The Sin of Weight and the Weight of Sin

I believe that I have finally come to terms with my weight. Why now you ask? Because I no longer listen to what others proscribe when it comes to the size and disposition of my body; A) because, like politics, social engineering has gone way overboard in their intrusiveness into the private lives of the average person and B) because it’s nobody’s business how and what I eat, what size clothes I wear, or how often I exercise or even if I don’t.  Curiously, today I was thinking that the weight loss industry was pretty similar to what I like to call the “sin loss industry;” in other words, religion. Social engineers and the religious tell you that you are not acceptable as you are and each offers a way to “fix” you, but only if you are motivated enough! Each thrives on the guilt of the person marketed to. Each has a thriving book, DVD, food supplement, and CD industry committed to selling you the next best thing to keep you motivated. And each convinces you that you are the failure if the next best thing fails to work. They create the problem and then offer the cure.

Two blogs made me come to terms with how closely Weight and Sin are allied in the world; Corpulent’s post and Angry Gray Rainbow’s post.  Corpulent makes the point that even in the Fatosphere, we must prove that we are doing the right things and eating the right things in order to explain our fatness.  Angry Gray Rainbow reveals to us how her husband’s battle with a particular “sin” in his life transferred to her life and drew her in by implication. Reading these made me realize how closely people equate Weight with Sin and how both worlds try to impose standards of confession, repentance, and behavior modification so as to make them feel better about the imposition on our lives but to also make us feel worse when we can’t meet the standard. The emphasis is of course on feeling worse, without which feeling we would not sink our hard earned money into more remedies, more diets, more books, bibles, philanthropic giving, etc. to assuage the guilt. Both are about making us as small as possible to escape the notice of our fellow humans and a retributive God.

How many people do you know recount every bite of food they had to eat that day as if you are the priest and they are sitting in a confessional? Quite often, I’d guess. I’ve even done it myself, not only to others, but ad nauseum in my journals. I still do it as a matter of fact. Not because I care what I eat, but because it’s a habit that I can’t now break, even though it does not one bit of good. The diet industry has trained all its minions to constantly count calories and keep food journals because they tell us it will make us more mindful of what we eat. What it seems to do more often than not is create many more obsessive compulsive behaviors; bulimia, anorexia, OCD, etc.. Likewise, religions, especially Christianity, tell us that we must confess and repent of our sins daily. Recount, recount, recount and then we are to take steps to stop our behavior. All of course this does is to focus our attentions on all that we do “wrong” and not on all that we’ve done right. Rather than allow us to make these decisions ourselves, we must predict dire consequences for those who stray outside the bounds of the proscribed rules.

The emphasis is so much on failure that the obsession to find a fix takes over in harmful ways. The insidious part of this is that we are also blamed mightily for having failed to keep to the rigorous structure of our obsession with recounting. In the diet/entertainment industry, you must be weighed all the time, your measurements recorded and a goal posted for all to see.  This is a shaming technique similar to public confession of sin during church, recounting sins in a confessional, or any amount of “accountability” which is supposed to keep one on the straight and narrow. When one slips up, it’s always, always because you weren’t motivated enough, didn’t stick to the diet, didn’t pray, didn’t believe in this or that ideology, didn’t do this or do that. In other words, the onus of failure is always on the person attempting to modify their behavior, never on the method for procuring it. Your public excoriation and humiliation is supposed to cure you of course. The method itself is suspect in my opinion.

When I shifted the constant and unwarranted blame from myself and began to focus on the obvious faults of the method used to “cure” me, I could better focus on living each day to its fullest. In Christianity, I no longer blamed myself for not having enough time for devotions, for not reading the bible enough, or not praying, especially if I got no response and God failed to show up for these encounters. I just quit seeing everything I did or didn’t do as the heinous sin I was told it was.  Some see this as giving license to sin, but one has to question a method that fails again and again to effect change in most people. One would wonder that perhaps it’s the method that doesn’t work. No sooner did I give up this self maligning tactic, than I found it easier to just focus on living life, not merely avoiding sin. Avoidance only makes the thing avoided take on monumental importance, almost to the degree that you can’t avoid it even if you wanted to! It’s almost sure to happen!

Similarly, when I finally figured out that it wasn’t me who failed to recount every single food item I ate, failed to weigh myself daily, or failed to follow this or that exercise regime, it was the unrealistic expectations of an industry designed to make money off of my failures. Writing down every single food item made me realize how much I penalized myself in the pursuit of thinness. I therefore stopped blaming myself for failing to fit into the mold outlined for me. What a bunch of hooey that is too. Woman A can follow all the guidelines and expect perhaps to lose X amount of weight while Woman B down the street does exactly the same thing and gains weight.  Conclusion? We are not exactly alike.  I firmly believe that despite the nonsense of it on principle, BMI’s are adjusted downward arbitrarily every year by a panel of folks supported by the Diet Industry. Yet the Diet Industry and the Sin Industry treat us all as if we were cookie cutouts of each other (except for the gurus of course, who can live as they please off the largess of their minions). They rely on our wishing to fit in and pay any amount to do so.

I also learned to quit “feeding” the industry machine. I wasn’t going to be a better Christian if I bought one more re-issue of a study bible. I would not become a better Christian if I followed assiduously every morning, this or that bible study written by the latest christian guru,  prayed for two hours on my knees, or spent every Saturday afternoon in confession. I also would not make my fat acceptable to others if I constantly told people what I put into my mouth every day or shared with them how many calories I ate or didn’t. I was not going to be more loved and live life more fully just because I bought clothes off the same rack as a skinnier girl down the street. I have a lot of other things going for me than what size pair of pants I wear. The incessant noise of this over-sharing even invades the work place where everyone I know is on some kind of diet and feels the need to confess  it on a daily basis so that others know they are on the straight and narrow path. They are like evangelists trying to save your soul. If only everyone was on a diet, they would feel so much better about themselves.

Likewise, a public figure’s battles with “sin” merely confirm to me that we are all human beings who fail. I have much sympathy for them, not scorn. Those who fall hardest are often those who rail against sin the loudest and that’s unfortunate. They are the ones most in need of learning to live their own lives and taking their own responsibility for mistakes. Anyone who claims an “ism” and sets out the rules for following such “isms” are often just as guilty of setting up failure. The only ones getting any joy out of this blaming scenarios are those who point fingers and say, “See? See? I told you he/she was just sinful to the core!” It’s all about making ourselves feel superior isn’t it?

Feel superior if you must, but I know my failings. I know my responsibilities. I know what size is good for me. Rather than the constant monologue of failure, I’m learning to replace it with a common sense of kinship with every other human being who “sins” daily and begins the cycle of hating myself, repenting, sin again, and hating myself. Someone has to jump off that wheel. I’m glad to see more people doing it.

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5 thoughts on “The Sin of Weight and the Weight of Sin

  1. Thank you for laying down this personal marker.

    I remember a thought provoking magazine article entitled ” Is Food the new Sex”?, sex being a human activity also much associated with sin.
    http://tinyurl.com/c5jr4h

    I agree with all these parallels you draw. In the long run, the only course of action to which we’re going to stick is one that is internally generated.

    I remember some Social Psychology research, the source of which now escapes me, which indicated that, the more strident and frightening the advice you give to people, the less notice of it they will take in the long run. If such advice is, as you point out, often bogus, or motivated by profit, there are even more reasons for those who would take advice, and those who would give it, to proceed with caution.

    I’m continually reminded how much of this kind of behaviour stems from a human desire to be on the side of the good guys; to be publicly virtuous or, at least, to be able to point to someone who is so much more sinful, so much fatter, ETC, “Well at least I’m not as bad as that”.

    It is of course good that we are concerned about one another, E.G. those we love. But making people feel adversely compared to some imaginary ideal, or frightening them on the basis of highly controversial medical evidence is not, to me, a loving response.

    If someone feels good about who they are and the choices they make, while not ruining anyone else’s world in the process, then that should be as powerful as the legal presumption of innocence.

    Happiness and a sense of autonomy generally bring out the best in us I think. Fear and self-loathing, the worst.

  2. Congratulations!

    I didn’t expect the huge reaction from my post, but I’m really glad people are getting something from it.

    Life is too short for guilt and misery.

  3. Learning,

    You wrote: “Happiness and a sense of autonomy generally bring out the best in us I think. Fear and self-loathing, the worst.”

    Amen to that. And the idea that the more strident the advice, the less people listen… I believe this is true in both these cases and it’s why a lot of the good advice gets drowned out by the hysteria. People aren’t going to listen if they are constantly told they are wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter what the remedy. However, that said, whatever the good motive, no one assigned them lookouts for society. The parental, authoritarian, and even tyrannical urge is humankind’s biggest “sin” in my opinion.

  4. Having now read your excellent post Frances, I can’t help but notice how many of the comments are dogged by this human need to quantify virtue or sinfulness as MOI describes above. Those grappling with self-hate will proclaim “bad fat” while those fighting for self-love will describe themselves as “good fat”, while perhaps feeling even better by being able to pity those less fortunate.Your post and this one on which we’re commenting seem to get away from this constant self-evaluating. You both seem to aspire to being the person they want to be, in a body they feel happy in.

    Of course there will be people who are different from how they would wish to be, driven by societal norms or just their own preferences. For such people, the fact that body image has become synonymous with self-worth is a pernicious evil for others’ profit as you describe.

    In the same way, a sense of how one is not the person one would wish to be gives us a personal incentive for self-improvement in spiritual terms. But the fact that religious institutions cash in on this, much like the diet industry, renders people feeling helpless without their agency.

    Salvation lies within us I think.

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