How to Fight Body Shame

How to Fight Body Shame

“Why can’t everyone just leave me alone?!!” I yelled, slamming the computer closed and storming out of the room. Corey tentatively followed me into the kitchen where I was hurling plastic dishes into the sink. I wanted to eat something, but I distracted myself by cleaning up the mess from breakfast instead. 

“What’s going on?” he asked, bravely offering me an invitation to verbalize the rage he could see all over my face. 

I made an angry sound somewhere between a growl and a moan. “I can’t write with noise coming from every direction out of every single person in the house!” I shouted. Mercifully, he nodded in understanding. “I just want to go somewhere–anywhere–to be alone!” 

“I get it,” he said gently. “This is really hard.” It was just what I needed to hear. 

His acknowledgement diffused the intensity of my emotion. Feeling understood was a like a momentary lifeline out of the waves of my overwhelming frustration. Unknowingly, he had saved me from looking for comfort elsewhere–namely in the kitchen pantry.

I sighed deeply, humbled by his compassionate response to my tantrum. Apologizing for my outburst, I scrawled “do not disturb” on a piece of scratch paper and taped it on the bedroom door. Here I am now, laptop back open, trying again to fight for my sanity by typing words that help me hone in on what’s happening inside me.

The morning blowup didn’t come out of thin air; it was an emotional eruption of internal pressure that had been building and building. These days of isolation and intense “togetherness” have worn me down, depleting my reserves of patience and flexibility and optimism. I feel trapped, lonely, angry, and powerless to change the circumstances that are sucking the life out of me.

The longer we spend in quarantine, the harder it gets–and the more desperate I feel for relief.

I really did start out strong, working hard to reframe this as an opportunity–to soak up more time together, live with fewer distractions, embrace greater simplicity in our days. I focused on controlling what I could, resolved to implement practices that protect my physical, mental, and emotional health. Time alone to pray every morning, walks outside in the afternoon, regular sweat-inducing exercise and mostly healthy food choices all helped mitigate the effects of so many stressors.

But as two weeks became four, then eight became who-knows-how-many-more, my energy for self-care gradually diminished. Adrenaline and willpower wore thin and unhealthy coping strategies started seeping in through the cracks in my self-discipline. 

Instead of processing how I was feeling, I’d bake cookies; instead of going for a walk, I’d pour a glass of wine. It felt like I was already giving up so much–worrying about my food choices just felt like something I couldn’t manage on top of everything else.

Somehow, what started as sporadic indulgences became daily habits. Old stress eating patterns reemerged like muscle memory. Even as I told myself that I don’t struggle like I used to with food, convincing myself that I didn’t need to check myself as often or limit my sugar intake as carefully, I knew I was treading on dangerous ground. 

These momentary hits of relief didn’t come without consequences. Seemingly out of nowhere, my pants stopped fitting. 

Eventually, our choices catch up to us.

The old, familiar voice of shame hissed in my ear, “Look at you! You are so disgusting. You should have known you couldn’t stay healthy for long–it was just a matter of time before you lost control again. It’s no good pretending. You’ve always been fat and you always will be.”

You could say I’m a bit hard on myself. 

This battle with body shame is painfully familiar territory. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been trying to lose weight–so often focusing on calorie restriction instead of nourishment, exercising to burn calories instead of build strength, and criticizing every angle of my reflection instead of celebrating my unique shape. If I could just lose a few more pounds…

The result of endlessly striving to perfect a body that is inherently imperfect? Shame. Loads of it. 

The distorted belief that my lovability somehow increases or decreases with a number on the scale? That’s shame. My desire to hide from anyone who might notice or judge me for struggling? That’s shame. The temptation to collapse into overindulgence and self-hatred instead of admitting I need care? That’s shame. The excruciating fear of being rejected for who I am or what I’ve done? That’s shame at its core.

But shame cannot survive being spoken aloud. Admitting that my relationship with my body is complicated–that I vacillate between gratitude and contempt for it every single day–undoes the isolation and secrecy that give shame its power.

The truth is, my body bears the scars of a battle with disordered eating, a struggle with self-hatred, a fear of being unworthy of love, the birthing of two humans, and the residual pain of past injuries. It is both resilient and fragile, unique and imperfect, athletic and worn down, ever-changing and steadfast, capable of bearing deep pain and holding great joy.

It is a body that has lived hard and loved much and has not given up on me yet. 

I have legs that can run and jump and dance. I have arms that can wrap my kids tight and hold them close. I have two eyes that can see beauty all around me. I have lungs that can breathe deep and sing loud. I have skin that can touch and feel and sweat. 

I have a body that is imperfect and flawed and uniquely mine. 

A lifetime of self-criticism is hard to unlearn. In this season when my capacity is maxed out, when my feelings are big and my body is tired and I’m doing my best to survive each day, it’s hard to be gentle with myself. Maybe you can relate?

It helps me to remember what the research shows: The antidote to shame is empathy. Sharing our struggle with a safe person who can look us in the eyes and hear our heart, hold our pain, and validate our struggle without trying to fix us is like a healing balm to our soul.

As life continues in all of its sweet and sour moments, may you find a quiet place to sit alone long enough to thank your body for all it’s done for you. 

May you have the courage to invite someone who loves you into the places you’re tempted to struggle alone. 

May you find the grace to gaze gently at the beauty you carry, beholding yourself without judgement or shame. 

And may you know beyond a shadow of doubt that who you are today, imperfect and in process, is worthy of love.

Today I’m going to exercise. And buy new pants. Without shame.