Broken Chains #1: Bound by Image

Bound by Image

(Watch the spoken word piece “Bound” here)

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

(photos captured 05/2013-04/2017)

I have had natural hair since I was born. Yes. Completely natural; never permed, never texturized, never relaxed.

I hated it.

Not only was it brittle and hard to manage, but everyone around me, including my big sister, had silky sleek permed hair. I felt odd and misplaced. “Why can’t I just be like everyone else” I thought to myself constantly. This blanket of insecurity I was suffocating underneath drove me to cover my hair up.

I got my first weave at the age of 9.

From then on my mum did my hair for me, up until the age of 14 when I decided that I needed more elaborate and fashionable hairstyles to keep up with the latest trends. That summer, I taught myself how to do my own hair. I experimented with extensions and weaves and became skilled enough to replicate any hairstyle I desired.

I felt a huge confidence boost whenever I had my bum-length braids or curly weave installed. It made me feel instantly beautiful, and with each different hairstyle a new level of vanity and pride gripped my heart. Compliments and adoration from people around me spurred me on continue to strive to attain this false image of beauty that was presented to me by society. I was ugly inside though, self-conceited, filled with bitterness, self-seeking and dead in my sin.

with each different hairstyle a new level of vanity and pride gripped my heart.

At the age of 16, I started to wear makeup.

It was around this time that having “fleeky” arched eyebrows was the to-have thing in my generation and I felt compelled to follow the trend, so I started filling in my brows. After a while this wasn’t enough, I needed to wear more and more make-up to get the same beauty “high”; first mascara, then eyeliner, followed by foundation, highligher, eyeshadow, lipstick, blush … name it.

The culture and media were dictating to me how to dress, look and behave.

At the age of 17 I entered into a relationship.

This gave me a new focus: to appear attractive and sexy to my boyfriend to impress him so he wouldn’t want to leave me. (I was battling with insecurities, self-acceptance and self worth around this age and the relationship temporarily helped to fill those voids.)

I was young, naive and heavily influenced by people in my social circles (especially the ones who professed to know Christ). Seeing many Christians who I held in high esteem mirroring the ways of the world in their apparel and adornment encouraged me to do the same and told me that it was normal and acceptable in the eyes of God.

I imitated them and took these habits to university where I started shopping for more fashionable items of clothing to mirror their style; namely body-con dresses, mini skirts, crop tops and skin tight trousers. On many occasions, I stayed up till early hours of the morning scrolling through websites like boohoo.com, spending lots of money. I knew I had a nice body and I wasn’t afraid to flaunt it.

The hair and makeup paired with my unruly sense of dress gave me sky high confidence and boldness whenever I made myself up. The world called me beautiful, sexy and attractive, but God was indignant towards me.

The world called me beautiful, sexy and attractive, but God was indignant towards me.

Things started to change when at the age of 18 the Father drew me to Jesus Christ and I decided to make Him Lord over my life. Little by little he began to show me that the way I dressed was dishonoring to him and a misrepresentation of how a godly woman should appear. He had given me a new identity and a new name which meant I had to let go of my worldly ways and follow after him whole-heartedly. There was no way I could serve God and vanity.

This was the first blow to my ego.

I began to cover up my flesh and resulted to dressing very masculinely; wearing hoodies, baggy jumpers and trainers. I was dealing with a lot of shame and hurt from the broken down relationship and I didn’t want any attention from the opposite sex.  As time went on and I healed, the Lord corrected me and taught me how to dress modestly whilst embracing my femininity and womanhood. This really humbled me.

Adopting a classy and simple yet feminine dress sense started to change the way I felt about myself, the way people addressed me and type of people that approached me. I was being treated with respect and not being looked upon as merely an object of sex. These things were new and exciting to me, so I gradually let go of my sensual dress sense, but still clung onto makeup and false hair as a means of worth and beauty.

I was being treated with respect and not being looked upon as an object of sex.

Over the Christmas break, my makeup became heavier and heavier as I felt the need to make up in appeal for what I felt was missing in my dress sense. Before you know it, I started to become dependent on it. I did the “no-makeup for a month” challenge a few times in a bid to loosen the hold it had on me, but ultimately it was in vain. I was deceiving myself. Knowing fully well that after the month, i’d go right back to indulging in it. My heart and attitudes weren’t changed, nor was my perception of beauty.

I was deceiving myself.

During this holiday, the Lord also instructed me to remove the tongue piercing that I had in my mouth; I got it at the age of 18 before I met Jesus to make a statement, but in his eyes it was worldly, rebellious and a huge misleading distraction that was damaging my witness to the world. I obeyed.

The second blow to my ego came when I attended a “Freedom in Christ” conference. This changed everything. God used it to reveal to me the skeletons I had hidden in my closet and the real issue that was at the root of my weeds of vanity and insecurity.

I came home completely teared up on the inside.

The Potter had crushed the broken lump of clay in his hands and was ready to start remolding and shaping it the way He deemed fit. I knew exactly what the Lord wanted from me at that moment. Commitment, dependence and vulnerability.

He wanted to see me.

I got the scissors from the drawer next to me, took a deep breath, and cut off my braids one-by-one. I then got the cotton wool and wiped off every single stroke of makeup from my face. I felt a courage and peace that i’d never experienced before. It was honestly all God’s doing.

Once I had gotten all the braids off, I felt relieved but also scared. Braids had been my go-to style since the age of 11 and I didn’t really know how to care for my natural hair. What will people think of me? Will I look unkept, messy, unattractive? What is my style now?My doubts and frustration lead me to question God. “No hair OR makeup? One or the other Lord, that’s fine. But BOTH?..”. He stayed silent. He had already spoken. He just wanted obedience.

He just wanted obedience.

After questioning and hesitating, I then realized how my image and appearance had become an idol in my heart. The Lord was jealous for me so he was ready to shatter the idol to pieces.

Though I didn’t fully understand why or what He was leading me into, I had this assurance that I could trust the Lord to see me through the process. Day by day I began my journey to freedom. Naked and bare, before God and before men. Renewing my mind and learning to be comfortable in my own skin.

Day by day I began my journey to freedom.

Every single morning for the next 40 days I meditated on these scriptures and studied more about my identity as a young woman in Christ:

  • Genesis 1:27 – So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
  • Psalm 139:14 – I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    Marvelous are Your works,
    And that my soul knows very well.
  • Proverbs 31:30 – Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
    But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised
  • 1 Peter 3:3-5a – Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—  rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves.

Truth be told, it was tough.

I cried every single day for the next two weeks because I simply didn’t see myself as beautiful. The image of myself that I had in my head wasn’t the image that I saw when I looked in the mirror. I was somewhat disappointed with how God had created me.

But God was faithful to me.

The more I tried to run into the pity pool of defeat, the more God embraced me and reminded me of my innate beauty: one that comes from Him as my Creator. “You are altogether beautiful my darling, there is no flaw in you” He said.

I wanted to believe it so hard, but it took time.

You are altogether beautiful my darling, there is no flaw in you.

I had to renounce the lies i’d been fed about beauty from all those years growing up, and choose to believe in what God defines it as. I had to become content with my appearance without the mask and enhancements, and become more concerned about the condition of my heart. Many times I grew weary, wanting to quit and just slip back into old habits, but God lifted my head each time, healed me from my insecurities and helped me to renew my mind. He filled all the voids in my heart and slowly gave me eyes to see myself just as he saw me.

For the past 18 months i’ve been on a journey.

I am still on this journey, learning day by day to be modest and chaste in an extremely sensual and secular society, learning to embrace my natural appearance and invest more of my time and energy into the state of my soul. As I’ve grown to love God, my desire to deny myself and cultivate the inner beauty that pleases Him has also grown.

I still face the temptations and pressures to over-adorn my outer appearance and turn back to vanity, materialism and idolatry, but the truths that God has taught me this far and His perfect grace has kept me from falling. The Lord has truly been my shield and buckler, diverting the fiery darts of the enemy and protecting me from them when they do come near. I couldn’t have done any of this without him.

Christ died to set me free, yet I was still living like a slave to my appearance till he showed me my chains and shattered them.

I am no longer bound by my image.

I no longer place my worth or value in my appearance because it is perishing day by day. I no longer measure beauty by the fleek of my brows, the pop of my highlight, the evenness of my complexion, the sleek of my weave or even the shape of my body. I measure beauty by my character, behavior, propensities and desires, and how much these align with the person of Jesus Christ.

Makeup or no makeup, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Hair or no hair, I am His workmanship being perfected daily.

Costly or simple apparel, I am a precious jewel in the eyes of the King.

My hope is built on the finished works of Jesus Christ and my identity is found in Him alone.

To HIM be all of the glory.

(photos captured 04/2017-present)

So if you’ve made it to the end of this testimony, you’ve probably been comforted, challenged, convicted or a mixture of all three.

I know how tough it can be to let go of those spiritual crutches because of the fear of falling. I know how scary it is to walk in those convictions that the Lord gives out of love because no one else seems to hold to these convictions. But by the grace that God has lavishly given us, we can experience true freedom in this life through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. All you need to do is take that first step towards the Lord, and believe me he will RUN towards you.

If you want to talk, feel free to contact me, but I will encourage you to first take it to the Lord in prayer and allow Him establish your heart.

-JO Adeluola

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