Recently it was announced that 40 percent of American women are obese, according to a study appearing in the Journal of American Medical Association. This is nearly half of American women.
It is shocking that in a nation where everyone is being sold fitness in magazines and in advertising, and everyone’s looks and health are under a microscope, that there is an obesity epidemic at all.
It is time to step back and look at the language defining who is considered fat, obese, and therefore unhealthy, and how our scientific knowledge is often shaped by cultural knowledge of faith. Around the world, and in America as well, narrative discourses on what constitutes a “sinful” body which often extends to being a “bad” person vs being a “good” or “healthy” person have science and faith in bed together in ways that are not often helpful to the person trapped between the two in a vicious cycle.
Health officials use comparable language to religion in describing maladies of the body similar to how religion describes maladies of the spirit because of the inherent sinfulness of the body from religion to religion.
When looking through the various articles decrying the state of our health regarding women’s rise in obesity on the Internet, the headlines are overwhelming in their Draconian and profit-driven cruelty. Their tone is the voice of the playground bully, or mean girl or boy in high school telling you you’ll never be attractive or desirable because you are just fat and ugly. Telling you that you’re diseased and should be exiled from society and from friendship. In their eyes, you are worthless and sinful, slovenly, gluttonous, lacking in self-discipline, an addict and diseased.
As an adult woman, I’ve had complete strangers tell me in public what I should and shouldn’t eat. This began dating back to when I was a young girl at 14 years old and weighed 115 pounds. I was told I could always stand to lose a few. It is as though instead of preaching the gospel of the savior, people are preaching the gospel of thinness. At my undisclosed adult weight, looking at these articles, I feel my agency as an individual who can contribute to society and care for my children being taken away because of these cultural beliefs and prejudices for the aesthetic of thin that go beyond the health concerns.
Yes, obesity presents health risks. But the BMI is based on science that has been criticized repeatedly, in regards to race and a number of other factors.
The prejudice that just because someone is thin they are strong spiritually, cool, calm and collected, not driven by their emotions and sensuality, because they are self-disciplined, is the status quo. Faiths have played no small part in convincing people of these prejudices. Any person of faith who is for social justice, who has changed their language to stop the shaming and prejudice of others, needs to stop the language that shames people who aren’t thin as being sinful, unclean, slovenly, and gluttonous, without self-control, and so on.
What faiths need to do, is think about how we use language to describe our relationship to sin and our bodies. Faiths need to start calling people in to love and delight and take joy in their bodies instead of targeting people with shame.
I am a good person, regardless of my weight.
Let us consider again, the following words and their impact; Guilt, Deliciousness, Taste, Greed, Sloth, Temptation, Lust, Seduction, Sugar, Fat, Disease, Self-control, Cleanliness, Health.
These words are loaded with meaning imbued not just through secular means of defining health through a purely objective lens, as might be thought, but through a perspective deeply rooted in culture associated with various faith’s definitions of what it means to be a good person or a bad one.
Going forward, it’s time to address how faith redefines our relationships to our bodies in a positive, loving, affirming way. It has been proven time and again, that a happy person, who feels love and loves, is the healthiest person. So, let’s find new ways, new words, to talk about our health, and our food so we take joy in both and celebrate life.