Growing up in Brazil, I was the little girl they propelled through the wrought-iron burglar bars on the windows when a neighbor locked their keys inside. I was small, and I liked it.
Now, I’m not small. But you know what? I love and respect my body more than I ever have. I have lingering issues from sexual abuse and betrayal trauma, but, most days, I can love myself more than I ever imagined. I see my body with gratitude and thank her for carrying me through my years of tears. She consumed too many convenience foods and endured countless sleepless nights. It’s been a brutal ride. My body has definitely kept the score, but she took one for the team. I love her for that! She deserves all the grace.
I’ve been a size ten, and I wasn’t happy about my body. I was a size six, and I wasn’t satisfied. A size zero? Not content. Now at a size eighteen, I’m more confident than ever before.
It has taken a decade of healing to come to terms with how fully Jesus loves me. In that love, I now have the freedom to love myself. I am his child, his beloved daughter. He created me, and he can’t not love me. My body needs some attention, and now that I’m more settled in other areas of my healing, I have the margin for that. For a while, I didn’t; there were other more pressing matters.
Those of us who experience betrayal and/or other sexual wounds have been fed lies about who we are, and many of us have believed them.
Whether spoken to us or perceived by us, many of us have come to believe negative messages about our bodies. In most if not all of us, trauma from addiction and abuse produces a broken identity; our body image is definitely a casualty.
I can’t heal your negative body image, but I can offer a few tips that have helped me.
Gratitude: Be grateful for your body. Stand in front of the mirror and tell her, “Thank you!” Thank her for all the ways she has protected you, provided for you, and carried you. Thank your eyes for being the avenue for your tears to flow. Thank your stretch-marks for making a way to grow your children. Thank your mouth for helping you drink water and most importantly for her beautiful smile. Thank your ears for hearing truth and wisdom and your brain for helping you acknowledge and process lies. Thank your hands for holding the pen as you journaled. Thank your feet for helping you drive a car to your counseling appointments or to meet a friend. Thank your stomach for doing its best to digest all the junk food you gave it or remind you with hunger pains that you needed to eat.
Grieve: Grief is a process not to be hurried. But when we accept that “it” happened, this is when we move forward. We let go of our negative body image and pick up our beloved identity in Christ.
Offer grace to yourself. A therapist pleaded with me on multiple occasions, “Andrea, stop being mean to yourself. You are doing to yourself exactly what others have done to you.” Let’s stop punishing ourselves. When we focus on our bodies by comparing them to what we think we should look like, we are self-objectifying. “The problem with focusing on the appearance of a porn star, sex worker, or affair partner is that you will 1) compare yourself to the other person and create pain and shame, and/or 2) you will reduce yourself to a collection of body parts. Objectification is “the action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.” Please don’t do that to yourself.” Vicki Tidwell Palmer
Offer grace to others. When we compare, we become discontent with ourselves, or we might even look down on others. When we see other women, let’s only see them as beautiful, beloved daughters of God—just as we long for others to see us.
When thinking negatively about your body, ask yourself these questions and consider your motivation.
How old do I feel? Does the dislike of your body stem from an unhealed childhood or a previous wound? Consider when you first felt these negative feelings. We can’t heal what we don’t feel.
Are my hurtful thoughts from God or somewhere/someone else? Is this God speaking to you or another voice that has no business judging you? Hint: God will NEVER speak harm to his daughters.
“Am I grasping or grounded?” Are you holding on to shame that is not yours or pain that needs to be released? Can you surrender to the love of God, your Creator? Another hint: if you’re talking to yourself negatively, you won’t feel grounded.
Ask Jesus. Simply ask Jesus how you should see your body. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5 NIV)
In keeping with the 4 C’s for Betrayal Trauma that we learn in our Wives Care Groups, I came up with 4 C’s for Body Image Recovery:
Connect with your body. We can’t fully heal our hearts and minds without healing our bodies too. If we need to take action for our bodies to become healthy temples, let’s do that. But doing things TO our bodies is not healthy or loving. (Let me tenderly say I understand more severe body image issues exist. So often, we experience abuse, and in turn, abuse ourselves. If this resonates, please seek professional help.)
Combat the enemy: Fight Satan’s lies with TRUTH! Don’t let Satan take any more than he already has. Let’s beat him at his own game – fully knowing the “game” has already been won—in the name of Jesus!
Care for yourself with compassion. You are worth being loved! And no one will ever love you as well and as fully as Jesus.
Choose contentment. Contentment comes when we believe and accept our identity in Christ and stop striving to be who others want us to be.