Is Hating My Body a Sin?

I love seeing the search terms that bring people to Eat With Joy. Some of them are strange, some are creepy, some are funny, some are sad. Sometimes, the search terms inspire posts, like this one, which landed someone here last week:

“Is Hating My Body a Sin?”

And so I’d like to attempt to answer that question.

To begin, we might ask “What’s sin?” I’m aware that there are about a thousand disputed ways to answer that question–and so no one ‘perfect’ way–but I like this one:

Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.

And I’d add that the people who make it easy for all of us to hate our bodies (through relentless idealization of unreal bodies, through profit-motivated manufactured discontent) are more ‘guilty’ than the teenager who thinks there’s something wrong with her thighs.

Then we might ask “what’s meant by ‘hating my body’?” There’s no answer in a catechism, of course, but we could try something like this:

Hating one’s body is the disrespecting of the body God has given us, which in itself is worthy of respect and honor, being made in God’s image, the fulfilling of desires in ways God not intend, to believe lies about human bodies in general and ours in particular, and to covet for ourselves a body not our own.

So I would say that, yes, hating one’s body usually involves sin: a distortion of the relationship God desires to have with us, and the relationships God desires for us to have with others and with creation.

And, like any sin, hating our body means a loss of freedom and liberty that God desires for us.

Hating our bodies is a great handle for marketers to grab onto–which is why I see body hatred as a corporate ‘sin’ as much as an individual one. Untold billions are made off of people’s hatred of their bodies.

Body hatred might be regarded as a form of ingratitude for the life and body God has given us. It may lead us to fulfill certain desires in ways God doesn’t intend (for example, self-starvation or gluttony.) It may lead us to covet what we don’t have–as when we look at someone else’s body and wish we looked “like that.”

As always, the ultimate remedy is the grace of God shown to us in Jesus. I think of the communion table as a place of grace and healing in particular for this ill.  Supplementary remedies include:

  • Love & Gratitude

Give thanks for your body and for your life! If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re breathing. Start with giving thanks for that breath. And the next one. And so on.

  • Be Extra-Kind to your body–enjoy your body!

Loving your neighbor “as yourself” presupposes that you love yourself. Eat well. Sleep enough. Move some. Put lotion on your dry skin. Dress so that you are comfortable and confident. Doesn’t mean endless primping. I’m talking about making the time to treat your body as well as you would treat the body of someone you really love.

  • Starve the Beast!

Interrupt the cultural messages that encourage you to think there’s something wrong with YOU, instead of with the airbrushed images of anorexic people they present as ideal.

Answer the inner voice back if it’s telling you that you’re ugly, too thin, too fat, too jiggly, whatever.

Remind yourself that you are God’s handiwork.

For me, starving the beast means I don’t look at certain catalogs or magazines or shows. Do you need to cancel certain subscriptions? Stop watching certain movies?

  • Prayer and Meditation

Ask God for mercy and help to see yourself and others as God sees them.

  • Find Support

If you suspect that you may need professional help for an eating disorder or for a body image disorder, please get help. You can even contact me if you need help looking for a professional in your area.

But even if your problem does not warrant the care of a mental health professional, it is a good idea to find support in a friend or confessor who has a healthy body image and can encourage you to embrace yourself as God made you.

What has helped you accept your body? What has stood in the way?

Discovering Hugo (and you.)

Usually I really don’t care what movies are nominated for/win Oscars unless its so that I can scoff that the Academy is full of nonsense and that their choices just stink.

At the same time, though, a nomination usually means that the film will be seen by more people. And I certainly hope that will be the case for Hugo.

I was first introduced to the story by my son, who loves Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret–a unique novel “in words and pictures,” upon which the film is based. More than illustrations, the pictures that make up more than half the bulk of the book wordlessly advance the plot–an homage, of sorts, to the silent films that play an important role of their own in the story. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Hugo was a better-than-usual book-to-film adaptation–there was something of film within the book already.

The film was not disappointing at all–and I’m delighted that was able to see it on the big screen, where it comes alive under Scorcese’s able direction, Robert Richardson’s stunning cinematography, and Howard Shore’s (of Lord of the Rings fame) haunting and beautiful score. (All three were nominated for Oscars for their respective contributions, and the film was nominated for Best Picture.)

Hugo is also surprisingly, richly theological in some surprisingly Christian ways. I hate reviews that give away substantive facts, but suffice it to say, it is about creativity, it is about vocation, about redemption and grace in the unlikeliest of circumstances. It is about communicating, reconciling, remembering, community-forming love.

All without being the least bit ‘preachy.’

So I’ll be preachy, just for a second: go see Hugo!

And if you’ve seen it/read it, please do share your thoughts below!

Five Food Films Worth Your Time

5. Supersize Me

Sure, it’s a little gimmicky, but Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film–documenting his 30 days of eating McDonald’s food exclusively–highlighted some of the most serious problems of our fast-food culture and it did so in an entertaining, visceral way. His point–which I think he made well–was that McDonald’s (and other fast food companies)–are open to many of the same liabilities as the tobacco industry. Just six weeks after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, McDonald’s announced the discontinuation of the ‘Supersize’ option–which increased the serving of French fries to nearly half a pound and the soda to well over a quart for a mere 39 cents. 
4. Bella Martha (Mostly Martha)

Don’t be scared by the fact that this film’s in German. (And don’t be tempted to watch the English-language remake–No Reservations–with Catherine Zeta-Jones–it’s terrible.) This 2001 film has romance, heartbreak, and humor. Martha keeps her job as a chef only because she’s one of the best–because she’s out of her mind. She terrorizes the restaurant staff and patrons and while she can cook, she doesn’t understand food–or love–or how they might intersect. 3. Eat Drink Man Woman

I can’t resist Ang Lee’s films, and this one is no exception. Though it was remade as Tortilla Soup, the original is much better. It’s a beautiful film, visually, and the fact that it centers on a family held together by the ritual of an elaborate Sunday dinner–and an aging chef-father who is losing his sense of taste–makes it deliciously metaphorical. And it always makes me want to learn Chinese cookery.2. Ratatouille

Yes, I’ve written about this film before, and, yes, maybe you’ve watched it with the kids, but this film is worth a second viewing, if only to pay close attention to the transformation of the Anton Ego character–the food critic. Not just to his words, some of which are simply golden–but to his transformation.

My favorite quote, which seems to me to be a fictional blending of Father Capon and George Steiner:

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

1. Babette’s Feast

And this is where I will say almost nothing about the film except this: it’s slow moving and strange and in Danish but very worth it. It’s beautiful, evocative, and inspiring; its myth is at once humanistic and deeply, deeply Christian. I love it.

{And I hope you will, too!}

100 Posts!

Yesterday’s post on Plumpy’nut marked 100 posts here on Eat With Joy. I thought of doing some version of the ’100 things about whatever’ meme, but I think I’m too lazy and/or busy for that.

Besides, I thought it might be more fun to highlight the top 10 posts from Eat With Joy‘s brief Internet life. And so without further ado…

(Click on each title to read the full post; italicized text represents excerpts)

#10 Film Review: “The Help” and the Supper of the Lamb

“Living the gospel acknowledges our shared humanity and need for reconciliation with God and with each other. When we sit to eat together, we acknowledge our physical needs and that shared humanity (we all eat; we all excrete) while tasting just a bit of God’s graciousness. The Help reminds me again just how countercultural that Supper of the Lamb really is…”

#9 Fake Gluten-Free Girl

“Can food preferences–not just gluten-free, not just Paleo–be a way of couching disordered eating in more socially acceptable forms?”

#8 Should Healthy Living be a Spiritual Discipline?

“We DON’T need “spiritual” reasons to pursue a “healthy” diet.

We DO need a new food culture, and there’s plenty of wisdom–in the Bible and elsewhere–that’s ready to help us shape one.”

#7 Breastfeeding and Justice

“Our ability to make choices about parenting styles is a direct result of our relative economic security and privilege. But that doesn’t mean that this ability is trivial or unimportant in light of extreme suffering. In fact, I think that how we choose to live–including how we spend our money and our time (and eating’s a big part of that)–is organically connected to suffering and justice both here and elsewhere. It’s also connected to how we view ourselves in relationship to the Creator and the rest of creation.

#6 I’m 30! (30 things about a 30 year old on the 30th)

“3. Once, when I lived in Brooklyn, our house was broken into and our VCR was stolen, with my Winnie-the-Pooh tape inside. This was extremely distressing.

4. Another time, when I lived in Middle Village, our apartment was broken into and I could hear our German landlord, who lived downstairs, screaming, “I have a knife! I’m going to kill you!” Even more distressing.

#5 Am I too thin to say “accept your body”?

“…all the ads for weight loss products and programs and gym memberships and everything else. They always carry with them the promise (the lie) that YOU YOU YOU can change your body–that it’s raw material for shaping any way you desire–if only you’ll buy this, do that, have enough control, pray enough, or whatever.

#4 Injustice of Biblical Proportions

“Alabama’s new immigration law makes it a crime to appear in public without proof of your immigration status, and requires law enforcement officers to stop anyone who “appears illegal.” If you don’t have proof of legal residency when you go to pay your utility bill, they can cut off the water to your house.

#3 Revolutionary Joy…and Basil

“Finding joy in basil grown from seed returns me to a place of joyful creativity that’s not (I imagine) unlike the Creator’s joy. It reassures me that even black specks of nothing can turn into something beautiful and delicious, something that brings three generations to the table and gives them delight.”

#2 White Collar’s Woman Problem

Gina Dalfonzo’s Guest Post:

“White Collar is showing an unhealthy obsession with the current Hollywood ideal of the skin-and-bones woman. And it’s especially saddening because White Collar is so strong a show in other ways—my friend Kim Moreland writes here about how well it handles themes like justice, order, and goodness —that slick Hollywood trappings, such as anorexic-looking women, stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.”

and the #1 post?

My Audrey Hepburn Problem

“…although I admired Audrey’s humanitarian legacy and reputed grace and kindness, I was most inspired by her thinness. In the days of my Audrey obsession, her brilliant film performances were less important than the visibility of her long, lovely bones in her various stunning Givenchy and Edith Head designs.

Do YOU have a favorite post–or a topic you’d like to see more posts about? Leave a comment!

Film Review: “Contagion” and a Safe Food Supply

The other night we went to see Contagion. Despite the strong potential for corniness suggested in this promo poster and tagline (“the world goes viral”? seriously?), it was some good entertaining fun, although I will say that if you’re inclined to paranoia and/or hypochondria you’ll probably want to run home and take a shower, and you may find yourself resenting anyone who dares to sneeze or cough in the theater. (I made a totally fake cough sound as we were walking out, and totally scared the people in front of me!)

The film does a pretty good job of subtly showing the dangers inherent in industrialized agriculture. The virus that goes pandemic seems to originate, indirectly, as a result of the destruction of one species’ natural habitat and the removal of another species to a confined feeding operation. (I’m not getting more specific because I don’t want to give anything away.) Add that to the frenetic pace with which people can fly around the planet distributing their germs, and you get a pandemic.

Now, in the film, the epidemic is not a food-borne illness; it spreads from person to person and through indirect (fomite) transmission. However, it illustrates the two aspects of our food system that make widespread food-borne illness an unfortunately strong possibly:

1. CAFOS (Confined Animal Feeding Operations)

To put in in terms that my kids would find hilarious: animal poop is great when animals are on pasture–it fertilizes the soil, which in turn makes the grass that they eat more nutritious, which in turn makes THEM more nutritious when we eat them. That’s pretty much what ruminants like cattle and goats are built to do. And when they do that, they’re pretty much healthy. But by removing animals who are meant to eat grass from grasslands, and forcing them to live in cramped, filthy conditions while feeding them biologically inappropriate diets laced with drugs, we’ve created optimal conditions for drug-resistant superbugs to develop, to say nothing of the wholesale cruelty to animals involved in this process (see Proverbs 12:10).

2. Centralization of the Food System

When just a handful of companies do most of the processing and distribution of the food our nation eats, the potential for widespread contamination is huge. A sloppy job on just one production line in one factory has the potential to kill lots and lots of people. And as we’ve learned in recent years, vegetarians are not safe: people have been killed from drinking apple juice and eating things like spinach and peanut butter. (Once, while pregnant, I got some awful food poisoning FROM A RESTAURANT SALAD that had been contaminated with raw chicken. Ew.) But while this was one isolated incident, centralization means that, as in Contagion, unsafe food can quickly sicken and kill people far and wide before we can even connect the dots and figure out what’s making them ill.

Okay, that’s scary! So what do we do about it?

One important thing you can do is (surprise) eat local! While this doesn’t guarantee protection from contamination, eating local makes it much easier for you to KNOW more about how your food has been grown and handled.

Other things include choosing food carefully, storing it safely, and preparing it properly, not to mention advocating for efforts to tighten regulations on food producers to help ensure better practices–even now, the USDA is not allowed to test beef for the presence of some of the most virulent forms of E. coli until consumers have gotten sick. (That will be changing in March 2012.)

The other thing that Contagion illustrates really well is how selfish interests can block the progress of measures to benefit the common good, and how fear-mongering can get in the way of efforts to protect people. But what could be more basic to “justice for all” than making sure our food supply is safe?