I have two daughters. They’re both mine biologically. So that means I physically carried them both in my body...and my body carries the tell-tale signs of those two pregnancies. I don’t feel (or look) 16 anymore.
After my second daughter was born, for a long time, I wasn’t happy with how much weight I had gained in the pregnancy and how much of it still remained on me after she was born...and crawling...and walking...and talking. And I’m going to confess something: I felt shame about that extra weight.
I’ve been reading a couple of books recently by a woman named Brene Brown, who’s a researcher who became somewhat famous after doing a TED Talk (a 20 minute talk on ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’) that went viral in 2010 about shame and vulnerability. She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Yep. That’s exactly what I felt about being a different size postpartum: unworthy of acceptance and belonging. I felt embarrassed in social situations, like everyone knew that I was failing at an ‘essential’ part of who I am. I felt not good enough.
So guess what I did? I decided to do something about it. I jumped into an exercise routine. I started attempting to incorporate a lot more fruits and veggies into my diet. “Great!” you might say. In the past few months, though, I’ve realized that it’s not so great.
I’m realizing something about the way I exercise that I want to share with you. I honestly don’t tend to exercise to be healthy and care for my body. I exercise to chisel myself into being good enough. I felt shame (remember? ‘not good enough for acceptance’) when I was at my ‘unacceptable’ limit of what I weighed. I thought my extra fat on my hips made me unworthy of love. So I started exercising as a means to prove my worth. As a way to save myself from the pain of not being accepted and loved.
As a side note, do you know how I can tell what my motivations are about exercising? It’s how I feel, and what thoughts are going through my mind when I’m doing it, and how I view my body afterwards. When I’m running to mold my body back into shape so that I can prove my worth, I feel driven. I feel like I have to run harder, gofurther. Or I might feel prideful if I did a good run. I’ll think thoughts like, “This will really help how my body looks.” Or, as I’m running, “I’m literally running the fat on my rear end off right now.” I don’t feel gentle or kind or caring to myself. I feel more like, “Make it happen. Fix it. Prove it.”
Wow. Talk about an internal striving for something much more than just taking care of my body. The exercise turns into a means of obtaining the ‘False Savior’ of being skinny and having a toned body. It promises me that I’ll have safety and status if I’m skinny. I won’t have to feel the pain of rejection or or the vulnerability of not belonging because it will save me. I’m using exercise to achieve something for me that it can’t. It can’t rescue me.
Now that I’ve realized what’s been going on in my heart, I’ve been wondering what repentance would like. How would I practically turn away from ‘skinny’ being my hope for salvation?
My honest answer is that I’m not quite sure yet. I have some ideas. But I’ve grown up in this culture that’s told me my whole life these terrible lies that I have to be skinny to have worth, and that people who lose baby weight in the blink of an eye are better than those who don’t. I know the answer isn’t to eat whatever I want and to boycott lunges and squats for the rest of my life. It’s got to have something to do with my heart. Where deep inside, I reject our culture’s push and let God train me in a new way of thinking. And it’s got to have something to do with taking care of my body in a way that’s mentally and emotionally kind and gentle to myself. I focus on other benefits of exercise and eating right: the ‘therapy’ that running is for my thoughts and emotions, the enjoyment of moving my body and pushing it to work hard, the way my body feels better when I’ve eaten in a balanced way.
I’ve heard people talk before about ‘eating for the glory of God,’ and I guess that would be the difference: to do even exercising and eating as an outflow of being already loved and accepted and belonging to God, instead of doing them as a means to secure my salvation among my peers. It’s like doing the exact same actions, but with a very different mentality. I definitely don’t have all the answers for what it can look like, but I’m hoping that God will continue to teach me...as I run.