Liberate Me from Body Shame

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The first time I felt body shame, I was ten years old. It felt white hot, like swallowing a burning coal and feeling it slowly sink and settle in my stomach. Someone told me it was time for me to start watching what I ate, because I was getting chubby.

Embarrassment flamed my cheeks. Am I? I had no idea. Does everyone think this about me? I felt exposed and vulnerable. It took little encouragement from magazines and sitcoms to strap the collective burden of womanhood onto my baby shoulders. I remember trying out new phrases around my friends. “Oh, I’m soooo fat,” I would moan, waiting for the incredulous replies of “What? You’re tiny!” I didn’t yet believe in my own inherent revulsion, but it seemed that if I wanted to be a part of the herd, I had to publicly bemoan my appearance. I was waiting for the world to tell me it wasn’t true. I hadn’t yet learned you will wait forever if the world is your litmus test for worth. So, the burden grew.

At 13, I bought diet pills, instead of glittery nail polish. They rang me up without asking how old I was. I didn’t look 13. I looked 10, fresh-faced and makeup-less with freckles from playing in the sun. My conscience was so young and tender that sneaking around my mom made me sick to my stomach, and I ended up flushing the pills down the toilet with tears streaming down my face, whispering, “I’m sorry, Jesus. I’m sorry,” over and over. Was I sorry for deception or because I knew I didn’t have what it took to be skinny? I was ashamed of my body, but more ashamed of my shame.

I grew. Shame stayed with me, slinking around the periphery of my life. I felt its presence most keenly when I was alone. When I was tired and lonely, it was merciless. My burden grew unseen, like mold in the dark.

More recently than I care to admit, I came to a startling conclusion: If loathing my body, obsessing over what I eat, or buying clothes too small as “motivation” actually inspired change, it would have happened by now. But it doesn’t. It’s just the same ol’ tune, over and over again. How many times have I declined treats in a moment of celebratory joy only to later shove tasteless bites into my mouth when no one was watching?

All my life, in daydreams of my future self, I am thinner, prettier, and have thicker hair. I’m tired of offering a figment of my imagination all the honor I deny to the body I actually live in. I am 33, yet the burden of this shame is crippling me. I cannot carry it any more. How do we liberate ourselves from shame? We must drag shame screaming into the light, where it can’t survive.

It is time to cancel my membership to the toxic club of Too-Much-and-Yet-Not-Enough. I will no longer seek solidarity from my fellow women by shaming my body. Instead, I invite us all to a new community based on respect for the sacred vessels we dwell in. We must remember the song of liberation that was sung over us from the dawn of creation. We must recite it to ourselves, to our mothers, to our sisters, to our daughters.

I am the Imago Dei, the crown of creation.

These are the hips that bear children,

These are the legs that climb mountains,

These are the arms that hold babies,

These are the hands that bake bread,

This is the face that shows kindness.

I am more than the sum of my parts,

Numbers don’t tell the whole story.

This body—the one you have—is worthy of clothes that fit. It deserves sunshine and walks in the rain. It deserves bathing suits and joyful laughter. It deserves nourishing food and fancy lotion. It can take up all the space it needs as a child of the Living God. Give that respect to yourself, and then let’s fight like hell to give it to our sisters.

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Tabitha Terlunen
I’m Tabitha. I live on the wild West Coast of Vancouver Island with my husband, son, and half a dozen animals. I love feeding a crowd but I hate cleaning the house. I read Harry Potter and justice theology. You’ll never catch me without a hot drink in my hand and a book in my purse. You can find me on Instagram @tabithaterlunen.
Tabitha Terlunen

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