I wrote this post originally for my church's blog (vintagechurchnola.com/blog) with the title "The Power of Words." I used that content here and added to it a bit for you.
We are about to get real here. Hope you are ready.
I’ll admit, I am not always kind to myself. Especially when I look in the mirror.
For as long as I can remember (well since Junior High), I have silently battled some form of body image issue. Whether it was my sometimes acne prone skin or my unwanted cellulite or hatred of parts of my body that no one ever saw, it was there. I think on the origin of these things, and often the struggles began with the words of others (either directly about/to me or about others' bodies). In 6th grade, a girl kept calling me "rocky mountain forehead" as she made fun of my acne. In 8th grade, a guy in youth group told me I had cellulite on my legs when we all went swimming one day in the summer. In 7th grade a guy in my grade told me I looked better with makeup on. In 9th grade, a guy I dated made some comments I can't even share online about my body that started a host of other body image issues for me. In 11th and 12th grade, a couple of guys at my school said derogatory comments often in front of others about my breasts. In the last several years, a good friend said that her body had gotten gross because of the cullulite on her stomach. And on and on. It all started with words. Their words.
Their words about me slowly became my words about me.
I started to believe the things that they said, and before I knew I was speaking to myself like that when no one else could hear.
In this conversation, I just want to share how those words that became my words have begun to trickle down to my girls. I am cringing writing this.
I have three little girls, 5 and under. Not too long ago, I was looking through some pictures on my phone with my oldest. I thought they were so cute of all three of them together in their swimsuits in our backyard. But my oldest did not think they were cute pictures.
As we were looking, she started getting a disgusted look on her face. She started making weird noises like she does when she does not like something. So I asked her what was wrong.
She said, “Mom, I don’t like those pictures. My tummy is yucky.”
I looked at her with a pit in my throat. She is 5. How can she already think her tummy looks yucky? I said with as much strength as I could muster in that moment, “Sweety, who told you that your tummy was yucky? Who told you that?" Because of course the mama bear in me was ready to take a swing at someone for saying that to my daughter.
She said, "No one, Mom."
I then took her face in my hands, and gently told her, "Darling, you are beautiful in every way. Don’t ever let anyone or anything change your mind about that.”
I had tears in my eyes over this conversation, and so did my husband, Beav. As a mom of daughters, I never want them to battle body image problems like I have. I know what that struggle can do to a person. I know it too well.
I started wondering how she could have possibly gotten that language to describe her body. And it hit me. She got it from me.
No, not from me about her directly.
But she heard me say it to myself.
Sometimes on my bad days, I am not so kind to myself when I look in the mirror. Most of the time it is in silence saying the words to myself I have learned to say, and then I move on. But every once in a while, it is not silent. Beav is usually the only one around, or so I’ve thought.
I guess sometimes those unkind words slip when my kids are in the room. And she heard me. And she began at some point to wonder if her body was yucky, too.
This is so vulnerable for me to write that I am literally shaking, but it has to be said.
Woman, mom, sister, friend. The thoughts you have about yourself (positive or negative) will eventually come out the longer they are in your head. And someone is listening. Whether those thoughts began with a 6th grade girl calling you "rocky mountain forehead" or with your parents telling you that you need to lose weight or with a flip through a magazine looking at "perfect" bodies, the words will become your own words. And those words will come out.
If our words are unkind to self or others, guess what? Our kids WILL repeat them. They will start to say that they are ugly or fat or yucky. They will say they are dumb or annoying or a failure. Or they will say that someone else is those things. The power of our words goes beyond what we could ever comprehend.
Imagine what our world, our families, our friendships, our offices, or our minds would be like if we kept a closer watch over our tongue.
So my simple encouragement for you is this: Be kind to yourself. Let go of the hurtful words that have labeled you. Be kind to your family. Be kind to others. The words you say will have an impact for many years to come, so keep watch over them. Use them to build up, and not tear down. Use them to speak life, not death. Use them to bring light, not darkness.
And most importantly choose to think about and believe and speak the words that are true, the words that Jesus speaks over you in his word. That you are "fearfully and wonderfully made."
Because you never want to believe the words I have believed about myelf, and you don't ever want to hear your little girl tell you that she is “yucky.” It will break you.
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life… No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brother [and sister], these things ought not to be so” (James 3:5–10, emphasis mine).
The words others have spoken over me have at times been so hurtful,
Today I choose to let those go.
To stand at a train stop in my mind,
Graffiti those words on a train
And watch them go.
Out of my mind.
Out of my life.
And I choose to stop saying them to myself, to others.
And I choose instead to call myself
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.
May my words reflect your words about me.
And then may those words then help my daughters speak
Kind and truthful words to themselves and others in return.
In Jesus' Name,
Creative Journaling Prompt
Write a list of any hurtful words others have spoken to you about your body.
Practice letting them go with the graffiti metaphor, a mindfulness practice.
You can literally draw train cars and draw the words on each one. Then you can rip them up, or whatever symbolic activity that could work.
Then spend time finding the words that God speaks over you.
Read Psalm 139 to start.
Write those words instead.
Say those words instead.
Look at yourself in the mirror. Don't walk past, and say something kind to yourself there.