I have a confession. I am a body shamer.
This is not something I’m proud of or happy about; it’s something that deeply saddens me. That sadness carries a shame of its own.
*Trigger warning: discussion of body shame, body image issues*
You see, I grew up hearing messages that overweight people – ‘fat people’ – were lazy. I also grew up receiving the message that laziness was one of the very worst things a person could be. I interpreted these messages to mean that lazy people had less worth than hard workers, that they should be looked down upon and judged rather harshly. By extension this meant that fat people were to be seen as “less”, too. It was their choice to be lazy, which led to obesity, which they should absolutely be ashamed of. How dare they expect someone to see them as worthy when they didn’t care enough about themselves to be better, do better, look better?
Fast forward to today. For the last four and a half years I ran a business where one of my core purposes was to help women see themselves as valuable and beautiful regardless of their size. To express their own style and personality without shame. And I meant every word of it. My heart is for women. I have seen so many women and girls traumatized by abuse, shaming, misogyny and patriarchal values and I want to break those lies. I want us all to see the truth of how beautiful, strong, smart and significant we are and how beloved we are to our loving Creator. But all the while I battle these contradictory beliefs within myself.
Have you ever been on a trip using a GPS where you’re dissatisfied with the route the system has chosen? You probably overrode the systems’ selection and chose the route you know is better for your situation. But have you had the experience of that system simply rerouting to the original path after your next turn? I have and it’s incredibly frustrating. You know the route you chose is the better one, but the system just keeps trying to return you to its opinion of what’s best. This is how I feel about many of my belief systems, but we’ll focus on the body images ones for now.
My internal system feels hardwired to believe that a less-than-ideal size equals fat, fat equals lazy, and lazy equals worthless. I keep trying to override with what I believe to be true: size and weight doesn’t define health, fat does not mean lazy, that a lack of constant activity and productivity doesn’t mean laziness, and that NONE of that defines a person’s worth and value. But that darned internal GPS just. keeps. rerouting. So, everyday – or so it feels – I continue the battle.
I’m not sure what’s worse, how I apply these beliefs to myself or to others. I find myself instinctively thinking negatively about people who have these characteristics I learned to judge and, honestly, to fear. And every time I do it I am ashamed that I have such a lack of love for those I say I value – those I believe are beloved. And then another battle begins in my mind, one of self-flogging and darkness. It really is a horrible spiral. And I don’t think I’m alone. Our culture is so full of mixed messages about our bodies and so many of us fall victim to these lies.
In preparing to write this piece, I struggled to find a clear message. Maybe it’s because this is a journey I’m very much still on. I don’t have answers, only new awareness and questions. So many questions. How can I reconcile a high BMI with freedom from body shaming? Isn’t it important to be healthy? Don’t I have to have a “healthy weight” to be free from generational risks of death by things like heart disease and diabetes? Isn’t it important to measure what I’m putting into my body versus what energy I use so I achieve balance? How can I monitor what I eat without obsessing over calories and viewing food in unhealthy ways? Shouldn’t I be able to eat intuitively and workout for fun and end up with a lean, strong, healthy weight body? What does it say about me if I can’t? I intended to explore so many of these ideas with this post – and maybe I will in coming weeks and months. But right now they are the questions that are constantly swirling in my head. The ones that feel almost like the flying keys in Harry Potter. Ones that feel like they are attacking you but you must pay attention to them because one is surely the key to your freedom.
But I am starting to wonder if I’m not free because I’m focusing on the wrong things. Missing the beauty of the forest for staring at the imperfections of the bark. While I want to feel beautiful, perhaps I need to instead focus on feeling strong. While I want to be successful, perhaps I should focus on living days that I’m satisfied with. While I want to be lovable, perhaps I should focus on the fact that I’m already loved in an irrevocable way by an unchanging Lover.
I don’t want to spiritually bypass here. Looking dreamily toward the heavens and ignoring our pain isn’t healing. But I think one of the best things about Jesus is that He offers to be with us – in our pain, in our questions, in our being. I think He is inviting me into this wrestling. I think He is offering to be with me as I ask these questions – sometimes to give the answers, but sometimes just to let me scream and cry and consider them for myself.
I’m still wrestling. I’m still battling. I’m still honestly angry and hurt and ashamed. If you’re there with me, let’s commit to not stop wrestling. Let’s ask Jesus to come be with us. And let’s continue to reset that darn GPS every time it tries to reroute us toward those we inherited from others and away from the beliefs we know are ours. At every turn, let’s choose the truth that we and every other person are beloved and our worth has nothing to do with pounds or inches or achievements.
Now, I want to hear from you. Please let me know in the comments if any of this is familiar to you. If you have found respite from the battle I’d love to hear about that, too. However, please do not offer systems or programs – I want this to be a place where people feel safe to share without fear they will be targeted for sales or “good advice”. Any comments I deem to be in this vein will be deleted to ensure this remains a safe space for sharing. Thank you in advance for respecting this boundary.