I’m not allowed to shop for clothes by myself. Why? Because it’s a fruitless endeavor. This is how the conversation went whenever I came home from trying to shop alone:
Matt: (puzzled expression) “What did you get?”
I get bogged down in body issues, especially after having three kids. I once had a minor breakdown in a Banana Republic because, in my head, it was for “pretty people, not people like me.”
This is an unhealthy mindset…and it’s incredibly annoying. Thankfully, I’ve started to find ways to combat it. I employed all three of these strategies recently when I needed to find a sweater/jacket/blazer for when I speak to some college students about The Wardrobe Fast later this month.
And I’m excited to share those strategies with you. I hope this isn’t a problem you struggle with, but if it is, I hope these tips from a fellow sufferer help.
How I Stop the Body Shame Voice in My Head
1. I walk myself through guilt vs. shame.
This is something I’ve had to come to grips with in general in my life lately, so hear me out. Guilt says, “I’ve done something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.”
Somewhere along the way in childhood, I adopted an “I am bad” attitude about myself overall, so that even when I heard the gospel and began to follow Christ, I felt like an outlier. I saw the believers around me as freed from the guilt of their sin. I knew that I, too, was free from sin in Christ in the future, but I still saw myself as bad in the here and now. I was different from others because I was inherently bad.
But there’s a logic flaw here.
We’ve been studying the book of John in Bible study, and last night we got to the man born blind in chapter 9. The Pharisees ask him what they think of Jesus healing him, and his answer is profound.
The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30-33, emphasis mine)
God listens to those who worship him. He doesn’t listen to those who don’t. I know that God has heard my prayers because he changed my heart and has answered my prayers (in his time) over and over again.
How could he work in my life if I were a shameful thing, if I were a bad thing? The logic of salvation and shame living side by side simply doesn’t work. Sin is shameful, but I am not.
This thought can then be extended to my body. God gave us bodies for good. He made man and woman and said that they, along with all of his creation, were good (Genesis 1:31). As much as I’d love to be a brain in a jar, God gave me a body as a means to do the good works he has prepared for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).
There is room for guilt surrounding our bodies, whether we choose to continually stuff them with junk instead of nourishment, abuse them through substances, or find some other way to sin with them. There is room to examine whether or not we have done good to our bodies (though I would argue that the dressing room is not the place). Guilt has its place when it leads to conviction.
But there is no room for shame or a feeling of badness in a body that God has made for his purposes.
2. I remember what my body has done for me.
To gear up for this recent shopping trip, I finally got around to listening to the body image episode from the Upside Down podcast. I’d been meaning to anyway, and it was a balm to my soul to hear other women talk about their body hangups and how they’ve come to terms with their bodies being different from what the world says is perfect.
My body was born with seven toes and I walk with a limp because of the foot/leg length discrepancies. But that taught me to be gracious to people who look different because those kinds of differences are so small. (It also taught me to be quick with the jokes, but that’s a talk for another day.)
My body has borne three children into the world. It used its own stores to nourish those babies throughout their first year, being their only food in the world for the first six months.
My body did ten years of gymnastics. It sweated and surged with adrenaline through countless school plays and speech meets. It reacted to the touch of a young man, leading to a deep and intimate relationship and those babies mentioned above. It pushed strollers for miles and miles and miles with those little ones, carried them around the house, and does all the housework and cooking that makes our family function.
This body is a good body, even if it is broken and imperfect. It is a useful body that has done good to me and loved my neighbors. It is worth dressing well and with contentment because of its goodness.
3. I go with a friend.
Usually, Matt ends up being my shopping buddy by default. Until I worked out the guilt/shame problem explained above, I wouldn’t trust myself to shop with somebody else for fear of melting into a puddle of self-loathing.
But this week, I took a chance. A sweet friend is considering a closet organizing/personal shopping business and wanted guinea pigs. We met at a favorite consignment store and chitchatted while she scanned the racks for blazers that fit my size and colors.
I talked objectively about how I thought they looked on my body and then subjectively about how they felt. Sarah offered her opinions, pointing out what worked and what didn’t for each piece. None of the blazers were quite right, but we eventually found a flattering cardigan that could be dressed up or down.
Having Sarah there meant I had to use my words rather than acting as a bystander while the voice in my head pummeled me with my flaws.
This, like all of my photos, is not fabulous. And this cardigan doesn’t make me look slimmer, taller, or suddenly glamorous. But it flatters my skin tone. It keeps me warm. It looks professional enough to talk to some college kids without overreaching my stage of life. I feel good when I’m wearing it. And I will think of the sweet friend who helped me pick it every time I reach for it.
I can’t quiet the voice that says “shame” on my own.
Even after sorting out the difference between guilt and shame, I still want to cling to the familiarity of shame. It’s easier to talk down to myself than to put in effort and try. But I’m called to this effort, to naming every sin that would ensnare and running far from it.
I am thankful that God gave me this body and has used it for my good.
I am thankful for a Savior who cared enough to give his body for mine.
I am thankful for the Word that gives life and peace.
I am thankful for other women–those I know and those I only read or hear from online–who speak truth into my weary soul.
I have a body, and I will be grateful for it.
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