I can say at last that my thoughts no longer get stuck on what I look like when I consider “who am I?”. That’s not to say I don’t care because I do. It is just that there’s no tension or fear attached to the thoughts around my appearance. For much of my life I believed if I let my physical appearance go or even relax I would be rejected entirely, and that would be the worst thing I could do. That’s sad. It was a long road to get here, God has patiently slowly walked me to this place.
I was a dancer until I was nineteen, and admittedly a fierce competitor. I wanted to be the best and have the front and center on stage, preferably alone out there. I learned very early in life that I was all of myself when I was performing on stage, and it became an obsession. Along with that self knowledge came the baggage that I had to “look like a dancer” at all cost. This goal was a disease that took over my mind, and in some ways my life. What I looked like became the most important aspect of who I was when I was a dancer. I didn’t give much credibility to the parts of me that got left behind, like what I feel, what I think, and what my body can do.
I began to learn there was more to me when I began my degree at UofM in the performing arts school as a dance major. There was the same focus on what I looked like on stage, and what my instructors thought about my body as it moved to music, but I was caring less, giving them less power with those expectations. It was like I opened my eyes and saw more of myself. I quit dancing. My sophomore year I returned to UofM as a psychology major. But I was still stuck on what I look like, getting that out of my head apparently was going to take two and a half more decades. I took up running, aerobics, and eventually became a fitness instructor. At least I learned how to be healthy while caring about my appearance. While I taught others to focus on what their body can do rather than what it looks like, I was very much stuck on what mine looked like.
I can’t say exactly what happened to part the clouds and help me really see but somehow I find myself at a place in my journey knowing for sure that I am so much more than what I look like. It began when God hooked me into orphan care, I had a purpose larger than myself. Recently, I am realizing my duet with horses is driving home the lesson. I get exercise when I ride, and I have to be flexible and strong to ride. Becoming one with the horse and aiming to have a good ride has a level of concentration that I had when I was dancing. That’s partly why I love it. It’s as thrilling to ride as it was to be on stage. But there’s this relationship aspect with the horse, and she doesn’t care at all what I look like, who I am, or what I have. She only knows what I feel like when I ask her to submit to my direction. It is a sudden relief to work so hard and not have the result be tied up with what I see in the mirror, but rather the feeling I get when my horse recognizes me as I approach her, and she comes to greet me with a big horse head hug.
I am convinced riding is a way to develop a deep sense of confidence. I feel it, and I’m watching it happen to Jack. Last night in his riding lesson he was given the opportunity to ride Honey Bear. She’s a big draft horse, and really my favorite lesson horse. It was hysterically funny to see little Jack ride away on top of her great big butt as she clip clopped a straight line down the rail. He rode her without the lunge line the whole lesson, trotting along with confidence, turning her as he was instructed, and he even went over two jumps on her. He was exhausted when he dismounted, hot and sweaty. I haven’t seen him smile like that in a long time. And I know the source of that smile, he accomplished something big and hard to reach. I think he is hooked. I know I am. I hope my children grow up free from the worry about what they look like, and instead firmly know and believe there is so much more to who they are. I hope they don’t fear rejection because of their reflection. I hope they see what God sees in them when they have a look at themselves.