With her new book Fat and Faithful: Learning to Love Our Bodies, Our Neighbors, and Ourselves, J. Nicole Morgan is asking, “congregations and people of faith” to think about “what it means to embrace one another as created in the image of God.”
Religion News Service, which interviewed Morgan, prints her confession about her childhood belief that “God doesn’t want you to be fat” and “fat can’t be beautiful.”
In the issue of full disclosure, I haven’t read the book, nor do I intend to. With this article, I will be commenting on the RNS article’s theme and subtext and not the book. The article pushes the trope that Christians should embrace all body types, but I’m not so sure that’s true.
During my junior year of high school, I won “ugliest feet” in a superlative contest held by my church’s youth group. Embarrassed and hurt, I knew better than to let my feelings show when I accepted the award. As a super-skinny, glasses-wearing kid, I was self-conscious about my looks, as are most teenagers. Today, I’m shaped like a reverse Weeble, but am far less self-conscious. I’m not an attractive man. Fine. My wife still likes me.
My painful, awkward experiences as a kid combined with my belief that all humans are made in the image of God and worthy of dignity and honor informs my belief that no one should be ridiculed or made to feel less-than because of the way they look. No matter the body type, we should never make fun of a person’s appearance. However, we also want to be careful that we’re ministering to the whole person. From time to time, that requires lovingly prodding people to better health by making physical changes to their body, like losing weight.
RNS recognizes that:
Being overweight can lead to health concerns. Morgan devotes a chapter to this issue, advocating that health should be assessed in “weight-neutral” ways. She concedes that there is obviously a correlation between weight and health. But health care providers can be obsessed with weight loss to the exclusion of other health indicators.
Steering into the belief that all body types should be embraced, RNS is encouraging people to be comfortable in potentially dangerous situations. It’s a fact that obesity causes many health problems and shortens life spans. Considering that obesity keeps bodies from functioning well, a Christian perspective recognizes that obesity is a result of the Fall (when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, ensuring that the world is cursed by sin, decay, and death). We should not embrace all body types because some are harmful.
Stating that some body types are harmful doesn’t mean that God loves obese individuals less or that they are worthy of less dignity. It doesn’t mean that individuals with less-than-healthy body types are to be ridiculed or shunned, or that they are less able to serve in the church than those with more healthy bodies.
Asking what it means to be made in the image of God comes with the answer that God cares about our bodies and our physical health. That means that we shouldn’t steer into (embrace) all body types.