An ugly, pink scar graces the top of my left shoulder. It’s really unfortunate, because I used to enjoy wearing sleeveless shirts in the summer. After my left shoulder became scarred, I mostly gave them up. Now, rather than looking attractive and confident in a sleeveless top, showing off my shoulders leaves me feeling insecure.

This insecurity became concrete through an uncomfortable experience. A few years ago, while wearing a tank top, I was approached by a child who touched the scar and started asking incessant questions about it. Leave it to a child. Adults play off their curiosity in more socially appropriate ways, but there are no boundaries for curious children. Since that day, I’ve been careful to only wear sleeveless shirts when I felt I was in a confident enough mood to handle questions that might arise.

In my opinion, some scars seem more honorable than others. They tell a story and can be worn with pride. I mean, imagine being asked about a scar and being able to say, “Oh, that was left over from my brush with a mountain lion,” or “I was in a motorcycle accident years ago.” Those kinds of scars can be worn like badges of courage.

Mine, on the other hand, has no great story to accompany it. No, it’s just the leftover remnants of a dermatology surgery to remove an “abnormal” mole over the top of my left clavicle. My skin stretched while healing, and the result is a large, pink scar.

With this backstory in mind, I want to tell you about a shopping trip I took last weekend.

Clothes shopping is delightfully fun but can also be fraught with body image nightmares!

It was my first venture back out into normal shopping since the pandemic began, and I was so happy to be out and about. My shopping companion and I were chatting next to the women’s athletic wear rack. She remarked, “There are some cute pieces here, but I’ve decided not to wear sleeveless anymore. It’s not flattering as I age.”

I quickly replied, “Oh, yeah, since I got a scar on my shoulder, I don’t wear sleeveless anymore either.”

Another customer was hovering nearby and overheard our conversation. She jumped in, “I think you should both wear sleeveless. Don’t worry, be proud.” I looked up at her, and she was smiling encouragingly.

Attempting to respond with kindness, knowing that she was trying to be helpful, I said, “Oh, well I do when I’m in a confident mood. It just depends.”

Her smile dropped a little, and she nodded, continuing her shopping.

Let’s pause here. Now, I am a counselor who has frequent, honest conversations with women who struggle with low self-esteem and poor body image. I find myself preaching often how important it is to become friends with our bodies. I have recovered from an eating disorder myself and know the damage that an inner critical voice can wreak. In fact, I recently have been reading and thinking about how God made us embodied beings and spoke with author Lore Ferguson Wilbert on an upcoming podcast episode about faith, the body, and the importance of touch.

I can preach and think about healthy body image, but apparently I struggle to act on it. While considering all of this, maybe 45 seconds elapsed.

I found myself calling out to the woman, “Thank you! I love your spirit and your body-positive words. You’re right, God gives us all one body, and we get to steward it and enjoy it.”

She beamed back at me.

The whole conversation was over in 2 minutes flat. Still, I have reflected on it multiple times this week. Our words have power. That conversation could have turned into a gab-fest of sharing body flaws. All women know that conversations can devolve into negative body-talk quickly, especially when clothes shopping. Instead, one brave woman stepped in and spoke truth over the lies that my inner critic had been spreading.

Now, I’m not telling you that I’m going to start wearing sleeveless tops every day this summer, but I am proclaiming that I want to work harder at living with body freedom. I don’t want to just preach it. I want to live it. I want to encourage others to live it too.

Our bodies tell stories. They age, they sag, they scar, and they carry cellulite. They also move, breathe, sing, hug, and hold great beauty. Let’s collectively agree to lift one another up and encourage each other towards body compassion rather than body scorn. It’s a beautiful thing to embrace our bodies as sacred and an incredible legacy to pass to the next generation of little bodies growing in our midst.

Pause: Take a moment to read and meditate on I Corinthians 6: 19-20. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: In what ways do you find yourself being critical towards your body? How can you begin to challenge those old ways of thinking and instead treat your body as a gift given to you by a God who loves you?

Next: As you go throughout your week, pay attention to the way that you think and speak about your body. If you find that it’s continually negative, begin a gratitude list of what you are thankful for about your body.

May we find freedom to enjoy and find gratitude for the bodies we’ve been given.

Pause, Renew, Next!