chasing silhouettes – when being quiet can kill

Today I want to welcome Emily Wierenga to write in my place. Her new book, Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help A Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder is now available wherever books and ebooks are sold. She is an eating disorder survivor and is now telling her story. It is real and raw and vulnerable and needed. In her own words . . .

Wind catches the curtains in my children’s bedroom. They sleep with flushed cheeks and eyelashes long and every night I check on them before I go to sleep, and every night I feel both afraid and awed by their beauty.

I touch lips to their skin, remember how my mum prayed over me as I grew in her womb, that I wouldn’t be outwardly attractive. Because it was the heart that counted, the inner beauty, she said.

But I knew I had an appearance. I could see it in the mirror. And because my mum never gave me compliments, when I was young, and my dad was often absent, I began to believe I was ugly. Insignificant. Not worth my father’s time or my mother’s affirmation.

As a result I wanted nothing more than to be beautiful.

And for years I chased this elusive beauty until I became anorexic until it nearly killed me.

Even now when my husband tells me I’m pretty, I wonder why he didn’t tell me that yesterday, and what makes me pretty enough today to warrant a compliment, and I’m desperately afraid of him losing interest in me. Of him never being home, like my father.

But I also have my mother’s fear of vanity. Whenever someone comments on how handsome my sons are, I catch myself saying, “I know, it worries me,” instead of, “Thank you,” and I need to stop this. By assigning fear or worry to looks, we give them more power than they deserve.

Why are we afraid? My mum thought beauty could lead to vanity could lead to an eating disorder. So then I got one anyways.

I am learning to celebrate my children in the same way I celebrate a piece of art. I do not fear the beauty found in a sunrise, in mountains, in a cathedral, in a Van Gogh. It’s a beauty that points to a gracious and loving God. So why, then, should I fear it in the flesh?

We always have two choices: to inspire fear, or to inspire love. And I want to inspire love in my children. To help them see everything in their life—appearance, talents, friends, family—as a priceless gift.

If God has given them good looks, they need to respect those looks (by exhibiting tender loving care towards  themselves, in addition to integrity, modesty, and humility), and if he has given them extraordinary talents, to honor them with those, and so forth.

I will—and do—tell them, “You are so beautiful!” but I also praise them in other areas too, and then I remind them of where these gifts come from: “God has given you a wonderful gift with people,” etcetera.

I don’t want my children to be afraid of anything, because perfect love casts out fear. Rather, I want them to be motivated by the knowledge that the Creator of the Universe loves us enough to give us good and beautiful things.

Including our reflection in the mirror.

How do you inspire love, versus fear, in your children? How do you handle the topic of beauty/looks/appearance in your home?

Emily Wierenga is giving away one copy of her newly released book, Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder, with Dr. Gregory Jantz. If you or someone you know could use this book, or if you would like a copy for your library or your church, please let her know in the comments below. To order a copy of the book, please visit here. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy.

(This will be the only guest post in a series I’m writing, 31 Days to Hush. You can click here to see a list of all the posts, updated daily. If you would like to receive these quiet thoughts in your email inbox, subscribe now.)


  1. Jackie says

    I have struggled with an eating disorder for 16 years. I have 2 young girls now and I am deathly afraid my ED will be passed on to them. I still have no grip on it at 31, it breaks my heart for my children, they deserve better. I would give anything to move past this, I would love to read this book and see how her journey to recovery came about. I need healing. I want it and I need it for me, but more for my children.

  2. says

    em, this is such a good perspective that going either way too far can lead to unhealthy views of beauty and self. I do tell my children they are handsome and beautiful – and just like you said, I also tell them they are smart, brave, tender, loving oh, the list goes on. I make sure they can see a reflection of themselves through my words, but also? through my actions. I will catch the slow creeping smile of my son when i laugh out loud at one of his jokes. i see my daughter hold her chin up a little higher when i tell her she is being so gentle with the dog and that she loves being with her. as a child all i wanted was to be seen. i try to “see” both of mine each day.

  3. says

    Pip, my five-year-old, totally, completely believes she is beautiful. When we tell her she looks beautiful, she grins and says, “you’re welcome,” not having yet learned that she is mixing it up with “thank you.” When she asks us if she is beautiful, we answer her. I am not afraid of vanity – it is a heart condition that can’t be controlled, that can only be changed by God who loves her more than I do – I want her to have confidence that she is beautiful just as she is, so she can step out and do anything. Her beauty is not her identity – it is part of her whole life, and I want her to know that it is her life that matters most, so we care for her heart as we go.

    Emily, what your parents did was wrong, how they treated you, how they devalued your life and your very existence trying to keep you from being “too much” and from being “wrong.” They did not train you in His way. I am so very glad He did not forsake you. Thank you for your message. As Emily said, it is so very needed.

    • says

      i love this, kelly. and thank you for affirming me. my parents have done a beautiful job of letting me know how much they celebrate me in the latter years of my life… so it has been a beautiful love story in that regard. bless you girl.

  4. says

    Hi, Emily. Thanks for these words – I know well the dangers that arise from “assigning fear and worry to looks”. I’m 21 and have been living with an ED for…well, far too long. It’s stolen so much that’s important – the depths of many relationships, peace of mind, physical health, the joy I once derived from sharing a meal with friends, my understanding of being “fearfully and wonderfully made”…the list goes on, as I’m sure you know.

    Last week, a close friend who really loves me well was finally able to convince me – after months of trying – to seek out counseling.

    And I went.

    It was fifty minutes of wringing my hands and I’m-not-sure-this-is-for-me and praying through Ps 56.3 (“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You”) as I tried not to bolt. And I didn’t. I’m not yet at the point of self-motivation, and the idea of change makes me tremble, but I took a step.

    I can’t help but wonder if reading your story would help me. I’m very much an internal processor that way – words are huge for me. Writing, no matter who the author is, is a huge part of how I understand my world. I’m sure there will be many people who comment here and could really use a copy of your book, but I’ll just add my voice to the throng…and say that as I take these first, crazy, anxiety-ridden steps, it might help me to know the story of someone who pursued healing *and* got to the other side. Be well :)

  5. says

    beautiful Emily…just like you:) Your beauty radiates from the inside out…your outward beauty compliments the beauty that shines within. and this…we either inspire fear…or inspire love. Oh how I want to more like Him…and inspire love. wonderful post…blessings to you my friend~

  6. says

    Oh, this: “I am learning to celebrate my children in the same way I celebrate a piece of art.” This is life changing – to see my kiddos and my husband and myself, the other moms in the schoolyard and the strangers at the grocery – all living art, broken and beautiful. This is a gift this morning. Thank you.

  7. Melissa says

    I struggled with an ED when in H.S. and food still has a grip on me. My son is a big kid — his dad is 6’5″ and 300lbs and my son is nearly 14 and almost 6′ and about 205. I know he will never be a rail… what I worry about is the unhealthy eating habits… the wolfing down of food because it tastes good…the not knowing when he is full and when he is really hungry. He lives to eat as he loves food. The pediatrician was of no help. He just told him to cut back. It is not that simple with a growing boy. I don’t know how much is “enough” to feed him. Sadly, my family has nicknamed me the “fat police” as I don’t want any of them to carry more than they need to… it’s not all about looks but health as well. I don’t know how to draw the line. My daughter is 5′ 9″ and nearly 12 and very beautiful. I don’t know how to help her to dress well and not look frumpy and disheveled ( as I feel that is not God honoring to be on that extreme end of the spectrum) but I am no fahsionista and feel so out of my depth. I want her to celebrate the body and face the Lord gave her but for the right reasons and not to cause men and boys to stumble or to bring glory to herself.

  8. Ida LaValley says

    Wow! I never had an eating disorder, but boy do I recognize some of the thoughts. When I would ask my mother if my sister or I were pretty, she would reply with “Pretty is as pretty does.” Now I know that she didn’t mean it, but I would think, not only am I not pretty, but the things that I do she doesn’t consider pretty either. It took me years to overcome this thinking and somedays I still have this issue.

  9. says

    I let her pick her clothes and celebrate her uniqueness wishing I had the guts to wear whatever I wanted. When she tells me she’s wearing a dress so others will tell her she looks pretty I cry inside and outwardly I shrug it off and say “why would you do that? wear what you want to, what makes you happy and makes you comfortable” and she giggles and agrees. Lord help me when she’s not 4 anymore, or discovers the mirror. She has no mirror in her playroom or her bedroom. I call her my pretty girls no matter what she looks like (double black eyes included. :) ) and tell her when she does kind things that that is beauty.

    • says

      this makes me ache inside. what a good mama you are. this parenting thing is hard, but i think you’re doing a wonderful job. keep loving on her. no matter what happens, love on her. bless you, e.

  10. Mary says

    As someone who has battled with an addiction to food for far too long, so much of what you said in your post resonated with me. I have folks who love me…but, as with any parent, have not loved me perfectly…and that came out (especially with regard to my father) in a lot having to do with looks and appearance. Appearance has always been important to my father and it has left me, as a little girl and now as a woman of 35, with feelings of always being ugly…fat…never good enough. I’m sure this isn’t what my father intended…and it would probably break his heart to know that he had a hand in making this part of my daily struggle…but…there it is. Would love to read your book and see what someone else’s journey to healing could look like.

  11. says

    Being a parent is so hard. The complexities of thoughts and feelings and emotions. I guess I am more the focus on the inner beauty type. But I do try to point out how pretty my daughters hair looks that day, or how cute that freckle is on her nose. But, I never come right out and tell her she is beautiful. I should! Now I worry I have caused damage. Agh! Being a parent is so hard…

    • says

      no, no, you have not caused damage! i believe you were telling her she was beautiful when you complimented her freckles, etc. you are a good mother, because you care. bless you. e.

  12. says

    Thank you so much for this opportunity! Beauty is something that exsists externally, something visual, and internally, of the heart and both kinds must be celebrated as god intended them to be.
    Beautiful post.

  13. says

    Oh Emily. I needed to read this. I worry, like your mother, about emphasizing beauty because my girls are red heads and EVERYone notices them. I needed the freedom you just gave me in the lines, “I am learning to celebrate my children in the same way I celebrate a piece of art. I do not fear the beauty found in a sunrise, in mountains, in a cathedral, in a Van Gogh. It’s a beauty that points to a gracious and loving God. So why, then, should I fear it in the flesh?” Thank you. Praying for a great week over at the blog.

  14. says

    Beautiful, Emily! Always is.

    I have 4 girls, ages 18 to 3, and even though I did not struggle with an eating disorder, I have always tried to keep it in my mind for my girls’ sake. I had a high school friend who was put in the hospital for bulimia and I tried to be supportive, but I had no idea what to do for her. This book will be fantastic for those of us who have people in our lives who struggle with this, I think.

    Anyway, back to the question: I read the book Wild at Heart years ago and it changed my perception on how girls view themselves as princesses and how they WANT to look beautiful–God made them that way. I let my girls know they are beautiful, I let them play dress up and where “twirly” dresses, I let them wear make up when they are older and I help them understand that a husband will appreciate their beauty one day. We also talk about modesty and being a stumbling block and how God made boys. I enjoy running to stay healthy, not thin, but it helps in that area too. My mom died of diabetes last year because of her food addiction and I just want my girls to be healthy. I love to cook and I teach them about spices and herbs and how to make food taste beautiful and isn’t it great that God made food taste good, because He didn’t have to. He could make it taste horrible and we would never know the difference. Just like a sunset could be in black and white and we would never know. He is so good!

    I don’t know if I’m doing OK. I don’t let them hear me talk bad about my body and I try to not make any negative references to it. I tell my husband how important he is to affirm his girls and he does a good job, touching and hugging and playing and letting them twirl in their dresses for him. I try not to be scared.

    • says

      oh my dear friend… this trying not to be scared… this is what i do too. i try to live in perfect love. to not let fear rule. and i think, with this mentality, we can rest, knowing God is grace, and we are human, and in the end, we’re forgiven. love you!

  15. says

    Thanks so much, Emily, for sharing your heart, experiences, and words with so many people. This is a topic that has been influencial in my life. I’m so thankful for the grace God bestows on us. Bless you.

  16. says

    emily w, i may have shared this with you before. when people would tell my daughter she was pretty or beautiful or so cute… we taught her to say thank you. but when we were out of ear-shot of her admirer, we’d always say, “you are pretty… but what’s more important than being pretty?” and she had a million answers that were all correct, “being a good friend” “being smart” “being nice” patient, polite, a good listener, etc. we were careful to affirm that she is indeed pretty, but we wanted to make physical appearance just a part of what she thought was meant by beauty.

    and i’d like to add to anyone who might read this, it’s the way we behave that sends the real message to our daughters. if we belittle ourselves, or complain about our looks or our weight, that’s what our children learn. the subtle messages become the most entrenched.

    great post, emily. can’t wait to read your book, and so glad for you that it’s selling like hot cakes! :)

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