I’m almost done reading a book that has altered my thinking more than any other. It’s called “The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers Behind Women’s Obsessions with Food and Weight” and is written by Michelle Lelwica, ThD. By the end of the introduction I knew this book’s message is just what I need right now. The Religion of Thinness took root in the 1950s and is now “practiced” by people everywhere. Though secular, it has its own myths, icons, rituals, moral code, and community much like any other sacred religion. The myths include the idea that thinness equals happiness. The icons include celebrities, models, and fitness experts. Rituals like counting calories, weigh-ins, and buying clothes that make one look thinner serve the same function as prayer, worship, and study of sacred texts. The morality of thinness teaches us that people who are thin are morally and ethically superior and that eating something like a brownie is akin to losing self-control, sinning, and being a bad person. (How many times have I said to myself, “I was so bad for eating that cookie”?) And the community of so-called “weight loss support groups” claim to be helpful, but do nothing but perpetuate the idea that thinness is the most important goal in life…because (it comes back to the myth) THINNESS EQUALS HAPPINESS.
I will add that I’ve had this book on my shelf for almost a year and I am only now “ready” to read it and receive the gift that it has to offer me. Thinness does NOT equal happiness. In the throes of my disordered eating habits, I weighed 25 pounds less than I weigh now and I still thought I was fat. I fully believed the myth of thinness; I worshiped the icons of thinness, engaged in many of the rituals of thinness, and thought of myself as morally superior if I was able to eat nothing but “healthy foods”. I found community among others who followed The Religion of Thinness by talking about how much weight I needed to lose before my reunion, or telling someone they looked great after losing weight, or sharing fitness tips with friends.
Although I was raised a Christian and practice Christian rituals and try to live my life by Christian beliefs, my obsession with The Religion of Thinness took me away from others and further into my SELF, where life can be very lonely, and even torturous. I don’t say all this to judge myself. I simply state it with some sense of wonder that I didn’t realize what I was doing until it was so plainly described in this book.
What I’ve found wonderful about this book (and I realize this is turning into an elaborate book endorsement) are the two tools that I’ve learned to use in order to distance myself from The Religion of Thinness: cultural criticism (looking at the images in the media and all around me with healthy skepticism) and mindfulness (fully inhabiting each moment in a non-judgmental way). Today, as I near the end of this book, I heard a small voice inside of me ask, “What are you doing to cultivate connections?” Just one small phrase…”cultivating connections”…got me thinking about my daily thoughts, words, and actions in a new way. What will my daily life look like if ALL of my efforts are in pursuit of cultivating connections? And not just connections with other people, but connections with God, with the earth, with animals, and with my mind, my body, and my spirit.
I think I’ve found my new mantra…”Cultivate connection”. I can breathe in and out slowly as I say that phrase and live my life more mindful of that idea. The Religion of Thinness promises community and membership as long as you pursue one thing: thinness. But I found nothing but isolation from and competition with others. So, what will I do today to cultivate connection? How will I connect with my mind, my body, my spirit, my friends, my family, strangers I meet? How will I connect with the earth and all the life that surrounds me?
I’ll start by sharing this post with you, dear reader. Let us stay connected!
Peace, joy, and connection,