9/02/2011

A Weighty Series, part 5

This week I have been writing a series on weight and body image. You can read part 1part 2part 3, and part 4 to get caught up.

Yesterday's post, part 4, focused on lies about body image and a book about mommy's plastic surgery aimed at children, regarding how to view their mother as beautiful now because she had plastic surgery. Today it gets worse: this book is written to children about how to view their own bodies. Then, later, I'll connect that to a real life example of a "fat" friend who put herself on a path toward destruction in an effort to be considered beautiful.

"Fat" Maggie Gets Thin and Finds Worth: A Children's Book
Did you know that a new book is coming out that is marketed toward children and it's about a chubby teen who loses weight, becomes popular and a soccer star and finds self-worth (and public admiration)? It's literally called Maggie Goes on a Diet. From the Time Healthland article, here are some lines from the book:

Losing the weight was not only good for Maggie's health. 
Maggie was so much happier and was also very proud of herself.
More and more people were beginning to know Maggie by name.
Playing soccer gave Maggie popularity and fame.
The book cover, from Amazon.com
[click image for origin]
Yes, childhood obesity is a problem. If you've seen Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution then you know that in many areas of our country (presuming most of my readers live in the United States) this generation's children is the first predicted to live shorter life spans than their parents. Yes, we as parents want to teach our children to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise. But the message of this book is that you only have worth if you lose enough weight for the world to look at you and say, "Yes, now you are acceptable."

This paragraph from the article stuck with me; boldfaced emphasis mine:

Fat girl gets skinny and handy with a soccer ball, and popularity follows? Carolyn Becker, a professor of psychology at Trinity University in San Antonio who developed Reflections Body Image Program, which decries "fat talk" and promotes positive body image, says the book misses its mark. "They are trying to promote healthier behavior, but at the same time they're likely promoting weight stigma," says Becker. "For some people, getting healthier may or may not lead to significant weight loss. It's also quite possible to lose weight on an unhealthy diet."
Kelly's Story
Despite having shared it before, I still feel angry (and rightly so) when I share this story: in college a friend, whose body is simply built to be about 175 pounds at 5'5" tall, noticed that her best friend, a guy whom she was secretly in love with, only went for really tiny girls. She ate generally well and was active, so to get thinner she literally stopped eating and exercised like crazy and lost nearly 30 pounds very quickly. A pastor's wife at her church came up to her when she returned home for a break, solemnly took the friend's hands in her own while staring into her eyes and said, "Kelly [not her real name], I'm so glad to see you've finally surrendered this area of your life to God."

You see the problem, I'm sure. Kelly was so unhealthy that her family had to intervene before it turned into a life-threatening illness. Yet the pastor's wife, whom Kelly trusted as spiritual authority, assumed that my healthy size 12 friend was in deep sin for being so.

THIS IS SO WRONG.

And it brings me to something that I say so carefully, but have really been chewing on--how much of my perception of a healthy body is based on what our culture defines as beautiful? I've written before about how horrible I felt when my pipe dreams of marrying Tom Brady were revealed to be a laughingstock because he married the most famous supermodel in the world, Gisele Bundchen, whom many consider to have a "perfect" body. And, though I KNOW it's foolish, whenever I see a celebrity who has had a baby in the last 3 months who now looks like their pre-baby self I look at my body and think I should definitely be working harder because it's clearly possible to get hot soon after baby. To be fair, for many celebs they just may have been blessed with genes that allow them to quickly "bounce back." For me, it would take a lot of hard effort--as in working with a trainer 6-8 hours a day--to ever be in a bikini, let alone 7 weeks postpartum. When I see those celebrity women, though, I feel not just that they were blessed but once again that I am cursed and horrible.

But then I play with my absolutely incredible son and don't feel guilty that I'm the only one who takes care of him 90% of the time while my husband works or studies; no one is around to watch him while I see a personal trainer every a day. Sure, I could have a hot body, possibly, if we could afford to do so, both financially and if I chose my body over my child. Possible is not always preferable.

So, I carefully declare this: too much of what we think our bodies should look like is based on what society says beauty is. It's a tangled mess, but I want to explore how we see our bodies, how we perceive food, and what the Bible has to say about each as well as what the Lord defines as beautiful, particularly with regards to women. I know my own heart can tend toward legalism, which is why I am being very prayerful and do welcome feedback as we go. Still, I just can't rest. I am increasingly convinced that even what my dear friends and I spur one another onto has very little to do with worshiping Jesus and very much is culture's definition of beauty with a big, soaking wet and heavy Jesus blanket draped over it. We not only feel terrible for not being beautiful enough but then we heap on guilt and shame, too, because clearly we're not worshiping Jesus, either, and that's why we're so unattractive.

With that said, this series is too much for one week. I had it mapped out in my head and have been writing 2 days in advance, but so much is coming from my studies of the Bible that I just can't cram it into a week. So, we'll take the long weekend off and dive back in next Tuesday. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts. Don't be shy about challenging me. I like it because it turns me to what Jesus has to say to me!

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