Published by Zondervan on June 22, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Theology
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You were made for more than a love/hate relationship with your body.
It's one thing to know in your head that you were created in the image of God. Yet it's quite another to experience this belief in your body, against the cultural ideals of a woman's worth. And between the two lies a world of frustration, disappointment, and the shame of somehow feeling both too much and never enough in your body.
Jess Connolly is a bestselling author, sought-after speaker, and trusted Bible teacher who knows this inner conflict all too well, and this book details her journey--and yours--of setting out to discover how to break free from the broken beliefs we all hold about our bodies that hold us back from our fullest life.
The truest thing about you is that you are made and loved by God. And the truest thing about Him is that He cannot make bad things. This book will help you believe it with your whole self, as Jess guides you through an eye-opening, empowering process of:
Renaming what the world has labeled as less-than
Resting in God's workmanship
Experiencing restoration where there has been injury
And becoming a change agent in partnering with God to bring revival to a generation of women
Far from a superficial issue, self-image is a spiritual issue, because God has named your body good from the beginning. Whether your struggle is with eating and exercise habits, stress or trauma, infertility or injury, this book makes space for you to experience God meeting you in this tender place, and ring His freedom bell over your body in a whole new way.
I have read many books and articles about body-image issues, and they are often quite fluffy, tending towards shallow reassurance and pulling Bible verses out of their full context to tell the reader how beautiful God thinks she is. Although these books can have a positive impact, I find them frustratingly shallow, especially since I have approached this material from the perspective of wanting to help and encourage others. Many body-image books offer nothing of substance that I would find helpful in a conversation, but Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good is exactly what I always wanted. Jess Connolly writes with a deep understanding of both our bodies and the kingdom of God, and in this book, she persuades Christian women to see past cultural, familial, and self-imposed expectations to see the inherent goodness, worth, and dignity of their physical selves.
Finding True Freedom
Connolly emphasizes that body shame is a spiritual issue, not a matter of shallowness or vanity. She clearly articulates a biblical and kingdom-focused view of the body, and emphasizes that because God has called our bodies good, we should not let anyone else say otherwise. Connolly addresses issues of shame related to other people’s words of judgment, and specific objections and wrong narratives that she encounters. She includes chapters like “Your Body is Not a Project” and “Your Body is Not a Marker of Righteousness” to break down the lies behind common socially enforced beliefs, and at the end of the book, she encourages women to find permanent freedom by changing the way that they think about, react to, and talk about their bodies both privately and corporately. She encourages women to recognize their inherent value, treat themselves with dignity, and model a God-glorifying view of their bodies to others.
Throughout the book, she shares vivid personal illustrations, but she tends to avoid focusing on traumatic elements of her or other people’s stories. At the beginning of the book, she explains that she wants this book to be safe to read, so that it will not deeply trigger women who have experienced trauma related to their bodies. With this approach, she only briefly references the damage of sexual abuse without going into detail, and she does not focus on traumatic details of verbal abuse that readers may have experienced. Also, because everyone’s experience is unique, Connolly includes brief reflections from diverse other women at the end of each chapter. These stories are brief and restrained, but address general details related to body shame and struggles with disability, illness, infertility, and other issues that affect how women experience their bodies.
Some Minor Critiques
I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had addressed concerns specific to athletes, who pursue high-level physical fitness for their interests and/or career. Although athletes shouldn’t misuse their bodies or push them towards unrealistic, damaging ideals of perfection, I wish that Connolly had nuanced some of her statements against stringent exercise or diets with sports training in mind, instead of implying that all efforts towards peak physical fitness are unnecessary, misguided, or likely to be ungodly.
Also, I found that as Connolly tried to be sensitive and avoid offending people, she wasn’t willing to address the issue of gluttony. She treated “What about gluttony?” as a distraction from believing that our bodies are good, but it is a legitimate and biblical question. People can be guilty of gluttony regardless of body size, and it is appropriate and biblical to address this as an aspect of stewarding our good bodies and living in a way that honors God.
My other concern is that even though Connolly parenthetically mentions men a few times, she never fully, directly acknowledges that men also struggle with hurtful words about their bodies, unrealistic expectations, and the same lies about their bodies being projects, trophies, or markers of righteousness. Even though Connolly is writing to a female audience and doesn’t need to address men directly, I wish that she had provided context for body image issues across gender lines. It is great for this book to address concerns and experiences specific to women, but I think that Connolly’s writing could have been even more powerful if she had shared perspectives related to men’s body image struggles, making other women more aware of this in ways that would be beneficial in their relationships with male friends and family members.
Breaking Free from Body Shame is an incredibly powerful, wise, and life-giving book. Connolly moves beyond shallow reassurances and empty platitudes to focus on a holistic biblical perspective of the body, helping women recapture God’s vision for their physical forms in every stage of life. This is a wonderful resource for both teenage girls and adult women to read independently or in discussion with others, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling with body image at any level, even if they have already made a lot of progress. I would also recommend this to people who want to be able to encourage and help girls and women within friendship or counseling relationships. This powerful book is full of deep, unexpected perspectives, upends false cultural beliefs that surround us, and encourages women to find true freedom in the bodies God gave them.