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?

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Tracey Gold’s ‘Starving Secrets’

Remember Tracey Gold from Growing Pains? A recovered anorexic, she’s now hosting a new Lifetime channel reality show: ‘Starving Secrets.’

Even this People magazine photograph portrays Gold’s anorexic body as glamorous.

The show, still in its first season, follows women with serious eating disorders, and gives them the opportunity to a enter into a treatment program. Critics of the show point out that it follows in the genre of made-for-TV movies like The Best Little Girl in the World, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and For the Love of Nancy–which probably fueled more eating disorders than they discouraged.

I remember watching The Best Little Girl in the World in health class in 8th grade. It starred Jennifer Jason Leigh and generally made anorexia seem alluring and glamorous, if a bit frightening. It, and media like it, have been thinspiration–unintentionally functioning as eating-disorder inspiration. For girls and women struggling to find their story–to make meaning of their lives, an eating disorder can provide a macabre but compelling narrative.

On the other hand, some point out, insurance companies in the US provide such wimpy coverage to mental illnesses in general and eating disorders in particular (a 30-day per year inpatient cap, for example) that, for some people, participating in a ‘reality’ show represents a viable shot at obtaining treatment.

What’s your take? Do shows like ‘Starving Secrets’ do more harm than good? Do they really help anyone? Or is it just more sordid television?

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White Collar’s Woman Problem

[Or, Tiffani Thiessen is not fat.]

{Today I’m delighted to welcome my co-blogger from the CT women’s blog, Gina Dalfonzo, with a guest post that grew out of a Facebook discussion we had on actresses and weight. Thanks so much for joining me at Eat With Joy, Gina!}

The last thing I want to do is bash any actress because of her weight. There’s more than enough of that going on already, and even the super-skinny ones get more than their share of it. All I want to do is reflect a little on a dynamic I’ve been noticing on one of my favorite shows. The way it’s been shoved in our faces, I could hardly help noticing it.

I’m talking about the detective series White Collar, on the USA Network. It’s an excellent series that has managed to take an old formula—con man helps FBI agent catch criminals—and make it fresh and entertaining. That is, when it comes to the two main male characters, Neal the con man (Matt Bomer) and Peter the FBI agent (Tim DeKay).

But lately, when it comes to the female characters, things are feeling a little clichéd.  

With one or two rare exceptions, the women of White Collar are either (1) involved with Neal the con man, and scary skinny, or (2) married to Peter the FBI agent, and allowed to have a few curves. Other fans of the show seem to be noticing this trend too, from what I hear.

Neal’s main love interest this season, Sara Ellis (Hilarie Burton), looked as if she could easily be broken in pieces. No sooner did Neal and Sara end things than along came a gorgeous female Egyptologist (is there any other kind of female Egyptologist?), played by Eliza Dushku, with long thin legs that the camera lovingly traveled up and down at every opportunity. And before this season, there was skinny Kate, and skinny Alex, and . . . you get the idea.

All these women were made to play super-smart, super-sexy, super-skinny superwomen, to an unbelievable degree. Literally unbelievable. Here’s a tip for future reference: If a show’s creator keeps earnestly assuring interviewers that his female characters are strong, smart, independent women, it’s a good sign that they’re not coming across that way on the screen. In the case of Sara and of Raquel the Egyptologist this season, what we’ve seen on the show is lots of attention to their looks, with a little token lip service paid to their supposed smarts. Sara, in particular, seemed to lose her brain every time Neal looked at her—and even though Matt Bomer is handsome enough to make any girl go a little tongue-tied (this version of New York is populated almost completely by beautiful people), it got annoying in short order.

In many ways, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), Peter’s wife, is a welcome corrective to all this. She’s attractive in a healthy-looking way, and she actually has a personality, not to mention one of the best marriages in a TV landscape largely devoid of good marriages right now. I give the show’s creators credit for coming up with a woman who’s a normal human being instead of a sex kitten, putting her in a great relationship, and casting an actress who doesn’t vanish when she turns sideways.

So it’s truly disheartening that Thiessen catches flak sometimes for her weight. The other day, researching this article, I was Googling “Tiffani Thiessen White Collar.” I’ll leave you to guess the first “f” word that the autofill function gave me. It wasn’t flattering. And it wasn’t fair. Thiessen is a normal, healthy weight, especially for a woman who recently had a baby in real life. (Hilarie Burton also recently had a baby in real life, but as Erma Bombeck used to say, she must have carried it in a shopping bag.) But any normal, healthy woman would suffer by comparison with the parade of skeletons that’s been marched past Thiessen on the show.

{Rachel's reaction: "wait, this is the one people are calling fat?!"}

The long and the short of it is that 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 in spite of the show’s best efforts, they’re not looking so good.

Continue reading White Collar’s Woman Problem