Your Body as a Shame Trigger

Late January/early February is a time of great activity at local “Y’s” and fitness centers. The YMCA that I belong to was so packed when I went there the other day, I couldn’t find a parking place. I came back later. Inside, it’s a buzz of activity. People grunting, sweating, lifting, jumping, you name it; attempts to shed, tone, re-shape. Don’t get me wrong! I think it’s great that people want to get into the best shape that they can, to look and feel as healthy as possible. What I often hear, however, relates directly to the shame many people feel around their body. It’s never just okay to be the size and shape someone is, for many people. They are apparently not going to be happy unless and until they look like something else – smaller waist, perhaps, or bigger chest.

I overheard a couple of people talking about a pending cruise. One of the women was telling the other one about her breakfast of a handful of almonds, a glass of juice and a celery stick. She planned to eat one half of her snack bar at lunch and the other half at dinner. She is absolutely bound and determined to “kill” at the pool during her time on board the cruise ship. From my perspective, I thought she looked pretty good now. I wasn’t sure where any measurable improvements could be made. Maybe I don’t know what it means to “kill” at a cruise ship pool. I’m fairly certain that I would not “kill.” But, I bet I could still have fun!

Their conversation reminded me of so many young women I encountered in my days as a college chaplain. During the ‘90’s, there seemed to be an epidemic of eating disorders on campuses all across the country. Women (mostly, although there were some young men) would starve themselves and end up looking so gaunt one could mistake them for people suffering from advanced cancer. Others suffered from bulimia whereby they would eat but promptly force themselves to throw up everything. This was just horrible. Their digestive processes would be altered and the acids released would severely impact their teeth and gums…among other

complications. For so many young people, their very bodies were themselves objects of shame.

How can you imagine being a Child of God, made in the likeness of that God, called to be the hands and feet of that God in the world when you literally see yourself as a pile of junk? You do not see yourself as being good enough, or ever being able to measure up to some arbitrary standard set by TV, movies, or music videos. No amount of words can dissuade you from your perception. It’s just something you know to be true, intrinsically, and therefore avoiding theological reflection or (gasp!) worship services is in order. No sense being reminded of one’s deficiency.

Here is where immersing in Little League affirmation could be absolutely the “thing” that pulls people out of their shame. Confronting the lie of the world with never-ending words of “atta girl,” “atta boy,” “good hustle,” “you got this” and more would crowd out that shame-inducing language and put people into position to receive the truth of being just fine, really okay, just as they are. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or clinical!. It’s just as simple as pointing out the fact that someone really hustled on a team project, winning an important contract. Someone put flowers in the break room “just cuz” it’s been so cold out lately. Another person had an “aha” at a training event that helped several others finally understand the new software program. Yet another person’s sunny disposition is the magic tonic that keeps the office a place of delight instead of dread. So, tell them. Acknowledge what these people’s actions mean to the group, to you. Atta girl! Atta boy!

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