Have you ever heard someone use the Gospel as an excuse for their fatphobia? Because I have. Here are a few examples:
“Our bodies are our temples, and clearly some people aren’t taking care of theirs enough.”
“Fat people just aren’t following the Word of Wisdom.”
“Fasting is important spiritually, but you should also try it to lose weight.”
“Obese people have given in to the natural man. It’s so sad!”
The problem dovetails closely with misogyny and lookism in our broader culture. (Lookism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination based on physical appearance and especially physical appearance believed to fall short of societal notions of beauty.”) Here are a few examples of that:
“How do you expect to attract men unless you put a little more effort into your appearance?”
“I can see why she’s single. Just look at her.”
“Why would such an attractive girl wear such a modest swimsuit?”
“Fat people shouldn’t be allowed to wear that.”
There is no excuse for fatphobia, a form of systemic oppression that intersects heavily with sex, gender, race, and class. To that end, people must stop using the Gospel as an excuse for their prejudiced views and discriminatory behavior.
The scriptures do not place limitations on what types of bodies are acceptable to God. On the contrary, we’re taught that we are all created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). There are a few examples where certain privileged elites are described as fat in holy text, but it happens in the narrow context of highlighting that they have plenty to eat while others lack food. There are no parables focused on fatness, but there is at least one analogy where fatness is actually used as a metaphor for glory: “And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean” (Isaiah 17:4).
In LDS tradition, we believe our bodies will be resurrected and reunited with our spirits in the afterlife. What do we know about our resurrected bodies? We know they will be physical, immortal, perfected, beautiful, and capable of joy. If there is a part of our collective consciousness that wants to exclaim, “but doesn’t “perfected” mean thin?!” then it is up to us to interrogate that impulse. There’s no scriptural, doctrinal, or scientific basis for us to determine thin is best for any person, let alone perfect for all of humanity. It is internalized fatphobia that assumes our resurrected body must have perfect abs, slender limbs, and no buccal fat.
If we aim to be perfect like God (Matthew 5:48) – and not perfect the way that fitspo influencers and judgmental members are selling it – we need to liberate our understanding and practice of the Gospel from fatphobia.
We need to question fatphobia in the Church, in our communities, and within ourselves. It’s not easy when we’ve spent our whole lives swimming around in the sea of objectification around us, as Lindsay Kite, PhD and Lexie Kite, PhD so aptly described in their book More Than a Body. I have no idea what relationship someone else has with the concepts of modesty, the Word of Wisdom, or the natural man. I don’t know their health or dating history or goals. Frankly, though, none of that is my business and we should speak up when someone else tries to make it theirs.
Thank you for this post! I appreciated at the end that you said we need to question fatphobia within ourselves. One thought I had while reading: I think a lot of us have thoughts like the quotes you said about our own selves. For example, “I’m not doing a good enough job taking care of my body as a temple” or “Am I not following the Word of Wisdom enough?” And these thoughts can be full of unnecessary guilt that makes it hard for us to be socially/emotionally/physically healthy.
Thank you so much for this – I’m glad I’m not the only one!
Thank you for writing about this. As a person in a larger body, I’ve heard several of these comments about myself and others throughout my time in the church. These messages of body terror serve a large purpose to marginalize and control. You are absolutely correct- there is no excuse for this behavior.
I’ve found fatphobia in places I would never have expected. Recently, I was blown away after reading an incredibly fat phobic guest article on Jana Riess’s column Flunking Sainthood just two months ago. The author there characterized Saints’ health by their body size and uses body shame language throughout. How is this form of discrimination still acceptable?
On my own personal journey of radical self love, I’ve found many helpful resources. “More Than a Body” which you mentioned is fantastic. Also, the books “The Body is not an Apology,” “Anti-Diet,” “Intuitive Eating,” and the blog “Food Psych” have been helpful.
I love the term “body terror” because that’s what it feels like: a concerted effort to make people afraid of those in larger bodies and to make people in larger bodies fear or hate themselves. Thank you for the additional recommendations!
“The scriptures do not place limitations on what types of bodies are acceptable to God. On the contrary, we’re taught that we are all created in God’s image.” Amen!
I’m so glad this resonated with you! Thank you for reading.