the HAES® files: What If??

I wanted to draw my readers’ attention to this excellent post on the Health at Every Size blog. This is why I am passionate about seeing healing in our relationships with our own bodies and the bodies of others, and why I think HAES is the paradigm that will open that path for us.

Health At Every Size® Blog

by Deah Schwartz, Ed.D, CTRS, CCC

What if I told you an obscene number of girls between the ages of three and sixteen are being abused against their will and that:

  • The victims are unwilling and passive?
  • The targets of the abuse are the bodies of the victims?

What if I told you the collateral damage of the abuse includes:

  • Increased feelings of self-hatred and damaged self-esteem?
  • Development of guilt feelings and self-blame?
  • Development of maladaptive behaviors in order to cope with the abuse (e.g., restrictive or binge eating)?
  • Disassociation from the body?

What if I told you that frequently, adults stand by and do not intervene?

Most of you would be fairly certain that I was talking about sexual abuse.  And you wouldn’t be completely incorrect. When a girl is sexually abused, she is an unwilling victim who paradoxically feels guilty and blames herself.

Because the abuse is focused on…

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Body Size Discrimination and the Church

From a Christian perspective, discrimination on the basis of body size/shape is especially heinous.  We are called to love all people, sinners and redeemed-sinners (otherwise known as the saints) alike.  We are called to love them because they are made in the image of God.  I think, however, that healthism is creeping into the Church, preventing us from loving some of our neighbours—or our brothers and sisters in Christ—as well as we are called to do.

Now, you might argue, loving overweight people means helping them to become healthy.  Yes, yes it does.  But consider this quote from Dr. Jon Robison:

“Health can be redefined as the manner in which we live well despite our inescapable illnesses, disabilities, and trauma.”

Robison makes a very Christian point here, whether he intended it or not.  One of the things we know as Christians is that there was a Fall.  Human beings, though made in the image of God, are now dying beings, experiencing the on-going effects of the first sin.  Our brokenness means that we will suffer disease and illness, that some of us will be born with physical or mental challenges, that we can be injured and maimed, and that we can make mistakes when it comes to taking good care of ourselves, others, and the world in which we live.

We also know, however, that we are being redeemed.  Our world, our selves, and our relationships with God and others are all part of that ongoing redemption.  When we interact with someone, we are interacting with them both as children created in the image of God and as people who can be or are being redeemed.

Health is a part of that redemption.  But it behooves us to note that, in some cases, ideal health (whatever that might look like) will never be possible.  No matter how virtuously a cancer patient lives her life, she may still die young.  No matter how hard a blind person prays, he might not receive healing.  Someone with a chronic disease like Multiple Sclerosis lives as well as he can despite the pain and difficulty associated with the brokenness of his body.  Regardless of how often a fat person tries to lose weight, statistics tell us that in 95% of cases, the weight will be regained (sometimes with interest) within 2-5 years.

So, encouraging someone to live a healthy life sometimes means accepting that their body will not be made perfect on this side of the general resurrection, and that, frankly, we don’t know what perfect will look like on the other side.  Helping someone live a healthy life means helping them to love themselves well.  It means helping them to see that their bodies are giving them cues about what to eat and when and how much.  It means helping them to find healthy and pleasurable ways to move their bodies so that they are experiencing fullness of life.

It means not judging someone because they go to the gym and then have an ice cream afterwards.  Instead, why not complement them for going to the gym?  It means that you welcome people of all abilities and sizes into a physical event—whether sports or dancing or gardening or otherwise—and make sure that everyone is having fun and no one gets hurt.  It means affirming someone as made in the image of God and helping them to find abundant life in the body which God gave to them, even as that body is marked by the brokenness of the Fall.

Body Size Discrimination and You

One of the most destructive elements of body size discrimination is that it interferes powerfully with the ways in which we interact with other human beings.  For example, how many of us have jumped to conclusions or passed judgment on someone whom we deemed to be “too heavy”?

I’m guessing that almost all of us have let those thoughts pop into our minds from time to time.  Sometimes it’s self-justifying: “Well, at least I’m not as fat as that person!” we might say to ourselves.  That says more about how we feel about our own bodies than it does about the person we’re judging.

Sometimes it’s just simply hateful: “How disgusting!” we think, “Don’t they have any shame?”  Not only have we just thought of another human being as disgusting, we’ve just made a moral judgment about them as well, insofar as we have presumed that they

  1. ought to be ashamed of their body, and
  2. are not feeling that shame.

Truth be told, that person does feel ashamed of their body.  But what are they supposed to do about that?  In fact, for all we know, they might be actively involved in a healthy manner of living that includes making wise decisions about eating and getting plenty of physical activity.

So, if they are living a healthy lifestyle but not losing the weight, what do they have to be ashamed of?  Frankly, if I’ve just had the thoughts above, I should be the one feeling ashamed, because I’ve just made a million assumptions about a complete stranger that are probably wrong, and then assigned moral status to something that they cannot change: who they are.

Because that’s the gist of it, folks: a person in a fat body is a fat person.  Before you accuse me of throwing around tautologies, think for a moment.  When we condemn a person for some aspect of their physical makeup (ahem, such as race, gender, height, weight, etc.) then we are condemning the person, since our bodies are our selves.  It’s a bit of worn-out feminist phrase, I know, but being old and overused doesn’t make it less true.

Our bodies are our selves.  We have no other self but the body with which we interact with other bodies.  When I walk into a room, you don’t see my deeply held beliefs, dreams, opinions, and memories.  You see my body, and I see yours, and through those bodies we get to know one another’s deeply held beliefs, dreams, opinions, and memories.

So why do we judge other people on the basis of their body size?  Why do we presume that because a person is overweight (according to whatever sliding scale we are using at the time) therefore s/he is lazy, gluttonous, out-of-control, weak-minded, bad?  More importantly, why do we continue to do this when our own experiences ought to teach us that this is not the case?

Think about the people you know.  Are any of them overweight?  Are any of them very overweight?  When you think about these people, is their body size the first thing you think about, or do you think about how funny they are, or what good listeners they are, or how great it was that one time they helped you out of that mess?  I suspect that most of us (dare I say all of us?) know someone who falls into the infamous categories of overweight or obese, partly because, if the oft-quoted statistics are correct, then 2/3 of Americans fall into that category.  I also suspect that once we get to know those people, we find out that they are just the same as we are: they have the same kinds of dreams, hopes, fears, loves, hates, memories, and so on.  We value those people for something more than their physical shape.

So why, if we are able to like and love overweight and obese people whom we already know, are we so quick to judge overweight and obese strangers?  What gives us the right?  And are we aware of the damage we are doing to ourselves and to any potential relationship we might have with the person whom we have just judged?

Star Trek: TNG is my Soul Food

When Canada’s Netflix picked up the series, I was pretty ecstatic.  I’d love to own the Blu-Rays, but that just isn’t sensible for us right now, so I happily settle in to watch it on Netflix instead.

Watching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is like eating soul food for me.  Watching them is like seeing old friends, visiting my hometown.  It’s nourishing, comforting, reassuring.

A bookmark with the face of Counsellor Deanna Troi sticks out of a copy of Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game

I sense that you might be troubled…

When the series originally aired, I didn’t really have anyone outside of my family who shared my passion, except for my best friend’s parents, but I think she thought that was awkward.  I always envied their VHS collection, though.  I thought that was pretty epic stuff.  When the series ended, I was fourteen years old.  I actually mourned the end of the series.  It was like this world, these people I had come to love were going away forever.  I still have a number of bookmarks floating around my apartment that are a testament to the retail therapy I used to cope!

Is the show perfect?  Of course not.  Its portrayal of women is mixed, for one thing.  On one hand, you have a number of female admirals (from a variety of earth ethnicities), but on the other hand, you have the two main female characters wearing every inch of 80’s-era makeup they could manage and still move their face.  I’m sure LGBT fans will also lament the fact that Star Trek was never quite daring enough to portray a true same-sex relationship, despite the often-mentioned sexual freedom of the 24th Century.

But the universe offered in Star Trek has a lot of beautiful things in it.  According to the lore, human beings have put aside their differences, eliminated poverty and crime, and even have done away with the kind of greed that arises from wrong-headed free markets.  Environmental destruction was turned aside at the brink, and humanity even recovered from nuclear war.

The United Federation of Planets is a conglomeration of forward-thinking space-faring cultures who have banded together for the purposes of trade, communication, protection from hostile species, and the sharing of knowledge.  There is a strong sense of cooperation, honour, honesty, and good-neighbour-liness.

And, of course, then there’s the technology!  Obviously, the ability to transcend the light-speed barrier is a pretty huge leap forward, allowing contact with other alien species.  There are replicators, creating matter from energy, making it possible to create almost anything seemingly out of nowhere.  There are matter transporters, allowing people to be moved almost instantaneously over mind-boggling distances.

There are the holodecks.  Oh. My. Word.  The holodecks.  The ability to create completely fictional places (or recreate real ones) and interact with them.  Stories and historical figures come to life.  The holodeck embodied everything a dreamer and a story-obsessed teenager could desire.

It makes me so happy that people like Gene Roddenberry and all the many hundreds of folks who were involved in creating this show were able to bring this world to life for us.  It makes me happy to know that other human beings were able to dream up this universe and then invite the rest of us in to share it.  A part of me will always live on the Enterprise NCC 1701-D.  Not only is that world an inspiration to me, but the creation of that world is an inspiration.  I can  only hope that someday I get to share one or two of the worlds that are spinning inside my own head and invite you to live in them, too.

Objectification and Theology: Part 3

Is Christian theology strong enough to help women fight back the pressures of objectification?

I believe it is.  I believe that if we look into the Christian story, we will find a narrative that describes all the ways that God has said, “Yes!” to human bodies.  And if God is saying, “yes”, then who am I to say, “no”?

As we explore this topic, I will touch on the following areas:

  • Creation: God gave human beings bodies, and said that they are good
  • Incarnation: God loved human bodies so much that He took one for Himself
  • Resurrection: The body of Jesus didn’t stay dead, and He didn’t come back as a ghost
  • Ascension: The body of Jesus is ALIVE and IN HEAVEN right now
  • General Resurrection: All our bodies are going to be raised up to new life

I think that if we can come to believe that all these things are true, then we will be able to fight back against the forces that want to treat us as objects.  We will find worth for ourselves that transcends our bodies but doesn’t leave those bodies behind, either.

Feminism has rightly accused Christianity of treating bodies in general, and women’s bodies in particular, as if they were bad.  I hope to defend Christianity against that charge, even as I admit that some Christian thought has definitely contributed to the damage that women are suffering.

I hope instead to offer a Christian theology that tells the story of the goodness of the human body, the equality of women, and the amazing hope that all Jesus-followers have for an eternity of embodied awesomeness.

The God who created us wants us to be whole persons: body, mind, and soul.  I believe that without reservation.

I also know that a lot of damage has been done to women in the way they relate to others, to themselves, and to God.  Objectification is a cancer that is spreading through our culture, but I hope that if enough of us can learn to fight it, then it will someday be stopped.

Men, please don’t feel left out or accused.  You are victims of this culture of objectification as well.  You are increasingly becoming victims of objectification yourselves, and you have learned destructive ways of relating to women’s bodies and to your own bodies because of objectification.  I know that not all men are complicit in objectification, either.  Many of you are fighting for the rights of women to be treated as subjects, and that is very, very exciting.  I hope that you, too, can learn something about how much God loves you, body and soul.

Objectification and Theology: Part 2

People who follow Jesus should be pretty excited about how awesome their bodies are.

That’s what I came to realize one day while hanging out with some Christian ladies that I love.  They were starting in on the “fat talk.”  Oh, you know what I mean.

“I’m so fat.”
“No you aren’t, you look great.  I’m fat.”
“Whatever!  You probably never need to go to the gym.  Omigawd, you should see my husband…he never works out and he’s still losing weight.  It’s sick.”

They looked down at their bodies in disgust.

These bodies that God made for them.  These bodies that God blessed and anointed.  These bodies that had laid hands in prayer, comforted the sick, hugged friends, enraptured husbands, served food to the poor, preached the Word, played with children, performed amazing music, and stood in awe of God’s greatness.

These Godly women hated their bodies.

And it struck me, then, that there was nothing in the Good News that should allow that to happen.  In fact, it started to grow in my mind that the Christian story is one that—literally—raises human bodies to a pretty high level.

God loves human bodies so much that He took one for Himself.

In my last post, I started to introduce the history of objectification in our culture, and I explained that Christianity has inherited a dangerous form of dualism that treats bodies like disposable trash.  That attitude unfortunately resembles the attitude of Gnosticism.  The early Church had to fight with a breakaway group that was trying to mashup Christianity with something called Gnosticism.  Very basically, Gnostics believed that secret knowledge (gnosis) would get them into heaven, and they believed that heaven was a place of pure spirit, since matter was nasty and broken and full of sin.  Long-story-short, the early Church worked really hard to knock Gnosticism out.  They didn’t want that theology creeping into Christianity.

Because Christian theology ought to treat the body—and all matter—as good, created by God, worthy of redemption.

And that includes our bodies.

I believe that although women have to face objectification all the time in our culture—whether in fashion magazines, pornography (soft and hard), or what’s being called “rape culture”—that if we place our trust in the God who made us as embodied beings, who wants us to be embodied beings, then we can stand tall against the forces that want to turn us into objects.

It is going to be the broad purpose of my blog to share what I have come to believe about how much God loves our bodies, and about how we can learn to love our bodies, too.  Please feel free to ask questions along the way.  I’m leaving out the footnotes because I know that some people find them boring, but they are available upon request.