Beauty, Faith, Identity, Issue 48

Starving for Approval

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Starving for Approval

Wide-eyed, I stepped into my new school. It was the beginning of the promising course I hoped to chart for myself. After all, being able to get into a top junior college surely meant that there was a bright future for me — all I had to do was grasp it.

I thought I would cruise through junior college just like secondary school. Little did I know that up against some of the most brilliant minds, I would barely hold a candle to my peers. I performed poorly in both my academics and my co-curricular activity (CCA), failing to meet the expectations I had for myself. With each blow to my self-esteem, my dreams of success started to fall apart, and I could barely hold myself together. I felt increasingly insecure and compared every part of myself to others. There was no place for me even though I gave my all. I started to shrink and withdraw from people, because I was acutely aware of my shortcomings and was consumed by envy and jealousy toward my outstanding peers.

As I was eaten up by my belief that I was a total failure, I started losing my appetite. I saw my weight drop and my body change. At the same time, as people complimented me on my weight loss, I started to find my identity in superficial beauty. Shortly after, I became obsessed with eating as little as possible, as I thought, “If I cannot do well in my studies and in my CCA, I shall go on a strict diet because this is an outcome I can control.” Within two months, I lost 10 kg.


Although I was skinny like I wanted to be, my hair was falling out, my period stopped, and I was constantly on the verge of tears. Mealtimes that were once filled with joy were now a significant cause of stress. I felt so lonely in school, yet could not relate well to others because I was harbouring bitter envy toward my peers and wanted to continue my obsessive behaviour of restricting calories despite their genuine concern for me. Worldly success, in the form of perfect grades, talents, and superficial beauty, was all that consumed my mind in every waking moment. Eventually, a visit to the doctor for gastric problems revealed that I was actually anorexic.

After a few months of battling with this eating disorder, I slowly started to realise that as the desire for worldly success had ruled my soul, God was no longer my master. This inner desire reared its ugly head in the form of an eating disorder, but the root problem was ultimately my ungodly appetite for the approval of man. Thus began a long journey of correcting my beliefs, and God was gracious to send many wiser women to speak truths into my life. As I became more aware of my sinful rebellion against God for idolising superficial beauty and neglecting my friends and family, I started to repent and seek God’s design for success.


As I began to understand God’s definition of success through His Word, I was convicted that my idea of success had to change. In fact, God’s idea of a life well-lived is totally different from the world’s definition. In our Lord Jesus, I see that God values a humble heart that serves others rather than one which competes for self-glory. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to become a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). In Philippians 2:5–8, Paul exhorts us in this way:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV; emphasis mine)

Looking to the supreme example of the perfect human, Jesus, I was convicted that a life spent chasing accolades and pursuing a worldly form of beauty would be meaningless. Instead of elevating the self, God calls us to be humble servants. There is great peace when we live by God’s design, and place our trust in God’s sovereignty and providence instead of taking pride in worldly achievements.

In God’s mercy and grace, He shifted my perspectives to mirror His own. In the past, I scrambled to meet everyone’s definition of success for me, leading to my obsessive pursuit of the perfect figure and straight As. However, I now recognise that only living wholly unto the Lord matters as He has the final word over my life. This revelation released me from the once insatiable desire for man’s approval in my successes. Consequently, my self-esteem has greatly improved as I grew to root my identity in God’s steadfast love for me.


During my recovery, I was also plugged into a community that valued caring for the vulnerable, which challenged me to focus on the needs of others above my own worldly success. As I actively engaged with hidden communities (people with special needs, migrants, and disadvantaged women and children), I saw that I was living in a bubble, obsessing over transient beauty and individual achievements while neglecting the more important task of loving my neighbour. Rather than spending all my energy on building up my own ‘palace,’ I have the privilege of advancing the kingdom of God and bringing the hope of His gospel to the lost!

I thank God for redeeming me from a fruitless way of life (1 John 2:15–17).

When we meet God face-to-face, even the most ‘successful’ person will not be able to justify himself through his accolades. Although I once starved myself for approval and chased after worldly success, doing so is futile, as all of us are foolish sinners before God regardless of our social standing on earth. With joy, I now sing that there is nothing I can boast in except my sinfulness, as my weak self displays the power of God’s grace.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 states, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (ESV). If you are struggling with your body image, I encourage you to ask God to reveal the root issues of your heart. It may stem from a desire to cover up a deeper insecurity, or it could be a sinful craving for the admiration of man. Either way, God is more than able to change your heart if you would give Him space to speak through His unchanging Word. I would also encourage you to humbly seek counsel from spiritual mentors. May we set aside time to reassess our values and the trajectory of our lives, so that we build our lives on the Solid Rock instead of sinking sand.

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