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Being Skinny Is Not a Christian Virtue

Being Skinny Is Not a Christian Virtue


Jan 23 2013
Finding the right motivations for caring for our bodies.

"Can a husband tell his wife he wants her to lose weight?" our friend Andrew asked, describing how his friend had recently sent his marriage into a tailspin by suggesting his wife could shed some pounds.

"What was his motivation?" I prodded. "His wife's health or her appearance?"

"Both, probably," Andrew admitted.

It's true that conflicted motivations often stand behind our dieting kicks and New Year's resolutions to exercise and lose weight. Despite recognizing today's obsession with beauty and youth and offering our own pronouncements against the culture of thin, we're often motivated to diet and exercise for no better reason than to get skinny and stay there.

A "hegemony of thin bodies" presides in society, perpetuating a stigma against being fat, Lisa Ann Cockrel wrote here at Her.meneutics. "The fear of fat is not the fear of death or even illness," she said. "It is the fear of life shadowed by the pity and contempt of one's neighbors."

Obviously, trying to lose weight (or insisting our spouse should) simply because we crave the approval that skinny brings is not a theologically tenable goal. But maybe we could agree that skinny was healthier, and wouldn't improving physical health be a scripturally defensible reason for keeping our fitness resolutions this year?

The Bible again and again affirms the practice of caring for our bodies (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:19, 20; 1 Tim. 4:8), but we can't be so quick to defend skinny as a Christian virtue. Rather, new research is countering conventional wisdom that says skinny equals healthy and cared-for.

Not only is it possible to be overweight and still be healthy, it's possible to be skinny and unhealthy. Skinny and sedentary may not be shame-inducing, but it's certainly not good for us, either.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I've sworn my own tacit allegiance to the culture of thin. Despite the compelling scientific evidence that exercise improves the quality of our lives, in recent years I've failed to exercise regularly until now because I've always managed to stay skinny enough.

"We are teleological creatures. We are the sorts of animals whose love is aimed at different ends or goals (Greek: teloi)," wrote James K. A. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom. "Rather than being pushed by beliefs, we are pulled by a telos that we desire."

In other words, what we do is based less on what we know to be true and more on what we want. In my case with fitness, I have long had the right information about the benefits of exercise, but until recently, it has failed to motivate me to action. I have needed to repent, not just of what I'd failed to do but what I'd allowed myself to love. And I, too, have loved skinny.

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