To Anyone Who Has Ever Felt Body Shame

Freda Howell McMahon   |   September 3, 2021 

“Freda, you look so good now that you’re thin.”

I was fourteen years old and in the middle of my first diet ever. The church service had finished, and I was washing my hands in the common washroom when an older woman from our youth group said these words to me. I am certain it was meant as a compliment, but it did not feel like one. All I heard was her telling me was that I looked bad earlier and would look bad again if I stopped being thin.

Years later, I was lying on the examination table soon after having my first daughter. I had gone in thinking I looked good, but my gynaecologist told me that I was lazy, I had let go of myself just like all Indian women, and I needed to start going for an hour-long walk every day. In retrospect, he was probably just trying to get me to sign up for the “Body Makeover” programme that he was advertising in the reception area. I’ve shared with you just a few of the things I’ve heard over the years and I’m sure you have your own stories and insecurities.

It was only when I was laid up in a hospital with Covid earlier this year that I truly regretted caring about what people thought of my body and not taking care of it just because it was my body. After getting discharged, I knew I didn’t want to fall into the dieting trap again. I also couldn’t because I was pregnant, neither can I now because I am nursing, nor do I ever plan to deprive my body of the nourishment it needs. I longed for freedom in my relationship with my body but was not sure how to get it. Some months ago, someone I follow on Instagram recommended Jess Connolly’s book, Breaking Free from Body Shame, and I ordered it. Little did I know that God would use this book to change how I view my body because of how He views my body.

In Genesis 1:27-31, we read, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… God saw all that he had made and it was very good…” The Hebrew word for very, used in this verse, translates as “muchness.” God saw the work of His hands and declared it as muchness good! Quoting Scripture, Jess pointed out that the God of the universe made our bodies, made my body, “with intention and creativity” (p. 28) and how He does not make bad things. Her message was music to my ears! God had named me good and I had bought into so many lies over the years. A burden rolled off my shoulders knowing that my Creator approves of what He has made.

What difference does this knowledge make? Knowing that our bodies are good frees us from treating our bodies like a project; like something we need to fix. You can’t fix something that is not broken. Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t take care of our bodies. Knowing that our bodies are good, in fact, liberates us to take care of ourselves. After all, would you want to take care of something that you thought wasn’t good? When we try to take care of ourselves out of shame, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

God’s grace, however, is an excellent motivator. When we accept God as the Lord of our life, repent of living life on our own terms, and seek to live in obedience to His word, He helps us along the way. We can always turn back to Him when we slip, and He helps us move forward. In fact, it is when we know that we are bound to fail in our own strength, that we are free to experience His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). An area where I have experienced a fresh wave of freedom is in how I move my body. Working out had become a form of punishment; something I must do in order to look a certain way or achieve a certain goal.

Jess Connoly mentions Alisa Keeton's huge role in her own journey, and I had to look her up online. Alisa has a website called Revelation Wellness TV, where I found free monthly workouts (with two rest days, per week). During each workout, the instructor shares a few verses from the Bible and speaks truth into the lives of people. Suddenly, working out is not a form of punishing myself, nor is it about proving anything to anyone. Yes, it is still hard, but as the instructors often say, “we can do hard things.” God gives us the strength to do hard things. We can begin to find restoration in our bodies as we use our bodies to worship God through all we do; be it eating, drinking, resting or even nursing a baby.

Slowly but surely, how I relate to my body is beginning to change. Recently, I got together with a few friends who I’ve hardly seen since the pandemic started. I was sitting next to my six-year-old daughter, and the first point of conversation amongst us grown-up women was our bodies. One woman was happy with her progress, another proceeded to tell me how it was time for me to do something, and another had her own woes and remedies. I tried to change the conversation because I do not want my daughters to grow up hearing women around them complain about their bodies. What if this insidious cycle could stop with us?

As Jess rightly points out, there was no angel who visited Naomi and told her that she would be of more use to God if she would just take better care of herself. In fact, the Bible tells us that God looks at the heart. When Samuel was sent on an errand to anoint the next king of Israel, he assumed that God must have chosen Jesse’s oldest son who was tall and handsome, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).’’ Let us be women who, like God, do not get hung up with our outward appearance, and the outward appearance of others.

In Jess’ words,

“your body is not the world’s to weigh in on. Your body is not a project or a marker of your righteousness. Your body is neither a trophy nor the best thing about you. If by grace, through faith, you are a follower of Jesus, you are a daughter of the Most High God. You were made with intention and creativity, celebration and excellence Your body was made and pronounced good by the ultimate Creator, Judge, Savior and Hero of the world. He mourns the mess of sin and brokenness that we live in, but He doesn’t leave us – He brings redemption and restoration to these bodies of ours. And He promises us a day when our earthly shells will be a distant memory, a shadow, a vapour that used to be. Your body is good. The world is wrong. The enemy is a liar. Rest and restoration and revival are yours for the taking. Let’s get after it.”


Photo by horacio olavarria on Unsplash

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Freda Howell McMahon

Freda McMahon lives in a little Goan village with her husband and two daughters. She is a counsellor by profession, a homeschooling mom, and in constant need of God’s grace. Dark chocolate with sea salt, good conversation and solitude are a few of her favourites.

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