Episode 140 – Jess Connolly, Fixing Broken Body Images

Do you think your body is a problem to be fixed? Are you just a bit self-conscious about stepping out of the Zoom window and into your swimsuit? Well this is the episode for you as we welcome Jess Connolly, author of the brand new book Breaking Free from Body Shame. Today, Jess and Jessica talk very personally and candidly about body awareness, shame, and the many messages that the world (and our minds) give us about what beauty is.


Jessica: Hey, everyone! This is Jessica Honegger, host of the Going Scared podcast and founder of the social impact  fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join us here every week as we have conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

Alright, I don’t know about you guys, but I have gotten a little bit used to the Zoom appearance — if you are just now learning about that, I’m sorry. And I’ve gotten used to waist-up. Waist-up is how people have gotten to know me over the past 15 months. And so, stepping out from behind the Zoom camera during swimsuit season definitely has created a new awareness of vulnerability around body, and body image, and body shame, and dieting, and all of those things.

You know, that’s something I have talked a lot about. I talk about it on this podcast. I wrote an entire chapter on it in my book, “Imperfect Courage.”  It’s something that I’m passionate about because it is a journey that I’ve been on.

And if you want to get out of the loop of constantly wanting to lose 10 pounds, if you want to get out of the loop that your body is a problem to be fixed, if you want to get out of the loop living a lie that until you get to that size, then you will be happy, then this podcast is for you.

That’s why I wanted to have this conversation. I think a lot of us are feeling a little bit vulnerable right now because we are getting together with actual, real bodies again.
So, I wanted to have someone come on the show to talk about this, and I have the perfect person because she just released a book about it called, “Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good.” 

Jess Connolly is the author of nine books. She is the founder of Go + Tell Gals, and she is a friend, she is a coach, she loves women, and she loves cheerleading people on in this area. She finally wrote this message.

I know that you are going to enjoy our conversation today.


Jess Connolly: Fixing Broken Body Images 

Jessica: So, Jess Connolly. Oh, my goodness. Your new book, "Breaking Free from Body Shame" I mean, when… you and I have been talking about this book for years. I think at one point we were like, "We should write a book together."

Jess: I think we did say that.

Jessica: And then I saw you writing this and I was like, "She beat me to it. She beat me to it."

Jess: I totally forgot about that but I remember that now completely. We did say that. We have been having this conversation for years. Absolutely. Yeah.

Jessica: Well, because we are backside doppelgangers. I can’t tell you how many times Jess and I are speaking at the same conference and people come up and mistake and I’m like, "That is the biggest compliment. I think we’re…" Yeah, I think we… you know, our husbands are blessed.

Jess: They really are. The sweet men that they are. I love you. I also… I don’t know how I forgot that. I love that about being somewhere where you are because people really do think like, they will do it the whole time we’re somewhere. Just like, "Jess, Jess, Jess, Jess, Jess, Jess."

Jessica: Yes, yes.

Jess: Yeah, yeah. It’s us.

Jessica: Because we are… we do have the same name. Yep. So…

Jess: We have very similar hair when we have similar lengths but, like, in general, similar qualities. Yeah.

Jessica: Qualities. Yes, yes, yes. Okay. I need you to just catch me all the way up and tell me, first of all, why now? Because we started talking about this book idea many years ago. So, what made you realize, "I’m ready for this?" Because I don’t know about you — I mean, I have a chapter in my book about this but I think what was keeping me from even writing a whole book about it was, you know, well, what a lot of authors think to ourselves is like, " I’m not far enough along. I need a little bit more of a bow on it."

Jess: Yeah.

Jessica: So, tell me your journey about, you know, how you realized now’s the time.

Jess: Yeah. Well, yeah. It was a “one day” thing. Okay, one day I’m gonna do this. This is how God works, I get it. The areas of our greatest weakness are often where we have our greatest strength. Our deepest pain points often become our greatest place of healing, and so I knew at some point this is coming. We’re gonna do it. We’re gonna write this book. And I would talk to my editor about it occasionally, you know, one day we’re gonna write the body book… And actually March 4th of 2020, so, you know, about 10 days before the world blew up, or at least the United States did, I flew to Nashville to have lunch with my editor. I was not supposed to write a book in 2020… And so we did talk about the body book at that lunch and said, you know, "This is always where my heart just starts beating faster and this is the message I wanna share with women. Your body is good…" I had been writing the phrase “your body is good” on pieces of paper at that point, for about two years. Like, I wanna tell women your body is good, I wanna tell women your body is good.

“The areas of our greatest weakness are often where we have our greatest strength. Our deepest pain points often become our greatest place of healing.” Jess Connolly 
But I wasn’t supposed to write a book in 2020 and so we kinda left that lunch saying, you know, "We’ll keep praying about it. I’ll keep researching. One day we’ll do it. Maybe next year." And that day on the way home, on the plane ride home that night, I happened to open my laptop and just open a blank word document, and what ended up coming out was the first chapter. But I still didn’t really know what it was. I just was like, "I’m gonna start just pounding some words out, just in case. One day I’ll have this ready."
And six weeks later… so we’re in the thick of the pandemic at this point now and everybody’s staying home and nobody’s going anywhere. My editor asked if she could have a phone call with me and she said she wanted to talk about my next book and I thought, "Yeah, definitely." And I actually remember thinking… I think I said to my husband, "I’m really hopeful that she has another book idea. Maybe something better than the body book so I don’t have to write that right now or I don’t have to write that at all."
And she asked me, "Okay, how are you doing?" Like, you know, the same check-ins you would do six weeks into the pandemic. “How are you feeling? Is everybody okay? Are you making it at home?” All the things… And then she asked me, "How do you feel? How do you think women are feeling about their bodies right now?" And she said, "How do you think women are gonna feel about their bodies a year from now?"

And that was all it took for me. And I thought, "Okay. Yeah. I think they’re feeling pretty disappointed. I think they’re feeling pretty frustrated. I think they’re feeling shame." I think a lot of us… maybe you’re feeling distrustful in ways that we are not familiar with, of even being fearful of being sick, if that hasn’t been our story before. And so, I started thinking about those things and then, true story, what she said is she said, "Hey. I think this could be time for you to write about it. I don’t know." And she said, "Why don’t you order, like, whatever books you can on Amazon about body image, and specifically ones that have a more Christian bend and order those and see what you find?"
And so, I did. And I was a few days into reading the books that came to me from Amazon when I felt like, "I just think there’s more to say here." I think we’re still really talking about this from a more cultural perspective than we are a kingdom perspective. All of a sudden what made me feel qualified was not how much research I had done or how much I knew or even how free my life felt. But what made me feel qualified was my intense desire and urgency to have women believe their bodies were good. And even in a lot of books I was reading, I just wasn’t hearing that message.

“What made me feel qualified was my intense desire and urgency to have women believe their bodies were good.” Jess Connolly 

So, I started writing and it just came out. And I was not planning on being, like, the girl who wrote the book in quarantine. I was, like, really excited about resting and not writing last year but it just came out. And I am really grateful that it did because I couldn’t… I knew women were already feeling distrustful about their bodies, I knew they weren’t feeling great about their bodies and I was starting to see the memes pop up, but I don’t think I could have… I don’t think I could’ve ever imagined just how much animosity and tension we would all be collectively feeling about our bodies now, in 2021.


Reemerging With a New Perspective 

Jessica: I had been wanting to have you on the podcast and then this book was like… yes, because we’re doing this series on “Decide, Don’t Slide,” how do you want to live as you reemerge from this pandemic? And before we go back, back into your history, I do wanna hear… because, you know, I was in therapy for three years just beginning to address this. I mean, that was in my late 30s where I finally was like, "Oh, my body’s not a problem to be solved and this isn’t about losing more weight. And actually, you know, my belonging isn’t in my body." And, you know, so I’ve gone deep, deep in this journey. And then I have a new therapist from the last few months that I kind of started going to him for nothing that had to do with this. And by the way, kinda like, "Oh, this better not come up." Because this guy’s extra expensive. I’m like, "I was in three years of like…" But of course, it is, because it’s just… I have a body, I’m in my body.

So, I definitely have had, you know, seasons over the last 15 months of having to go, "Okay, what you focus on grows. What are you gonna focus on?" And then, as we’re coming out of Zoom — and, you know, I’m in front of a camera, I run a fashion business — so I am feeling vulnerable. Like, I am feeling vulnerable and I’m having to be extra aware of old thought patterns and all of those things.

So, would you share just your last 15-month journey? What has the pandemic been like for you as it relates to having come out of, you know, a past that had to do… you know, disordered eating and compulsive exercising and body shame. What’s it been like for you the last 15 months?

Jess: Yeah. Well, so the truth is, when I sat down to write the book, that wasn’t the beginning of my story obviously and we can talk about that more, but that was the beginning of my story with this message. Obviously, you know, writing that first page. And I think the truth is if you’d never heard an author say this… I know you know this, Jessica. Like, we kind of walk around with these ideas and these hopes in the back of our heads, and I think a lot of times the act of writing solidifies the truth for us.

“We kind of walk around with these ideas and these hopes in the back of our heads, and I think a lot of times the act of writing solidifies the truth for us.” Jess Connolly 

And so, people have said, you know, "Was it so scary writing it or did you feel so vulnerable?" And the truth is, I wrote the manuscript in about 60 days. It’s the fastest book I’ve ever written and I would write for about an hour and a half every morning and I would walk around with a gigantic smile on my face the rest of the day.

Jessica: It was really a gift to you. God gave you this gift because you could’ve been pulled along in the other direction.

Jess: Yeah, it was. And I think I had this idea in my head when I went into writing it where I thought, you know, "I think that I can trust even that God believes my body is good." I think that. I think that there’s a more complex message even in Scripture, for us, regarding body shame. I don’t think it has to be all like, "Your body’s a temple. Keep it together." I think there’s more here. And so, the more I studied, the more I wrote, the more I found that to be true, the more hope I found. So, I would write during the day and then I would just walk around, I mean, smiling — not all day because it was the thick of the pandemic and I was the kind of gal who was very cautious and nervous. But for the most part, I would feel the freedom that I had written that morning.

And then what happened is our family actually went on sabbatical in July 2020, and our original plan for sabbatical had been to travel the world, all the things. Obviously, the pandemic shut that down and so we ended up going to a small beach house on an almost deserted island. There were no cars, no stores. And our family just stayed in this house for 30 days for the month of July. We left our laptops behind, we turned off social media. But I took the completed manuscript with me. And I decided… Because I still didn’t have a deadline, you know, I didn’t have to write this book at this time, I could’ve waited. And so, I told my editor, "I need to read it first and I need to make sure this is actually helpful and applicable and that I believe it, and that it would serve people and not just, you know, be life-giving to write, it has to be life-giving to read.” And so, I spent all of July reading the book, and I have to say God changed my life through it.

Jessica: Wow.

Jess: And I’ll never forget too, that month I also gave it to my mom and I gave it to a few other close friends. And one day in the middle of our sabbatical my mom came to see me, and we were standing and looking at the ocean, I’ll never forget. She said, "I finished the book today." She said, "I think I’m beautiful. I think I might be beautiful." And I was like, "You are. You are." I’m like, "You feel that and you believe that and we are women who did not always feel that and believe that."
And so, I just saw this long-form message starting to change my heart, starting to change my life. In the middle of this, I decide, "Okay, if I really believe this is true…" A lot of times there’s questions about the book that are a little more poignant. “What would you do if you believe this was true? What would you do if you were free in your body?” And one of my answers was always, I’d become a fitness instructor, for sure. No doubt about it.

Jessica: Wow.

Jess: So, I come home from the sabbatical and decide like, "That’s it. I’m gonna become a barre instructor. I don’t need another job." I don’t need even really to get paid for it. I just wanna be in a room and lead women in my good body and show them like, "This is also a good body even though it doesn’t fit cultural expectations." And so, all that being said, like, my journey with the actual message started that day in April. But by July, August, September, I was starting to feel it and my mind was changed, truly.
And so, being able to live in that, being able to have the gift of experiencing that for myself is just something I cannot thank God enough for.
Embracing the Body God Gave Us 

Jessica: Well, and it also… I have to say, the fact that you weren’t consuming images and media for an entire month and you were fixing your mind on truth and goodness…

Jess: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

Jessica: …there’s something to that. There’s something to that.

Jess: It’s so true.

Jessica: It’s real.

Jess: I’ve told people it was almost a little bit like a redeemed Eden. Because we were on a very, you know, warm island here in the southeast in the middle of July. So, I basically wore a bathing suit to do everything. I wore a bathing suit to exercise. I wore a bathing suit to eat. But it felt like this beautiful kind of redeemed Eden where I was like, "Oh, I actually don’t feel shame about this flesh." When no one’s around, when it’s me and my family and God, I love this body. I love what it can do. And so, I would say yeah, having that kind of detox away from negative messages and even, like, a cultural standpoint really did help so much, yeah.

Jessica: Yes, and we have to keep doing that. I mean, that is a part of it. This is effort. This is swimming upstream. Although I have to say culture-shifting, you know… there’s so much more body diversity out there being represented in images, so much more than when I was a teenager.

Jess: Yes.

Jessica: Of course, also, it’s all about what you filter through your Instagram or through your TikTok or whatever because I know there’s still just as much out there about girls trying to fix themselves. But let’s go ahead… Let’s start at the beginning and I say that because my beginning was when I was eight years old so I’m like, I don’t know when your beginning is. But let’s start at the beginning of when you became aware that there was another option for you, that there was another… that you felt shame towards your body, you felt like it was a problem. When did you become aware that “I think that there’s another way to live” and what does that journey look like?

Jess: Yeah. Yeah, so my story’s really similar to yours. The more I track it, I would say I don’t have a memory where I felt good in my body. I don’t have a memory where I felt like my body was okay. So, my youngest memories are feeling shame, not good, other, too much in my body. And for me, that got even more complicated after I met Jesus because I already felt not enough and then I met Jesus around 15 and kind of stepped into church world and Christian world, and I didn’t hear anyone clearing up that message for me.

Jessica: Right.

Jess: And if anything, I heard really damaging messages from Christians, you know. If anything, it was very confusing for me to hear these people who were supposed to be speaking truth, speaking negatively about their body or really, speaking for God, on behalf of God about my body. And so, for me, the actual, like, struggle with body shame got even deeper after I became a believer. But so, for me where the light began to creak in is around 25. I hit an incredible low point as a human. I was struggling with pretty extreme postpartum depression. I…

“It was very confusing for me to hear these people who were supposed to be speaking truth, speaking negatively about their body or really, speaking for God, on behalf of God about my body.” Jess Connolly 

Jessica: How many kids did you have at the time?

Jess: At this time, I had three, and they were three under the age of three.

Jessica: Okay.

Jess: So, I was kind of already in a pit kid-wise. And our family was struggling with a lot of things. We were struggling with poverty, like, actual, literal poverty in the midst of the recession and being people who worked administrative in the midst of the recession, and also depression and just, like, out of my mind grief about my life. But the light began to switch on all these other areas. All of a sudden, I started to kind of believe a little bit more about God’s capacity in me. I started to really sort of believe again that he could use me, that he could use my words, that he could use my gifts, that he could use my life to serve other people, to bring light where I was at.

I started to understand the gospel in a new way where I was like, "Oh, the bad news is I’m not enough, the good news is He is." So, all the light was, like, kind of seeping in all these other areas of my life and for the first time ever I realized, I believe really backwards things about my body. It was, like, the first time I ever kinda noticed it there, you know. That, if I believe in healing and hope and light and abundance in all these other areas, I don’t right here. Right here, I have this very “if, then” mentality. Like, if I do this, then I will be good. If I could finally be this, then I would be acceptable. And it just all of a sudden started to be this wild juxtaposition against everything else I was learning.
And so that was the first time where I was kinda like, "Huh. Interesting." And I would say that’s also when my ears began to be pricked, to be able to hear the brokenness around me. What seemed really normal and casual, women picking apart their bodies, women picking apart other people’s bodies, men picking apart women’s bodies, that’s when I really started to notice it. And for me, because of my career, because of my work, because I felt called to teach the Bible and lead the church, I noticed it the most there. I noticed the only time I heard other Christian women talking about their bodies was negative. I noticed that I had heard a sermon about everything under the sun but I had never heard one on body image. And I just thought, "This is interesting. This is really interesting." And I was starting to kinda pick apart and pull apart and notice some of those really disordered behaviors that, again, to me, had just seemed like wisdom, you know.

Jessica: Right. Right. Like my body is a problem, and so this is how you fix it.

Jess: And this is… maybe this is self-control, maybe this is discipline, you know. Maybe this is holy.

Jessica: Right, right. Oh, yeah. Attach like a fruit of the spirit on there and then you’re all screwed up, yeah.

Jess: Right. And then I was like, "Hold on one second. This is… I’m, like, actually hurting myself. Wow." So that’s when I started to hear kind of the brokenness and see some of the brokenness. But it took a few more years for me to sort of, like, yell out, "I need some help here" from my counselor, from wiser people. And to realize, like, you know, what I now have a lot of compassion for is that 97% of women struggle with body image issues, but that unfortunately means that most women are really probably not safe for us to go and say like, "Hey, I feel broken here." Because what I found is that a lot of them would say like, "Yeah, we should lose more weight."

Jessica: Yeah, let’s diet or…yeah.

Jess: Yeah, have you tried low carb? Because I think low carb would help. And so, I realized like, "Oh, I need to be really intentional about who I talk to about this."


Leaning on Others and Staying Accountable 

Jessica: So, as you look back… I mean, I see us on this path of healing and we have these stones that we step on, you know, and there are stones behind us, there are stones in front of us because it’s a transformational journey that keeps going. So, you have the stone, you’re 25, you even become aware that maybe some of these thoughts that you’re having are not healthy. You’re looking around, you’re like, "Well, where do I get the healthy thoughts?" And then you went to a counselor a few years later. Specifically, was it about this or was it, like, this just kinda came out?

Jess: No. I was like you. So, in the last 10 years, I’ve been in other seasons of seeing a therapist or seeing a counselor for different issues. It had never been about my body before. My first real, like, consistent time in counseling was for depression. And I don’t really remember talking a ton about my body then, I just had so many other things to deal with, you know.

Jessica: Poverty, four children under five.

Jess: Yeah, poverty and… right. Depression, is God good? All of those kinda questions. But so, when I… My most recent time back in therapy was in 2017 and it was the launch of my second book. And I just realized, I need somebody I can check in with my soul, who can help me check in with my soul, like, “ Am I okay? Am I saying truthful things? Am I doing okay?” And I was like you in that I did not go to talk about my body. And I remember thinking like, "We’re not gonna have this conversation. We’re not doing this. I’ve got too much stuff to do." Like, "I know the truth here. I’m fine. Everything’s good. I’m fine." And I think it was, like, my second session that she was like, "So tell me… I mean, you just said something interesting." I think she was probably the first one that I used the word weird probably to describe my body, and she was like, "That’s a really interesting word to use. Can we talk about that?" And I was like, "Can we not? What if we didn’t?"

“I just realized, I need somebody I can check in with my soul, who can help me check in with my soul.” Jess Connolly 

But yeah. That’s where a lot of the help for me came in. And then, I always have to credit Alysa Keaton of Revelation Wellness because she was just a huge, for me, godmother of freedom. Actually, around that time, around that time in 2017 — it might’ve even been a little bit before that — I sent her an email in the middle of the night that I didn’t remember sending the next day. And I knew she did work with bodies, I knew she did work with health and body image, and I really think I emailed her, like, in my sleep. But I essentially just said, "Help. Like, can you help me? I know I’m really struggling here and I kinda need, like, a life raft now."

Jessica: And when we say struggle — I just wanna clarify for the listener. We’re saying struggle because we’re on a loop in our heads that our… like, we’re trying to fix ourselves. We’re thinking about the next diet. We’re dwelling on the next 10 pounds that hasn’t come off. We’re thinking about how we’re gonna feel when we run into so and so at a restaurant or when we’re speaking on a stage or when we’re whatever, whatever. And I think there’s this point where you think, "Am I gonna live the rest of my life like this?" Because that’s the story. I mean, unless you actually stop, become aware, and then pay attention to the right things, you know, what we focus on grows.

And so, if you’re constantly paying attention to the myth that you need to be smaller, you need to be on a diet, you need this, this, this and this, then that just keeps growing and it loops in your head. So, probably there was, like, this middle of the night stupor where something in you was just, like, "Well, you’ve gotta… like, there’s gotta be another way." But I had never heard of intuitive eating when I went to therapy for the first time. And so, it was all new to me. I was like, "Oh. This is just… there’s diet culture and, you know, like…" It’s just… it was. It’s such an awareness journey because when you’ve been in that loop for years, years and years and years, it’s just part of you. You just think, this is just how it’s gonna be.

“It’s such an awareness journey because when you’ve been in that loop for years, years and years and years, it’s just part of you. You just think, this is just how it’s gonna be." Jessica Honegger  

Jess: Yeah.

Jessica: So, you email Alison. Is it Alison?

Jess: Alysa, yeah.

Jessica: Alysa, sorry.

Jess: No, you’re good.

Jessica: You email Alysa… Okay, go ahead. What were you gonna say?

Jess: And I was just gonna say, I would clarify, just to be totally, totally honest, I don’t think I was saying… I wish I was saying like, "Can you help me with this body image struggle?" I think, in my most honest reflection, I think I was saying, "Can you fix my body?"

Jessica: Yeah.

Jess: Can you get my head right so that I can make my body good?

Jessica: Yeah.

Jess: And I do think she was very quick to tell me, "I really care about your heart and I really care about your freedom, and your body may change a little bit. Your body may change, it may not change at all but, like, what I want for you is for you to be free." And so, I just say that to normalize if anyone is like, "I don’t actually know that I wanna be free but I do want my body to be better." I think we can work with that. I think it’s like the, you know… I can’t remember if it was Mother Theresa who said, "I don’t want God but I want to want God," you know. Like, sometimes we don’t even want freedom but, like, we want to maybe want freedom. And I think that’s a great start.


Singing Praise to Your Body 

Jessica: That’s so good. That’s so good but what’s so good too is that you called a woman who had a new narrative for you, who was able to be like, "Your body is not the issue." I mean, you know, like, it’s your head, it’s your heart. And so, she began to speak some things into your life and then what did you… do you remember kind of grabbing onto that then began to just kind of change some of these neural pathways, these patterns in your way of thinking, that then began to bring that freedom?

Jess: Yeah. I would say two big things for me. I’m gonna say three. I’m gonna say three. Number one, I love that you have repeated what we focus on grows, what we focus on grows because I would say it’s interesting. I should’ve expected more pushback but I guess as an author you, like, never really remember to expect pushback. But it’s been interesting in the last few weeks even leading up to lunch. I’ve had a lot of people say like, "Are you lying? Like, do you actually not wanna be thin now? Do you actually love your body? Like, is this true?" And it always kind of astounds me because I’m like, "Number one, I wouldn’t even think to ask someone on the internet if they’re lying." I probably should. But also, I wanna say like, "Yes. I really love my body." And that’s because what we focus on grows. So, the first thing I would say is that I stopped speaking negatively about my body. She invited me to say like, "That’s it. Never again. Never again." Not only do I not speak about my body negatively when I’m around my kids, I don’t do it when I’m alone.

Jessica: Yeah. That’s important because I think you have a daughter… I have a daughter, I remember being very conscious like, "Well, I’m never gonna speak negatively about my body around her." But it didn’t necessarily mean my mind was not shouting.

Jess: Yes, yeah. And I’m gonna learn to, like, actually capture those thoughts and ask where did this come from and what would I like to replace it with which… you’re right. It’s, like, forming new neural pathways. It is neuroplasticity to say like, "I actually don’t have to keep thinking the same thought anymore. I can pay attention to it and listen to it, and like a wave coming in from the shore be, like, where did you come from? Do I wanna send you back out? Yes, I do. You’re gone. We’re not doing that anymore."
So that was number one to say, like, this is a full stop. I do not speak negatively about my body. And all the ripple effects of that. I also don’t go to look at a photo after a group photo is taken to pick apart my body. Like, every little version of this. I also don’t say things like, "I can’t wear biking shorts anymore."

Jessica: I’m wearing biking shorts right now, girl.

Jess: Come on. In Jesus’s name. You know, like, every iteration of this, like, I don’t speak negatively about my body.

Jessica: And then all of this adds up. That’s the thing. Like, I remember even just having a picture taken of… It was at a photo shoot and I had my arm around my little girl and someone behind me had taken a picture because they thought it was so sweet. You know, like, "Oh, her daughter’s at a photoshoot." And so, they then sent it to me. It must’ve been someone on my team and all I saw was, like, big arm, right. That’s it. And I remember wanting to post about, "Oh, my daughter’s here at this shoot. Bring your daughter to work. Blah, blah, blah." And so, then I remember cropping it, you know, completely. But then it was a week later where I just… I’d been in therapy at this point so this is me going, "No." And I uncropped it. I sent it to a friend and I said, "Here’s the full picture."

And I remember she wrote back and she said like, "All I see is a daughter enjoying her mom at work, you know." And I remember that is something my therapist always said like, "If you look at a photo and you find yourself picking yourself apart, instead just be like wow, I got to be with my friends that day or didn’t the sun feel good on my face then?" you know. And just start to reframe and you stop picking yourself apart and you start focusing on the experience of your actual life. And these things add up, y’all. Listen, Jess and I are living proof. These things add up. You don’t have to be in prison. You don’t.

Jess: You don’t. And here’s the deal. Like, the reason why that is so deeply spiritual is not just because it changed your mind and it changed your life but because you thought… This is so real, like this is not overhyping what I’m about to say, I believe it with all my soul. You fought the objectification of women when you uncropped that photo. When you said like, "I am going to normalize that this is what an arm looks like."

Jessica: Looks like.

Jess: You know? And, like, that’s what this is doing. The reason why we talk about culture and then we talk about media and how false it is and how negative it is, is because every time we overcrop, every time we over filter, like, we cosign. We do it. And we don’t have to anymore. And so, this isn’t just wild because it changed your mind but it’s wild because it may have been a part of changing… who knows the ripple effect? Like, millions of other people’s lives, literally. That’s wild stuff.
So that’s number one. I stopped talking negatively about my body. Number two is that I started positively about my body and…

Jessica: Oh, that’s good.

Jess: Yeah.

Jessica: That’s a good point, yeah.

Jess: I’m not even saying I fake it till I make it. I’m not saying I like… this is not blind positivity. Somebody asked me this question today and I loved it. On another interview, somebody said, "So, like, what about the memes that are, like, you know, a negative picture or like…" not even necessarily a negative picture, like, a silly picture of, like, a toddler with their belly hanging out and someone posts, like, "Me after the pandemic," like, "living my best life?" She was like, "Is that body positive?" And I would say… I said I don’t think so. Because, like, I don’t even joke about my body. I don’t… I’m not, like, self-effacing about my body. I treat it like it’s valuable and worthy and good.

And so, I don’t, like, make false blind positive statements. I can keep my eyes wide open and say, "My body lives under the effects of a fallen world. It has wrinkles, it has cellulite, it has pain. I have an autoimmune disease. Sometimes I get injuries. I’m not blind about any of those things." I’m just saying, in spite of those things, it was still made good, and it still does good things, and it’s still where I experience God, and it’s still where I experience myself, and it’s still where I experience other people.

“My body lives under the effects of a fallen world. It has wrinkles, it has cellulite, it has pain … in spite of those things, it was still made good, and it still does good things.” Jess Connolly 

And so, beginning to speak like that, beginning to speak positively about my body was the second real big change for me, that ushered in some shifts. And then lastly is, I just made some space to get passionate about this fight for other women because that is really what has kept me free.

That’s what’s kept me from going back to some of that disordered eating or those disordered behaviors. It’s what’s kept me in this book launch, as opposed to previous book launches from weighing myself or treating my body like a time-based project. Like, by the time the book comes out, I need to have my junk together. By the time of the photoshoot, I need to have lost eight pounds. Just remembering, like, this really matters for other women and their freedom matters and how I behave absolutely impacts them. That’s really kept me going and kept me pushing for my own liberty and for theirs.


Changing the Way We Talk About Health 

Jessica: Let’s end and talk about health because, you know, I think that some people are like, "Okay, y’all just sitting around eating chips and salsa." Well, yes, I am eating chips and salsa, by the way, very gratefully and happily. I also lift weights, you know. And I also notice when I had too many chips and salsa and I also notice when I’ve been comfort eating and I kinda am like, "Okay, let’s notice that and let’s, you know, surrender and let’s, like, put some good veggies into my body for a couple of days and see how that feels." But guys, this is such a journey, man. I mean, I wish I could tell you that I’m, like, you know… I even wish I was still further along but I think what I’ve had to realize, it just takes effort. Like, that’s all. It just requires effort and it requires noticing and being aware when you are trying to fix your body, trying to control and all of these things, and then just swimming upstream, you know. Like, even this morning I find myself saying, "I’m so strong. Thank you, God, that I am so strong."

Jess: Yes. So good. Yeah.

Jessica: And, like, even this morning I was lifting weights in biker shorts at a gym where people are ripped. Okay? I mean, we’re talking… No, I’m doing this new workout. It’s called muscle stimulation, something or other. They hook you up to these, like, electrodes. So anyway, people are serious about their muscles at this gym and I’m sitting there and I was looking… I mean, you’re in there and it’s super bright lights. You know, I’m like, "Come on. We could do better lighting at a gym." But anyway, I’m seeing the cellulite stick out, you know, right underneath my shorts and I’m like, "You know what? I can look at that and stare at that or I can focus on how freaking strong my calves are, you know."

Jess: Yeah. Yep.

Jessica: And so, it’s all about changing your focus and changing your mind. And I don’t know now the question I was gonna ask. Oh, health, health. So, it’s not like we’re just sitting around and, you know… I’ve seen your launch and all of your postings and awesome stuff right now so y’all need to go follow Jess Connolly but… is it still Jess S or whatever?

Jess: Jess A, yes.

Jessica: Jess A. Yes. Go follow Jessa Connolly. But…

Jess: You’re really the worst.

Jessica: Let’s talk about health because I noticed you’re getting… you were speaking into that. So yeah, as we emerge from this pandemic, we’ve kind of covered, you know, our mind shifts, speaking positively and fighting for other women. What does health look like, actually what you’re putting in your body and your movement and all that?

Jess: Absolutely. Well, I love that you asked this and I really do love when people wanna talk about it because I’m like, "Yes, let’s normalize it. Let’s talk about it." So, the first thing is, I would say… because you are somebody who embodies both of these things for me, don’t you hate it when people, like, pit work and rest against each other, like you can only be good at one of them?

Jessica: Right.

Jess: Right. Like, you actually cannot… from my perspective, I don’t know that we, like, experience true rest until we have something to, like, rest from. And I don’t know that I experience the fulness of my, like, strength at work unless I’m pretty rested. So, I cannot play around with, like, one or the other. My life has to be a beautiful dance of work and rest. I need to be good at both of those things. And so, for me, I think there’s so much power in remembering, like, this doesn’t have to… these don’t have to be paradoxes as is the conversation about freedom and health. And I understand how we’ve gotten there and I think a lot of it is because for all of the beauty of the body positivity movement, I think for some of us there’s been this, like, pause of like, "Well, hold on." Like, so but, like, right, we don’t move at all or, like, we don’t, you know…we just eat whatever we want?"

And so, I would say like, "We need to redefine what we mean when we say health and we need to redefine what we mean when we say freedom." So, I would just say, like, one of the most lifegiving things that Alysa did for me, that no one really had ever done for me, is that she is a wildly fit, like, very small, compact, strong human. And I expected that she was going to try to make me into that. And one of the best things that she did for me is that she looked really in-depth about, like, how I moved, how I ate, what I did to my body and she was able to say like, "Yeah. That’s all really good. That’s it." And I was like, "Right. So, I still weigh what I weigh?" And she was like, "Yep. Well, do you feel strong? Like, you can run six miles on a Saturday, are we really gonna be sad that you have cellulite? Like, you don’t really seem like you’re… I mean, I see that you enjoy a donut every once in a while. Great, as people should. You know, like, this looks good to me."

And it was one of the first times that someone, you know, didn’t necessarily look at the fruit or the metrics of my body but instead looked at my behavior, and she was like, "Do you feel healthy? When you do all those things, are you striving? Are you doing them from, you know, a place of worship and joy and peace?" And I was like, "Yeah, for the most part." And she was like, "Great. That’s good. You’re doing it right. Good." And I was like, "Oh."

Jessica: And you had not heard that in your whole life.

Jess: No, never in my whole life. Never in my whole life. Once she said it, I was able to be like, "Yeah. I’m pretty strong. I actually am, like, a human who enjoys kale." For whatever reason, the way that my body is written, whether it’s my thyroid disease, whether it’s just, like, the way God made my body, I still live around a size 10, like all the time, and that’s what it’s gonna be like. I’ve run a marathon and I’m in a size 10. You know, I’ve been gluten free and I’ve been a size 10. Really, no matter how I shift my eating or my exercise, like, that’s my story. And I hope and pray that if I was a size 14, and that I felt like, "Listen, I’m doing the things. I’m doing what feels right for me. I’m taking care of my body. I’m loving it well, I’m nurturing it well, I pray I would feel that way too, you know." So, for me, the crux of the question is, are we trying to make our bodies better or are we treating our bodies as if they’re good?

And it’s not only do I feel like… do we need to kinda, like, be really clear about what we mean when we say health, because for most of us who live in America, we have mixed up health with cultural body standards that are actually not set from a health perspective at all. They’re set from an aesthetic perspective, which again is, like, pretty much tied up into, like, the patriarchy. I don’t really even know how else to say it, you know, but sexism and the objectification of women.

“For most of us who live in America, we have mixed up health with cultural body standards that are actually not set from a health perspective at all. They’re set from an aesthetic perspective.” Jess Connolly 

And also, we’ve confused what we mean when we say freedom. And what I really want from people, and my definition of freedom is, you get to say when and how and what you do and how it feels healthy for you. And freedom, by definition, like, really cannot be categorized. So, I could not… People say all the time like, "Anywhere in the book is there, like, an eating plan, is there, like, a water drinking challenge?" And I’m like, "No. No." Like, I trust you as a human to hear from God, to hear from yourself about what feels healthy, about what feels worshipful and about what it looks like for you to treat your body as if it’s already good.

Jessica: Friends, I have been stuck in a spin cycle, in a riptide, in my mind just thinking, “Gosh, if I could just be this size, if I could just weigh this amount, then fill in the blank: I would be more liked, I would have more friends, I would feel better. I would whatever, whatever, whatever.”

And you, at some point, have to become aware that that is actually not true. There’s actually freedom for you in your mind first. And I think as you begin to embrace your body and accept yourself as exactly how you are, only then can you approach your body from a place of love and a place of caring and kindness and compassion. Not coming at it with a pointed finger saying, “I wish you were different and I need to fix you.

I truly believe that this is the posture, the relationship that we have with our bodies that will lead to the change that we really want which is in our minds.

So, I would love for you to follow Jess. She is awesome! You can find out more at jessconnolly.com and you can follow her on Instagram, and go check out her book, “Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good.” 

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.