Purity Culture & Weight: Jesus Loves Skinny People​

By the time I was 13, the message had come through loud and clear: Thinness was next to Godliness, and I could never achieve either without extraordinary means.

As a child, I spent several hours every week in musty Sunday school rooms, large sanctuaries, and fellowship halls. As any former church kid can attest to, these are the places we found our faith and our identity — and our ideas about women’s size and weight. 

I knew from my mom and the ladies at the church that weight was A Thing to manage. 

That bigger meant terrible things. 

That Jesus could still love me, but a man might not. 

That my fat would hold me back from being a Proverbs 31 woman.

That I would wear my gluttony like a scarlet letter, proclaiming my inability to control myself.

That my fat was a mountain of shame not even my faith in Jesus could move.

As I grew, both in length and circumference, so did my awareness about my body. Weight and size were everyday conversations during every church potluck, ladies’ tea, and bible study. Parents, youth leaders, and normal bodied kids openly talked about the pity of a large body. As a size 12, I garnered the pie-sized amount of vocalized concern. 

By the time I was 13, the message had come through loud and clear: Thinness was next to Godliness, and I could never achieve either without extraordinary means.

My well-worn bible shared a night table with my Seventeen magazine and Dexatrim appetite suppressants. I attended aerobics classes held in the fellowship hall of our church with my mom and other females from our church who bemoaned the cellulite in their thighs and counted fat grams like Scrooge McDuck counted his cartoon gold coins. 

In high school and college, the messages about God’s love and food were clear: “head hunger” was a symptom of spiritual depravity and separateness from God. Ignoring a growling stomach brought me closer to the suffering of Jesus.

 

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Church women talked about their bodies and other female bodies as though fat was a spiritual battle meant to be waged — with nobody winning the war. Faith-based weight loss programs like Weigh Down Workshop, Slim for Him, and Made To Crave — targeted entirely at the evangelical Christian female population — merely reaffirmed this message. 

I absorbed every message sent to me through Christian media and pulpit sermons. Skinniness isn’t just a societal standard — it’s a Christian cultural bastion of purity. 

Jesus likes girls with makeup, but not too much makeup. Jesus likes girls with styled hair, but not short or brightly colored hair. Jesus likes girls with high necklines and long hemlines, but not form-fitting silhouettes. Jesus likes girls who smile big and do their work without complaint, but not who take initiative or have a plan that doesn’t revolve around men. Jesus likes women who are thin and attractive but not curvy and sexy because that would cause the men in our churches to think about having sex, and above all else, we could not be the cause of males lusting in their hearts and failing their own relationship with our savior. 

But above all, Jesus likes girls who take care of their bodies and keep them thin in service to their future or current husbands. 

Because no man wants a fat wife. 

No god does, either. 

Being a fat female in evangelical Christianity isn’t merely a moral failure, it’s a spiritual failure, as well. And if you do manage to snag a man, any man, who is okay with your fat body, he is elevated to near-sainthood. 

As if fat is unspiritual. 

As if fat is unloveable.

As if fat is unfuckable.

As if fat is the greatest weakness to afflict a woman who wants a decent life. 

It’s taken years of therapy and reprogramming to disconnect from my evangelical Christian upbringing. I still have to bite my tongue when it wants to apologize to my husband for not losing the baby weight. I still have to tell myself that my body is beautiful, desirable, and lovable when it's in its natural state. I still have to allow my stomach to feel full without falling down the spiral of gluttonous shame.  

I still have to tell myself that God, whoever he or she or they may be, gives absolutely no fucks about my fat.


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Comments

Oh yes, so true! My former fundamentalist BJU graduate pastor here in Greeley, CO shamed a member for "being a bad testimony" becasue of her weight. The woman poured her money, heart and soul into this man's ministry. If she knew what he actually thought of her she, along with her husband, would be destroyed.

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