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

Last week, I received a comment on the Audrey Hepburn post–in which I urged that one can be beautiful no matter their size–that gave me something to think about. You can read the comment in full on the original post (here), but this snippet sums up the basic point:

“This is a message that is very lovely, but I have to say…you look beautifully thin in all of your pictures. It seems to me that it is somewhat easier to share the epiphany now your figure is closer to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

I have already responded, and you can read my response in full, but the question implied in the comment has continued to pester me. Would I be as happy/contented with food and my body if I were NOT thin?

This is what I’ve concluded: that THIN does not = the source of my happiness.

(Not to mention, there are PLENTY of ways in which I fail to meet our culture’s standards of beauty. I do believe I actually WEIGH MORE than Audrey Hepburn ever did–and I’m, what, ten inches shorter than she was?! I’ve even got me some visible attributes–low muscle tone, spotty-lookin’ teeth (the front ones are caps), scoliosis, blue sclera, skin that’s thin and easily bruised–of a bona-fide genetic disorder! My “defects” are in my DNA, people!)

But you know? We all carry marks of our brokenness–whether visible or not.

These days, though, I’m pretty much comfortable and content with my body, scars and bumps and all. I have a healthy relationship with food and I’m reasonably active and things like {food/exercise/my body} don’t take up an inordinate amount of my time or my mental space–my contentment is NOT because I’m a certain size, a certain weight, or a certain level on some index.

Here’s the strange thing: my body hasn’t really EVER changed all that dramatically (you know, except for the pregnancies). Yet ten years ago, this body was a torment to me, and I had no idea how to eat without overdoing it or under-eating or just plain feeling guilty all. the. time.

I was terrified of food, terrified because LIKE ALL NORMAL HEALTHY PEOPLE, I liked food. I thought that indifference to food was ideal, and all interest in food was gluttonous, possibly sinful, and would make me fat. Thing is, it’s kinda hard to avoid eating. So I would eat, but because I felt so disconnected from my body and my appetite, I never could seem to feel contented and satisfied. I was also terrified that I would lose control and eat too much, which happened too, sometimes, because, again, I was so disconnected.

Now here’s an important point. I don’t think that this way of thinking is particular to me or in any way unique. Rather, I think it is a way of thinking that is particular to a consumerist culture. This is not to evade responsibility for my own thoughts and actions, but instead, to put those in a bigger context.

Think of 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. And think of food advertising and the general culture surrounding food today: it’s all about having it YOUR way and making things suit YOUR taste and shaping YOUR identity through what you consume (I AM a vegetarian, I AM an organic consumer, a dieter, an overeater, or whatever.)

And think of all the cultural baggage surrounding eating and dieting and thinness. This quote from Harriet Brown, author of Brave Girl Eating, a memoir of her daughter’s anorexia, seems to me particularly true of our culture:

“We…have fallen for the notion that food is a regrettable necessity. As if the ideal, the holy grail we are all working toward, is to do without food altogether—and as if we not only should but could attain this state, were we good enough, determined enough, strong enough. As if that’s what we should want.”

But you know what?

All of this stuff? It’s very ME focused. And THAT–not overeating, not being overly fastidious, and certainly NOT loving food–is the essential definition of gluttony: your stomach gets in the way of loving God and your neighbor.

I no longer see my body as a raw material to be shaped by my own willpower with the help of consumer products–I see it as the handiwork of a wise and wonderful Creator.

And I no longer feel guilty admitting that I LOVE food!–Because I see it as a gift from God and the fruit of rich and complex histories involving both nature and culture.

Am I only able to feel this way because I’m a certain size and shape? I don’t think so. Truly, I no longer buy the lie that only THIN is beautiful. I’ve known too many truly beautiful people who didn’t conform to any standard of beauty in any way.

And I’ve known too well the ugliness–within myself, an ugly self-centeredness–that comes from an obsession with thinness (and looks in general). If God had seen fit to build me big instead of small–or if the years see me growing rounder (which they probably will)–I really hope my message would (will) be just the same:

~Your body is a gift, but who YOU are does not = your body.

~Your beauty does not depend on your looks.

~Food is a gift meant to be eaten–WITH JOY.

{Of course there’s more to my story than this, but I’m saving other parts for other days. Meanwhile, Thank you for your comments. I welcome them eagerly and treasure each one.}

7 thoughts on “Am I too thin to say “accept your body”?

  1. I always enjoy your writing and on this subject I really appreciate your thoughts – this post and your recent ones! This year I discovered that my body doesn’t process certain foods properly, and I needed to start eating full fat foods, red meat, and all sorts of things that are “unhealthy” – because that suits the way my body works. I was stunned to lose 24 pounds the first eight weeks, stuffing myself with supposedly indulgent foods and enjoying it thoroughly. Then I hear fellow Christians saying that a “good” and “disciplined” life should be one rationing such foods – when I say, “Hang on, not everyone operates that way,” people are keen to impress upon me the fact that I’m in the minority, missing the fact that they’re prescribing a one-size-fits-all spiritual diet.

    I like your point that we’re all individuals with our own brokenness, seen in different ways. My auto-immune illness, I’ve found, is often seen as an embarrassment or an affront to our belief in a God who heals, but that is to miss the message I can carry about the God who is also present even in the very midst of our pain and suffering. Thanks for being a great ambassador for the bodies in the Body!

    Also, have you come across the book Controversies in Body Theology edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid? I find it very stimulating and in particular, the final essay about dieting may be of interest to you.

    Many thanks for sharing, and blessings to you all!


    1. I will look into the book you mention, Kathleen! What you are saying reminds me of the summer I tried going vegan. Wouldnt you know, I felt bloated, sleepy, and depressed? Some meat, cheese, butter, and eggs seem to be a real necessity to me, too.

  2. I speak for myself here (obviously), but I have to admit that drawing greater significance from an overweight person’s message of body acceptance bespeaks my continued struggle with personal acceptance–as though I’m only accepting myself because the overweight spokesperson has given me license to do so. Instead of listening to society’s message about thinness, I’m now listening to a singular individual’s statement about largeness; in that respect, I’m still conforming to some external standard of beauty. Ultimately, it’s the truth of the message, not it’s source, that must convince me of the beauty within.

  3. I recently finished Intuitive eating, which echoes much of what you have said here about diets as lies, as well as image and society. After reading the book, I decided to give up the bathroom scale. It’s not like stepping on it every morning counts as healthful exercise!

    Thanks for the article, Rachel.


Please Join the Conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s