It was the first pool day of the summer, which for me involves reading a book until my vision is impaired by sweat, slipping into the water just long enough to cool off, and repeating the cycle at least twice.
Looking up from chapter 3, SPF 30 seeping into my skin, I gazed across my apartment complex pool. And that is when I saw it.
A sight that, honestly, a year ago wouldn’t have phased me. But today it had my full attention- causing my eyebrows to squish in a little closer and my heart to sink.
At this point you’re probably compiling a list of shocking things to encounter at a pool, wondering which one I’m about tell you: a grown man’s butt-crack (a phenomenon that begs me to ask, “Don’t you feel the breeze sir?”) Or maybe a poop-y diaper floating across the shallow end.
Although I can’t say I’ve never seen these, I’m sorry to disappoint you this time. What I saw was much more subtle. Something so common place that it didn’t even elicit a double take.
I saw a woman, probably my age- 24 years of life lived. She had beautiful blonde hair, wrapped up in a bun like a ballerina. She was sporting a floral two-piece bikini. If I had to guess, she wore a size 4 in jeans. Maybe a 6 depending on the brand.
What caught my eye about this girl on a late May afternoon, was that as she stood there, talking with a girlfriend, she was sucking in her stomach. They both were.
I knew it from the moment I saw them. And it was quite noticeable to me; as I had just scrolled through Instagram, noticing the same posture in friends celebrating Memorial Day- taking pictures by lake-houses. I’ve seen this stance in bridesmaid photos. And I’ve seen it in my own mirror.
To be honest, I’ve got terrible posture. It’s been one of my worst habits, and a difficult one to break after sinking into it for a quarter of a century. None-the-less, the moment I stretch into a spandex, waterproof suit, you’d think I’d been walking with a stack of college textbooks on my head- the way my mom told me Miss America practiced her graceful walk down the runway.
This is the season, when week-in and week-out, thousands of women and girls across the world slip into a one or two piece suit, and make their Princess Diaries transformation from slouchy to sucked-in.
It’s no mystery why this occurs. There’s an unspoken (or sometimes gossiped too loudly) pressure to earn the privilege to show our naval. If I look a certain way, no one will judge me for wearing this suit. But if I look too fluffy- too bulky – too hairy- too ANYTHING I will have lost the right to wear two-pieces or to even pass through the gates of a public pool at all.
But as I watched my neighbor and scrolled through photos, I wondered: What else are these women sucking in?
Forget the food-baby or the winter weight or the beautiful scars that bore the five year old in water-wings floating next you…Women (and men alike) are sucking in the parts of their personalities that make them “too much.”
- The man-laugh: the one that swells up only when you’re truly amused.
- The quirky hobbies that you could talk about for hours given the chance.
- The secret passion or the god-sized dream that you might see come to fruition…if only you’d unpack the seeds and let them receive the light of day.
- Your rich culture that impacts the very lens from which you see the world, that others aren’t quite comfortable enough to try to understand.
We restrain who we are in an effort to meet some sort of standard- proving our worthiness to be invited to the party- to take a seat at the oak conference table- to be welcomes to the majority culture- the list goes on.
We’re holding back the nature of who we are in order to conform to a world that claims to be open to expression, but whose action sends off a very different message by snuffing out the intrinsic art of every unique human- the very creativity of God.
So as you approach the heat of the summer, I want to tell you what I wanted to tell that girl at the pool. What I wanted to comment on my friends’ lake-house photos:
You don’t have to earn swimsuit privileges by sucking it in or depriving yourself of bread. The magazines in your local Kroger might say otherwise. Don’t read them. Don’t support those writers by subjecting your free mind and free body to the subliminal messages posted where the only true readers are just passing time. Go to the self-checkout lane and get out of there quick.
You don’t have to earn friendship privileges by changing your interests or suppressing your own opinions. The voice in your head might say otherwise. In that case, surround yourself with open-minded people who will tell you how valuable you really are. If the voices of the people in your life say otherwise… go to the places where you find enjoyment and the freedom to share your beautiful mind and make some new friends.
And finally, you don’t have to earn the privilege to be fully loved, deeply known, and intimately cared for. The world WILL tell you otherwise. To be loved, you’ll need to deliver a profitable return. To be known, you’ll need to be interesting. To be cared for you’ll need to ensure you’re not too much of a burden.
But with God, the standard has changed. Your wayward heart has been adopted. Your soul is a handheld treasure in the safety of your Creator. Your burdens are not too heavy. Your quirks are a piece of art. Your mistakes are no surprise. Your mind is an asset to the Kingdom. Your body is a temple- imperfect and aging towards a day of restoration. Your personality is a snapshot of the image of God. There is no earning His favor, His love, or His acceptance. The offer was on the table before you knew your great need and accepted it.
In His eyes, you are never too much to bear; always enough (thanks to Christ’s atoning sacrifice on your behalf); and a gift of restoration to this desperate, broken world. But in order to live a life of confidence, you have to stop sucking it all in and breathe.
Exhale the stipulations of acceptance.
Release the world’s expectations.
Breathe out the prerequisites of worth.
Grasp the grace of God.
Breath in the life-giving, joyously contagious, irresistible aroma of His love.
And just BE who He created you to be.
No proving. No justifying. No earning.
With Love and Freedom,
For more reminders of your worth and value as a woman, check out my devotional workbook, Worthy: 10 Days of Remembering Who God Says You Are, available on Amazon.