Trigger warning: This article contains mention of self-harm.
It was in secondary school when I took notice of the K-pop scene. I enjoyed the music and dance, but more than that, I admired the physique of the girl groups.
I remember watching on-repeat the music video of Girls Generations’ “Genie” and asking myself: “How are their legs so slender?”
I would entertain similar thoughts that came as I watched the videos of my favourite K-pop bands.
It wasn’t long before I found myself getting increasingly dissatisfied with the way I looked. I was taller than my friends so I seemed to be the giant among them.
I’d constantly ask them if they thought I was fat, but they’d always disagree with a puzzled look. Even then, I felt the need to lose weight.
It was in junior college that I discovered a “revolutionary” way.
A friend casually shared her weight-loss attempt: “I tried to puke my dinner yesterday, but it was so difficult — only two small pieces of meat came out. I don’t know how people do it.”
My ears perked up. Was it that difficult? If I could do it, would there finally be some hope for my weight-loss journey?
Though I didn’t do it very often then, each purge reinforced my hopes for a skinnier physique and intensified my guilt towards food.
This continued until my final year of university, when I wanted to pursue my dreams in the media industry.
At the time, I was with an artiste management company, which offered acting opportunities, and I knew that I had to have a certain physique to succeed.
Slowly but surely, the fears and pressures to conform to industry standards grew stronger.
With these brewing under the surface, my manager delivered the final blow. He said: “Cheryl, you’re just not marketable. Plus your eyes are very small.”
I caved in to my struggles, and began taking concrete steps to look better, slimmer and more marketable.
My toxic relationship with food
For two years, I went to slimming centres and tried all sorts of fad diets. Some worked, some didn’t, but none were sustainable.
Food became a forbidden fruit. So I’d eat excessively whenever I ate and would feel guilty after.
It didn’t help when my family questioned my eating habits and asked me to stop eating so much. I was caught up in a toxic relationship with food.
My body was no longer able to feel hunger because of the damage I had done to my metabolism.
My nights were filled with planned binges and ensuring I wouldn’t get caught. I’d buy two big boxes of cornflakes and hide them in my room.
But when the lights were off and everyone went to bed, I’d start to feast. There in the dark, you’d find me sitting beside my bed, back against the door and stuffing my face.
When I heard a sound resembling footsteps or a door opening, I’d get startled and turn to see if anyone really came in.
I was also prepared to go to the toilet afterwards to purge everything out so that I would not gain weight.
But my struggles were causing me to become dysfunctional.
I would find excuses to not go for meet-ups with my friends. At work, I wasn’t able to think properly since my mind was preoccupied with food.
I also wanted to stop serving in church since I was in a ministry where I had to be in front of the camera.
I avoided taking photos and looking in the mirror.
My body was no longer able to feel hunger because of the damage I had done to my metabolism. I was trapped.
Seeking help for my eating disorder
At that point in time, I was still a rather young believer who was just starting to build my relationship with Christ.
It was only after realising the rut I had gotten myself in and knowing that I was not capable of getting out of it myself that I called out to God.
In desperation I cried out to Him: Couldn’t I be set free from this struggle?
Seeing a psychologist was my last resort as I thought that I was able to cope and pull myself together.
In fact, I had already sought help from my family doctor before and was referred to a psychologist, but I never made the visit.
This time though, I was determined to seek help and followed through with the referral from my family doctor.
I didn’t dismiss that prompting within me, which I attribute to the Holy Spirit.
I ended up going for several counselling sessions and understood what happens to my body when it suffers from bulimia.
(Not-so-fun fact: You actually gain weight while trying to lose weight by purging.)
This helped to stop my bulimic behaviour, but deep down I was still struggling with body image and knew there had to be a spiritual intervention.
So I decided to share this with my spiritual parents, who were so patient in hearing all the thoughts I had about myself. They could see how broken and tired I was on the inside.
After recalling various incidents in my life, I learnt that these thoughts started when I became engrossed in K-pop.
I had internalised warped and false standards of beauty as truth.
I had also given too much authority to my then manager, such that his comment was able to shake my identity.
I became aware of what I was feeding my mind with through the things that I hear and see.
After our time of sharing, Uncle and Aunty prayed to renounce the power those videos and words had over my life and for me to renew my mind with God’s truth.
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-5)
I had to unlearn many incorrect perspectives of myself and learn what God says about me.
If outwardly I would be wasting away with each passing day (well, this is the truth), what then should I be investing my time and effort in?
And since God is my Creator, if I were to be displeased with the way I look, it also reveals that I think I know better than God.
I realised that I was not truly honouring Him as my Maker. For how could the clay say to the potter: “What are you making?”
Taking care of my body
Because of the eating disorder, I wasn’t able to experience hunger for a period of time. It was like my body forgot how to be hungry.
Things that I had to do during my recovery:
- Have regular meals. The routine helped my body to get those hunger cues back. It’s such a blessing to be able to feel hungry and eat when you feel hungry!
- Be patient with myself and my body, especially during my recovery. I remember being quite anxious about the impending weight gain. But I came to terms that my body needed to heal after years of being damaged.
- Open up about my eating disorder to trusted friends. I needed people to watch out for me and a community to journey with me. I also gave them permission to check in on how I was doing.
Things I had to stop doing during my recovery:
- Restrict what I eat. This taught my body that I was willing to feed it and not let it go into “starvation mode” where it would store instead of expending energy. Sometimes this meant eating the sweet treats I craved so that I satisfied my mental hunger. I also had to include a variety of food in my diet, so that my body had sufficient nutrients.
- Stop staying in front of the mirror for too long. I had to intentionally catch myself and walk away, especially when I was gaining weight during recovery. Otherwise I would end up scrutinising and finding fault with my body and allow ungodly thoughts to ruminate.
- Compare myself with people around me. Different people have different body shapes and sizes, and I had to learn how to accept my own body.
Feeding my mind with God’s truth
In my recovery journey, I had to stick Post-its on my mirror to remind me of various Bible verses.
I had to flee from thoughts that would suddenly intrude and rebuke them with God’s truth.
I also wrote a list of who I am in Christ that I would constantly refer to whenever times were tough.
Ephesians 2:10 and Romans 8:37 were some of the verses I clung to.
God’s word is alive and true. As I renewed my mind, the chains that were holding me back became loose.
God never failed to show up and refresh me.
Over time, as I became more aligned with God’s truth, I was also more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s work in comforting me during difficult moments.
There were days when I would be drowning in my discontentment with the way I looked, blaming God for creating me this way.
I wouldn’t know what to pray, or even be too frustrated to articulate words to pray.
But each time I chose to turn to Him, even if it was to cry or rant, I felt assured of His presence.
I also found my hiding place with God — a park near my house — where I would go to when I felt down. God never failed to show up and refresh me.
I’m at a much better place now!
It took me six years from when my struggles were full-blown to be okay with the way I look.
In fact, it was only in August 2021 that I was able to stand on the weighing scale and not be as affected by the number I see.
I can now look in the mirror and confidently acknowledge that I am wonderfully created as God had intended.
Though I’m currently in the media industry, I’m not in the entertainment scene. I’m serving God in full-time ministry, and I’m thankful and happy where I am.
Industry standards are set by man, but I want to set my heart on pursuing the standards set by God.
I’m also thankful that God opened doors to the industry only after I recovered from the eating disorder and strengthened my identity in Him.
I would never have expected myself to share this story publicly. But By God’s grace, I’ve made progress to the point that I’m able to share my story on camera.
To all who might be struggling with body image, I hope that you’ll be comforted, just like how the Lord comforted me.
Take heart and know that the same God who delivered and restored me can definitely do the same for you.
- What are some insecurities you have?
- What are some ungodly thoughts you might have internalised over the years from your external environment, whether through the media you’ve consumed or comments made by others?
- Have you looked into God’s Word to discover what He has to say about these things? How much time are you spending with Him?