The phrase “shaping our bodies” likely conjures up images of exercise, diet, discipline, weight lifting, and the like. But very few of us likely think of the tongue and its power to shape our bodies. The more I study the issue of body image, the more I listen to women talk about their bodies, the more convinced I am that part of our problem with body image begins with our own tongues.
Maybe somewhere along the way someone else’s words impacted how we view ourselves. I know this is true for me and the countless women who have recounted to me stories from their childhood or adolescence where another’s words created wounds, the scars of which are still visible today. But, what we may or may not realize is how we talk about ourselves and our own bodies.
It seems to be a habit for most women – this self-deprecating humor, which is ultimately just a form of self-protection. We are insecure about certain aspects of our bodies, and so we “poke fun” or even criticize these aspects of our own bodies as a way of either covering up our body shame or seeking affirmation from others that we are not as bad as we feel. Our self-deprecation, which is a corrupted means of protecting our hearts actually deteriorates us little by little as we become defined by, identified by the words we use to describe ourselves. The impact of the tongue is devastating.
We describe ourselves in terms we would never use to describe others because to do so would be cruel and unkind. Yet, we think it okay to do so with ourselves. We describe our thick ankles as cankles. We describe our frame as being built like a line backer. We talk about our flat chests as being flat as a board. We talk about our big butts as being extra cushion. We call our midsection our love handles or our muffin tops. We describe what we deem as our larger than average thighs as thunder thighs. And all the while we do it with a nervous giggle and sheepish smile that seems to indicate that we are comfortable and at ease with these aspects of our bodies. Yet, all the while, we are merely covering up areas of our deep shame and insecurity.
These seemingly harmless phrases, cloaked in false humility, are eating away at our insides. Our careless, thoughtless use of the tongue has begun to shape how we view ourselves. My focus on these things deduces my identity and worth to only a body of pieces and parts that I pick apart with “affectionate” brutality.
I am struck by how much James 3 speaks to this issue:
“…the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body…(vs. 6)” How we use our tongue to describe ourselves is all too often corrosive and corrupt. These ways we describe ourselves is not of God. It is wicked and destructive. I cannot say these things without it corrupting my entire body. My speech about my body is indicative of my heart and it shapes how I view myself.
“…It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison…(vs. 8)” The tongue and it effects are deadly to us. We cannot expect to talk in these ways and come out unscathed.
“…Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God…(vs. 9)” We, too, were made in the image of God. So, how can we praise the Lord and yet curse ourselves, as His creation made in His image?
James goes on to say that the fruit of my tongue is indicative of the jealousy, envy, and selfish ambition in my heart (vs. 4-16). I make fun of my body because I want it to look like the bodies of those I envy. I make fun of my body out of restlessness, discontent, and frustration that it does not meet my desire for it to be “praiseworthy”.
So what then is the answer? It is most certainly not to praise ourselves, or to think too much or too highly of ourselves. It also does not negate our responsibility to care for our bodies. On the contrary, it means we must include how we talk about our bodies in our care for and nurture of them. James equates our speech with wisdom (vs.13-18). We either speak with “earthly wisdom” which leads to evil and disorder, or we speak with heavenly wisdom which leads to peace.
The solution is that we must seek to be wise when speaking about our own bodies as well. We must remember we were handcrafted by God, and, therefore, stop speaking of ourselves in ways that are hateful, careless, and unwise. We must use the same care and discernment when talking about ourselves as we do with others. We must seek true humility, a spirit of worship and thanksgiving, and wisdom from the Lord as it pertains to how we understand and speak of our bodies. Only then, may we find peace with ourselves and our bodies.
Ladies, let’s do this not only for ourselves, but for the generations of young women coming behind us.
Here are a couple of other worthwhile articles on body and body image:
New Year, New Self-Control by Jen Wilkin
Fitness Goals and The New Year by Trillia Newbell