My Life Putting an End to Body Shame by Rachel Penate I remember the day like it was yesterday – a warm sunny midwestern May, my family seated cozily around a picnic table. I was 10, and the joy and excitement of getting to see extended family had been welling up in me for weeks. That day, we were picnicking at the park – enjoying the first few rays of sun after a long winter. After some time, I noticed my cousin looking me up and down. I could tell he was carefully choosing his words, weighing each in his mind. I admired my cousins and literally hung onto their every word like they were plated in gold. His hesitation caused me to worry, What was he going to say? Oh gosh. Did I do something wrong? And then they came. Seven simple deceitful words: “Rachel, you’re looking pretty… uh… buff these days.” His words hung in the air. I admit, in that moment, I totally took the word “buff” out of context. I – to this day – still have no clue what he actually meant that sunny afternoon in May, but what I believed was that he was just trying to find a “nice” way to say I wasn’t as thin as the last time he saw me. To me, muscular meant fat. And that was devastating. What should’ve been an inconsequential comment ended up being the beginning to a long journey of body-consciousness. Over time, my “buff” body didn’t change and I became increasingly uncomfortable in my own body. I sucked at every sport I tried, never fit right in my clothing, and had a terrible sweet tooth. Every time I looked in the mirror, every time I went shopping with my friends for clothes, every time I stood on the scale, I didn’t see a pretty girl, I just saw me and All. My. Imperfections. Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m “now perfect and never ever think poorly about myself…” Just this morning, my mind battled with my heart over the lie that I’m not as beautiful as I was before giving birth to my second baby. Struggles still come and go but, friends, there was a distinct turning point in my life that offered me an insane amount of freedom every time I saw myself in the mirror. This change did not happen overnight nor was it easy, but it was simpler than I thought it would be. If you can relate to this struggle – of finding yourself feeling habitually ashamed of the way you look or your body – this blog is for you. The following are some of the tips I’ve found myself going back to each and every time I’m in the midst of this battle… 1. Nourish Your Body I hit my heaviest weight my sophomore year of college and man was I uncomfortable in my body. That summer, I set out to make a change. I started eating a more well-rounded diet (ya know, fruits and vegetables and stuff) and found running. And, it didn’t take very long to start feeling (physically) much, much better. Giving God glory isn’t just about nourishing our soul. Saint Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” Giving God glory with our whole selves also means treating our bodies in accord to how God created us. Our bodies are not meant to be sedentary. The nutrients that whole foods offer and hormones released when we move give us – at a very biological level – the energy we need to think clearly and live a fuller life. This doesn’t mean you have to “go on a diet” or “get a membership to the gym” but it does mean you need to start considering how well you treat your body according to its need. Find whole foods that you love and eat them! Find the type of movement (even if it’s a walk around your local park) that you enjoy and make it happen! 2. Start Loving Yourself While taking care of your body is so important to your overall health and wellness, we all know, it goes much deeper than that. Edith Stein beautifully said, “The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what women are.” When I stopped seeing myself as simply a sum of parts that was expected to look a certain way, I realized that my beauty is rooted in the fullness of who I am. But getting to that place came in accepting myself as created uniquely in the eyes of God – in believing this wasn’t just a nice thing to say but the absolute truth. It was actually this simple prayer that profoundly changed the course of my life in this regard: “Lord, give me your eyes to see myself as you do.” Every day, seek to be grateful. Find one thing about yourself to compliment. Whether it’s your piercing blue eyes, your expert use of red lipstick, or your sweet dance moves, ask the Lord to help you identify what makes you YOU! And, rejoice and give thanks to God for a heart that, with every beat, confirms the Father’s love for you. You possess a beauty that nobody else but you can bring to the world! 3. Look for Beauty in Everyone and Stop Comparing I’ve noticed in my life I’m the least charitable with myself when I’m the least charitable with others. Saint Ambrose warns, “No one heals himself by wounding another.” When you look at others, do you see just another body? Or do you see another person with an individual beauty that blesses the world? Often, we compare to either make ourselves feel better about our current situation or out of envy over theirs. Whatever the reason for comparison, the truth of the matter is that you will never be that person. In order to dispel the lie that you should be ashamed of your body, it is helpful to start looking for the beauty in others around you. “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2) Seek to conform your mind to God’s and to do His will in your thoughts, words, and actions. 4. Seek Support It’s amazing what happens when you invite someone into your struggle with you. I don’t know where I would be without the friends I have who sit and listen with compassionate hearts, as I express my feelings and fears and frustrations. Seek friends who will speak honestly into your life and remind you of your beauty, dignity, and worth. And do not be ashamed of seeking professional help, if needed. Sometimes we need someone in our lives with more experience, education, and wisdom to set us back on the right path. 5: Believe this Foundational Truth You are not the sum of your imperfections. You are the sum the love of a PERFECT and BEAUTIFUL God who created you in HIS own likeness. Your body and soul are a part of this likeness; care for them as He cares for you. The journey of self-love and self-mastery is a long one but it is absolutely achievable. Reorienting our priorities and mindset is a skill that you and I will continue to refine over our years, and it will be well worth the battle over the sin and lies of our culture and in our very own hearts.