Whenever I give body image talks, I always admit that it is easier said than done to love your body, and especially difficult when you haven’t for so long. I am still very much a work in progress, living into the belief that we are ALL made in the image of God, and we are beautiful and perfect just as we are. But lately, I have been perceiving that my body doesn’t live up to what I would like it to, or in my mind what it should look like, and I have engaged in a terrible negative feedback loop and negative self-talk. I know I shouldn’t “should on myself,” but I have been doing just that. I have beaten myself up, which in the throes of depression just replays over and over without much interruption.
Harsh words can provoke shame, fear, anger, or sadness. This is true whether we hear those words from other people or inflict them on ourselves…You may doubt that your words and thoughts about your body have any effect on your body or on your behaviors. But if you have a pet or young children, you know that your words affect them very strongly…If words matter in your relationships with other people, surely they matter in your relationship with your own body, too.
Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection writes of self- and body-talk like this:
Perfectionism self-talk – “I’m fat and ugly. I’m ashamed of how I look. I need to be perfect to be accepted and loved. I need to be different than I am right now to be worthy of loving-kindness.”
Healthy Striving self-talk – “I want this for me. I want to feel better and be healthier. The scale doesn’t dictate if I’m loved and accepted. Loving-kindness (my belief that I’m worthy of love and respect NOW) will support me through this. I want to figure this out for me. I can do this.”
We nurture our spirits by accepting ourselves, warts and all, when we offer what is called unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard “is an attitude of grace, an attitude that values us even knowing our failings. It is a profound relief to drop our pretenses, confess our worst feelings, and discover that we are still accepted.” This works in relationships with others and ourselves. What’s that second part of the Law, according to Jesus? Love your neighbor as you love yourself? Speaking harshly to yourself is unkind and unloving. Practicing grace replaces negative self-talk with positive messages of love and respect for one’s body, trusting that we are perfectly imperfect reflections of the Divine.
On my day of silence on clergy retreat, I spent time writing all the ways I speak harshly to myself, what I loathe about my body and my brain. And then I proceeded to seek to replace the unkind words with words of love and encouragement. I wrote myself a love letter, which felt a little silly at first, and then God made an appearance, like She is apt to do when space if made. She spoke to me from the mirror of my soul and offered me grace. She has heard my cries and she came to comfort. I share this part of the letter with you, praying that you know what I believe and preach to be true, trying to practice grace with myself.
She reaches from the mirror and caresses the skin on your cheek, holding you in the palm of Her hand. She wants you to believe that you are made in Her image on the inside and the outside. She wishes for the stardust to shine from within, and she is your shoulder when it is dark. She takes your face into both hands and puts her forehead close to yours. “You are mine. You are beloved and beautiful. You can do hard things and you have. You will rise from the depths because I go with you,” She says emphatically. “You will continue to be brave and bare your soul for the benefit of others’ self-reflection. This is my gift to you. Continue to accept it. I will keep loving you, gifting you, empowering you, infusing you with my breath and breadth and bread. Speak up and don’t be moved. And move on when you can no longer stand. Be in relationship, be intimate, give yourself to one who walks with you in this world. Hug deeply. Bless your family. And you will bless yourself. I give you my blessing and have since you were in the womb. I have cried with you and for you and for me. And I always hope for more rejoicing and delight. Delight in your life and be healthy for your own sake which is my Spirit. Take care of you which shows care for me. You know the way, and I will light the path. Let’s talk more often, okay? I love you.”
When I began to speak grace and peace to me in the form of a letter, a conversation with God occurred, and I am in a better place. To be honest with you, depression still shadows so much sunshine in my life, but I know that I am not alone. And neither are you. Thanks be to God.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.