A Note from Chris Adams: Being healthy and being skinny are not necessarily the same thing. We definitely need to eat healthy foods and exercise to keep our bodies fit for life and serving Christ. But our culture has overemphasized women’s sizes in a way that has influenced most women in some way, including women in the church. Today in the Ministering in the Messy series, Deb Douglas, First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA, talks about how to help women who are obsessed with size.
“Are you on a diet?” “Are you losing weight?” “How much weight have you lost?” And my personal favorite, “Wow, you’ve gained weight!” These are all actual statements that have made me cringe!
Find a woman who is happy with her weight and her body, and you’ve found a rare thing! Get any group of women together and weight will be a part of the conversation. Our culture is obsessed with women’s weight. Weight has become one of those messy issues that is creating problems among women and their relationships with one another.
Why? Because as with any obsession, weight struggles create isolation. Women who struggle with their weight have a tendency to avoid situations where they feel compared to other women.
There’s another part of the isolation: competition. It’s those who are dieting and exercising versus the women who are foodies, Food Network junkies, and love all things food related. It’s women who judge themselves as either one extreme or the other against the world. It’s women judging women based on weight. This causes drama, hurt, and division even within the women of the church.
We’re not talking about healthy weight loss and exercise. We are talking about the growing number of women who are focused exclusively on weight:
- Women who allow weight to determine everything about their lives: what they do, where they go, who they socialize with—everything
- Women who are obsessed with weight
- Women who do not have time (or energy) for anything else because their energies are concentrated on thinking about, worrying over, and crying over their weight
- Women with weight issues that take them away from family time, Bible study groups, or anything else. Think women who spend all their free time in training or working out rather than participating in growing their personal relationship with Christ or with others.
- Women who are agonizing over the ever-increasing numbers on the scales
- Women who are binging, purging, and addicted to laxatives
- Women who are isolating themselves out of a false sense of shame or guilt over weight
In our culture, women are addicted to skinny.
How do we determine who is seeking a healthy weight and who is obsessed with weight? Here are some red flags:
- Judgmental and condemning about the weight of others or the diet of others. This may come out as a cutting sense of humor.
- Weight is mentioned in every conversation
- Unusual qualifiers defining the right weight or the measure of skinniness
- Guilt or shame over eating a “normal portion” of food or a treat, like a woman who panics after eating one cookie
- Punishing oneself for what is deemed to be overeating
- Does not eat in front of others and arrives late to avoid mealtimes
- Hoards food
What does this messy issue look like?
I was sitting at the lunch table with 4 young women. Two were slim and attractive, the perfect size. The other 2 were slightly underweight, on active diets, and fretting over every morsel. What did I do? I ate my lunch. I told them how beautiful they look. I decided to pray more actively for weight realism in their lives.
How do we help women struggling with a healthy concept of weight?
- Talk honestly about weight.
- Advise professional help.
- Share personal struggles when appropriate.
- Protect ourselves as leaders from adopting unhealthy weight standards as our own.
- Delete weight humor from our conversations.
- Prayerfully encourage women who are weight focused to seek help. Confrontation is never fun or easy. But if we truly care about women facing the messy issues of weight, we will confront them with love to express concerns.
- Remind women of weight realities:
- Most women gain weight as we age.
- Our bodies cannot compete with the bodies we had in the past
- Not everyone was created to be a size 0.
- Weight is a number, not a definition of who we are.
- Women feel either skinny or overweight based on personal feelings and ideas which have been woven into their thinking from an early age rather than weight realism.
Our bodies are God’s temples. As such, we should care for them. However when our temples become the object of our focus, we are worshiping the temple rather than the One who resides within. When our size leads us to hide from other women and hampers our relationship with Christ, then it’s time for a change.
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.