I tried to not talk about this again, this week. I hashed through all of this last week, set it on a shelf and decided to move on. But the other “safe” blog post I started working on for this week was absentmindedly deleted. Gone. Several pages of Common Workout Injuries and Their Quick Fixes dissolved into the atmosphere, leaving me with empty pages.
But then I heard that whisper. “What about body shame, Megan? You have most of that written already…” Oh, that whisper…right?! I know exactly Who it is, and I know I can’t ignore it. It’s like I can see Jesus standing there saying, “Whoops, that one’s gone. I guess you’ll have to talk about the other thing, now.” The mischievous grin on His face can’t be ignored.
Well, okay then.
Last week I had the opportunity to talk with the women at my church about overcoming shame. There were four of us on the panel, each with different stories of personal shame. The topics were heavy, no-holds-barred, and not the typical "church" language. Sex, pornography, assault, abortion, adoption, abandonment, divorce, eating disorders. It was real life. And the stories resonated with every single woman sitting in the room.
Where it all began.
For me, my story started in junior high. I think for so many of us women it starts there. We begin to have awareness of others’ opinions and self-recognition. And man, junior high girls can be so mean! Downright nasty.
My body developed late, way later than most of my shapely friends. I was called flat chested, boyish, shapeless, “man arms”. On top of it, I ate terribly. I had a sweet tooth and I constantly indulged it. Snickers bars daily, ice cream at night, Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast. I had no awareness of what healthy eating looked like, and consequently I got a little chubby.
But then it all hit me. I looked in the mirror and saw a flat chested chubby girl. In that moment, my body became my identity. That reflection determined my value and worth, and I was ashamed of the body I had. I desperately wished it looked different.
So, I got to work. High school consisted of counting calories, reading nutrition facts, skipping breakfast, obsessing over fitness magazines, running every day, and working out in my bedroom at night before bed. I played sports, but I was taking this whole thing to the next level. I felt like I could make my boobs look bigger if I was thinner.
The effort began working and I started seeing results. I remember people commenting on how thin I was getting, how my cheekbones stuck out, and how my clothes hung loosely. I was deaf to their concern. All I heard was "success!" It fueled me to do more. I graduated high school weighing in at only 110 pounds…about 15 pounds too light for my frame.
Then college. This was an amped up environment, and I was truly independent for the first time. There were so many emotions, some unhealthy relationships, and LOTS of other pretty girls to compare myself to. This is where I dabbled with bulimia, unsuccessfully. I also dabbled with anorexia, unsuccessfully. Instead, I hid behind the guise of "fitness", completely punishing my body. I ran it into the ground, counting every last calorie along the way.
I decided to major in exercise science (kinesiology). What could be better than knowing EXACTLY how to make my body look great? I wanted to know the science of physical submission…make my body a machine! My ears were hot and my mind was absorbent to every single lecture that talked about fat oxidation and body composition change. (It didn’t help that I learned how to measure body fat composition 10 different ways.)
I spent all day long, everything I ate, everything I did, all the workouts I suffered through, all of it with the purpose of making my body more attractive. I criticized every part of my body. I would sit a certain way, hang my arms a certain way, pose in pictures a certain way, just to make myself appear like something I didn't think I was. I would inwardly groan every time I saw a picture of myself.
My body became this chess piece for my emotions. I see now that alongside this massive body image issue, I was battling depression. When my depression would surge with irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and hopeless, my body was the first victim. I struggled so bad with postpartum depression with my first baby that I found myself standing in the kitchen cutting the skin on my arm. At other times, my first instinct would be to not eat or to try and throw up. I had these deep feelings of anger and lack of control. Cutting, starving or vomiting were my control levers.
None of it made sense, but Satan didn't care.
Body Shame: Equal Opportunity.
Obviously, I deeply struggled with body shame. I was ashamed of the way my body looked and how it didn't match up to what I thought was ideal. It was rooted deep inside of me, with those first seeds being planted in junior high. By the time I was in my 20’s, this body shame had become a massive thorn bush.
I know some women that truly struggle with their weight would say, "you have no idea!" But let me say this: body shame is all-inclusive. It doesn't choose to land on only certain body sizes. The feeling of shame has NOTHING to do with the size and shape of your body. It is a completely autonomous and an evil lie that Satan loves to plop on any and every one he can. His foremost vehicle for shame is a naked body. (Genesis 3:7)
Where am I now? I’m 33 years old, married and have two boys. I take depression medication daily. And I walk around free from the weight of that ugly shame. I pick up my kids from school with greasy hair and horrendous panty lines. I have stopped pinching my stomach fat or stressing over the scale. And I can see a photo of myself without criticizing it. That’s huge, friend.
God redeemed my story. I let Him step in and show me where I was wrong. He has gently uncovered the lies, piece by piece, that I believed about my body and inserted His truth in their place.
There were many times that I felt I couldn't be a trainer, a professional in this industry, with the past that I had. I had seen the darkness that can be associated with fitness, food, and our bodies, and I wanted to completely walk away. But God held me here for a reason, and I know it was to show women that there is another way.
Now, when I coach women, I can read between the lines. I can pinpoint if they’re obsessed or have a perverted view of food. I recognize misplaced goals or unhealthy behaviors. Because I’ve been there. I’ve done all that. I want to help.
As I design workout programs and write nutrition programs, I pray so deeply that God gives me wisdom to guide women down the right road. That the purpose with every ounce of instruction is to help her be strong, whole, and confident. To be free from the obsession, the hurt, the lies, the shame. Freedom to find joy in her body and its unique shape. To see that it's ok to be soft, hard, squishy, firm, tall, short, plump, thin. Freedom to see her body the way God sees it.
If you have struggled with body shame, please see that you’re not alone. I know personally that it’s not helpful when people say, “but you look great!” These words simply don’t matter if you don’t believe it from the inside. A supernatural soul transformation is required, and there’s only One that can do that.
Let God redeem you and rescue you from your darkness. He longs for you to be free!
You might be interested in these other blog posts:
Embracing Your Design
Your Mess is Mine: My Postpartum Story
Our Broken and Strained Relationship
Megan P. Dahlman
Hi friend! I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Wife to Scott, and Mom to two crazy boys, Calvin & Peter. I train hard, eat well, rest just enough to keep going, and do my best to maintain a heavenly perspective. I'd love to coach you to do the same. Cheers!
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