As the plane took off I was comforted by the fact that I had plenty of music, things to read, and a few movies on my iPad to keep myself occupied for the long flight. After about an hour of staring at the back of the seat in front of me I settled in to watch a documentary called Embrace, all about women and body image. This documentary appealed to me since it wasn’t the average “healthy eating” documentary I’d been watching lately.
Embrace is a film created by Taryn Brumfitt who posted a before and after photo online which went viral and created a huge stir. Her before photo was taken after a bodybuilding competition in “ideal shape” and her after photo was taken several months later when she decided to ditch the intensive workouts. The muscular photo was the “before” and the fuller mom body was the “after” which isn’t the norm in our society.
I was moved as she explained that after working so hard (hours a day to achieve the perfect body) to be in the body building competition she had a revelation that this was not leading to a fulfilled life. She found herself unhappy along with all the women backstage who were horribly critical of what they wished they could change about their bodies. These women who were supposed to be the “ideal” but were miserable. It was then that she decided it was too costly to her family to continue. Her goals then shifted to being active and eating well. With that mindset, if her kids wanted to make cookies, they would make cookies. However, she started to receive negative comments that she’d let herself go and that questioned why she was now promoting an “unhealthy lifestyle.” This is hilarious since the woman runs marathons and has great lab work from the doctor, however because she has some fat on her body, she’s considered unhealthy by judging observers.
At one point, she begins to interview plastic surgeons and the extreme lengths women go to augment their bodies, all in the name of “health.” And that point, when bare breasts and vaginas popped on the screen I took it as a good place to stop the documentary. Oh dear, I was not expecting that and I wonder what the people around me who caught a glimpse of it. Dear American Airlines passengers I apologize for the tee tee’s and vag’s. I was trying to empower myself as a woman, not expose the plane to nudity.
I had watched enough to get the message and with that, I turned the documentary off and sat there talking with the Lord, realizing how much of the church has adopted seriously unhealthy mindsets about body image.
Many in the modern church are equating “being fit” to “being Godly”. And when we conflate temporary things (our body shapes) with eternal values (holiness) we have an issue. We become a legalistic bunch of hootanannies that become wrapped up in a different pharisaical nonsense, but is legalism all the same. Food becomes demonized as idolatry and people who are not considered ideal are labeled gluttonous.
Most of my life I’ve battled with my body image. I suspect I’m not alone. The average size in America is 16 and the average model in media is not.
As I’ve written about hard to talk about subjects in the church such as sexuality, pornography, isolation, etc I’ve hesitated to start the conversation about body image. Why? Even though I feel God has taken (and continues to take) me through an incredible healing journey with health there are still remnants of pain from years of dealing with this issue. Moreover, as I have watched the health food movement overtake the church in a pendulum of ways, (not all negative mind you) I do see the degree in which people create false ideology around eating and being healthy. This ideology creates the notion of being spiritually elevated when you are eating certain foods or looking in a certain shape. With goals being primarily concerned with our external appearance with a secondary emphasis placed on the internal mark of the Holy Spirit’s work, the truth is that these goals should be the other way around.
Here is what I am not saying. I am not saying that God does not care about your health. My next blog will be about my own process of growing in health and overcoming years of self-hatred of my own body. With this growth and breakthrough I have lost 80 pounds and understand more about my femininity than ever before. So please hear that I understand the importance of running the race well – that we are called to influence and treat ourselves with respect.
However, I do feel that church culture tends to gather around and worship an idea of youth and health that heaps weights on believers rather than liberates them with the gospel. In other words, our achievement driven culture can become very unbalanced with its obsession of the “ideal image of health”. This matches our world’s culture and does not transform it.
Gluttony seems to be one of the buzzwords Christians are throwing around now a days as the “unaddressed sin” or the “permissible sin”. Fat pastors are often the example of being hypocrites while preaching against sexual sin, all the while overweight and not addressing their own sin of gluttony. A similar example being Christian leaders who preach on healing but are overweight.
With this, I’d first like to look at what gluttony is and what it isn’t.
Gluttony comes from the Latin word “gluttire” meaning to gulp down or swallow and is understood to mean over- indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth to the point of extravagance or waste. In other words, Gluttony is habitual greed of things or excess in eating without sharing with others.
Gluttony, like Greed or Lust, stems from a self centeredness that leads to sin. It’s all about self and not love. It takes natural things that are to be within God’s healthy boundaries and are twisted into self serving the individual.
With this in mind, we know from scripture that it’s not what a man eats that defiles him, but what come out of a man. All this to say any person can operate in their old nature and adopt a mindset or stronghold of gluttony if they persist in self-centeredness. I’ve seen many women become overwhelmed with the image of what they desire to be of health to the point of gluttony. They become so self consumed with obtaining the perfect organic, gluten free, paleo, whole 30, keto, yoga pants woman who feeds her family perfectly and is able to climb Everest after the kids are asleep – image. I’ve mentored girls who plaster their facebook with weight loss photo’s or healthy achievements receiving much praise, all the while coming to me for help because they are bulimic.
So if we are really going to talk about gluttony it seems that it is a word that can be used to describe a very image conscious culture. One that is obsessed with self. Fat or thin you can become a self-centered gluttonous person. One who is obsessed with eating junk food or health food.
Both fasting and feasting are in the Bible in the Old and New Testament. Jesus wants us to feast. Jesus wants us to live in abundance of health and freedom when it comes to food.
My father was an overweight pastor who battled with his weight and eventually lost his life to cancer when he was in his 40’s. He was overweight and still preached a life of holiness to the Lord. We were dirt poor and often lived off bologna sandwiches and spaghetti. My parents fed transient homeless men and women who would show up at the parsonage door day and night. My father battled obesity. My father was not a glutton. He gave away everything he had.
My dad and I were overweight and my mother and brother were not. We all ate the same food. The point I’m getting at is be careful how you judge others or think you have all the answers when you don’t understand where people come from or what they have as resources. There are so many factors that play into someone’s appearance.
Let’s be a people who want God’s best but uphold each other in love, not scrutinize their appearances. This starts by understanding that we first seek the kingdom of God in everything that we believe or do. This doesn’t start with our achievements of health as a baseline.
Don’t miss my next blog! I’m going to talk about my own process and how God has taught me to take care of my temple:) What you read may surprise you…
Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.