A Body in Christ Millennials and Self Acceptance

A Body in Christ

Millennials and Self Acceptance

Story and photos by:  Trapper S. Kinchen

For most of Keli Hayden’s life, she was emotionally disconnected from her body. When she stared at her reflection in the mirror it was like studying an abstract painting because the image looking back felt totally separate from the person she felt she was. But now, at 27, Hayden is breaking through the surface of emotional dissociation and discovering the healing power of Christ’s unconditional love. After exploring a lifetime of buried emotions, Hayden has learned to love herself just as she is.

We learn to judge our bodies at an early age by studying how our parents evaluate their physical worth. So Hayden spent much of her early childhood watching how the people around her dealt with food, exercise, and personal appearance. “For example, my parents viewed their bodies in really negative ways and constantly verbalized that negativity,” she said.

As she entered adolescence, the gap between Hayden’s emotional and physical selves began to grow. “I started Weight Watchers for the first time when I was 11-years-old,” she said. “I look back now, and I can’t believe that happened.” The unhealthy connection she had with her body ultimately reinforced a great deal of deeply hidden shame. When she flips through family photo albums, Hayden always notices a dramatic shift in her appearance around age 4. When she started preschool, she began gaining weight quickly, and it didn’t take long for people to notice her changing body. At 5, her family took her to a nutritionist, but no one bothered dealing with the root of her troubled relationship with food.

As Hayden grew into womanhood, eating became a substitute for self-love. “My behavior was instinctual, and, once I got older, my eating became more emotional,” she said. She did not value her physical wellbeing and that caused her to psychologically detach from her body.

Her relationship with her appearance reached a low point when she transitioned from her small town high school to Southeastern Louisiana University where her character was constantly tested by circumstances. “I didn’t have a real identity and had never been faced with any real challenges up until that point,” she said.

Hayden had always considered herself morally immovable and emotionally tough. But the more time she spent away from home, the more she realized she wasn’t as strong as she thought. “I saw myself as resolved and stubborn,” she said. “But I now know that I was very easily influenced, and I conformed to my environment.”

At 21, she developed a friendship with an older classmate. Despite Hayden’s initial misgivings, they began spending most of their free time together. “After a while, I found myself falling in with her behaviors,” she said. “I was totally unaware of the pitfalls that were awaiting me.”

 

About three months after meeting, Hayden and her friend became roommates. The time they spent living together wound up being one of the darkest and most formative phases of Hayden’s life. “My roommate was struggling with her own body image issues, and she started projecting them onto me,” Hayden said. “I can remember her saying things like, ‘I’ve gained 15 pounds since I moved in with you. This is all your fault.’”

What initially seemed like a genuine friendship quickly morphed into something toxic and co-dependent. “Anytime she would get mad, she would go back through pictures of me on her phone. She would highlight parts of my body that she thought I should be self-conscious about and would say, ‘You really need to work on this.’ And I just took it.”

After sharing a house for three years, Hayden broke away from her roommate. It was a long, drawn-out process that took a heavy psychological toll on her self-esteem, but in the end, Hayden learned a great deal about spiritual discernment and emotional fortitude.

When her personal struggles were at their peak, Hayden was working part-time at a local politician’s office. Around the same time, she was also considering enrolling in law school. “One day, I got called into my boss’s office, and he said, ‘I would like to offer you a full-time job with health benefits, so you can get weight loss surgery.’”

Hayden was shocked. She had never considered medically altering her body, and she didn’t think she was overweight enough to be a good candidate for gastric surgery. But Hayden trusted her employer, and she took what he was saying to heart. “The more he talked, the more I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I must need weight loss surgery,’” she said. “He said stuff like, ‘I’m concerned for your future health,’ and ‘if you’ll get this surgery, you won’t be worried about trying to go to law school.’ He made it seem like the only reason I wanted to get an education was because I had no physical worth.”

That conversation changed the way Hayden considered how other people viewed her. In an instant, all her remaining confidence evaporated. She thought, “People look at me and think I’m fat. They look at me and think I need weight loss surgery.” Humiliated and 

 

 

Hayden was first taken to a nutritionist at 5 years old. photo courtesy Keli Hayden
One of Hayden’s favorite activities is tire flipping. photo by trapper s. Kinchen

convinced she needed to change her appearance, she scheduled a consultation with her boss’s doctor … but she never went to the appointment. Instead, she found a different job.

Four years ago, hoping to deal with some general anxiety, Hayden started seeing a Christian counselor. That decision led to an unexpected journey of healing and revelation. Through therapy, she has been able to systematically work through a lifetime of unacknowledged feelings. Over the last couple of months, Hayden has experienced a major shift in her relationship with her body. In July, while taking a walk, God spoke to her, saying, “It is my will that you be healthy and well, but if you never change one thing, you’ll still be my beloved.” Those words took the pressure off of Hayden.

Through a combination of counseling and spiritual warfare, Hayden has begun developing an authentic relationship with her body, and, through it all, has learned to rely on Jesus. Alhough she grew up in church and experienced salvation at an early age, until recently, something was missing. “I’m 27 years old, and until now, I didn’t have a real relationship with God,” she said. “It came with having to fall down and accept Jesus and his truth. Today, I can’t get by without Him.”

Hayden now values herself, because she understands she is worthy of love. The old disconnect between her mind, body and spirit is quickly disappearing because she knows her Heavenly Father treasures her. “You have to be able to accept where you are,” she said. “If you’re happy with where you are, then stay there. If you aren’t happy, then start walking in another direction.”

“The process of learning to love myself has been very slow, but it’s been totally worth it,” she added. The first step to self-love is accepting your body in its current condition. You can’t change overnight, and, if you think about it, you might not need to change at all.

After a lifetime of self-loathing, Hayden has finally decided to move in a different direction. “I have fought my body since I was a kid,” she said. “I tried to count calories, I tried to jazzercize, and I even did some stuff that wasn’t healthy.” Now, she treats her physical being like the temple of God, and her old insecurities aren’t as overwhelming as they used to be.

We are all marvelously beautiful in the eyes of God, and He loves us no matter what. The Lord wants us to be happy, healthy and whole, and He designed each of us to be uniquely perfect in His image. It’s important that we realize we are bodies in Christ, because His splendor and goodness are etched in our DNA. For most of us, the path to self-acceptance and love is long and difficult, but liberty is waiting at the end of the road.

“For a long time, I gave fear the ability to rob me of experiences and self-worth,” Hayden said. “But not anymore! I’ve been set free.”

TrapperHeadshot

Trapper was born on the lip of Lake Pontchartrain. He was raised there, reading in the salt-flecked breeze on a splintered wharf that jutted into South Pass. Never bored, he divides his time between trying to raise organic chickens in the Livingston Parish piney woods, traveling to different time zones, and exercising his mind by steadily learning as much as he can. He graduated from LSU in 2013 and Wayne State University in 2015. He is a busy fiction writer and contemplative naturalist. He has a great time living life.

Baton Rouge Christian Life MAGAZINE

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