The Power of Body Shame

I’m struck by the power of body shame when I talk about body/fat acceptance, size dignity, or weight neutrality.

I’ve had conversations recently with loved ones and listened to a reflection on Isaiah 61 by size dignity activist Amanda Martinez Beck that has made me reflect on the power of body shame in our culture.

My loved ones, clients, and the general population are pretty defensive of body shame.

Meaning, they defend that they NEED to feel shame about their body.

It often leaves me feeling frustrated and sad. Because when has shame ever been a good thing?

Most people can verbalize that shame is not productive. They can recognize that shame does not produce positive change or desirable qualities. But when it comes to body shame, most people seem accepting of the shame they feel.

And then it hits me… that’s the essence of shame….

Shame is about the things in our life that we believe make us unworthy. Unworthy of love, of belonging, of connection.

A distinguishing characteristic of shame is that we believe we deserve the shame we feel.

So if we believe we DESERVE the shame, of course we’d feel defensive of the idea that we can put our shame down. If we believe our body is the reason we are unworthy, why in the world would we think we have the right not to experience body shame?

Where does body shame come from?

Once we realize that we feel defensive at the idea of releasing ourselves from body shame and why we feel defensive of that shame, we can begin to explore where that sense of shame is coming from.

And we have to look at the culture around us to understand where body shame originates from, how normalized and even promoted it is.

I talk with people of all different body types and weights and backgrounds and life situations.

And every one of them really struggles to believe that being anything other than thin is a good thing.

From a young age, diet culture has taught us that thin equals healthy and healthy equals acceptable, lovable, worthy.

Diet culture has infiltrated our medical community, mental health community, faith community, schools, homes, and our minds and hearts so that the message of earning worth and value through physical health is everywhere.

If you look at it from this lens, our sense of body shame as a culture makes sense. It feels right. It is justified.

But, there are some pretty big problems with using our physical health, especially our weight, as a marker for our worth and value, but here are a few that stick out to me.

It’s largely out of our control.

Despite what we’ve been taught, our overall physical health is largely out of our control and determined by factors such as genetics, environment, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity.

Yes, we can engage in healthful behaviors, such as getting adequate sleep, moving our bodies, nutrition, self-care, engaging in meaningful relationships, and spirituality, BUT those behaviors do not predict physical health.

As I’m sure we can all think of examples: the thin woman with “superb” health behaviors that develops cancer or the fat man that has no thought of health behaviors that never gets sick and lives into old age.

These examples may seem like the exception rather than rule- and maybe they are- but they are still examples that much of our physical health is out of our control.

It is not linear.

It excludes SO many people.

If a society focuses on physical health as the determining factor for someone’s worthiness, that misses the vast majority of people. Not only people with physical disabilities, but also people with less obvious health issues.

From illnesses like diabetes to irritable bowel syndrome to asthma to miscarriage to infertility to cancer to sleep apnea. If we use physical health based on the thin ideal to judge worth, most of us don’t make the cut.

And that’s a sad world to live in, right?

Where most of the people around us, ourselves included, aren’t worthy of the love and belonging and connection we were designed for.

It demeans us down to one aspect of who we are.

When I talk with people about living anti-diet culture, they often think that I’m saying we shouldn’t care about our bodies or our health doesn’t matter.

What I’m saying is that we are more than our physical makeup and health AND our bodies are beautiful part of who we are as a person.

But it’s just one part.

We’ve been taught to demean our whole selves down to one aspect of who we are. And there’s a part of that I can totally understand. If I believe physical health is the utmost important thing in life and I believe I can control my health through nutrition or exercise, it makes my life a little safer.

Life is messy and unpredictable and uncomfortable.

It’s natural that we look for ways to make it a little less so. But when we attempt to make life safer through “securing” our worth by achieving “optimal” physical health, we are missing the beauty in the messiness and we are missing beautiful pieces of who we are as a people.

It negates emotional, mental, social, and spiritual health.

Our bodies were created in the most beautiful, intricately connected ways by God. Our physical health is one beautiful aspect of our body. But when we glorify our physical health over our emotional, mental, social, and spiritual health, we’re missing big and we’re setting ourselves up for heartache.

Our health is not just one aspect, but an intricately connected and designed orchestration of different systems in our lives. We do ourselves, and our neighbors, a large injustice when we accept such a narrow definition of health and wholeness.

In addition, when we put physical health as superior to our other forms of health, those other forms suffer.

In the name of physical health, I have found that emotional, mental, social, and even spiritual health suffer as we pursue blindly towards an arbitrary standard of physical health.

It is not congruent with the Gospel message.

The idea that our worth is based on anything in this physical world isn’t congruent with the Gospel. This is a hard one for me to swallow. Because I know I’m a sinner. I know I’m flawed beyond comprehension.

But what I know to be true and cannot argue with is that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV

The Gospel tells me that even though I am flawed and sinner, Jesus came and died for me. He would not have died for me if I wasn’t worthy of that kind of love.

Because I was made in HIS image, there is a divine piece of me in the midst of my fallen human nature that made me worthy enough in His eyes to die that terrible, cruel death.

The Gospel tells me that this is true for ALL people.

The Gospel tells US all that we are worthy because we are made in the image of God- even when we sin and fall short.

Taking back the power from body shame

As Brene Brown says, you cannot become resistant to shame. We do not “arrive” and no longer feel shame, but we can become resilient and learn how to live through our shame well.

We can learn to name our shame and respond to it in a way in which we don’t grab onto it and allow it to overwhelm us and drive our lives.

We can learn to see it, name it, reach out to loved ones, and engage in self care so we can better love ourselves and better love our neighbors.

We can learn to see our whole health as more than the things we get right or the things we get wrong.

We can learn to see our worth as more than our physical health.

If you are on this journey and you find that others around you defend their own need (or someone’s else need) to feel body shame…

If you find yourself wanting to defend your own sense of body shame for how your body or physical health is….

respond with grace,

respond with compassion,

respond with love.

Because that, my friend, is the message of the Gospel.

The Light of Sunday

The light of Sunday breaks across the day.

Sunday is here. We can take a deep breath.

2,000 years later we wake on Sunday and we KNOW what this day means… we know that this is the morning where Jesus waltzed out of hell, with the key swinging at his side.

We know that this is the morning that his apparent defeat became the greatest victory of all time.

But they didn’t know. His mother, his disciples, his loved ones, his family, his followers… they didn’t know.

They woke to another day without him.

They woke to another day of confusion and grief and sorrow and fear. They woke to a day full of so much emotion.

The women went to the tomb in preparation to anoint Jesus’ dead body. They went to grieve and pay respects.

Instead, they heard the most glorious words that have ever been spoken, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” Matthew 28:5 NIV

Imagine the rush of conflicting emotion the women must have felt!

The dawn and light of Sunday morning

With the dawn of Sunday morning came a newness that we won’t know again until Jesus comes.

With the dawn of Sunday morning came the answer to the events of that darkest dark Friday.

With the dawn of Sunday morning came the sweetest shift in the fabric of the world.

Jesus is risen.

He suffered the darkest dark of Friday, so the light of Sunday could break across the day and change the course of all mankind.

Because of that Sunday, the victory that feels like is never coming is already here.

No matter how you feel this morning- whether you bask in the good news or feel complacent or feel downright sad/angry/confused, the victory is here. HE is here.

The gift of this victory lives with us daily, whether or not we feel or see or experience him.

The Gift

He left us with the Holy Spirit- a wonderful, majestic, mysterious piece of himself.

We may know that Jesus left us the Holy Spirit, but do we really know what a gift he really is?

I didn’t, but I’m learning. I’m learning that the breath of the Holy Spirit is active and all around me. I’m learning the power of the Holy Spirit to move my soul and shake the fabric of my world.

I don’t always see him, though. I don’t always open myself to him. It’s risky, to open my awareness, my heart, my soul to him. I never know what he’ll say or do. I never know what he’ll show me.

It’s always deep, rich, raw.

And sometimes I get stuck in the darkness of Friday. Sometimes I stay stuck in the space after the Cross. But the truth is that I live in the dawn of Sunday morning.

We all do.

We all live awash in the reality of the gift that Jesus loved us so much that he suffered Friday- so he could conquer Friday and show us his scars on Sunday.

Living in the light of Sunday

What does it actually mean to experience the Holy Spirit? To live in Sunday?

The misnomer that it means we are happy all the time and experience no difficulty- no questions, no uncertainty, no pain, no fear is a severe distortion from Satan.

I like to look at Peter for an example of what it looks like to allow the Holy Spirit into your heart and soul.

One of the most tender, compassionate, grace filled moments comes when the angel tells the women to “Go tell the disciples and Peter”. Mark 16:7

Can you IMAGINE how dark Friday has been for Peter? Can you imagine the depth of shame and sorrow and regret and torment he is experiencing?

He loved Jesus so fiercely he literally cut off someone’s ear- while facing an army, mind you. But then hours later, he denied not only this fierce love, but he denied even remotely knowing Jesus- THREE TIMES.

The shame that he felt must have been crushing.

But the angel, at the request of Jesus, makes sure to point out “go tell Peter”. I think he needed that good news more than any of them. And I think Jesus was giving us an example of his tender mercy.

Our darkness can feel like it’s snatching us away from him, but it can’t. He truly is bigger and stronger.

His love, his grace is bigger and stronger and deeper than our darkness. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that. And that’s okay.

He’s there to gently remind you, just like he did with Peter.

Your darkness is not bigger than his light.

He still has the key to hell. He still conquered Satan. His gift is STILL good.

Don’t pretend your darkness doesn’t exist- that’s not what he wants.

What he does want is for you to look at the light of his face.

Because you will the see the blinding light of love that is overwhelming.

Let’s follow Peter so we see an example how to live. Most people love Peter because we all identify with him. His life after the gift of Jesus’ resurrection didn’t mean he no longer struggled.

It changed him. Later in Scripture, we see him, boldly speaking hard truth to the same men that crucified Jesus. We see him performing miracles. We see him boldly living life for God.

It doesn’t mean that Peter became perfect, sinless, or perpetually happy.

It means that he allowed Jesus to lead him into places that he wouldn’t naturally go on his own. Not only physical places, but emotional, mental, spiritual places.

Places that must have been scary and shame inducing.

The places Peter went aren’t the places you will go. That’s okay and it doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit isn’t truly living in you. It doesn’t mean you aren’t living in Sunday. The truth is, no matter your location, your emotion, your experience, your circumstance, your behavior- you are living in Sunday.

Because He is Risen. And the Holy Spirit is here.

So, when you’re overwhelmed, remember him.

When you’re stuck in your darkness, remember him.

When you’re rejoicing, remember him.

Whatever emotion or experience you are in, remember him.

Living in the light of Sunday means we make space to see him, to focus on him despite the war that is raging around us. Despite the darkness, living in Sunday means he’s here, in spite of sin and shame and death, he’s here.

No matter what your darkness, He won. The light of his victory is brighter than your darkness could ever begin to be.

Today and for all eternity.

Happy Easter, my friend. No matter what emotion you wake with today, know that the victory has been won and the gift is here so that he can stand beside you and say;

“In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart!

I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33 NIV

The Darkest Dark

Today is Good Friday and when I’ve stopped and really reflected, I realize Good Friday wasn’t good at all. When I’ve sat with what Good Friday really is, I’m overcome.

Overcome with awe.

Overcome with grief.

Overcome with fear.

Overcome with overwhelming gratitude.

Overcome with deep sadness and been brought to tears.

The Darkness of Friday

I don’t often sit and reflect on the events of Good Friday. I don’t often allow myself to become immersed in that day, to place myself in Jerusalem, watching as Jesus was beaten, mocked, stripped, ridiculed, tormented, and ultimately murdered.

Allowing myself into that place opens deep places of sorrow and grief in my soul.

Not only did he experience physical pain beyond pain I cannot even comprehend, the emotional pain feels overwhelming to my being.

But the spiritual pain is a pain I do not even want to try to comprehend. Because the pain of even imagining being forsaken by God is more than my soul can take.

We may feel like God has forsaken us- we may believe that to be true at times in our life- or even all of our life. But the fact of the matter is that NOTHING makes that true. Nothing can ever make that true.

There is no emotion or circumstance or sin or argument on this earth that will cause God to forsake us.

God has NOT forsaken us. He never will. No matter how dark our dark is, we are NOT forsaken by God.

But He did forsake Jesus.

Of the few things Jesus said after his arrest, he cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 NIV

Jesus knows the horror of that darkness.

Jesus knows the darkest dark.

After the Cross

I cannot imagine what this day was like for the disciples, for Jesus’ family, for his mother, Mary, for his close followers, for his loved ones.

The person for whom my heart aches for most is Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Maybe its being a new mother that makes my heart’s eye focus on her. While I write this, I am watching my son play next to me in the backyard. His life is more than I can begin to describe to you. He is more than I can describe to you. To put myself in Mary’s shoes is almost more than I can bear.

I cannot comprehend the depth of pain she felt as she watched her son die. I cannot comprehend watching her son suffer on the cross. I cannot comprehend how her soul ripped apart as he looked at her and gave her to John. I cannot comprehend the darkness of that experience for her. What horror it must have been for her. Truly living a nightmare to not only lose her son in such a horrific way, but to know his power and to watch him die…. I cannot comprehend her confusion. I cannot comprehend her war with God over this plan.

Oh, Mary….

How dark is Friday for her?

Your Darkness

No matter what your darkness is, you can trust knowing that Christ has lived through darkness. No matter what your darkness is, Christ is living it with you.

He lived the darkness of Friday so he could be with you. So he could be the essence of empathy. So he could hold you. So he could live day by day, moment by moment

knowing the depth of your darkness.

Living in your darkness is like that Friday. It’s living in a nightmare that you can’t wake up from. It’s waking up day after day, praying, wishing, hoping that this is not your reality. It’s feeling like your entire body and soul and mind is being ripped from you. It’s living daily in grief. Its living daily in shame. It’s living daily fighting each moment to breathe.

Good Friday wasn’t good. Good Friday was the darkest day that has ever been.

In all that has come to pass and all that will, that darkness is the darkest of all.

The Good News is coming

As Christians, we often jump to focusing on the Good News. The Good News is better than good, so maybe that’s why we jump there. Maybe it’s our discomfort with darkness. Maybe it’s the belief that living a Christian life means all happy, all the time. I don’t know exactly.

I do know we can’t move too quickly through Friday. We can’t jump to his victory before we allow ourselves to experience the darkness of apparent defeat.

Remember, Mary, the disciples, his family, his loved ones, his followers. They didn’t know Sunday was coming. They just knew the darkness of Friday.

All they saw was his death. All they saw was their fear, their grief, their loss, their sorrow, their shattered dreams, their confusion. All they saw was dark.

Remember Jesus. He was human which leads me to believe that all he saw was his pain, his loss, his grief, his fear, his confusion. It leads me to believe all that he saw was dark.

Sunday will come. Praise God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, SUNDAY WILL COME!!!

But don’t miss Friday, because Sunday wouldn’t be as victorious without the darkest dark of Friday.

He understands your darkness. He lived it. He lives your darkness with you- daily, whether you realize it or not.

So let him be in your darkness. Open your heart, your soul, your mind, your body to allow him to enter into the darkness in your life.

He lived the darkest dark for such a time as this.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:5 NIV

To be continued….