006. the broken promise of a flat stomach
This post originally appeared on Redeemed Girl Ministries Blog.
I had to have been only ten or eleven. I was wearing my blue and white striped one piece with lime green straps. My tan lines made it was all too clear I spent my days at the pool in my beloved blue suit. Oh, and my hair was turning green from all the chlorine…To be young!!!
Summer meant long days spent under the beating sun at our neighborhood swim club. I rode my bike down there with my brothers every day. The moment we walked through those pool doors, with the waft of chlorine hitting us hard, I was quickly disowned as their sister and became an unidentified girl with whom they would have no contact with until the sun was going down and it was time to ease on back home.
I was more than fine getting a break from the annoying taunts that come from being outnumbered by two brothers. I had my own little posey of girls to have underwater tea parties with and go to the snack bar with our jingling quarters and crumpled dollar bills in hand.
The head honcho of the posey decided we would all go out to the tennis courts to share the latest poolside gossip.
I plopped down on the smooth, green pavement and folded my arms across my legs to bring them closer to my body. My suit, still sopping wet from the abrupt scene change from pool to courts, was giving me chill bumps. I instinctively curled up in a little ball to keep warm.
I remember looking down and my eyes started to grow large in horror at what I was looking at.
My heart started to beat even faster and my chest got tight.
Two little rolls of flesh etched their way across my stomach, protruding ever so clearly, even through my one-piece.
Time stopped for me in that moment as the world started to spin.
In shock, I blurted out, “I’m fat.”
All the girls immediately stopped talking and stared back at me.
What I didn’t realize was that my unintentional confession would open a door for the other girls to begin naming their own hatred of their bodies.
“Yea, look how giggly my thighs are. They are like elephant trunks!”
“Do you see my stomach too?” said one girl as she grabbed the little skin on top of her tummy, “I’m HUGE!”
Our gossip sessions took a sharp left turn on those tennis courts as our conversation dove into tips and tricks on how to stay thin and get rid of our excess fat.
This memory remains etched in my mind, clear as day, almost twenty years later. I’m still horrified by it all, but for far different reasons than thinking I was fat as a young girl.
I recently stumbled across a photo of me in that blue and white swimsuit I was wearing when my 11-year-old self thought she was fat. My heart aches looking at her gangly legs and toothpick-thin body. I try to rack my brain with reasons why this little girl would associate her body with the word fat together.
I wonder if you too have a similar memory?
Fat may not have been the word for you. Maybe it was ugly, gross, different, too big, too small, or too flat.
In that moment on the tennis courts, my body came to take on an incredibly negative meaning that left me with a sinking feeling of shame in my gut and a sour taste in my mouth.
I came to believe that if I was less, I would be worth more.
Sadly, I do not know a single woman who has escaped the shame of their body at some point in their lives. Whether culturally considered too big or too small or too average, we are constantly inundated with ideals of beauty and shamefully reminded of how we do not measure up to them on a daily basis.
That one tiny belief that I was fat took me on a journey that turned very dark, very quickly.
Looking back, it comes as no surprise I took a nose dive into an addiction to starvation and purging in my early teens. While weight restoration came towards the end of high school, the utter self-contempt and low self-worth stayed around years after the restricting had abated.
When it came to my faith, I used to think of salvation as a one-stop shop. I surrendered my life to Jesus in college as my eyes were opened to God’s love, mercy, and compassion. The Gospel narrative transfixed me and I couldn’t not look away from it.
I thought that if Jesus was as great as the texts said he was, then all my problems would vanish with the wave of a wand and him muttering “Expecto Patronum.” Oh wait, that’s Harry Potter. Hate when those two get confused. As one might guess, I was very disappointed when my battle with body image and toxic shame did not dissipate at the very same moment I said “yes” to Jesus’ call on my life.
I’ll go ahead and let the cat out of the bag by sharing with you Jesus is not in a rush to fix all of your problems. I know this because He certainly was not in a hurry to fix mine.
What He is about is transformation.
If your story is anything like mine, you are well aware that transformation of any kind is a long, painful, and sometimes bloody battle of surrendering our egos, idols, and addictions to Jesus as He wins the worship of our hearts.
To put it plainly, Jesus is playing the long game.
With that, I wanted to share with you one word that changed the relationship I had with my body and pass it along to you. You are welcome to take it or toss it, but for starters, I’d simply invite you to hold it.
I’m well aware people have a lot of feelings about this word. I am also one of those people. Having sat in my fair share of well-intentioned bible studies and church talks, I’ve heard this word be tossed out as a way to shame our “badness” back in check so that the big, bad, judgmental God won’t be disappointed with us any longer.
Sweet, sweet nectar, that is not repentance, dear one. For starters, God is not the big, bad wolf waiting to blow your house down. God is also not looking down on you keeping tally on how you’re missing the mark. If tallies are important to you, let’s all remember Mary Magdalene had seven demons and Jesus was not in the least bit intimidated or put off by her current state. He simply wanted more for her. The same is true for you.
So let’s talk about what repentance is.
Turning away and withdrawing.
Incredibly simple concept, incredibly hard to practice.
I don’t know about you, but hating myself and shaming my body became something that was all too easy to do. It got so easy that I didn’t even have to try, it just became how my brain worked.
I truly believed if I had a flat stomach, I would be alright. So I spent a lot of time, energy, and dedication living out that belief.
My body became the god I worshipped, the scale was my altar, and the mirror was my truth.
But gods who are not God always have limits and can only take us so far.
You shall have no other gods before me. -God Deuteronomy 5:7
God created this boundary not to limit me or you, but to actually free us. This specific boundary of having no other gods before Him became the most important boundary for my freedom from self-contempt and body shame.
I had to learn to withdraw my presence away from the illusive self-centered shame and turn it towards Truth.
Repentance was and is a slow journey of coming to understand my worth. When I changed my focus to meditating on how I was delighted in by the God of the Universe and that He was deeply curious about me, I grew to see myself through His eyes of kindness and generosity, instead of shame and contempt. As my worth grew, I was able to contend with my toxic shame and God grew in me the desire to begin a practice of repenting for the many years I spent harming my body with hate and disgust.
I practiced repentance by growing a deep care and love for the body that God gave me.
I practiced repentance by looking in the mirror and speaking words of blessing and honor. God gave me a deep sensitivity regarding the words I used to speak about my body. I would speak Paul’s words from Acts 17:28, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
I practiced repentance by thanking my body for her patience, fortitude and forgiveness during all of the years I spent cursing my body.
I practiced repentance by discovering exercise that was kind to my body, instead of exercise that was marked with a kind of obsessive fury towards my body.
I practiced repentance by unfollowing accounts on social media that flooded my feed with pictures of picture-perfect bodies. I began following accounts of women who spoke openly and honestly about their struggles with their body and posted pictures where they celebrated their body’s natural curves and dimples.
I practiced repentance by talking about my story of food, shame, and body image out loud to both counselors and trusted, safe friends who could hold me accountable and remind me of my worth.
I practiced repentance by wearing clothes that felt comfortable on my body and giving away pieces that were too tight and constricting.
And I still get to practice repentance every day by treating my body with kindness, love, and respect. I see this practice as an act of agreeing with God that He creates only beautiful things.
God taught me that in the small, daily practices of repentance, I am making loud declarations into the unseen world that I am His, a woman made in love and for love, and that my life will not be spent for the glory of the darkness.
If any parts of these words resonate with you, I come to offer you great, great hope in a God who authored hope Himself. He wants more for you than your crumbled lists of how many calories consumed per day, your goal weight, and a flat stomach.
I won’t make you any promises that the hatred you have of your body will be fixed in a day. If anything, whenever God calls us to surrender our idols and addictions, it usually gets harder and messier before it ever becomes easier. Scripture tells us that it is in the suffering that God meets us and brings the fullness of His presence to us.
He wants you, in your body, living and moving and being from a place of wholeness and wonder.
Consider spending 15-20 minutes journaling around these questions or anything other ideas stirred up in reading this post.
What is your relationship to your body today? How has it changed since you were younger?
Psalm 16:6 says, “The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places.” In looking in on your own story and relationship with your body, what boundaries might you need to place around you for your own freedom and healing?
What could small, daily practices of repentance around your self-contempt and body shame look like? How might you incorporate them into your day?
10 years from now, what do you hope your relationship with your body will be like? Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Give yourself a vision so that when the journey gets painful, and it will, you have solid reasons for staying in the fight.