Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones, but Words Will Never Hurt Me? A Look at Self-Deprecation

By Stephanie Hutchinson

“I need to lose weight”: a phrase I have heard enough times in my life that I would put the count in the billions. It has been echoed from my mother, my aunts, my grandmothers, my friends. It reverberates across coffee-dates, playdates, and family vacations. It is such an accepted phrase, it is said with the same intonation as “I need to buy groceries.” Those five words are offered up as a conversation starter; an appetizer to a meal of self-deprecation and loathing. If those words could kill, they would be dialed right in on your self-worth.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”: a childhood phrase that seems to span the test of time. We say this when faced with bullying and hurtful words are flung from peers, but what of the thoughts and words we fling at ourselves? What do we do when we stand before a mirror, pinching our skin while judging our bodies, bit by bit? Those hurtful, self-inflicted thoughts don’t go away. In fact, they seem to plant seeds and take root while feeding on what little confidence is left. We start fearing hot weather and the skin-baring clothes that come with it. We stop taking our children to public pools in fear of having to bear-all in a swimsuit. We fear photos of family memories. We miss out on memories made with our families and friends, debilitated by the belief we are unworthy.

“I am strong. I am confident. I am wonderfully and fearfully made.” Last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to take part in a Women’s Wellness Conference as a speaker. Near the end of the day, after many had opened up about personal struggles and endeavors, everyone was asked to line up in front of a mirror. Looking down the line, you could see each woman fidget while avoiding glancing at her reflection. It was obvious how uncomfortable it made each one. Then, one by one, they were asked to look up and describe the woman reflected. As it went down the line, there was a common theme: none of these strong, beautiful, inspiring women had one positive thing to say to their reflection. It was heartbreaking. Some commented on their size. Some on their face or skin. They were each encouraged to say one nice thing. It was difficult, and some just couldn’t. In response, each woman was then coached to see what was truly there in the mirror, and say “I am strong. I am confident. I am wonderfully and fearfully made.” Just as the personally inflicted negativity tore these women down, this simple phrase seemed to build them up. Tears began to roll as each woman heard the self-love she had been longing for.

I have been on both sides of the coin: the mom at the beach, covered up and afraid to bare any skin; and the mom proud of her shape and size, enjoying a family moment at a beach without fear of personally built limitations. I have been 20 pounds lighter than I am and 20 pounds heavier. Even at my lightest weight I have stood in front of the mirror disgusted with what I have seen. Instead of loving my body for growing our children, I have counted down the days until I could return to the gym to “get my body back.” I have been the mother, holding her cup of warm coffee, telling her friends “I need to lose weight,” wishing someone would tell me the contrary. But, the person saying that should be me.

It takes more than one instance of self-love to repair a lifetime of damage. Self-deprecation is an addiction that can’t be beat by a weight loss pill or spanx. You can’t base your self-worth on a number on the scale or the size of your pants. Your worth comes from the selfless love you have for your family, your willingness to provide a helping hand, and your ability to bring light to every room. You are amazing, not because of how much you can lift, but because of your tenacity and dedication to living a healthy and full life. Your self-worth comes of the many lives you touch during your walk on this Earth, and the good that you bring to every encounter. So, in case you forgot, you are strong. You are confident. And you are wonderfully and fearfully made.