Let’s talk about shame and “body positivity”

Since I am a short woman with curves and I don’t seem to actively dislike my body, some people assume that I subscribe to the Body Positivity movement.  Not really.  I don’t tend to subscribe to any type of movement until I’ve thought it through, so my default position for most things is to say NO right off the bat.  Now, that contrarian streak can lead to its own problems, but for many trends and fashions, Nope sums up my thoughts pretty nicely.  Sometimes I will start off with an automatic No and after thinking it through, I’ll end up as a Yes, but I take a lot of convincing.  Body Positivity was one of the rare things that I wanted to say Yes to immediately, but after thinking it through and seeing the problems inherent in the system, I am solidly in the No camp.

Can I see the appeal of Body Positivity?  Absolutely.  Women want to feel beautiful and valued and special and included, which is exactly what this movement promises.  But when we look for this feeling in all the wrong places, we end up with a pale counterfeit of what we really want.  We want true love and true freedom, but sometimes we get so desperate that we settle for the illusion of love and freedom.  I don’t want to settle for that and I don’t want any of you to settle for fakery, either.  So let’s talk about this.


(This is a good time to point out that I’m a Christian and if you don’t want to hear about Jesus, this might not be the blog post you’re looking for.  But stick around anyway, because it won’t be a waste of your time.  If, at the end, you feel like this post has been a waste of your time, feel free to yell at me in the comments.)

I’ve been reading articles and watching YouTube videos and checking out different Instagram accounts to research for this post, and it became clear to me that the Body Positivity movement is difficult to define, even for the people who promote and follow it.  This tends to happen when a movement is based on feelings – it is very squishy and it means something different to each person, depending on how it makes them feel.  Because of the vagueness and the grand promises, the language can even get a little cultish – finding a new family of people who really understand and support you / the power of positive thinking and positive energy / self affirmation / promises of a better life immediately, etc.

But one of the most common themes running throughout is shame – what shame is and how to handle it.  For this body positive movement, shame is entirely a social construct imposed marginalized groups.  According to this movement, if your body doesn’t fit within society’s standard of the ideal body, you are constantly told being that your body is “wrong” and either society actively shames you or you internalize society’s standard until you feel shame.  Their theory is that both the societal standard and the shame are made up and must be actively ignored.  If the standards and shame are figments of the imagination, ignoring them should take away the pressure to fit in and also erase the shame.  Substitute those shame feelings for positive feelings and – voila! – you will love your body.  Sounds pretty good, right?

But when the positivity is slow to come and you still feel shame, what then?  The body positivity gurus don’t have a straightforward answer to this one.  They usually say that society’s standards and shaming are so deeply ingrained in us that it will take years to “unlearn” that mindframe, so we need to keep doing these things until the shame goes away:

  • Keep telling ourselves that we deserve to feel beautiful and deserve to feel worthy, that we are beautiful just the way we are, and that we don’t need to apologize for being who we are.
  • Surround ourselves with supportive people.
  • Ignore any haters, especially those pesky little voices inside our heads telling us we aren’t good enough.
  • Go live life and enjoy everything, especially the things society says you shouldn’t.  (i.e. Be sexy and confident and wear that bikini, you divine goddess, you!)
  • Repeat the steps whenever you have a bad day.

It takes a whole lot of work to pretend not to care.  It is exhausting to create positive feelings.  Especially when you feel tired and feel fat and the people closest to you are all needy and clingy and you haven’t had time to take a shower and your face is breaking out and you DON’T HAVE TIME TO FIX ANYTHING.  And the self-consciousness and shame keep coming back again and again.  That’s the body positivity way – when you get unhappy, push down the unhappiness until you feel happy again.

But I have good news.  The shame we feel is real.  We AREN’T good enough and we definitely aren’t perfect the way we are.

The funny thing about good news is that sometimes it sounds like an insult.  But the truth sets us free and self-deceit keeps us locked up in a prison of our own devising.

The first mention of clothing in the Bible is in Genesis Chapter 3.  Adam and Eve didn’t wear clothes until after they sinned for the first time.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.  She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.  And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”  And he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.”  And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eatn from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”  (Genesis 3: 6-11)

As soon as Adam and Eve ate the fruit and committed the first sin, the shame immediately hit.  Their once-perfect bodies started to die, right then and there.  And a comparison that they had never feared before, became the only thing they could think about.  They compared themselves to God and shame was the only response.  Their bodies were cursed, imperfect, and dying, so they needed to hide their bodies from the perfect, immortal, all-powerful God.  The God who created them and everything else in the world.  The God who loved them, took care of them, and gave them the whole world and only one rule.  That is where clothes come from.  They have always been humanity’s attempt to hide our shame.

The shame is real.  We are sinful and flawed and God is perfect.  We have a hard enough time competing with other humans.  We can’t even pretend to compete with God.  When we compare ourselves to His standard of holiness, our first impulse is always to hide in the bushes.  The shame is real, because our sin is real and His perfection is real.  That’s why our shame comes back after we push it down.

You might be thinking, Ashley, how in the world is this good news?  The good news is that the problem is real and the solution to the problem is also real.  Christ Jesus came to reverse the curse and save us from our shame.  He came to this planet He created, to live a sinless life, die a sacrificial death on a cross, and rise from the dead after three days.  Without Christ’s sacrifice, we would still be hiding in the bushes, trying to hide from God, trying to cover our shame on our own.  The only real way to hide our sin from God is taking refuge in Christ and in His perfect life and perfect death.  This is beautifully summed up in Romans 8:1-2, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

It makes me cry happy tears.  I am not perfect, but I am in Christ and Christ is perfect.  My body is not perfect, but I am in the body of Christ and His body is perfect.  “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of each other.” (Romans 12:4-5)  Because I am covered in the righteousness of Christ, I can stand before God, with my sins forgiven and my shame covered.

So here’s my status:  I am a finite woman with a flawed body and I am going to die someday.  I still experience shame when I sin and fall short, because I serve a God who is perfect and His standard is the standard I compare myself to.  But thanks be to God, my personal ability to handle shame isn’t important.  The weakness of my body is not important.  Even my sin is not important at this point, because I am in Christ and that is what is most important.  When I am weak, I look to Christ.  When I feel ugly, I look to Christ.  When my feelings are hurt, I look to Christ.  When I sin, I confess my sin to Christ and He forgives me and covers my shame.

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence, But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31)

I give thanks for my body, because God has given it to me.  I thank God for my body’s weakness, because they remind me that I can’t save myself.  I thank Him for the shame and remorse that follows sin, because I don’t want to live comfortably in my sins.  I thank Him for using my weakness and foolishness for His own glory, so I can’t glory in my own body and mind.  Every good thing I have is a gift.

This is my answer to the Body Positivity movment – don’t pretend shame doesn’t exist and push it down under the surface.  Shame will always come back up.  Seek Christ and let Him cover your shame with His glory.  It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t.  All we contribute is our brokenness and weakness and foolishness, and He gives us life and hope and freedom.  He gave His body for us, a body which was broken and is now perfect.  And that is good news.






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