So if you ran into me between the years 1998 and 2011, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking about: my thighs. Anytime I ate something that wasn’t spinach or perhaps flaxseed, I would imagine the food curling up, all lumpy and warm, on my dreadful thighs. I’ve tried every workout, diet, and ­weight-​­lifting technique to slim and tone my thighs, but to no avail. When I moved to China, I couldn’t speak Chinese, and I imagined ­everyone—​­taxi drivers, waitresses, ­Ping-​­Pong court ­monitors—​­saying to me, “Have you seen your thighs? . . . Because I have!” One time I walked out of a gas station and a man yelled out his car window, “Hey gurl! You suuure been drinking yo’ milk,” which I could only assume meant all that frozen yogurt I ate freshman year of college went straight to my . . . I can’t even type it again. If I had online dated during these years, my inability to keep secrets to myself (see, I was born to be a writer) would have yielded some disclaimer about my thighs. Aren’t you exhausted just reading about it?

But everything is different now. I rarely (okay, only once a week) think about my legs. I made a decision a year ago to stop loathing my ­body—​­after all, all it ever did was get me where I needed to go. All those trips up and down the basketball court and all that rock climbing and mountain biking and Ultimate Frisbee I did at camp every summer had to merit some degree of kindness. While I was at ­it—​­that is, drafting a ­cease-​­fire agreement to my ­thighs—​­I also decided that whether it was my body or my intelligence or my work ethic, I would do my best to stop chastising myself. Because I learned that what I thought influenced who I became.

I’m guessing you have a few choice words for yourself, whether gross, unaccomplished, ­good-​­for-nothing, unattractive, pathetic, unintelligent, or something worse. Perhaps you speak harshly to yourself without even realizing it. These words may seem harmless, but in actuality they are poisonous to your ­self-​­worth, choking joy out of your life. When we criticize ourselves, we look for confirmation from others that we are what we dread most. A man doesn’t ask us out, and we believe it’s because we are somehow deeply flawed. He must have noticed my ______!

In all seriousness, pay close attention to your thoughts about yourself. Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? Are you proud of the person you are and the life you have created for yourself? At first, you may not be aware of the negative messages you believe about yourself. Here are some questions you should ask yourself as you begin this journey:

  • Do you only feel good about yourself when you are achieving something?
  • What do you say about yourself in conversation with others?
  • How many times do you think something good about yourself? How many times do you beat yourself up inside?
  • Do you push yourself to the point of exhaustion and berate yourself when you mess up?
  • Do you avoid mirrors because you hate what you see?
  • Do you constantly compare yourself with other women?
  • Are you dating a man who treats you like a doormat?

The answers to all these questions might touch the heart of the issue and encourage you down a path toward finding your beauty. Speaking kindly to yourself and believing the truth leads to a deeper sense of ­self-​­worth, affecting every relationship in your life. You will no longer be shackled to the opinions of others and can live free, knowing you are enough.

If you believe you don’t deserve more, you will accept disrespectful, maybe even disgraceful, love. If you believe you are unattractive, have nothing to offer a man, will forever be “the friend,” or anything similar, you will act accordingly. Remember, we accept the kind of love we believe we deserve. And our thoughts put us on a path that becomes our ­life—​­regardless of intention. What if you made a commitment to start speaking lovingly to yourself? What if we all stopped making war on our bodies and talents and accomplishments and sat back in the goodness of simply embracing who we are? Big, glorious thighs and all.

Are You Worth Loving?

I want to ask you a question that on the surface may seem easy, but it’s a question worth wrestling with: Are you worth loving?

The spring of my freshman year in college, I described my feelings after being rejected in my journal:

So he calls me a bunch of times and wants me to come party in his suite. So I drank and went . . . then basically ended up making out with him. He is such a great ­kisser—​­and didn’t even try to go further. He kissed me like he loved me.

Today, he didn’t talk to me. Didn’t ­e-​­mail me. Didn’t text or call. It ­hurts—​­I feel so unloved, unattractive, and used. I hate myself again and again. I want him to call. I want him to want me. I want to fall in love. I want him to love me. . . .

The man I thought hung the moon never did call me. After that night, I saw him a few more times at parties, but he ignored me and flirted with other girls. I was desperate for love and would do almost anything to feel wanted. But making out with ­him—​­or any guy, for that ­matter—​­only deepened my spite for myself because the feeling was situational. When the attention was present, I felt elated, but when it was absent, it felt like a ­crash—​­my worth disappeared with the party.

Your friends are probably like mine in that they combat rejection with sayings like “You deserve better”; “You’re too good for him!”; “He’s crazy not to like ­you”—​­right? But rejection often makes us feel the ­opposite—​­like we are unworthy of love and will never be good enough for a man. Because if you have never had a boyfriend or you were broken up with or if your father abandoned you, it must mean you are not worth loving.

But what if that isn’t the truth? What if you are beautiful and have an extraordinary amount of life inside you? What if I told you that you are worth loving, not because of what you bring to a relationship, but because you have worth deep inside your being that no one can take away?

If men cannot satisfy, men cannot heal, and men cannot ­save—​­we need someone more. We need a greater Savior. Brennan Manning, one of my favorite authors, continually painted the picture that our worth is not defined in the perceptions of others, or our ability to “get it right,” but in something greater than ourselves. Listen to what he said in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

You may be insecure, inadequate, mistaken, or potbellied. Death, panic, depression, and disillusionment may be near you. But you are not just that. You are accepted. Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.

Here’s the part where I give you permission to skip ahead, because I’m going to talk about faith. But before you do, I want you to hear one truth: despite what you have done or even what you will do, you are accepted. Not the best version of yourself or you clutching a string of promises, but you right now, exactly as you are. Hold on to that reality for me even if you aren’t ready for what comes next, okay? It will change everything about your love life.

Brennan shared openly about his ­forty-​­year struggle with alcoholism and many of the ways he destroyed his life. But he reiterated again and again that as humans we must find our identity in something greater than ­ourselves—​­something that cannot be taken away.

I didn’t find the answer until I was very broken over the direction my life was heading in college. Actually, that is an understatement. My life seemed to fall apart. My freshman year at Vanderbilt, I went to the hospital with alcohol poisoning. I finally realized that it wasn’t just an “Oops, I didn’t eat enough” or “I didn’t pay attention to how much I ­drank”—​­there was something deeper behind that night. On the exterior, I was just another freshman who partied hard, studied like a maniac, and kissed a few guys. But after the music stopped and I was alone with my thoughts, I was miserable. I felt like someone had scooped out my insides. I started drinking ­more—​­and hurting myself in other ­ways—​­to try to quiet the volume of my thoughts. For me, it took waking up in a hospital emergency room with a cross doctor shaking his finger in my face to realize something needed to change.

I avoided alcohol thinking that would “fix” me, but to no avail. I didn’t just have a drinking problem or a moderation problem. As determined as I was to figure it out without a God I had sworn off, my worth couldn’t be pieced back together by even my most valiant efforts. I needed more. I surrendered to the notion we were never meant to walk through all the pain of life alone. Life didn’t work without God.

It was hard for me to come to this realization because I always felt condemned by religious people, and I didn’t want to dress modestly or kiss dating ­good-​­bye. When I was in high school, I told God I would never be a Christian because he allowed such terrible things to happen to me and Christians were boring, frumpy, and went to bed at 9 p.m. Would I have to attend prayer meetings and use words like sanctification, accountability, and submission? Would I need to be educated on issues like predestination and women in church leadership or swear allegiance to some ­big-​­name pastor? I loved dancing and alcohol and short skirts and cute ­guys—​­how could I ever be a Christian? What I discovered changed everything for me. When you compare who Jesus really is with who Christian culture tells us he is, you might discover the two are quite different. Jesus spent the majority of his time on earth with nobodies and prostitutes and others who were considered ­outcasts—​­and he really didn’t spend much time around “church people.”

The message of Jesus is that everyone has profound worth, and neither sleeping with every man who gives you attention, nor lying, nor hatred of others, nor divorce, nor a failed ­career—​­and certainly not poor dating ­decisions—​­can take it away. As it turns out, God accepts short ­skirt–​­wearing sorority girls just as much as he does missionaries or those who have perfect dating track records. I found the acceptance and purpose my soul was longing for and began a relationship with God. He gave me hope in a hopeless world.

Regardless of where you stand spiritually, the truth is each of us holds intrinsic worth. If you believe what popular culture says, we are merely made up of our accomplishments and ­relationships—​­but that feels devastating to me. Then rejection and hookups define us. And all the demons from our past void us of worth. But Jesus declares that you, dear sister, are deeply, thoroughly, and fully worth loving. Not because of your promises to never allow another man to treat you with disrespect or your courage to end a bad ­relationship—​­but because of who created you.

You’re Doin’ All Right

It may take years to work on the deeper issues in your life, but the great news is every day you can make choices that will change the entire trajectory of your life. You can take steps to learn to respect and care for ­yourself—​­starting with your thoughts and small actions that display love for yourself. Let’s change our direction and take steps toward becoming women who live in the knowledge that we are loved. We must redefine beautiful. Beautiful is not a short skirt, a size 2 pair of skinny jeans, or a fresh face of ­makeup—​­it is who we are as women. Beautiful is caring for yourself and loving yourself well. Beautiful is taking the steps you need to deal with your past so it does not destroy your future. Beauty is something no man can take away from you.

Sister, you are worth loving, and I hope you start by loving and treating yourself well while you work on the deeper issues in your past. I want you to experience a moment like I did when I decided to stop focusing on my failures and loathing my appearance. One night my husband Michael took me to a fancy hotel, and I went to the gym to pound out a few miles to make my thighs at least feel a little smaller. Unfortunately, it was one of those gyms with a ­ceiling-​­length mirror directly in front of the treadmill (incentive to run faster, I suppose). I hated looking at myself in that awful mirror under the fluorescent lights, and thoughts of ­self-​­loathing swirled . . . until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I jumped off and nearly fell to my knees. After I caught my breath, I looked in the mirror and thought long and hard about who I’d become. Slowly, I smiled. “You’re doin’ all right,” I said, almost in a whisper. I made a truce with my thighs that day, deciding to stop hating them. Instead, I promised to lovingly remember all the beautiful places they have taken me: villages in China, deep creeks in the Georgia woods, and gracefully down the aisle toward my groom.

Taken from Real Men Don’t Text by Ruthie and Michael Dean. Copyright © 2013 by Ruthie and Michael Dean. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ruthie HeadshotRuthie Dean is a book marketer at Harper Collins Christian by day and a writer by night. She and her husband Michael call Nashville home. Their first book, Real Men Don't Text, will be in bookstores in the Fall of 2013. Ruthie writes a relationship blog for women at www.ruthiedean.com