Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#FightBodyShaming: Words Can Hurt Me

[The background: This is the third post in my series, #FightBodyShaming. Check out the first and second posts if you missed them. I so appreciate the feedback and support I've gotten for this series. Together we can help each other combat body shaming.]

I don't care what anyone says, this much I know: words can hurt. Badly. I also know and believe that it matters what we say about ourselves and about others. So in this post, I'm challenging you to speak and think well of yourself and of others, even when no one else is around. Maybe you already do, and that is awesome! Keep up the good work! But if you don't, this post is for you.

Why It Matters

I once heard that if you keep listening to what someone says about you, eventually you'll believe it. The person was talking about listening to what God says about you, but it also applies to what you say about yourself. And it applies to what you say about people, even if they aren't around. Why? Because someone else is, someone else is hearing what you say or reading what you write, and they'll start believing it if they're around it enough.

It's like brainwashing: if you're exposed to the same message over and over, you eventually begin to believe it. If every time you look in the mirror, you tell yourself you're ugly, eventually you're going to believe it. If every time you see that one person and you made a snide comment to your bestie, eventually she's going to start viewing that person the same way. And she may even apply it to herself, because who says you don't make a snide comment about her when she's not around?

Words matter because they affect how we view ourselves, how we view others, and how others view themselves and us. It can be a brutal cycle, full of hurt, lowered self-esteem, depression, anger, and self-harm. Who wants to contribute to that kind of cycle? I'd rather break it and start a new cycle.

It Starts With You

Sometimes the hardest place to change things is inside us. We get used to doing things a certain way, even detrimental things. We get used to being critical of the things we don't like about ourselves and thinking harmful thoughts. We're always our own biggest critic. But this is where we have to start if we want to break the cycle. We have to start inside.

So I'm first challenging you to force yourself to only say or think positive things about yourself. (Use this post for some sources of truth to replace the negativity.) Yeah, I know, it feels prideful and can be really hard. Trust me, I fail at this all the time. But, I want to master it if I ever have kids because I do not want to set an example of self-degradation for my children.

Plus, I know I can accomplish more when I take the focus off myself, and this is a way to start. Fostering self confidence helps you get over what's "wrong" with you so you can focus on helping and building up others. You won't have to go through life seeking praise from people because you know the truth about yourself. This is one of the best gifts you can give yourself or others.

When you're done reading this post, I want you to write out a list of at least 10 things you like about yourself. I don't care about your excuses, just do it. I don't care if it feels self-centered or awkward, you need to do this. You are a wonderful, amazing person, full of talents and gifts, who bears the image of God. So get listing and look back at it any time you're tempted to say something harmful about yourself.

It Ends With You

I heard another great quote the other day: "Gossip stops with me." A-freaking-men. I want to challenge each of you to make this your personal goal: the gossip stops with you. Today. Now. Period. Why? Because it matters what we say about each other, whether it's related to body shaming or not.

For this post, I'm defining gossip as anything negative, personal, unkind, private, or hurtful said about someone, whether they're absent or present. Basically anything you wouldn't want spread around about you, or anything you're not sure someone would want you repeating. And if you're not sure, then just don't say it.

Gossip doesn't do anything good for anyone, not the person being talked about, the person doing the talking, or the person listening. Trust me, I've been involved in all sides of gossip. I've been on the victim side and seen firsthand how words can tear down people and families. It can cause severe and sometimes irreparable damage to people. If you want more details, I'd rather talk about this in person than on the Internet, because there is grace and there is forgiveness.

I've been the person doing the gossip and it didn't turn me into a nice person. When I worked in retail, the content of most of my interactions with co-workers was gossip-based. I became an angry, irritable person, always complaining about something or someone. This spilled over into my marriage and I could see it fueling a pattern of complaining more once I got home. After I left that job, I decided that continuous gossip was a place I never wanted to go back to again.

And I've been the person listening, both intentionally and unintentionally. When I intentionally listen and partake, I know I'm encouraging a trend that isn't right and that I don't believe in. When I'm unintentionally around it and subjected to it, I know I never want to reveal anything personal or private about myself. Gossip can keep me from building friendships because I'm not interested in becoming the subject matter of someone's conversations. Offering up my life's personal details isn't worth that to me.

So I'm working on making "gossip stops with me" true of my speech. I haven't fully gotten there yet; I still make mistakes and speak out of frustration or anger, but I can already see a shift in myself, and that is what I want. I choose not to join in with certain conversations. I catch myself wanting to say negative things, and choose to stop myself then and there.

And I'm asking you, dear friends, to join me. Let's start a cycle of uplifting speech, guarding our friends and acquaintances from hurtful words, and speaking the truth in love and with grace. My hope is that through our words, we will build each other up and set an example for others.

A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence. -  Proverbs 11:13

Whoever conceals an offense promotes love, but whoever gossips about it separates friends. - Proverbs 17:9

Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down. - Proverbs 26:20

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