The other day, I read an article that claimed women spend an average of 17 years of their lives trying to lose weight. That’s compared to 10.3 years working.
I had two immediate reactions:
- Well that’s depressing.
- That estimate seems like it’s on the low end.
(Before I go any further, a quick aside: if your response to this post is to tell me I look fine and don’t need to lose weight, that’s very sweet of you, but please don’t. You will have missed the point.)
It has begun to seem strange to me that when I want to lose weight, what I am really wanting is for some literal, physical amount of me to disappear. I can even point to the parts I wish would go away. When I want to lose weight, I want there to be less of my body–less of me.
Of course, this begs the question of who I am in relation to my body. Am I my body, my flesh, the physical space I take up? Certainly I am more than that, but I am not less. I am not my body–if I were, my identity would be reduced to things that can and do change, to size and shape and physical ability and even illness and death; but I am not not my body–for how else do I experience relationship and beauty and goodness and truth except through touch and sight and taste and sound and smell?
Christianity has rejected as heresy the idea that our bodies are just disposable shells for our souls. I have preached that we are not souls that happen to have a body; we are bodies enlivened by a soul. On the 6th day of creation, God did not form an independent soul and then look for an appropriate casing for it; God created a body in God’s image and blew into it the breath of life.
The Christian God is a God not only of creation but of incarnation, of crucifixion, of bodily resurrection. I recently found myself explaining to a (non-churchy) friend why Jesus’ divinity is so important to me, why I could never be satisfied with reducing him to a teacher or moral example. For me, it’s the incarnation–that the immortal, invisible God would take on a mortal, visible body, would live and die and rise again as a human.
The incarnation–which, in my mind, includes the crucifixion and the resurrection–changes everything. It tells me that God isn’t just or even primarily concerned with our hearts and minds and souls–our bodies matter deeply to God, so much so that God didn’t just create them, but returned to inhabit them even when it was clear we were making a mess of the whole “image of God” thing.
If our bodies matter that much to God, they ought to matter to us. The question, of course, is–how ought our bodies matter to us? Is honoring our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) about being healthy, or is it about unconditional self-acceptance (or both)? Is it about eating (or not eating) certain foods, or is it about sexual purity? (Those two things are the context of that temple quote, FYI.) Does it mean staying fit or avoiding too much focus on fitness so as not to fall into idolatry?
A quick Google search revealed that there are plenty of Christian diet plans out there. Daniel’s Diet, a 10-day detox and weight loss plan. Thin Within, “A Non-Diet, Grace-Based Approach.” The Eden Diet, “A Biblical and MERCIFUL Anti-Dieting Plan for Weight Loss.” WeighDown Ministries, “The Solution to Permanent Weight Loss.” Bod4God, “Losing to Live.” There are more, but I’ll stop there for the sake of my gag reflex (and yours).
Let’s be clear: nothing in the Bible advocates dieting for weight loss–we’re talking about a text formed by an ancient agricultural society deeply concerned with survival. For more on the anachronisms of such fads, check out this post. Fasting happens in Scripture for all kinds of reasons–repentance, discernment, even celebration–but not because someone wanted to get a Biblical bikini bod for summer on the Sea of Galilee.
The New York Times recently published an article on the findings of a study on contestants from the TV show The Biggest Loser. What they found was that the contestants started out the show with a normal metabolism, though they were obese. After drastic weight loss through strict dieting and exercise, their metabolisms actually slowed down.
I was one of the many people who always assumed that show participants regained weight afterwards because they fell back into old habits. It turns out this isn’t the case; their bodies adjusted to the decreased caloric intake and now burn those precious calories at a lower rate, so even those who stick to healthy eating and physical activity end up weighing as much as or more than they did at the beginning of the show.
Many participants in The Biggest Loser show off the end results with the declaration that this is “the new me.” There’s that question of body and identity again. In the process of losing weight, of making some of their bulk go away, of transforming themselves physically, they become a different person–happier, healthier, more confident…until they gain the weight back.
For those who are able to make long-lasting physical and health transformation, they are in a small way “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). But a much deeper transformation, I believe, would be self-acceptance and self-love regardless of physical appearance. I learned some time ago that if I cannot accept and love myself as a child of God at any weight, I would never be satisfied even if I shed 20 pounds.
Now I’m just your basic American woman (overly) worried about her waistline and the fit of her jeans. I do not struggle with an eating disorder (unless stress-eating counts) (I think that’s a different problem) or diagnosable body dysmorphia. I have friends who do, and I cannot pretend to understand what that is like.
But I wonder how (or if) we think of our bodies in relation to God. What does the incarnation mean for us? Does it matter (or how does it matter) to the flesh that we find hateful that God became flesh for our sake? Do we really know that Jesus inhabited our fragile frame and redeemed it from all hatred and violence, external and internal?
As I was thinking through this post, I passed a bulletin board where the announcement of a colleague’s daughter’s birth was displayed. And there it was: “6 pounds 3 ounces, 21 inches.” When we are born, our measurements are taken, our body’s size and weight determined and broadcasted and celebrated. Every pound, every ounce, every inch is a measure of grace, of joy, of hope. We are saying: those 6 pounds 3 ounces and 21 inches–every one of them is precious.
What would it be like if we treated our adult measurements like that? You who struggle with anorexia, your 100 pounds that look like 200 in the mirror are precious. You who fight your way through Overeaters Anonymous meetings, your 350 pounds are precious. The voice that tells you that your body is your enemy is not God’s. No matter its size or shape, your body reflects the image of God. God’s breath enlivens these bodies with souls, and Jesus walked around not just in our shoes but in our skin.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). There is no longer fat or skinny (Gal. 3:28, New Living Sarah Version), but we are all one in Christ, whose body we are. We do not have to see an enemy or an idol when we look in the mirror; we expect a savior from heaven, where our true belonging is; where our bodies will not be left behind but redeemed and transformed; where the fullness of the resurrection will bring us home to the flesh we have fled since the garden of Eden.
So befriend your body. God already has, in ways deeper and more intimate than we can comprehend. Thanks be.