I have personally experienced the shame and deeply uncomfortable sensations that come with being overweight.
In fact, I spent most of my youth and teenage years struggling with pain and humiliation — sensations that came along with being significantly overweight.
I am glad to say that I never felt particularly bullied on that front — much to the credit of those I grew up with. However, I am also persuaded that I probably compensated for being overweight by developing a quick tongue and an outrageous sense of humor. These attributes most likely kept me safe from insult in most of the social situations I was in.
Ironically enough, I also encountered the other end of the body-shaming spectrum because as I turned 18 and matured in height and stature, natural weight loss and my own sincere dietary reformation revealed under-developed parts of my physique.
This new form of body dysmorphia also caused me significant self-confidence issues at the time. Yet, somehow I made progress in my life during that time in much-needed ways, despite my body-image issues.
How? This might sound strange, but one attribute of my physical body that brought/brings me comfort and confidence was my calves.
As I lost weight, it became apparent that my calves were highly developed. This strength can almost certainly be attributed to a combination of carrying my weighty frame through strenuous physical activity such as mowing lawns during the summer and going on ridiculously long walks with my brother. However, there were other factors as well, such as the fact that I am profoundly flat-footed and the locomotion of simple walking can often involve every muscle of my lower body.
Whatever the reasons, it became apparent that my calves had a body-builder level definition.
One time, I was walking through a neighborhood in California during a summer-sales season, and a gym-goer (commonly known as a gym-bro) approached me to tell me that I had the most developed calves he had ever seen.
Things like that happened more than once.
Within the context of my own suffering through years of self-inflicted body-shaming, I’m sure you can understand that compliments like this meant the world to me.
Add this to the fact that I never spent a day in a gym, never lifted a barbell with any real intent, and you might be able to see that this weird and unexpected feature of my physical body gave me unprecedented confidence in a way that I am still profoundly grateful for.
Some indications of how I felt about my calves speak for themselves. For example, I don’t think I wore a single pair of pants for a 5-year stretch, even in the winter. Why? Other people couldn’t see my calves in pants, of course.
There was even one time when I was able to beat an individual who benched 350 pounds in an arm-wrestling contest by stiffening my upper body and bracing my flexed legs against a surface behind me. Admittedly, the person was my older brother, and the surface was the kitchen stove. He called it cheating. I called it an unlikely victory.
However, one day – years ago, I was probably 23 or 24 – I stumbled upon an obscure passage in the Psalms that read as follows:
“(The LORD) delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.”
To me, at that time in my life, and within the context of my own internal thoughts, this scripture was oddly specific. I actually stopped and re-read the words, just to make sure that I had read it right.
“…(H)e taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.”
God didn’t take any pleasure in my mighty calves, apparently.
I was stunned.
After further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that many people like me have existed throughout time — people who became infatuated with their own physical strength, particularly as it exists in the legs. Apparently, this was something that the author of this Psalm had either noticed or experienced. It is likely that similar conditions have existed among the Jews and many other people – including the students at BYU-Idaho — especially those who frequent the gym.
In this regard, the wide variety of scriptural content that is available in the Standard Works has proven its utility and foresight in my own life; the example that I mentioned here is one of many.
“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me, but behold I say unto you that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means doth in many instances confound the wise.” (Alma 37: 6).
A weird observation to make about legs, and strangely specific perhaps but nevertheless true.
I’ll admit that I felt intimately rebuked at that moment. But it was awesome.
As I continued to read, the next verse in the Psalm said:
“The LORD taketh pleasure in those that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy. Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.”
I’ll never forget how immediately my heart resonated with the sentiment of “fearing the LORD and “hoping in his mercy.”
I had just been pricked by the previous verse because I was in conflict with its sentiments. It was totally in my head.
But ‘Fearing the LORD” and “hoping in his mercy” was something I could do –willingly and without restraint.
In fact, “hoping for mercy” was something that I had done throughout years of stress, anxiety, humiliation and shame.
And I had not been disappointed. Light had dawned in my life.
Now, looking back on these experiences, I would like to think that I know a thing or two about the ways our God can save us, even from ourselves.