There are these moments in life—crystallizing, defining moments when the proverbial light bulb flickers on and everything comes into focus.
I usually think of these moments as being positive, and often, they are. But many months ago I experienced one of these moments during a group text with several of my friends, and while it was certainly crystallizing, it was neither positive nor clarifying.
In anticipation of seeing one another for the first time in a long time in just a few weeks, we started calling out our “new flaws”—things that weren’t an issue last time we saw one another.
I’m not nearly as skinny as I was at my wedding.
I still haven’t lost all the baby weight.
I’ve been eating way too many frozen pizzas.
And when we tried to talk some sense into one another . . .
You can’t see my stomach in my Instagram pictures.
I’m a master of the skinny arm.
I’m really mushy under my flowy shirts.
We called ourselves ugly names and said horrible things about our bodies—things I would never say to or think about someone else, things that were untrue in reality but were mightily true in our heads and mirrors. We trashed-talked and shamed ourselves, spilling the venom out of our minds and through our fingers and into our phones.
It wasn’t until we were a solid ten minutes into this body-shaming banter that I realized what was happening. I thought I was making excuses in advance and warding off surprise and judgment when my friends saw me pregnant for the first time (and I’d imagine, they were doing the same thing with what they shared).
What I was really doing was tearing apart a strong and capable body, handing the pieces to my friends, and daring them to still love me. I was shaming myself into believing that my worth is based on how fit or pretty or put-together I look, even though if you’d asked me, I would have said that my worth is not defined by any of those things.
Now let me be clear, my friends are not even a little bit judgmental or superficial. I could put on 100 pounds, and though I’m sure they’d be concerned about my health, they wouldn’t judge or stop loving me even a little bit. I have no fear of what they think of me.
So when I say that this moment was crystallizing but not clarifying, it’s because it conjured up so many questions for me. I had to wonder: Why are we doing this to ourselves? Is this something every woman struggles with? How do we stop this? Is it even possible to stop?
I’ve been letting that conversation roll around in my head for the last few months, because I tend to take a long time to process these things. I’ve come to a few non-definitive and certainly not earth-shattering conclusions. Instead, I see these as truths we can whisper in the moments when we recognize that we’re body-shaming ourselves.
1. We’re not alone and we can talk about this. I know not every woman struggles with this, but I would guess that the majority do. For so long, I thought I was the only woman who wasn’t confident in her body, but that is such a lie. But the only way we’ll find out that we’re not alone is if we openly and vulnerably share what’s going on in our own minds. When I talk about this and hear from my friends that I’m not the only one who struggles with body image, it breaks my heart for them, but it also makes me feel a lot less crazy. Hearing “me too” from a trusted friend makes me less angry at myself and more angry at the problem. It takes the blame off me (for eating too much over the weekend, for not exercising hard enough, for letting myself go) and puts it squarely where it belongs: on the shoulders of a society who tells me my body isn’t good enough.
2. We can push past it, even when it’s hard. This may sound odd, but we don’t have to get over our body-image issues before we can begin living confidently. This is one of those “fake it till you make it” things, where we can choose to not let some lies we believe hold us back from doing what we know is right. I think Anne Lamott says it well:
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”
I don’t have to love my thighs right away; I just have to put on the bathing suit. I don’t have to love my arms today; I just have to wear the sleeveless dress and smile for the picture and not hide behind Dan. Eventually, yes, we should get to a point where we love our bodies. But perhaps we need to start living like we love our bodies (just like we extend grace and love to others when it’s painful and unnatural) before our minds can follow.
3. We can train our minds. Despite what I said in the point above, I do thinking training our minds is critical to fighting our internal body shaming. I sometimes wonder if it’s even possible to truly change my thinking permanently, but I have to believe it is. I was chatting with my friend Randi about this recently, and she offered me the most encouraging words I’d ever heard on this.
“You are able to train and push your body to do extreme things. You’ve run marathons by training hard, eating well, and caring for your body. I want you to know and understand and believe that your mind is the same way. You are not doomed to always think the way you currently think and believe the things you currently believe. There’s so much in Scripture about taking our thoughts captive and letting the love and grace of Jesus transform our minds. If you can push your body to extremes and let it grow and change, you can push your mind to extremes too. You can turn a new leaf and you can have freedom from this. I will take time and training and setting yourself up to live in different and healthy ways, but that’s not new for you. You are capable. With God, you are capable.”
I still don’t know exactly how to do this, but Randi helped me to believe that this is absolutely possible. We may need to experiment and try and fail. Maybe when we hear ourselves saying ugly things about our bodies (even in our minds), we can stop and say something different. I don’t mean just picking part of your body and saying something like “I have nice wrists” to get yourself off the hook.
Perhaps we need a mantra that reflects the truth. Instead of “Gosh, my love handles look huge,” try “I have strong and capable body.” Instead of, “My hips are so much wider than they were last year,” try “My hips supported a human baby through nine months of pregnancy.” We don’t have to say cheesy things to make ourselves feel better; we just need to speak the truth about what our bodies can do and why they are beautiful because of that.
Thanks for sticking with me through a seriously long post. If you’ve seen victory over this in your own life, could you share with us in the comments below so we can all learn from you? If you’re struggling with this, would you share one thing you’re committed to trying?
I want this post and to be a space for ongoing discussion, encouragement, learning, and growing. Let’s extract the lies we’ve learned to believe and start telling each other the truth of who we really are. Let’s commit to taking baby steps, helping one another up when we fall, and pushing ourselves toward freedom.Is it even possible for us to stop body #shaming ourselves? #confidence Click To Tweet