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Breaking Free From Body Shame, Part 1

Breaking Free From Body Shame, Part 1

I’ve heard a sermon on just about everything.

Since I was fifteen, I have been a church-girl, but maybe not in the way you’re thinking. It’s not like I have a die-hard allegiance to the church and am unwilling to see her warts and incredible weaknesses. I am, however, devoted to Jesus, and that causes me to have hope in His bride. So my eyes are open, my hands are willing to do the work, I think we’ve got generations of repentance ahead of us to become better representations of our Father, but I’m in this thing. I’m willing; I’m ready; I’m a church girl. And because of that, I’ve heard a lot of sermons.

I once heard a sermon about how wives can make their bedrooms more inviting for their husbands. A whole, actual 60-minute sermon given on a Sunday – no joke. I’ve heard multiple sermons and interpretations about Balaam’s donkey, which seems improbable – but is nonetheless true. I have listened to incredible messages that left me more in awe of God, and I’ve heard boring sermons that I’ve tried to learn from anyhow. Sometimes I’ve left a gathering feeling like a message was just for me, even though I know how selfish that seems, and sometimes I’ve had to fight the pride that tells me that message was for someone else -, not me at all.

So how crazy is it that in 36 years of living and attending church and 21 years of loving Jesus, I’ve never heard an actual whole message on body image? Sure, there have been a few breakouts at women’s conferences – but a full-blown message for the people of God about the worth of their bodies? No. Never. Not once.

Despite the fact that we all have bodies, despite the fact that 97% of women struggle with body image and a suspected 95% of men do too, the church has largely ignored this area of teaching. While culture outside of the church is listening to the people’s pain and responding with body positivity, body neutrality, and a million other messages to encourage us – God’s people have stayed silent. At best, the church has practiced body detachment: let’s pretend like it’s only our souls that matter. To be honest, most of the meager messages that have come our way from our leaders have been damaging, shame-filled, and not at all kingdom-minded.

I’m thinking now about every male speaker, pastor, or preacher that glorified his wife’s smoking hot-ness in the 90s and early 2000s. I’m thinking about the errant + potentially unhealthy entreaties given from stage to treat our bodies as temples, without any context to what that would mean. I recall every time I sat in awe as a young girl, seeing a woman teach the Bible, then the shock that would come as I heard her defame her own body.  I wondered if I was supposed to feel as much shame as she did since my body was often less culturally acceptable than hers.

Why isn’t the church talking about body image? I hypothesize that it’s fear at the worst and ignorance at best. On the one hand, it seems that we’re terrified to open this can of worms: if we teach freedom in our bodies, where will it end? How will it be abused? On the other hand, will everyone start indulging, sinning, and God-forbid resting too much?

The problem here is that we’re missing out. True freedom, the liberty that is ours for the taking, that is found in Jesus is never to be feared. It’s the grace that compels us time and again to worship. Most of the world is struggling with this issue affecting their souls, minds, and bodies – and we have access to hope and healing! God DOES have a lot to say about our bodies: true, beautiful, life-giving statements that will inform and encourage the masses. And we don’t need to be scared of it… we need to start sharing it.

As for the ignorance of this topic by the church and Christian culture, here’s the real danger: Because we have ignored this subject for so long, it seems we may have unknowingly copy and pasted the brokenness of the world around us and amplified it with our “spiritual” authority. The subtle and incredibly damaging assumption is that people are better when their bodies meet cultural expectations. Not only is that anti-gospel and against the grain of the Kingdom, but it’s also keeping us from loving people well of all body types, all ability levels, and all races.

Our bodies are where we meet with God. Our bodies are where we encounter people, encounter our souls. Our bodies are where we serve, they’re where we experience everything on this earth, and they absolutely cannot be ignored.

By trying to mute this issue, the church is not only doing wild damage, but we’re missing out on providing hope and healing to the mass amounts of people who are feeling pain, disappointment, frustration, and shame in their bodies. It’s way too late, but it’s time for us to join the conversation. It will take repentance, relearning, and reexamining our biblical perspective – but it’s worth it, and it’s time.

In part two of this article, we will discuss how the church can begin to let the light of grace and healing leak into this broken area of how we view our bodies.

Jess Connolly is the author of numerous books, including her latest, Breaking Free From Body Shame. In addition to writing, she is the founder of Go + Tell Gals and helps lead at her church in Charleston.

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