Sunday, May 20, 2007

Faith and Body Image

Those of you who have read previous posts on my blog know I attend college while living at home (I study nutrition). There are arguments for and against college, but today, I would rather not make any; I only want to share with you an observation I made.

Not long ago, a question was raised during class. One of my fellow students asked:
"What do I do with women who don't need to lose weight but still want to? How do I convince them their current weight is normal and healthy?"
Good question! The desire to become stick-thin is certainly not uncommon these days.
Our teacher looked at the young lady who asked, looked at us all, and asked a question in return:
"How many of you want to lose weight?"
There were about 20 of us in that room, all young women, none of us overweight. Guess how many stated they were not interested in losing weight? Only 3.
Yes, only 3 out of 20. And we are talking about women who are about to graduate with a degree in nutrition, fully equipped with knowledge, who are perfectly capable of making the simple calculation to find out their weight is healthy and normal!

So what about the 3 gals who thought their weight is just fine? Would you like to know what they had in common?
It's amazing, but they were all religious. 3 religious girls out of a group of 20, and those were the 3 who stated they are not interested in losing weight! By the way, one of those 3 was actually the only one in the room who could be described as curvy. Coincidence?
I have researched some literature recently and found several studies which prove religious women are less prone to eating disorders and distorted body image. Possible explanations?

I can't find the articles right now, but I remember that in one study, it was stated that religious women are more likely to have stronger values and tighter family connections, and therefore less likely to feel they are appreciated based on outwards appearance. Religious women were also more likely to have a firm, loving connection with their father – a highly important factor in building a girl's self-image.

A book I came across a while ago suggested a deeper level of thought on this matter: religion respects femininity, I'll say more – puts glorious womanhood on a pedestal. 'Liberated' world shuns it. Being 'feminine' these days means a skimpy outfit.

A healthy, feminine figure with curves, with breasts and hips, represents fertility and nurturing. It reminds us of the God-given role of joyful mother – a role intended for the vast majority of women. And some try hard to fight against is. Our culture is afraid of powerful womanhood! Women are afraid to acknowledge they are miles away from their true calling – and subconsciously, they choose to look less and less like women.

When I read this, it seemed a bit far-fetched. But after that incident during class, I'm inclined to believe it.


Emily said...

What a fascinating post Anna. You know, I think I am inclined to agree as well. Thanks for sharing.
By the way, love the new layout!

Becky said...

Anna, this was so interesting. It reminds me of the trip I take past the hospital in our town. Out back, on break, are the nurses and techs all smoking their cigarettes. Ugh! You'd think they would know better.

I think our culture, our media, promotes a very unhealthy image of what "real" is and thus has tainted our perspective on body type. Plus we have, over the last generation, lost the need to walk anywhere, added the seated activities like video games and computer blogging :), etc.

In previous generations now one had to figure out a way to include exercise in their day. It just was.

You have an interesting view of this and I like it. OH, I call myself a "chickentarian". I eat chicken and fish, and I do eat an egg once in a great while, but no red meat or pork. Just because I don't like it.

Hey, thanks for coming by again. I enjoyed my visit here. Have a great Sunday.

Buffy said...

What an interesting thought. It's almost as if girls are compensating for the lack of meaning in their life.

Anna S said...


Recently, I've read several interesting articles (from Inernational Journal of Eating Disorders, they have free online access to plenty of fascinating research!) about how both men and women express much greater body dissatisfaction after observing several commercials which feature skinny women or extremely muscular men. If that's the effect after only a brief exposure, imagine what happens after we've been exposed to the thin/super-muscular idea for many years.

AnneK said...

Very interesting Anna, people unfortunately think I am one of those people desperately trying to lose wight because I am very petite. If only they see me eating!! I am trying hard to put on some weight being on a veg (occassional fish) diet, but it is not happening. Any advice?

Oh and give me a healthy looking woman than these skinny models anytime!!!

Lean Not said...

Very interesting! It's interesting that if we are not getting our need for fulfillment met the right way, we find other ways to try getting it met.

Here's a thought: sometimes when we are not being accepted, we try to pin a reason on ourselves why that must be. That makes us feel as though that is the only reason we are not getting what we think we should have, rather than perhaps a girl is not being accepted because she is rude/promiscuous/ungodly/etc. Therefore, if they act like the weight is the problem, then that excuses anything else that might be the problem, such as a sin issue.

I hope that made sense! :)

Anna S said...


I have a friend who is like you - eats a lot but doesn't put on any weight. And she's a model *sigh*. If you feel good and you're healthy, why would you want to gain weight though? :)


I think what you said does make sense. People in our generation are so unhappy, and instead of seeking the ultimate source of happiness - our relationship with God - they try to lose themselves in superficial matters.

I wonder if you got my email. If not, you can write to me (my email is in the top right corner of the blog)

AnneK said...

Well my husband and I think I don't need to put on any weight, but I am nearly 27 and 87 pounds :P both my GP and gynaecologist think I am underweight and need to put on weight. I don't really know if it matters.

Candy said...

What an interesting post!!!!! (as always :)

--Candy :)

Lean Not said...


Yes, I got your e-mail. Thank you!

I am writing you back; but I am finding that writing out my thoughts is really helping me to think through everything myself, and therefore it is taking a while to finish! Sorry, but by the time it gets to you, it will probably be a long letter! ;-D Hope you don't mind reading through it.

Jordin said...

My best friend is majoring in nutrition at her university, and during her internship, she witnessed same kinds of things. She said that many people who visited the nutritionist's office where she worked were NOT there because of health reasons. She said that most of the patients were women who either wanted to be thinner or more "curvy". Melissa was shocked by the sheer number of women who weren't satisfied with their appearances. As we like to say here in the South, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" ;)

James said...

You know, Anna, this is an interesting observation, but it's not a complete surprise.

An explanation of this phenomenon cannot but mention theological anthropology and philosophical anthropology. Philosophical anthropology asks the question" who is man in light of natural reason?" Theological anthropology asks the question, "who is man in light of divine revelation"?

From the philosophical realm, the antidote here lies in personalism. In the theological realm, I think that a vision of humans as God's creatures helps us to recognize the dignity of the human person and the unhealthiness that comes in imitating Hollywood.

Something that I sometimes wonder is what is childbearing like for the red carpet skeletons? How does one bear a healthy child when she has contracted the size of her body and denies herself nutrition to remain at a particular weight. Also, how dangerous is it for one's self image to be caught up in possessing the flower of youth? Much better to draw dignity and pride from the recognition that we are God's creatures.

You're right that society doesn't want to see powerful womanhood associated with motherhood and has sold us a false bill of goods— a childish female aesthetic— to bamboozle us.

Now by the same token, weight loss is not something to throw to the side for those with a bad BMI. I myself am such an example of a person coming down from being overweight (lost 50 pounds since Christmas).

But as to the tie between religion and not having an eating disorder, I think it comes from the grace and strength that religion provides- ultimately a much more satisfying view of personal dignity.

May Christ's peace be with you.


Anna S said...


As always, I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I will post more on the topic soon.


My humble opinion is that if you're not experiencing any problems and feel healthy, there's no need to mess around with your body.

Pam said...

How interesting! You're so right about women wanting to get further and further from their God given role of motherhood and nurturing! It is so prevelent in today's society to take that away from our daughter's psyche. I LOVE your blog! What a blessing you have been to me this evening.

Valerie said...

I wonder if another reason why religious women have a better body image is because they are less focused on the world (I hope!!) and less "brainwashed" by popular ideas than the unsaved. As Christians we have so many more important things with which to concern ourselves than whether or not we have love handles.

Real women have curves, and I wish that society would figure that out soon. Did you know that Marilyn Monroe - who was universally regarded as a great beauty - would have to lose a bunch of weight were she to be an actress today? She would be considered just about plus sized by today's standards, and that's pathetic. The only thing to do is to ignore it and rejoice in our feminine curves, and to heck with what our society says!

Anna S said...

Yes, Valerie! That's exactly what I meant. Religious women with a rich spiritual life are less inclined to conform to unhealthy beauty standards - or feel as though their self-esteem depends on how much weight they gained in the past year.

Coffee Wife said...

It's really hard to stay away from the mentality that "I MUST lose weight..." when even though your doctor says you are healthy everyone else says, "You are NOT healthy if you are fat and so you must loose weight or else we'll dog on you and nag at you for the rest of your miserable life!" As a fat chick with a very clean bill of health from my doctor I get this all of the time!! So even if I'm perfectly content with myself and I'm focusing on Godly things rather then my body image I get dragged back into the murky waters of Body Worship all of the time!

Anna S said...


What really worries me is how girls who don't need to lose weight by any standard of common sense, still feel fat and ugly. I'll post more on the subject soon.