbrush, but because they're great opportunities to talk about Him, to talk about Him as the Creator, to talk about Him as the great Artist. And He sure uses those weaknesses.

Nancy: Your husband helped you to see that when you were talking with him one day about maybe doing some corrective surgery on those flaps on your eyes.

Erin: That's right.

Nancy: Which, by the way, I've read about that. But looking at you, I still am not sure what you're talking about.

Erin: Nobody seems to see them. My mother still says, “Erin, what are you talking about?” But they drive me crazy. All my life I've sort of held them in the mirror, and you can't see them because this is radio, but if I sort of pinch my nose a certain way, they kind of disappear. I think I look much better without them.

So we were in the car, and I was doing the old pinch-the-nose routine in the fold-down mirror, and I said to my husband, Jason, “I think I'm just going to have a little plastic surgery. It's not going to hurt anything. Nobody will know, and I just will feel a lot better.” He's very wise, and he said, “Well, okay, but I think that would speak volumes to the women you travel around the country telling them they're beautiful just the way they are.”

I wish he just would have said no. That would have been better, but he used it as a teachable moment, and I appreciate that, but he was right. I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Now I speak about my eye flaps all the time, and they're a great example of the restorative work God's done in me. I sort of like them now I could admit. I know that God gave them to me as His special finger print when He was creating me, and all of us have those. It's interesting. Our society values sameness. We're all to look the same. We're all to aspire to the same things, but that's not what God's Word values, which is great because sameness isn't even possible.

Nancy: Erin, I'm sitting here looking at you and thinking, “You are a beautiful, young woman.” You really are. You're beautiful physically, but it's your spirit that is so dominant and that just shines and radiates. I've known you for a number of years now and watched you in this growth pattern. 

I'm so thankful for the way that God has set you free to enjoy and to experience His perspective on you and now for the way God is using you through this book, Graffiti; and your ministry on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com; through your ministry there with your husband to the youth in your church, using your life message to influence those young women to appreciate and embrace God's perspective on their beauty.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Erin Davis who is LIVE-blogging at ReviveOurHearts.com today. You have a chance to interact with her on the material you just heard. Erin will also be helping out at the True Woman conference in just a couple of days. Please pray for Erin as she addresses the youth, teaching them important concepts about true beauty. Nancy, I know those young women will be challenged in some important ways.

Nancy: Again, I want to say to moms listening, to mature women, to young women, to moms who have teenagers, or those who are involved with the youth in their church, Erin's book, Graffiti, is a book that you need to read and make sure that you're embracing the principles that Erin is talking about.

I'm in my 50s and found myself as I was reading this book saying, “Boy, there are some lies I'm still believing. There's some strongholds and obsessions in my own heart that are maybe not readily apparent, but seeds of these things that I want to make sure really get rooted out of my life so that I become God's kind of beautiful woman. But then, not only read it yourself, but pass it on, share it with the gals in your church, the gals in your youth group, with your daughters, your granddaughters. 

That book is available through our resource center. We'll send it to you when you send a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. You can call us at 1-800-569-5959, or just go online and order it at ReviveOurHearts.com. When you send your donation, ask for Erin's book, Graffiti, and we'll be glad to send it to you.

Erin, thank you for joining us on Revive Our Hearts today, and when we come back in the next program, we want to pick up on this theme and just take this a little further in some of the things that God has shown you that are really radically counter-cultural but that I believe are going to make a huge difference in lives of particularly young women in this generation.

Erin: I can't wait to talk about it.

Leslie: Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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