Sunday, April 7, 2013

Demonization of the Flesh

You might have considered taking up residence in a cave to escape the daily bombardment from TV shows and commercials, movies, magazine covers and ads, and ads on the most innocuous websites (news and even grammar blogs?) lecturing about what’s wrong with your body and appearance and clothes and shoes and diet and even the way you make love, and how to fix it all in 10 easy steps. Or at least I have.

Home isn’t safe either when families, too, are critical of bodies. Maybe not yours directly, but we’ve all heard them going on about their own weight and their diet, their weight loss, and moralizing about food and size, directly preaching the insidious and preposterous notion that thin = good and fat = bad.

The Church, with a romantic history as a supposed sanctuary from persecution, is one place you can be sure of God’s infinite love for all his children. Except for you, Obvious Gluttonous Sinner. We learn from a very early age that gluttony, overindulgence in food and drink characterized (and often caricatured) as slovenly obesity, is one of the 7 Deadly Sins. (I’m speaking from the experience of being raised Catholic, but the concepts may be familiar.)

Maybe your faith community didn’t focus on it so much, but the message was taught nonetheless and accepted as an understood and easy to follow truth. It starts as a small drop in the deluge of body negativity indoctrination and justifies those who believe that obesity is proof of gluttony, immorality, personal weakness, and failing in order to prop themselves up as righteous in their ability to control their own bodies.

There will always be people invested in reaping unearned advantages from the seeds sowed by oppression. It’s much easier than actually trying to be a good person, cultivate talents, or do anything productive with their lives. 
Let them think their ‘hard work’ spent chasing after thin privilege is the same as working hard to overcome prejudice, or raise a family, or pursue greater or higher knowledge, or survive in the face of challenges. 
It’s easier to pant on a treadmill and think yourself better than someone else than actually do something that makes you a better person, friend, partner, or member of the community.  -Arte to life on Thin privilege tumblr

Supposedly Gluttony is wasteful and withholds from the poor. How can one’s eating habits affect his or her ability to donate money or canned goods to charity or volunteer at a food pantry or free cafeteria? This is a “sin” that doesn’t actually affect or hurt anyone else in the world at all (like most sins, really) and doesn’t matter unless you’re fat. That is to say, no one will question a thin person’s eating habits on the basis of looking at his or her body, although “everyone knows” that overeating leads to obesity is a myth. And that there’s a strong relationship between food insecurity and overweight. So it’s pretty far from charitable to use values (the 7 Deadly Sins) made up by a man in the 4th Century as the basis for concern trolling or shaming people of size.

On the one hand, food is a spiritual experience, bringing people together in celebration and worship in the sacrament of Communion, where one literally consumes the body and blood of Christ, who fed 4 or 5 thousand people by multiplying a few loaves of bread and fish for a hungry crowd and turned water to wine to celebrate a wedding. Food is a celebration of life and the gifts given by the Creator . . . but only to a point? How much can we eat and how much are we allowed to enjoy it without committing sin? The Church sanctions feast days and holidays celebrated by feasting until we feel we’re about to burst. But eating arbitrarily “too much” and gaining weight warrants Confession.

Enjoying food, even lots of it, isn’t inherently immoral (nor for that matter are other things that make your body feel good, such as masturbation, sex, and blended fabrics). Consider the narrative, “I ate SO much! I feel like such a pig!” Pfft. I ate SO much because that food was freaking delicious and we were having such a great time. Food has important emotional, social, and cultural meanings and value outside of nutritional value alone that are necessary to recognize.

Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.” -Ellyn Satter

You need food to live, and your body, too. Your body is not a weak, traitorous lump of flesh divorced from the mind and designed to tempt you to evil. You are one being, you are whole, finely tuned over thousands of years to be the best human you can be.

And, frankly, spending a lifetime at war with yourself is no way live.

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