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“Am I ugly or do I just feel ugly? Is what I see when I look in the mirror what other people see or do they see me through different eyes?” Too few of us who feel ugly seriously analyze such questions. We feel certain we are not beautiful or attractive but although we differ as to the degree of distortion, simple experiments reveal that almost all of us have a distorted body image.|
Not only is this not merely a female affliction, it is thought to affect both genders equally. Nor is it a minor problem. Full-blown Body Dysmorphic Disorder is associated with disturbingly high suicide rates.
There is much truth in the old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” If we hate ourselves, we are almost doomed to see ourselves as less physically attractive than neutral observers see us. Moreover, if we were presented with a line of people sorted according to the size of their tummy, nose, or whatever, and we were asked where we fit into the line, we would most likely get it surprisingly wrong. Not only do we not see ourselves the way others do, we don’t see ourselves as a tape measure does.
“I’m ugly,” you tell yourself, “No one could find me attractive.” But just as skinny anorexics think they are fat when they are not, many of us think we are ugly when we are not. Very many people want plastic surgery to change their appearance when the problem is not their body, but their body image. According to one survey, only 2% of women think they are beautiful. This gives an indication of how serious and widespread this issue is.
When a body image problem becomes so dominating as to cause significant distress or handicap, it is called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). It involves preoccupation with one or more bodily feature that the person supposes to be unusual – such as marks on the skin or lack of symmetry or a body part being too small or too big – that most people can hardly notice or else consider insignificant.
People suffering from BDD are often very reluctant to seek help because they fear others will think them vain or self-centered. They usually have low self-esteem and judge themselves almost solely by their appearance. Some feel able to settle for nothing less than perfection in their appearance. They might be envious of other people but in reality if they had the body of someone they envied, they would soon find imperfections and most likely end up feeling no better about themselves.
You might not have full-blown Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) like Melody had, but if she can overcome BDD, you will see there is great hope for you.
Here’s Melody's story.
When I was little, my mother had never told me I was pretty, but instead allowed my siblings to make fun of me and cruelly tease me about my looks, as kids can be prone to do. I was a very sensitive child, and I would cry in my heart. More dangerous than the teasing, however, is that I believed every word they said.
My teenage years were even harder than my earlier years because of how I felt I looked – ugly. I hated everything about me.
Sadly, it even made me cry on my wedding day. I so wanted to be a pretty bride, but after spending hours getting my hair done, I still felt so ugly. I learned to smile for the world, so that no one would know how I really felt about myself. I never shared my “secret” (that I hated everything about me) with anyone. Not even my husband knew, until well into our marriage.
If someone complimented me, I instantly disbelieved it and never let it live for even a moment. I felt they either pitied me for how I looked, or were outright liars, or had really poor taste!
I blamed everything on my looks. If someone didn’t like me, it was because they thought I was ugly. If someone got a promotion over me, it was because of how ugly I was. And so on.
Circumstances came to a head in my early thirties. I became more depressed than ever before. Thoughts came saying I was too ugly to deserve to live. The more I opened my heart to these thoughts, the stronger they became. The more I believed them, the more they “fed” me their lies. They became almost like friends, because they understood my life-long battle with my outward appearance.
I found it torturous to look in a mirror. As I looked I saw body parts become distorted as if I were looking into a fun house mirror. I saw some features on my face grow to enormous size, and others shrink to an unnatural size.
My self hatred grew.
It was often agony for me to be out in public, not only because of my deep depression, but because I thought I looked so hideous that I would scare people if they had to look at me. My husband loved to go out once a week with me for supper. I knew that he worked so hard and it was a release for him, so would I force myself to go for his sake. Despite my best intentions, however, we sometimes had to turn around and go back home because it was just too much for me.
I had known Jesus from the age of four. I knew he loved me – even in my (imagined) ugliness. But deep down, I harbored anger at God for making me so ugly, when with all his power he could have made me pretty.
I loved every verse in the Bible, except Romans 9:20, “ . . . Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Those words were exactly what I would rail against God. I said he made a mistake, and didn’t know what he was doing. I told him that he loved those that are pretty more than he loved me.
He didn’t answer me a word, for he is always right, and deep down I knew it. Nevertheless, I stubbornly held on to my pain and anger. Until one day . . .
At the end of my rope, so to speak, in the pain of another deep depression, I stopped sidestepping from that scripture and fully surrendered to the Lord. I no longer wanted to believe I had found a part of the Bible that was somehow incorrect.
I was finally at a point where I would rather accept the way I looked, than carry anger toward the Lord anymore.
I still felt horrendously disfigured, non-human, ugly, monstrous. Nevertheless, I was at last willing to tell the Lord that if this is the way he made me, then I know he is all-wise, and that he does not make any mistakes, and he always chooses what is ultimately best for those who love him.
To my delight, once I gave it all to the Lord, my inner healing began. Almost immediately, he gave me the grace to love myself and accept myself, for the very first time that I could remember. In those early days after my surrender, it was God who was fighting for me but he began teaching me how to fight for myself. After about two weeks, I was able to join the Lord in defending myself. I had never fought for myself before, only against myself. I could never fully stand before because I had been at war with myself. Now I was whole! Now, instead of seeing myself or my body as my enemy, I could unite with myself and with the Lord to fight those things that were attacking me.
The Lord began to teach me how I could ward off the fiery darts of the enemy by telling satan/demons that I was accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6).
I found that I could begin to look in a mirror and not cry or be disgusted. That was the first step. The enemy had lost this battle but he didn’t want to give up easily.
Early in my healing, when I would look in the mirror, and would notice my features beginning to distort, I would quickly look away and tell myself that what I was seeing was not the truth. I began to look at myself in the mirror and speak kindly and lovingly to myself. I had previously spent an unnaturally long time obsessively looking at myself in the mirror, and I realized that this was unhealthy and was not a useful way to spend my time, so I limited that kind of obsessive behavior.
The Lord taught me that I had the power to stop following negative trains of thought. Just because they entered into my mind, I did not have to “join in” with their negative, demoralizing, self-critical messages. He revealed that I had the choice to not let minor things become major issues for me. We all have the choice to let minor things just waft over us, instead of letting them upset us. I do not have to act like a victim. I have the power to choose. It is up to me whether I major on a “bad hair day” or whether I refuse not to so focus on the minor as to let my mind turn it into something big.
But beyond stopping destructive thought patterns, we need to replace them with positive, truthful, self-validating and honoring messages.
The Lord showed me that unrealistic expectations of perfection would always end in sorrow. He said that to break free from misery I must be willing to let go of my infatuation with perfection. Nothing this side of heaven is perfect. In fact, he revealed that there is beauty in imperfection. Much in nature – clouds, mountains, streams and so on – are beautiful precisely because of their imperfection and uniqueness. I needed to embrace that concept and apply it to myself.
Then there’s the staggering thought that, for those granted the understanding, nothing in the universe is as beautiful as Jesus’ scars – the very marks that some would call ugly disfigurements.
Because I often felt as if just being me – wasn’t “enough,” I began to tell myself, “I am enough, just the way I am. God loves and accepts me just the way I am, so I will do likewise.”
The Lord sometimes dropped whole sentences into my heart, such as, “I am more than how I look.” As commonplace as that may sound, I had never in my life thought like this. Previously, I would have dismissed such thoughts – and had I done so now, I could have lost my healing – but now I was keen to grab such thoughts like a starving child grasping for crumbs. I chose to believe positive thoughts and savor them, repeating them over and over to myself.
As I continued to heal, I also found that the Lord would bring back kind words/compliments from others from my past. I used to immediately dismiss such things, but now it was like I was hearing them for the first time and was able to allow them into my heart and it also helped to heal that wound within me.
I had no idea at the time that what the Lord was personally teaching me is what is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a method psychologists have developed to treat Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Taking great care about what I think is something I need to vigilantly stay on top of, lest I become entangled again in the snare of destructive thinking.
Slowly, as I walked in faith and in the victory that I had won, I began to see myself through different eyes. I began to tell myself that most of all I wanted to be beautiful in the Lord’s eyes. He says in Proverbs 31 that a woman who is truly praiseworthy is one not with mere outward beauty but who one who fears the Lord. 1 Peter 3:4 showed me that it is my inner heart that needs to be cultivated more so than my outer appearance that will grow old. 1 Samuel 16:7 says that God looks not on our outward appearance, but on our hearts.
I purposed in my heart not to base my opinion of myself on what people may say or think (whether good or bad), but on those things that really matter in this life. It will not end up mattering at all what we looked like physically during our stay on earth, but it matters what we have allowed God to do in our hearts. I want to set my mind on things above, not be disappointed for all eternity by letting myself be sidetracked by earthly things (Colossians 3:2).
The Lord has brought me to a place where my greatest desire is that if anyone sees beauty in me, it is because of the beauty of the Lord within. Isaiah 53:2 says that Jesus did not have physical beauty that we should be attracted to him, but his attraction is the beauty of the Lord upon him and his godly nature.
Repeatedly, (e.g. Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:27-28; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; Ephesians 5:29; James 2:8) the Bible says that we are to love others as we love ourselves. I had always thought it would be prideful to love myself – and was taught that in church – but the Lord showed me that while we are not to love ourselves in a selfish or prideful way, we are allowed, and even commanded, to love ourselves.
It is true that the Bible tells us to hate ourselves, but it also says we are to hate our parents (Luke 14:26). The use of this word “hate” means that God must be absolutely first in our affections, but the rest of Jesus’ teaching and Scripture stresses that we must love and honor our parents and to not do so is a grave offense (Matthew 15:4-10; 1 Timothy 5:8). And just as we must love and honor our parents, so we must love and honor ourselves, since the Bible is emphatic that God loves us. To not love as God loves is to put ourselves at odds with God. We cannot claim to be godly unless we love others (ourselves included) as God loves.
That means we must love every part of ourselves, and not reject parts we deem not acceptable. We must want and strive for the best for ourselves; to embrace and accept ourselves, even our imperfections. We should cooperate with Christ in changing those character traits that need to be changed and accept the rest of us. When we can have mercy toward ourselves, it is easy to extend it toward others, and when we can love ourselves, it is easier to love others as God loves and sees them.
Ephesians 6:11-16 – about putting on the armor of God – has taught me much, not only about thoughts affecting BDD, but for life in general. God has shown me that I need to hold every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and to make sure it is the Truth and/or in the spirit of Truth (2 Corinthians 10:5).
I wish I could better explain how the Holy Spirit has helped me totally reverse how I view life, and myself and other people. He continues to alert me to wrong thought patterns, causing me to challenge their validity. If a thought is erroneous in nature, or not edifying, he shows me the better way to think. A good scripture for this is Philippians 4:8, where we are challenged to think on things that build us up – things that are true, pure, praiseworthy, and so on.
He has shown me certain triggers I need to stay away from. One such example for me is television shows about plastic surgery. For my own well-being – so as not to give the devil the slightest opportunity – I must abstain from watching such shows. I enjoy my freedom far too much to let something like this bring me down. As the Bible says, it is the little foxes – the seemingly insignificant things – that can spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15).
Let me share something that just happened the other day as an example of my ongoing healing and learning to build a healthy foundation.
I innocently watched a show the other day that featured people styling hair. I awoke the next morning with a slightly uneasy feeling. I knew in my heart or spirit that I needed to address something. The show came back to mind and the Lord reminded me that at one point while watching it, I admired a facial feature of a particular woman and had the fleeting thought, “I wish mine looked like hers.” It was quick and fleeting, but the Lord showed me that it was a covetous thought and that it was invalidating how I looked, and could lead me into dangerous thinking, if I didn’t address it right away.
The Lord has been speaking to me lately about covetousness and being content with what I have, down to the tiniest of things. He is leading me to a more pure way of thinking; inspiring me to dwell in thankfulness for where the Lord has placed me, in all areas of my life. To do anything else borders on covetousness and ungratefulness to the Lord, as he always chooses what is ultimately best for me at any given time.
Philippians 4:11,12 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Emphasis mine)
So, needless to say, I repented and determined by his grace, not to compare myself to anyone – as he had already showed me the dangers of doing this.
2 Corinthians 10:12 . . . When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
Through Christ, I have maintained my healing for over two years, now. I have resolved to always be vigilant to not allow the lies and distortions of truth by the enemy to take over my mind and heart anymore. The wounded part of me that allowed my Body Dysmorphic Disorder to grow needs to continue to heal, and the last thing I need is to sabotage the healing by re-infecting the wound with contaminated thoughts. By his grace I stand steadfast in the liberty Christ has given me (Galatians 5:1).
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is like using an electron microscope to examine a work of art and complaining that the result looks hideous. If we engage in intense microscopic examination, we will end up so deluded by the details that we completely miss what the artist intended and – surprise, surprise – everything seems meaningless.
It takes no more than average ignorance to look at a painting close up and complain about what seem to be imperfections. You need a great intellect, however, to truly appreciate great art.
Ironically, we live too close to life to be able to see the really big things. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is but one of a huge range of tragic consequences. Squandering our lives chasing after fame or money or pleasure are just a few of the other possibilities. Only faith in God empowers us to see things from the eternal perspective – to sufficiently distance ourselves from the small stuff to see the big picture.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God,” says 2 Corinthians 4:7.
To become fixated on one’s physical appearance is like being handed a priceless present and mistakenly supposing that the cardboard box it comes in is everything. We become so preoccupied with the packaging, so disappointed with the disposable, that we fail to discover the exquisite gift within.
Significantly, the words prior to “we have this treasure in jars of clay” are:
Someone else with Body Dysmorphic Disorder has kindly let me share her story with you. I'll call her Jan. So acute is her condition that she believes that only about three times in the last fifteen years has she been able to look in the mirror and see what she really looks like, rather than a gross distortion. Amazingly, she confided to me that during her long marriage this affliction has never hindered her intimacy with her husband. She joked that she is “too ugly to walk to the post box but stark naked [making love with her husband] is just fine.” The key to her remarkable freedom is her attitude to lovemaking. Jan says, “I guess it’s because I’m not focused on me – it’s about giving.”
We all know the parable of the talents. A man entrusted his wealth to three servants, assigning them with the task of maximizing his investment. While two worked hard at it, the third put his feet up and did nothing. When the master came to the third servant and discovered that he had not even tried, the master said, “That’s fine. You aren’t as good-looking as the others so you couldn’t have achieved anything anyhow.”
Actually, that’s not quite how Jesus’ parable goes.
It’s vital that we not let ourselves be sidetracked by the superficial and let trivialities trash our enormous potential.
We live in a dangerously shallow world that emphasizes the unimportant. That world will end. Even in this life the outward shell withers and it is only inner beauty – the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) that lasts.
We must not let the world’s values corrupt us:
John 7:24 Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.
1 Samuel 16:7 . . . Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
1 Peter 1:24-25 For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.
1 Peter 3:3-5 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, 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. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. . . .
1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
What turns a “nobody” into a hero? Heroes are ordinary people lucky enough to be thrown into situations where almost everything goes wrong and then they refuse to let that stop them. Within every Christian is the power of an eagle to face contrary winds and soar higher the fiercer they blow. The imperfections of life are our opportunity for glory.
Born with a rare disease, Lizzie Velasquez suffers abnormalities including a brown eye and a blue one and being appallingly skinny. A short video of her slipped out and went viral. To her horror, it had four million hits, she was voted the ugliest person on the Internet and the Internet flooded with multiplied thousands of cruel comments about her looks. Like a moth drawn to a deadly flame, she kept reading what people had publicly written about her. Not one comment was positive. Some said that for the sake of others she should put a bag over her head whenever she was in public. She even received tips as to how to kill herself.
People might call her physically ugly but her courage and beautiful heart are so immense as to totally eclipse her physical appearance. Instead of surrendering to bitterness or hiding in false shame, she has used her looks to launch a career as a motivational speaker; urging people not to let outward appearance define who they are, not to surrender to bullying, and so on.
Lizzie Velasquez is living proof that physical appearance is nothing like as important as most of us suppose. Being genuinely ugly need not hold us back. In fact, Lizzie’s physical limitations have given her far greater opportunities than me to positively impact huge numbers of people. In the light of this, I am not the slightest surprised that Lizzie has called her disease-ravaged physical appearance, “the greatest blessing in my life.” Having learned what she has achieved, there is a real sense in which I wish my physical appearance were actually many times more hideous than I have often imagined it to be.
Being born with genetic defects raises a complex matter that is outside the scope of this webpage but I feel compelled to at least touch on it, lest, in our failure to think things through, we end up in the ridiculous situation of accusing God of evil.
In his astounding love and power, God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). The Almighty keeps pouring out his goodness upon what seems a hopeless situation until it not only stops evil in its tracks but makes it do a complete U-turn. We can get so excited about the good that God brings out of disasters as to lose sight of the fact that it was originally evil and anti-God.
We are not yet in heaven, where everyone not only longs to do every single thing in total submission to God’s perfect love and wisdom, but actually achieves it. To sin is to act in defiance of God’s perfect ways. The result not only breaks God’s heart but ends up hurting other people whom God loves and also defiles the person who sinned.
All of us are works of art that have been vandalized by sin – not merely marred by our own sin and the sins of our contemporaries but even by the sins of our distant ancestors, whose anti-God activities ended up affecting not only the environment but the human gene pool. Just as it broke God’s heart when people said cruel and hurtful things about Lizzie Velasquez, so it breaks his heart that each of us was born to parents who not only treated us with less than perfect wisdom but passed on to us less than perfect genes. Yes, God could have rendered us incapable of having children, but what an enormous loss that would be. And yes, God could have forced us into total slavery to his perfect ways but the results would be chilling. It would, for example, reduce us to little more than machines who could never be praised and honored for doing good.
A man wrote to me, upset with God because his wife, who had taught Sunday School and belonged to an anti-drug organization, had ended up addicted to drugs and left him, taking the children as well. I replied, “You could have kidnapped your wife and imprisoned her, thereby forcibly preventing her from taking drugs and from leaving you. You chose not to do so because you are too decent a man for that. Do you really expect God to have lower morals than you and forcibly prevent your wife from breaking God’s heart and yours?”
God is not just all-powerful; he is love. You cannot fervently love someone without aching for that person to love you – especially if you know that person desperately needs you in his/her life. To deeply love someone means you could have everything else in the universe, and yet without that person’s love you would still be heartbroken. To love is to make oneself so vulnerable that even having unlimited power could not help. Omnipotence could easily force someone to obey you. Or it could produce something like a ‘love’ potion, causing a person to be under the illusion of loving you. But genuine love can never be compelled. If it involves force or chemicals or deceit or bribery it is a sham, and can never satisfy your yearning for that person’s love.
There are things that not even omnipotence can achieve. It cannot, for example, produce a square circle. It can easily turn a circle into a square, but the instant it has straight sides it is not a circle. Likewise, when someone is forced to act in love, it is not genuine love. Even with unlimited power, there is little anyone could do to induce genuine love in a person, other than be loving and wait for a response.
We would be appalled if a man kidnapped a woman and raped and enslaved her because he claims he loves her, wants her as his wife and is convinced he can make her happy. It would be an immoral abuse of power, regardless of whether he used physical force or threats – in which case she would be conscious of the violation of her rights – or if he used drugs or hypnotism so that she is unaware that what is happening is against her will. Real love respects the desires of the beloved, no matter how much it clashes with the lover’s personal longings, and no matter how certain he is that the person would benefit from a lifelong intimacy with him.
This is just a fraction of the complexities God must grapple with. We vainly pit our puny intellect against the Infinite Mind, using brain cells he gave us to try to out-think him. If God’s ways don’t always make sense to us it merely confirms that our combined brain power couldn’t light a single galaxy.
God wants a relationship with us more intimate, more permanent and more exclusive than the most wonderful marriage any human couple could ever experience. When we learn that he wants us to love, honor and obey him, we back off in horror before discovering that in every way we benefit from this relationship and it is God, not us, who gets the raw end. He loves you more than you love yourself and has your best interests at heart even more than you do. He alone has infinite understanding and – as demonstrated by Jesus suffering on the cross for you – he is utterly unselfish and would sacrifice anything for your eternal happiness. To disregard the advice of someone of infinite intelligence who wants only your best, makes as much sense as deliberately harming yourself. Any time we fail to love, honor and obey the God who is devoted to our welfare, we ruin that part of our lives, relative to what we would otherwise have enjoyed and achieved.
Humanity can boast one perfect Person – Jesus. We killed him. Yet our only Innocent gladly suffered the injustice to free the guilty from suffering eternal justice. In this cataclysmic exchange, the Innocent and the guilty traded places, making it spiritually legal for his suffering to end your suffering. As incredible as it seems, this has ushered us to the brink of a new world where the longing deep within us will be met – deceit, abuse, and hurtful actions will be swallowed by goodness; misery will dissolve in endless joy.
Nevertheless, temporary earthly pain continues for a wonderful reason. A paradise of harmony, trust, openness and love would quickly spoil if just one of its citizens acted remotely like we presently behave. To enter a perfect world without shattering its perfection, would require a personality transformation more radical than ever seen on earth. Through Jesus’ intervention, God can perform this miracle and make us fit for such a world, but he won’t abuse us by forcing a personality change upon us against our will. We must be willing to let God take our pet sins from us and let him, in his unlimited wisdom and love, rule every part of our lives.
But there must be a Day of reckoning. All evil must be removed. Even the self-righteous have been demanding it for millennia, though they have no idea what they are asking. Our response before that terrifying moment will determine whether we’ll be around to enjoy an evil-free environment.
The suffering of humanity’s only Innocent (Jesus) blazed the way for the total removal of all suffering and when he re-visits this planet he will complete his mission. But how, without unprincipled favoritism, could he eradicate all evil without destroying you and me? Only by us letting him wrench our darling sins from us, and trusting him to have taken their horrific consequences upon himself. Then we will be spared and no one can accuse God of injustice or favoritism. He has borne the penalty himself.
Humanity quivers on the brink of extinction, mesmerized by sin like serpent’s prey. Each moment that God suppresses his explosive urge to extinguish evil, is a moment in which billions of us have yet another chance to come to our senses and let Jesus deliver us from our infatuation with sin. But the end of this period of grace is hurtling toward us. Soon all suffering will cease. All wrongdoing will be destroyed, along with everyone still caught in its deadly embrace.
If you already feel completely comfortable when alone, looking at your unclothed body in a full length mirror and when inspected by your marriage partner, you have little need of I Hate my Body! Christian Body Image. If not, please read it as soon as you can.
You Can Find Love
Grantley Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org
Not to be sold. © Copyright 2008, 2014 Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.
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Change of Pace
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E-mail Grantley Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org
Change of Pace
Exciting webpages on many other subjects