I once heard a sermon about how women are uniquely created and crafted to hear and respond to a baby’s cry. In Part One of this article, I lamented some of the crazier topics of teaching I’ve sat under – but this one message I did truly love. The spiritual illustration was that when something is wrong, it is often the women who can discern the gentle voice of grief and take action because we’re tuned to its tenor.
I don’t want to make light of any male’s capacity to perceive and respond to a problem, but in regards to body image, this is how the story is starting for the American church – although it doesn’t have to be how it finishes. It has been the women I know who’ve reached a pitching point with body shame being so prevalent in our communities. It’s been the women who’ve incited the conversations and asked the hard questions, but it doesn’t have to be our complicated conversation alone.
I come from a long line of fiery, wild, and faith-filled women. We are gentle in quiet in spirit before God, but we are not even slightly scared to use our gifts to serve, love, lead, and glorify Him. Once during the last few years of extreme turmoil within the Christian community, as we were facing another onslaught of tense conversations about justice and righteousness and loving our neighbors — the women in my family made an observation out loud to the men we love and do life with. “If you don’t want us to seem like the crazy ladies screaming for change, join us! Add your voice to this conversation, and we’ll all speak God’s truth together.”
This is the opportunity for the men, the leaders, and the Church at large. If the way culture promotes the body-positive conversation is not to your liking, if it makes you nervous or fearful, find out why – but don’t make your entry into the arena a correction of others. Instead, search God’s heart and Word for His truth about our bodies, and in the name of Jesus, join the conversation. Here are a few encouragements for those willing to pick up this burden of shame that so many are carrying in their bodies:
- This conversation has been going for a while. If I were at a party and saw a few people talking and wanted to join them, it would be crazy to jump right in and share my opinion or start telling my perspective. We’ve got two ears, one mouth… you know? A pastor recently said to me that after reading Breaking Free from Body Shame, he would begin a sermon series on body image, and I cautioned him to do even more listening.We’ve got to ask the women, the men, the teenagers around us how body shame has impacted them without the intention of correcting or informing them. Many people just need a place to pull their grief out on the table without being given potential advice or platitudes. We also need to hear from varied and diverse voices to amplify the stories that may seem foreign to us but are still so valuable. That brings up another sensitive and yet incredibly essential encouragement…
- Acknowledge that you may not have been taught or have received a kingdom body mindset. Because the Church has been largely silent on body image and what we have been taught may have been distorted by a performance-based perception, even those who love God may need to relearn how God views our bodies. Remember when you realized that “God won’t give you more than you can handle” wasn’t biblical? You may be about to experience that same sensation on multiple levels of the body image conversation. Here are some examples:There’s a difference in treating your body like a temple of the Holy Spirit when you’re motivated by shame from when you’re motivated by love. There’s often a wild disparity between what is actually healthy for individuals and what’s aesthetically accepted in America. There’s such a thing as a body prosperity gospel, a prevalent belief that if we “take care” of our bodies — good things will happen to us. This goes against the truth of the actual gospel!
- Be prepared to say you’re sorry. I haven’t encountered many people who’ve begun the process of breaking free from body shame and haven’t felt the tug of conviction for the ways they’ve spoken about their body or someone else’s. The great news is that for those of us who believe in Jesus, repentance leads to refreshment (Acts 3:19-20), and the love and grace of Christ compel us to be true and lasting change (2 Corinthians 5:14). When the people of God get humble and admit they were wrong, even just to God, wild and beautiful things happen, and beautiful seeds of growth take root.
These action items are less doing, they’re not shiny, and they won’t make a great marketing campaign. They will, however, lead us to see and love people better. These steps will leave us more in awe of God in the image-bearers who surround us. These steps will set us up for good listening, honest and compassionate care, and potential lasting cultural change.
Breaking free from body shame is possible on the personal level. Freedom is God’s goods idea, and He purchased it on the cross of Christ. Breaking free from body shame is also possible in a corporate sense, and it’s well past time for us to join the conversation. Amen?