I was smack dab in the middle of that delightful post-college season when your calendar has more wedding days than pay days, when your wedding expenses are higher than your food expenses, and when you’re singleness is regularly put on display with a playful shove out onto the dance floor to catch the bride’s… garter. #Idontwantthat
I huddled outside the back of the party bus, mindlessly checking my phone and adjusting my expensive, rented groomsmen tux while bridesmaid giggles fluttered out of the open bus windows above me. As the voices came into clarity, I heard:
“Have you seen my groomsmen? He’s disgusting. Why couldn’t [insert groom’s name] have even one attractive friend?
And like a tattoo on my mind, this young woman’s words made their home in my head space in an anthology labeled, “Worst Moments of My Life.”
I have always struggled to see myself the way God sees me. Am I the only one who faces pain walking through a world that instantly decides my value based on the way I look? I, like everyone else, just want to be loved for who I am.
I’ve been on a long journey of standing tall in the man God created me to be and finding freedom from memories like this one that come fluttering back and attempt to swallow me whole.
The bigger reality is we live in a culture that is brain-washing us to see the world this way—from the photo-shopped images on every magazine cover at the checkout aisle to the endless stream of beautiful people in every commercial—we’re trained to value youth and beauty above all else.
According to this (older) research cited in a 2007 New York Times article, the average American sees around 4,500 ads per day, up from 2,000 messages in the 1970’s.
Now toss in the treacherous compare and despair game of social media and you’ve got a terrifying cauldron brew of judgement and materialism. A recent UK study cited by Time Magazine discussed the impacts of social media on teen mental health:
“Social media posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem… ‘Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.’ —Time Magazine, “Why Instagram is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health”
And I would certainly add the same effects for men.
This week, when the sharp-knife of that memory came flooding back, for the first time I felt a different kind of heart-break—I felt deep compassion for a girl floundering in a world where only the beautiful people matter. I realized how much pain and pressure she must feel every single day.
One of the greatest things I’ve learned in my counseling journey is to move towards painful memories, to sit with them and take a positive action to release them. One of the most powerful activities is to write to the person and see what comes out.
To the Bridesmaid who called me disgusting,
You probably don’t remember me—the tall, lanky guy with lots of acne who walked you down the aisle at that one wedding five-ish years ago. You held my arm for forty-seven hours of pictures and again when I walked you and your friend safely back to your hotel room when you were too drunk to make it up the stairs.
Today I find myself wondering about you and your story, wondering if you ever found a life of peace and contentment. I wonder if you know how much power and influence your words have every day you walk this planet.
You couldn’t have known I heard you.
You couldn’t have known I was fighting suicidal thoughts.
You couldn’t have known how painful those two words could be.
My heart doesn’t ache anymore for me though, (mostly because I’m awesome). It aches for you.
It aches for the game your trapped in and the immense value you place on appearances and body image.
My heart breaks to tell you there is so much more than the way a person looks, so much more than getting wasted and finding some guy to pretend to love you for one night.
I wish you could see you might have missed the chance to know some of the greatest people on the planet because they wouldn’t look perfect on your Instagram.
But my deepest pain is how you must feel about yourself, how you must value and judge your own imperfections. I wonder what you see when you look in the mirror. I wonder if you know your worth beyond your make-up and perfectly matching accessories.
I wish you knew your value far beyond the shape of your body. But most of all, I wish you knew this:
There’s a God who freaking loves you more than you could ever begin to understand. There’s this awesome God-guy who values you far beyond your appearances, who loves you for who you are and cares most about your heart for the world around you.
Despite the pain you caused me, I’d walk you safely back to your hotel room every night for the rest of my life if it could show you how God feels about you. No matter how much you lash out at him, He’ll always show up in your worst moments.
I doubt I’ll ever see you again, but man I sincerely wish you all the best. I wish you the greatest life has to offer. I wish you freedom from anyone you’ve hurt and anyone who’s hurt you.
I pray you choose a life of purpose; I pray you find that thing that you were meant to do and makes you feel whole and important and loved.
Above all, I pray you’ll take one small step to get to know God and his amazing son Jesus. Not in a freakish Christian-cult way, but in a way that could change your entire life and the way you see the world around you. In a way that could set you free from the endless comparison game and show you a much different way of living – a life that is fully and recklessly alive.
There’s so much beauty inside of you and every single one of us. Never forget that.