My middle name is Jayne. I have brown hair that isn’t curly, but it definitely isn’t straight, and it’s not even always wavy. Most days it does what it wants because I’m no match for its stubbornness, and I’ve learned not to fight a battle I can’t win. I have light blue, narrow eyes. I’m five feet, six inches tall. I wear the same three cardigans at least five days out of the week, and the same two pairs of jeans. I have a favorite pair of boots and I’ve worn them every single day since I opened them on Christmas morning.
I am literally a “plain Jayne.”
When I was five-years-old I learned what the word “fat” meant. I stood outside my family’s tiny duplex, barefoot in the bright green grass my dad had taken such good care of, and listened to my friend’s cousin talk about how he would never date this girl he knew because, “she’s fat.” I remember being thoroughly confused by this statement because as far as I was concerned every person was beautiful (except for the bad guys I saw on that Cop show my dad watched,) and their size had nothing to do with it. When I asked them what being fat meant, they said, “Fat people are ugly! No one likes fat girls.”
Before that day, I genuinely did not understand that being bigger equated to being less beautiful. After that conversation, my eyes were opened and I started seeing that way the world defined beauty was completely different than I previously thought. Society taught me that anything outside of their norms was not beautiful, and all of a sudden, I was terrified of being “fat.”
I would think, “What if people don’t love me?”
That question haunts me to this day.
By ten-years-old, I was convinced I was the fattest ten-year-old alive. Every single one of my friends were thin, athletic, and while I was not their size, I was far from fat. I couldn’t wear the same clothes as them because I was bigger. By ten-years-old I was five feet tall and they were still barely the size of 4th graders. I remember thinking every day that they were beautiful and I just existed. In addition to this, the boys all liked them more than me.
“Who wants to be with a girl that’s taller than them?”
In sixth grade, I gained a tremendous amount of weight. My life was turned upside down as my parents struggled in their marriage, my mom found out she was pregnant with my sister, and we moved out of my childhood home to live with my grandmother.
My grandmother, who shows love through food, while simultaneously making comments about people’s sizes, as if the constant goodies aren’t a factor. And I swear the woman has a radar to know when I’m losing weight. She will drive to my house and leave a bag of cookies or an entire cake.
By the end of sixth grade, I was round, awkward, and I made the poor decision to chop my hair off into the worst bob in the history of haircuts. It framed my chunky face and accentuated the extra weight I carried. Every morning I would look in the mirror and tell myself, “You are not loveable. You are not beautiful. You are fat.”
Even more haunting is that a young man in my class, screamed at me one day calling me a, “fat ass,” confirming every one of my worst fears. I was fat. I was not beautiful and I was unlovable according to the world.
Little did I know I would grow an extra three inches to be the height I am now, and my body would use the extra weight I carried. I grew my hair out long. I could run a mile in eight minutes; I was strong. I gained friends. I was excelling in school. Guys took notice of me for the first time in my life. I had people’s attention, and they loved me.
At sixteen, I stepped on the scale every day for validation. Every day it told me what I wanted…until, one day it didn’t. The light switch in my brain turned off. The thought of starting my day left me weepy and anxious because I resented getting dressed. I covered my face with makeup, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. When I stood in front of a mirror, I couldn’t walk away until I pointed out every single flaw. My eyes, like a microscope on my body, zeroed in on each imperfection. On some days, I was nicer to myself and would only pick one thing to hate, but still I heard the voice of my classmate, even two years later.
Other days I would fall into a ball on the floor of my bedroom and cry so hard I’d choke on my own sobs. Digging my hands into the threads on the carpet, and wonder why. Why couldn’t I be beautiful? Why couldn’t I be loved?
“Unlovable. Unworthy. Not wanted.”
Soon, those thoughts became comfortable. Self-hatred became a normal part of who I was and I retracted from people.
“Who’d love a shy fat girl who doesn’t even like herself?”
Hating what made me intrinsically me, was easy after a short time. The voice of hatred rang loud and sharp in my ears constantly, and eventually I accepted what I heard as truth. I walked around for a year just accepting those harsh comments as truth before a friend called me out.
I told her, that I didn’t think this guy I liked would ever like me because I wasn’t pretty or thin enough.
She questioned me boldly, “Do you really think that’s true or do you just think that?”
To me, it was all the same.
The simple question rocked my world. Not once did I consider that my own thoughts may be traitorous. This caused me to ask myself, “Why would I lie to myself?” Or better yet, “Why would I be so hostile toward myself?”
During this time, I was getting over a heart-wrenching break up with a boy I truly believed I was going to marry. While we were together, I allowed him to give me my identity and purpose. I was happy when he was happy, and when he wasn’t, I fell apart. My life became maintaining his emotions. So, when it ended, I was left to pick of the pieces of my identity and I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I was lost.
I became a shell of a human. I would wake up, cry, and pull myself together long enough to talk to my family. Talking to people outside of my immediate family proved too challenging, and I stopped responding to texts, invites or calls. Every day, I would pull my brown hair, that isn’t curly or straight, into a bun. I tried to change the color of my hair four times, but nothing made me happy. I took no pride in the clothes I wore because I hated my body. When I’d brush my teeth, I tried desperately not to make eye contact with myself, because if I did, I’d have to listen to that familiar cruel voice that was louder than ever.
It took me two years to look myself in the eyes again, and see that my life had purpose. I spent my time choosing to believe that my identity wasn’t something as miniscule as my physical traits. But, instead that my identity consists of a multitude of pieces that make up who I am as a whole. I repeated scripture to myself daily, I clung to prayer. It was a fragile practice, but it was working.
I lived like this for several months, and I’d just started to get used to it when my ex confronted me again and asked me to coffee. I told him yes, but only to explain why I could not simply be a placeholder for a position in his life. We’d decided to go after church.
That morning, my mom left for the early service and I decided I would ride with my dad. I stood in the bathroom and did my eyeliner for thirty minutes straight. Just trying to get it to be even. Removing it, and starting over. Removing it, and starting over. The longer I stood there, the louder the voice would get.
“He’s using you. He doesn’t need you. He left because you weren’t pretty enough. You will never be enough.”
It made no sense. I didn’t want him back, but I wanted him to want me.
I began slamming drawers in search for another cotton swab, which attracted my dad like a moth to a flame. He walked in frustrated because I was slamming drawers in his house, but after watching me for a moment, he asked, “What’s going on?”
I shook my head furiously. This had nothing to do with him. But I desperately wanted him to understand. Instead of a verbal answer, I threw my eyeliner directly at the mirror, which rattled angrily.
It was then he knew. My father stepped forward and wrapped me in his arms. The comfort of him allowed me to release the emotions I’d locked away.
“He doesn’t get to have this power over you. People don’t define you, you hear me?” My dad whispered to me, “You’re better than this. You’re beautiful, and smart, and worth love.”
I could only nod, and fight for control.
Those words comforted a deep wound in my heart, and began to disciple me. I started to realize that my entire life I allowed others to tell me who I was. From the time, I was five-years-old there’s been a fear of not measuring up to an invisible standard of perfection.
So, I met my ex for coffee that day, and I managed to say what I needed to say, armed with the knowledge that I was worthy whether he thought so, or not.
Four years later, I know who I am. I’m still learning, and studying what it means to be fearfully and wonderfully designed in complete uniqueness. I trust that no one can take that away from me. Not a man, not a woman, not even I can take that away.
But, sometimes, I still sit on the floor of my bedroom and cry. I still have days where I feel unlovable or ugly. Where I wake up, and can’t find one thing to rejoice in. Those days still come, and they still pierce my heart with daggers. But, even on days where I weep over my insecurities, I have a deep-rooted joy, because I know the truth. I believe that I bear the image of my Heavenly Father, and that makes me worthier than any person, standard, or jean size could ever make me.
It’s been an all-out war with my desires, but I’ve begun to accept that I may never be traditionally beautiful. It’s simply not in the hand I’ve been dealt. Instead, I recognize that I am meant to be a woman of beautiful character—one who loves others well, who seeks righteousness, and strives to fulfill her purpose. I don’t have to look like a magazine model to be that. I don’t have to be perfect. That’s so freeing, because I’m not perfect. I still have brown hair that isn’t curly or straight, and most days it’s still in a bun. I still have narrow blue eyes. I still wear the same three cardigans and two pairs of jeans. I’m still five feet, six inches tall. I still wear the same pair of boots and my middle name is still Jayne. But, now, I trust that I am so much more than all of that. I am so much more than a, “plain Jayne.”