Why Thin Does Not = The Source of Happiness

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.}

repost from the archives

5 thoughts on “Why Thin Does Not = The Source of Happiness

  1. Hi Rachel – in answer to your blog and to the comment you wrote about – I am one who has deeply battled weight my entire life – moving from obese to chubby to super-in-shape back to chubby – and the battle goes on: I can wholeheartedly say that if my weight were the sole source of my happiness, I would certainly be a very depresed individual.

    When I make poor food and health related choices – I tend to get down on myself not simply because my choices will make me “fat” or “thin” but because they are not choices grounded in freedom and joy. Sometimes my choices come from compulsion – and this makes me unhappy – no matter what weight I happen to be. I know those choices don’t bring joy to the heart of God…and they don’t bring joy to me, either. Consuming too much sugar or too many processed foods, lack of exercise, or allowing my weight to creep higher and higher drains me – and drains both my physical and emotional energy that could be directed toward what causes me the deepest joy.

    I serve in full-time ministry. My most recent prayer is that God would grant me the power and freedom to eat well for the sake of His Kingdom, His service…i.e. I want my body to serve His purposes. I want to be healthy. When I do this, I am happy.

  2. “We all carry marks of our brokenness–whether visible or not.” Too true, Rachel. Dig the handweights too.


    P.S. Your reference to blue sclera made me read up on osteogenesis imperfecta, so thanks for making me smarter today!

  3. Amen! I especially like the connection you draw between gluttony and the food-obsession that comes with restricted eating.

    The me-centeredness is something that Sarah Coakley has referred to as “sweaty Pelagianism,” which I think really aptly sums up the belief that in all people lies the power to achieve physical perfection, if only they will it and work hard enough.

    Regarding your last points, I totally agree with the last two, but I hesitate on the first one. In my journey towards body acceptance, it’s been important to affirm that I am my body. The caveat is that I am not ONLY my body. But I believe in a physical resurrection, and I believe in both a discontinuity with the brokenness of the bodies we have now, and also a continuity with the identity that our body provides us in this life. In “Marks of His Wounds,” Beth Felker Jones writes that we are identified by our bodies. I can’t find the quote I need, but to paraphrase, she writes that when I walk into the room, it is only by my body that I am recognizable to the ones I know. My body make ME available to my husband, my family, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and everyone else!

    So, accepting that my body IS me (i.e. I am not “a thin person trapped in a fat body” or anything like that) has been really helpful to me in learning to love myself and others better. YMMV.

  4. Great response 🙂 As a person who is fat by anyone’s standards, I am living proof that happiness, health, energy, vitality, and (dare I say) beauty can exist in all sizes.

  5. Exactly, Rachel! The flip side of this is that if you happen to conform to the shape/size/height considered “desirable” that may be all people see in you, and sometimes all you see in yourself. Now that I’m older, this isn’t as much of a problem, but how many times has someone said “I didn’t know you were nice/intelligent/interesting” etc? At times, only your outside is visible to others if it conforms too closely to an elusive ideal that *no one* can achieve, and it is very difficult to learn not to live from that place and perception, and not become like King Midas, grasping for more. Still struggling…and wondering who I would have been–a better person, is my suspicion–had more of my flaws & ailments always been exterior. Happily, I enjoy good, wholesome food without reservation.

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