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Yeah…Immaeatthat

Rarely have I heard people talk about the idol of thinness. Last fall I did a bible study called Identity Theft: Reclaiming the Truth of our Identity in Christ and it got me thinking about how things that aren’t necessarily unhealthy can become idols for some. In the study, Melissa Kruger put it like this, “Idolatry takes something potentially good and makes it too important. That means some things we idolize —even beauty and external appearance— can be good and healthy in themselves. But when they take over our hearts and minds, they quickly fill the space only God is supposed to occupy.”

Since being a good steward of our bodies doesn’t guarantee thinness, at what point does one’s pursuit of a body size turn into an idol? Is it ever okay to pursue a certain body size? Is there a way to pursue a particular body size in a way that glorifies God? These are questions I think each person has to ask themselves. But teasing apart what our appearance-focused culture says vs. what God says about this topic can be complicated, since simply being in the world will leave us with a thinness-glorifying babble that daily pollutes our ears and then our thoughts. An issue definitely arises when one thinks pursuing thinness is not only healthy, but godly.

For someone with an eating disorder present or past (myself, included here), I would argue there is never an appropriate time to purse a particular body size. I instead agree with an approach to health that focuses on healthful behaviors rather than one that focuses on achieving a particular aesthetic or weight. I’m not against thinness, as some people end up thin when they care for themselves (just as some people end up with more fat on their body), but I am for calling out idols our culture has created. Idols that don’t enrich your life, but rather keep you distracted, depressed, lonely, and striving towards something that will make you physically and mentally less of yourself, typically at the sacrifice of something that wasn’t meant to be sacrificed.

How does the idol of thinness take hold? As Powlison put it in Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair, “many of the nuances of our idolatries are socially shaped by the opportunities and values that surround us…we tend to be blind to the things that move us.” Our appearance-focused culture can take what may have begun as a legitimate God-given desire (i.e. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8, “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come”) and metastasize and mutate it into something resembling self-absorption and idolatry. Powlison goes on to say that, “We are lied to in 10,000 ways by messages that elicit and pander to our lusts and fears. The world variously bullies and seduces us, which births sin, which reaps death.”

In the book Natural Causes, a reporter from New York Times’ was quoted saying, “What Goop (and acolytes like Moon Juice) sell is the notion that it’s not only excusable but worthy for a person to spend hours a day focused on her tiniest mood shifts, food choices, beauty rituals, exercise habits, bathing routines and sleep schedule. What they sell is self-absorption as the ultimate luxury product.” Which leads me to wonder, what happens if we become image bearer of a societal standard that isn’t rooted in godliness, health or wholeness, but it rooted in self-obsession* and achieving a particular aesthetic? 2 Kings 17:15 puts it rather straight-forward with, “They followed worthless idols and become worthless themselves.”

I’ll wrap up with 3 lies concerning eating and outward appearance that, if believed, can cause great damage:

Lie 1: The amount of space you take up determines how valuable you are.

Hatred of fat is born from our culture, not Christ. I really don’t think God cares much about our body sizes, yet our appearance and wellness preoccupied culture have us believe otherwise. A podcast I listen to occasionally (Knowing Faith) stated that, “since there’s nothing you could do to make God love you less, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.” That is so hard for me to grasp, so even if we choose to continue pursing thinness, there is nothing you could do to make God love you less. Period. Yet, I think it’s hard to have a relationship with Christ and sense the Holy Spirit if your thoughts and actions are preoccupied with body dissatisfaction and controlling food and exercise in a severely rigid way. That was my experience, but perhaps you see it differently? In Susie Davis’ book Dear Daughters she suggests that perhaps, “your soul can’t settle in peaceful with a body you hate.” If we’re preoccupied with something God doesn’t seem to care much about, we may be missing out on something lovely.

Lie 2: How you interact with food is at the top of God’s priority list.

John Piper says, “My guess is that when it comes to eating this food or that, we are in greater spiritual danger of judging people where we shouldn’t than we are in physical danger of eating what we shouldn’t.”**

Our appearance-frenzied culture has put how we interact with food so high up on our priority list that we forget there are far more important matters to attend to than what we put into our bodies. If food is complicated and breaks your connection to Christ in some way, food is probably something worth trying to de-complicate so you don’t have to torture yourself concerning whether to eat the brownie or not. Assessing your eating and drinking and pondering on if it’s done in a way that glorifies God is worth doing. Whether a fast-food burger or a veggie-heavy Meatless Monday entree, depending on your situation, either can be consumed rooted in a motive that you’re able to identify as pleasing to God. 

Lie 3: Disordered eating or following a diet simplifies life to a set of rules and I need to simplify my life.

For many with disordered eating and eating disorders, we are craving a way to simplify the hurts in our lives. Something that allows us an escape from the pain of ________. Something else that can simplify is the Spirit and the Word, which can make our lives fruitful and less complicated.

Actionable step to move forward

Not having our culture’s ideal body size is a great practice for finding your worth from something that isn’t your body. Tolerating the discomfort of being in a body size you don’t fully want forces you to find your worth in something less temporary. Daily we decide if we’ll serve God or any of a shifting multitude of idols encouraged by the media we consume, our spouse, our self, or another loud source that’s in our life.

RESOURCES USED FOR THIS ARTICLE: The Bible, Identity Theft: Reclaiming the Truth of our Identity in Christ, Revisiting Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair, Persuasion podcast, 5 years experience working / training in eating disorders

(*when someone has been disconnected from their hunger and fullness cues from years due to chronic dieting and/or an eating disorder, there is a level of hyperawareness of our God-given body cues that one must lean into to become an intuitive eater and make food and body image less complicated. I don’t view that as self-obsession. I’m all for increasing interoceptive awareness so you can care for yourself and not harm yourself with dieting or the eating disorder anymore. Most people describe it like when you’re learning to drive a car you have to be hyper-vigilant as you put the car in reverse, check you mirrors, etc., but overtime this process becomes automatic and driving doesn’t require such a large amount of your focus. Same with listening to your body cues. At first it seems a bit all consuming (and it is), but overtime it becomes less so and assumes the proper percentage of your thoughts.)

(**I push back against this quote a bit. I don’t agree with the idea that we can’t judge anything as bad in itself. We should make distinctions in life as necessary, but we should do this without condemning any person, as only God probes human hearts and can see other’s motives/intentions and can be the ultimate judge.)

27 comments on “The Idol of Thinness”

  1. Amen, amen & amen! If families instilled in their daughters, this kind of powerful knowledge, wisdom and thinking…. think how it could change our crazy, self & aesthetic absorbed society.  But more importantly, create young women who don’t buy into what our society deems important, but know in their hearts, who they are in Christ!  
    You are so wise and a blessing to all of your followers!!! Thank you!!! :)

    • Really enjoyed this post and appreciated how well thought out it was! I really want to read Susie Davis’s book. Also your post made me think of when Jesus says it isn’t what goes INTO our bodies that makes us “unclean” but what comes OUT (aka our thoughts and actions etc). It’s sometimes hard to remember that in a world that constantly tells us otherwise!

  2. Girl… this is so good.

    For me the idol of thinness is tied to my worth and value. As a child I experienced so much trauma and neglect that worthlessness is deeply embedded in me. Being physically attractive, which is very much tied to my size, is possibly the most powerful way I’ve experienced worth in this world. It got me the attention, approval, admiration that I was extremely desperate for.

    Since I know the God of the bible now, it’s clear that is absolutely not where my worth and value really are. It’s an idol that has been HARD to kill though. Especially since starting intuitive eating 8 months ago (and now being fatter than I’ve ever been). I know the truth of this matter, but sometimes I almost don’t care because my idol is so flared up telling me I’m nothing if I’m not thin and attractive, that my actual existence is worth less and less as the number on the scale goes up. It sounds dramatic but it really is that bad.

    And one thing that makes it harder is that there’s always a sister in the Lord standing by with some “insight” about the Bible telling us to stop this sinful practice of actually enjoying food, and encouraging us to be more disordered with food, not less.

    I’m thankful for you. I vote for you writing a book one day 🙂

  3. Love that you are being bold in Biblical truths tied to this subject. It’s so so encouraging. Keep it up. 

  4. Yes yes yes! I was given the chance to talk at my church a couple weeks ago about body image and self worth and my experience with disordered eating habits and exercise. I am so thankful, because I feel like as a church we just accept this part of our culture as normal instead of holding it up to the light of what God says. One of the best things I do for my health now is to ask myself what actions would agree with the truth that I am made in the image of God. It impacts everything from exercise, if I wear makeup that particular day, sunscreen, and what I eat. If you are changing your body to try and gain worth, you will never find what you are looking for. If you take care of your body because you believe you are worthy, there is so much more peace and flexibility in that. 

    I am forever recommending your blog to people because it has been a gateway to so much freedom for me. Thank you!

  5. This post has really got me thinking. I’m not a hugely religious person but I’ve always felt uncomfortable with wellness culture’s suggestion that certain foods and behaviors can make you almost “immortal”. We are humans though, not God, and will experience pain, sickness and DEATH no matter what. This seems like a hard truth to accept these days. And that the vast majority of people are simply trying to be less human. Thanks for the great food for thought!

  6. Great post Kylie! This gave me a lot to think about, as it’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. Thank you!

  7. Thank you so much for this post! I follow many Intuitive Eating teachers/blogs/podcasts which are so very helpful to me and are lovely people, but as a Christ follower I must foremost incorporate His perspective and truths!! 

  8. This is so, so great. I’m trying to put together a bible study for some women local to me, and I’m definitely going to share this blog post with them! Thank you for putting so much grace into this concept.

  9. This was so incredibly timely and so very encouraging. Thank you for all that you do! 

  10. I second what Cate said about you writing a book someday :)

    Thank you for taking the time to think through this and write this post.
    It is encouraging and refreshing to read your thoughts and how you applied Biblical truths and the wise words of other authors in the post.

  11. *So* good—thanks for this. 
    I so agree with everything you said. Also curious about where you think the topic of gluttony fits in on the Biblical conversation around food. I definitely don’t think there are more “moral” foods over others (God made the building blocks of all food and He cannot make anything that is “immoral,” not too mention all the Scriptures that basically say “Chill—what you’re eating isn’t important.” Lol. But gluttony is definitely a topic discussion multiple times in the scriptures so I’d just love to hear your thoughts :) 

    • I’d love to hear more about gluttony from the perspective Kylie is coming from as well. I know it can’t be as simplistic as some portray it. Nor does every person with extra fat on their body necessarily have a gluttony problem. I heard some things from CS Lewis that seem to suggest it’s preoccupation with food (hello diet culture) that is where gluttony shows up.

    • I was going to come to make a comment about gluttony as well. I’ve grown up in a church that has rarely talked about gluttony, and everyone thinks it’s such a “taboo” topic, but people frequently use losing weight as an example (for various reasons), so it seems to me that diet culture has infiltrated the church to the extent that the goal of losing weight is normalized while gluttony, which is actually specifically mentioned in the Bible, is still “off limits.”

      Great post, Kylie! I want to bookmark this so I can read it again! It is clear that a lot of work went into this post, and I greatly appreciate the godly perspective.

  12. This. ❤️ Thank you. 

  13. Amazing post and so deeply thoughtful! This has been the exact focus of my prayer for a few years now, and especially over the past couple weeks. Your perspective brought incredible clarity to the wisdom the Holy Spirit has been trying to reveal in my own heart. I will be revisiting this post and bringing particular pieces of it to prayer — this is the constant foundation I need to keep me grounded in truth when all the noise of the culture starts persuading. 

    I’ve also been realizing the damage that self-absorbed fixation on body size (and all of the rigid/withdrawn behaviors surrounding food & exercise that accompany it) can have on a marriage and intimacy with a spouse, which is intended by God to be a moment of complete vulnerability and total self-gift. I am engaged to be married this fall (Sept. 27th) so this has been on my mind a lot. My greatest desire is to spend the next three months preparing to give my whole self – body, mind, and soul – to my husband without holding back in shame because of what society says women should look like. 

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kylie! You are a vessel of the Holy Spirit. 

  14. It’s amazing how something our culture has used to appear so ‘good’ is actually an idol that’s disguised by ‘health.’  And I”m so thankful that as a Jesus Christ follower, you are being the sweet savor of Christ Jesus in an area that has not been addressed very much by Christians.  I so treasure these posts Kylie.

  15. (1) I second the book idea!

    (2) With respect to gluttony, I would love to hear Kylie’s thoughts with respect to the biblical background. I once heard a priest saying that gluttony today is not so much seen in over eating, but more in terms of being greedy with specialized food. For example, instead of just humbly eating the hot dogs served at a cookout, not eating it because it is not carb-free bread, the meat is not from a specialized free range local farm in town, there is not a vegetarian option, etc. So being super picky and high maintenance with food is also a form of gluttony. Unfortunately, society has deemed that form of gluttony acceptable in the guise of “healthy” or “morality”. Just something to think about. 

  16. Love this, Kylie! Thanks for sharing the piece that I wrote!

  17. Ive tried to talk about the idol of thinness/beauty within my own church so many times in the past and its like they don’t see it because its so common place. I appreciate that someone else finally agrees!

  18. There needs to be more conversations like this–thank you for writing this.  I especially loved this reminder:  “Idols that don’t enrich your life, but rather keep you distracted, depressed, lonely, and striving towards something that will make you physically and mentally less of yourself, typically at the sacrifice of something that wasn’t meant to be sacrificed.”

    It’s a daily battle to ‘starve’ this idol and be satisfied in Him, but I try to remember that the fact that there is a battle going on is great encouragement that the Spirit is at work!  

    Thank you again for your thoughtfulness.  Hope you are enjoying your new little one!

  19. Thank you for this, I love seeing a biblical perspective on this. I really struggle with idolatry of both thinness & food, and generally feel so stuck as to how to deal with this. More posts about these issues would be great 😀

  20. This summer I was able to share this article with women from 20 different countries! It was eye opening to hear the different ways women around the world idolize their bodies looking a certain way (some different and some the same as the U.S.). Thanks for the work you do and the way you share about practical realities of food, body image and motherhood.

  21. Excellent writing.Thanks for sharing.

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