HOW I FOUGHT TO FIND MYSELF BEAUTIFUL

Anna Joy in front of the white building

I was still a child the first time I thought I was ugly.

My friend and I were in the church bathroom, standing in front of the mirror, shirts lifted up, comparing our bellybuttons and laughing at how funny they looked. I remember noticing her shape – how the sides of her waist sloped in and then slightly out before joining her hips, and I had seen this feature exaggerated in cartoons in the curvy, beautiful, red-lipped women who slink by and make the eyes of wolves pop out of their heads. I quickly looked back at my body reflected in the mirror, more box-shaped, my non-curved sides that fell straight down from my ribs to my hips. And I experienced that first feeling of inadequacy and envy.

I have not even been alive for 30 years yet, but from that first memory until now, I have an entire catalog of body shame snapshots built up in my mind. Painful memories and terrible images like a box full of hate notes in the back of the closet.

The tan skin of that girl at the ice skating rink and how by contrast my skin looked translucent under the fluorescent lights. A photo of me with my cheerleader friends and their calves all being thinner than mine. Seeing my reflection in a window one summer in high school and being horrified to realize I had developed “love handles.” The petite waist of my co-worker. The sculpted arms of my classmate. The flawless skin of my friend.

The time I saw a commercial to support starving people, and I felt jealous of that malnourished woman’s thin ankles. You read that right. Jealous.

I’m grieved to say that of all the tragedies and terrors in this world, the thing that has caused me to cry the biggest tears is the slow, strategic development over many years of dissatisfaction and disgust with my own body.  Ridiculous?  Maybe.  Selfish?  Definitely.  Unique?  Not at all.

Along with that box of hate notes in my closet is a catalog of all the times I’ve watched another person dissatisfied and disgusted with herself. The number of people I know who struggle with self-hate compared to the people I know who don’t leads me to believe that if you are reading this, you probably fall into the first category. You probably have your own hate-note box. I’m so sorry.

I’m intelligent enough to know that years of damage can’t be undone with a bullet-pointed list and four steps to follow. But I’ve recently found some incredible new freedom in the world of self-image, and I want to offer to you some very practical, tangible things I have done that have helped. Things that you can do too, today even, to fight for yourself – to find yourself beautiful.


I practiced saying “thank you” to my body.

To try to make up for all the hours I’ve stood in front of the mirror criticizing myself, I began a new exercise of standing in the mirror and thanking myself. Out loud. Compliments only. No mean words permitted.

“Dear tummy.  Thanks for making it so that when I eat food, I get to keep living. Torso, thank you for holding all of my important organs.  Thanks for being the part of me that people squeeze when they hug. I love hugging. Dear legs. I see you there, and I’m really thankful that you help me stand up. You carry me to all of the places I love to go. You’ve spent a lot of hours helping me run around and play and have fun. Your joints all work properly, and I believe you’re going to keep serving me for a lot more years. Thanks for your service.” And so on.

Gratitude is a discipline, and you would be surprised at how quickly this one works to lift your mood about yourself.


I quit magazines. 100%. No exceptions.

I don’t even skim the covers at the check out line anymore. If a magazine shows up in my very own mailbox at my very own house, I treat it like one of those poisonous water-absorbing do-not-eat packets that come in purses and toys and electronics – right. into. the garbage. And then I wash my hands afterward. I’m not kidding.

We could convince ourselves that the pretty pictures “inspire” us or that the articles are interesting to read. Or instead we could admit that most of the pages we flip past are advertisements created by manufacturers and corporations with only one goal – to get your money. There is a market for you. They know they have like half a second to convince you that something about your current self is not quite right and they have a product that will make it better. So they are going to hit you with the biggest guns they have. Hey you. You suck. Give me your money so you won’t suck quite so bad. Is that really a voice you want to be listening to? I didn’t think so.

Also a quick note – This can apply to any external voice that is making you feel less-than – Instagram accounts, TV shows, email subscriptions. If it’s not giving you life, just get rid of it.


I unfriended the inner critic.

Let’s imagine you’re friends with someone who spends all her time pointing out things she doesn’t like about you. “I can’t believe you ate ALL that food for lunch. You must feel like a PIG! Wait, you haven’t worked out in how long? Hold on, could you just lift your shirt and turn sideways real quick? I want to see if your tummy is flatter or flabbier than my other friend I saw earlier today.” Um, no. You’d stop texting that girl back, like, yesterday.

We don’t hang out with people like that, but we let them hang out in our brains, and they talk to us with their mean comments all day long. You need to block her from your brain same as you’d block her from your house. When she shows up at the front door and says, “Hey girl, I’m here for your daily evaluation!” just tell her you’re busy right now and maybe you can get together some other time (but in your head, you’ll secretly know you never actually intend on hanging out with her again). It’ll take a whole bunch of tries, but eventually she’ll get the hint and stop coming around so often.

And another thing – you would never (I hope) talk to another person the way this girl talks to you. So stop talking to you that way. It’s mean. Kick the critic out and for heaven’s sake, stop being the critic.


I made Truth Cards and carried them around in my pockets.

This one takes a little bit more prep work, but it might be the most helpful one of all. In our heads, we have all these little lies swirling around, but often they are tethered to big huge Lies. My hair isn’t smooth enough, my arms aren’t toned enough, my clothes aren’t good enough all might be little sparks from the blazing fire of If I’m not perfect, no one will love me. Spend some time thinking, writing, praying, processing with a friend to discover what your Big Lies are.

One of my Big Lies is that there is an expiration date on my worth and that eventually everyone who currently knows me and loves me will realize how terrible and yucky I really am, and they’ll toss me out. The sparks sound like, “I’ll never write a meaningful song again. I hope he doesn’t notice the 8 pounds I’ve gained since the last time I saw him. She isn’t calling me back because she realized how annoying I can be.”

Figure out what some of your Big Lies are and then figure out (again, think, write, pray, process) what the Truth to fight that lie is. To make my Truth Card, I took a 3×5 index card and drew a line straight down the middle. On one side of the line, I wrote my Big Lie – “There is an expiration date on my worth.” On the other side, I wrote my Truth – “God never changes. He knows my deepest, darkest secrets and mistakes, and He loves me anyway. He will NEVER leave me or give up on me.” Every time one of the little sparks from my Big Lie flies up in my brain and stings my confidence a little, I pull out the Truth Card, and read the Truth to myself five times.

Chances are pretty good that your Lie has been running around in your brain for quite awhile, and like a wheelbarrow on a dirt road, it has dug a very deep rut. If you’re hoping to teach your brain a new line of thought, you’re to going to need to dig a different rut, and if you’re ever going to catch up to the progress that you’ve made on the Lie rut, you need to go over the Truth rut a whole bunch of times. That’s why for every 1 Lie, you read the Truth 5 times. Make as many cards as you need for the Big Lies you hear the most and then keep them with you all day long. Pull them out and read your Truth until the cards are ratty and the ink is worn off, and eventually that Truth rut will find its way.


One last thing. There is a verse in the Bible I just love that says, “Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Your feet are what carry you around, and where you go, the light and love of God can shine. That’s the beautiful part. Stop apologizing for the space you take up on this earth. You are filled with God, and you don’t need to fit into any sort of template. Carry that good news with you, and know that because of it, you are beautiful.





Photo by my dear friend Tia at Innate Images.

MannaKristianIrey

THE STORY OF MANNA AND WHY EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY

Gather round, little hens, and let me tell you a Bible story. A very long time ago, some people who wanted to follow God followed Him right into a terrible wilderness. They didn’t have any reliable shelter or water or food, and they were…

8386628014_8285008fa2_k

FEATHERS [OR] AN EXERCISE IN FAITH

Two nights ago, we were having dinner with some new friends.  After dinner, their just-turned-one-year-old baby boy kept reaching out toward the center of the dining room table, like he wanted something.  There was a bottle there, so I handed it to him.  No…

the-next

HOW IT FEELS TO SAY GOODBYE, PART 5 – THE NEXT

Imagine someone in your family is traveling abroad, and a terribly destructive, record-breaking earthquake happens in the city they’re visiting. You wait for some time until finally you get the phone call saying your family member is okay. The relief. The joy. The eagerness…

18472935409_29e874f377_k

HOW IT FEELS TO SAY GOODBYE, PART 4 – THE QUIETING

The day after the babies left, I did precisely nothing productive. I took Bootsy to the pool and when we came home, we dropped our things right in the middle of the kitchen floor and they stayed there. I scrolled Facebook. I ate ice cream.…

Blue|Green|Black

HOW IT FEELS TO SAY GOODBYE, PART 3 – THE TEARS

They came as we were driving away. We had unloaded the babies and all of their things. We had gone over the foster care paperwork with the family. We had gotten hugs and kisses and last “I love you”s. Then we turned to drive…

Kalamazoo-19

HOW IT FEELS TO SAY GOODBYE, PART 2 – THE FEELING

I keep telling people I’m having like a thousand feels about the little ones leaving tomorrow. Excited they have good family to live with. Many kids are in foster care because they have NO ONE, so it’s always refreshing to see loving relatives step…

9450893734_55602cebeb_k

HOW IT FEELS TO SAY GOODBYE, PART 1 – THE BEGINNING

These sweet little foster babies that we’ve had since March 1 are leaving us on Wednesday to move in with some of their relatives. This is the answer we were waiting and hoping for when you all joined in the prayers yesterday. The big…

HOW IT FEELS TO SAY GOODBYE, THE 5-PART SERIES

The “How It Feels to Say Goodbye” blogs were originally posts I wrote and then published on my personal Facebook page.  Some people have told me they might be helpful to other people going through or considering going through the foster care process.  I hope…

image

Introducing…Ear Climbers!

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve seen that I’ve got some nifty new items coming to the shop.  Ear Climbers! They’re a really fun, simple way to add extra oomph to your jewelry look.  They can be worn on their own……

Deer photo by Kristian

What’s With The Deer?

My dad is an introvert, and he is the loveliest kind of introvert there is.  He is not an insecure introvert or an off-in-another-world introvert or an I-can’t-stand-people-everybody-get-away-from-me introvert.  He is a fully present, quietly observing introvert.  Always paying attention and soaking up the…

Love Day Earring Collection

Love Day Earrings

Valentine’s Day will be upon us soon, people.  I know many of you shudder at the red and pink commercialism of the whole thing.  Or you place a hand over your broken heart, hold your breath, and squeeze your eyes shut while you just…

by Brian Wolfe(y)

Tension

God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. {John 4:24, ESV}   When I was in college, I took a sculpture class, and for my final assignment I glued four giant, empty picture frames together to form a…

photo by Kristian Lynae Irey

When I Married God

Have you ever watched one of those horrible hunting scenes where a deer is standing in a field of brown grass, someone shoots it, it goes down, and then it gets up and keeps running? It gets shot again and falls, then runs some…

GranderEarth2Square

The Song that Erases Anxiety

Of all the emotions that can pass through the human brain on a given day, I’m pretty convinced that anxiety is the most difficult to deal with.  Several years ago, I went through some circumstances that caused anxiety to become my constant companion, making me…

JesusLovesMe

Weekend Worship Lyrics

You guys.  You’re gonna love this.  {I hope.} If you are a Jesus person or a church person, it’s probably not news to you that worship is hard.  Sure, if you’re climbing on a mountain or staring at a beautiful sunset or standing in…

image

Just As Real

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you are listening to a really, really horrible story, your brain kind of glazes over and you literally can not process the thing you are hearing?  It doesn’t seem real.  You feel numb.  Wanna know a secret?…

Church

Making Sure We’re Not Alone

{Photo by my awesomely talented friend, Brian Wolfe.} I remember some years ago sitting in a college class — Writing Fiction and Poetry.  Our textbook for the year was a book written by Anne Lamott, which is just cool.  Pretty lighting in the room. …

MommaSonSilhouette

One Year

One year ago today, I woke up in the morning and had breakfast for the first time with a little boy who now calls me “Momma”.  I don’t remember what we talked about or what feelings I had, other than a weird lack of…

LewisQuote

Baby Jace

Update: Baby Jace is gone.  Let’s turn our hearts to his family now.  To his parents, Jon and Lindy, and to all who love them. I really need you to pray.  For real. This is our friend Jon Hersey with his beautiful wife Lindy.…

image

My husband wrote a book…

This is my husband. Oh.  I know. I love him. Very much.   He wrote a book.  Here are my thoughts. When you hear the word “church”, what do you see? Is it the building? A steeple and stained glass. A yellowing hymnal. Colorful…

image

A Primer on Human Trafficking

“Child prostitution, Rita explained, was simply a way of life in Medina… ‘Everyone’s happy when a baby girl is born…because in around a decade, they’ll have a valuable source of income.’” When I first read these words, spoken by a resident of the Brazilian…

11821066_415540571967049_489323484_n(1)

Checking Out – regarding modesty

I’ve mentioned my lovely, wonderful church before, and let me just tell you.  I love this place.                               I am continually accepted, challenged, respected, used {in the best way}, loved…

JunkNecklaces

Junk Necklaces – New Shop Item!

Ok.  Whew.  Remain calm, Anna Joy.  Deep, cleansing breaths. mmmmrrrrraaaaAAAGGGHHHH!  I just can’t!  I am SO excited to share these new shop items with you.  Ahhhhh!! {panting} These beauties got finished up a few weeks ago, and then photographed by the lovely and talented…