Fat Shaming and the Church

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Young Clergy Women International has published an article on fat shaming and how it has no place in the church.  Written by Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath, the article addresses diet culture and how it can permeate church spaces, and how this is a direct contradiction of God’s message of unconditional love for us.  “There’s no stipulation in there that the Holy One will love us better if we are thin. There’s no asterisk that says God will love us better if we follow a certain eating plan (which by the way is another word for diet), or refrain from certain foods.”  We are made in God’s image, created by God, and God does not make mistakes.

Diet culture is the pervasive message that thin is better, that we must lose weight at any cost.  Similarly, fat shaming is, as the name suggests, the idea that fat people should be ashamed, that somehow, they are morally deficient for being fat.  Both of these things are woven into the fabric of our secular culture, and according to Carrington Heath, have infiltrated the church as well.  “Do you run a weight loss program out of your church? Are you known to comment at the pot luck that you ‘shouldn’t have had that cookie?’ Clergy, do you use your social media profile to proclaim the virtues of the latest food you’ve given up, or your latest diet craze? Intended or not, all of these things communicate (especially to a younger generation) that God loves some bodies more than others.”

Carrington Heath’s article is a strong reminder that God loves us as we are, here, today, not in some imagined future time when we are thinner, wealthier, more beautiful. Even as we are awash in New Year messages of self-improvement, we can and should embrace the message that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Read the whole article here.

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Winnie Woo
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Winnie Woo

While we are talking about fat shaming, at the next general convention ageism needs to be addressed.There are few employers that still able to require a mandated age for retirement in the United States.There are many bishops & other clergy members should be given the option to retain their office until they feel the need to retire.Requiring a mandated age for retirement for all bishops & clergy is an archaic practice.Lets get rid of all these "isms."

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Kevin Montgomery
Guest

I wonder if one problem we have is that we (myself included) often think that, if we lose weight, then we'll love our bodies better. What if we turn it around in a way? God wants us to love ourselves, in the sense of wanting what's best - spiritually, psychologically, AND physically; so what if we start there? (Yes, I know, easier said than done.) And then instead of focusing on weight loss per se, the focus becomes more on eating in a healthy way to take care of the body God created. Then it can be aimed at a more general set of people, not just those we think "need" to lose weight. Frankly, pretty much all of us in this country could stand to eat better.

Anyway, just some thoughts.

-- Kevin

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Member

It does seem to me that we can discuss the value of a healthy lifestyle without either fat shaming or body shaming. Parish nurse programs that offer help monitoring blood pressure, or nutrition education, or smoking cessation support, or other kinds of alteration of lifestyle - offered, not pressured - can be valuable in a congregation. Discussing what it means to "live simply that others may simply live" seems in line, and not requiring body shaming (although arguably calling all of us to reflect on our lives) seems appropriate.

Ann, you and I have both seen our share of folks in the healthcare system. I'm not so sure folks do know what can be most beneficial - not so much knowing "what they need" - between the misinformation and the difficulty planning when the concern moves from issue to crisis. So, we can meaningfully think about what supports without supporting shaming.

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Ann Fontaine
Editor

Everyone I know who might be called overweight-- knows it.

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Member

Yes, Ann - and in one of our society's distortions, many who are not overweight are convinced they are. That's still not the same thing as knowing "what to do about it," especially in the sense of knowing what is actually most likely to help with goals or who is available for support.

I have experienced fat shaming, especially when I was young; and it was particularly painful when it came from family members (of course, there was a fair amount of shame generally in my context). Even in my upper middle class and very well educated household, a general idea of "what to do" wasn't all that helpful in supporting me specifically in doing anything. So, I would still hope there is opportunity in the communities of faith to offer support for people making healthy choices, without pressure and without shaming.

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Helen Kromm
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Helen Kromm

"Weight loss, food shaming, fat shaming, and body talk have no place in the body of Christ."

Surely food shaming, fat shaming, and body talk has no place in the body of Christ. And certainly God loves all of us as we are. But I have to wonder why weight loss has no place in our discourse within the church.

Consider for a moment that those overweight with a body mass index over 30 can expect a life expectancy of between six to thirteen years less. Consider that obesity is an epidemic in this country. And also consider that much of this is owed to addictive foods and food addictions. Our churches promote Alcoholics Anonymous and accepts the science of alcoholism, and yet this article implores us to ignore the devastating effects of food addictions and resulting epidemic of obesity. This is a dangerous and misguided line of thought.

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Shelly Fayette
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Shelly Fayette

@Helen, please read this. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/opinion/our-imaginary-weight-problem.html

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Helen Kromm
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Helen Kromm

The article is written by Paul Campos and is based on his 2003 book "The Obesity Myth". Campos is a law professor with absolutely zero medical experience or credentials. Read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Campos

Not a single medical practitioner supports his thesis in that Wiki piece, and those that do support it are not medical professionals.

Since 2003, and certainly since 2013, the science on this is clear and focused, beginning in 2013 with the AMA declaring obesity a disease: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/19/business/ama-recognizes-obesity-as-a-disease.html That article also illustrates the connection between obesity and Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

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Ann Fontaine
Editor

Helen Kromm: In real life- your approach does not yield the results you want -- people know what they need to do for their health. Shaming them and calling them "diseased" is counterproductive.

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Helen Kromm
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Helen Kromm

"Surely food shaming, fat shaming, and body talk has no place in the body of Christ. And certainly God loves all of us as we are. But I have to wonder why weight loss has no place in our discourse within the church."

That is what I wrote. I agree wholeheartedly fat shaming is both cruel and counterproductive. You should have read what I wrote. Obesity is a disease as recognized by the AMA. That is a fact. Anyone suffering from a disease or illness doesn't deserve shame.

Don't put words in my mouth unfairly.

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