Zelophehad’s Daughters

Mormonism and Eating Disorders, Part II: Church

Posted by Lynnette

In commenting, please respect the sensitive nature of this issue. And as is standard for eating disorder recovery discussion, do not use numbers in your comments (weight, calories, etc.)—any such numbers will be edited.

Note: I originally posted this under the name “Tirzah.”

I’ve found, unsurprisingly, that one of the more challenging aspects of recovering from an eating disorder is that of living in a culture that is pretty much crazy when it comes to issues of food and eating and the way that bodies are supposed to look. I wish I could say that it doesn’t get to me, but it does. Even when I can intellectually critique these messages, they still sting. I do my best to stay grounded by keeping in touch with the bubbles of sanity in my life: therapists and therapy groups, my comrades in recovery, supportive siblings and friends—people who challenge the toxic ideas that are so pervasive, remind me what I really care about and want in life.

In thinking about my need for these support systems, it’s finally made sense to me what people mean when they talk about church as a kind of refuge, a place to remember what matters, a counter to destructive and dehumanizing messages. My relationship with the church has been rocky enough that I haven’t often felt that way—church has all too often been a place of awkwardness and alienation for me—but I think I have a greater appreciation of what that kind of community can do at its best. I’ve always been wary of the “us” and “them” paradigm, in which “the world” is the enemy, but I can also see real value in having those connections which affirm your faith, question problematic cultural norms, and give you a language of hope.

But when it comes to these issues, of eating and body acceptance, I can only say that I would love to find more resistance at church to the philosophies of (wo)men. Unfortunately, my experience is that we’ve pretty much gone along with the culture on this one. In fact, by far the place where I feel the most self-conscious about my appearance, the mostly likely to be judged, is at church. To some extent this might reflect my particular life sitaution—I’m accustomed to the world of grad humanities students, which has been pretty low-key when it comes to this stuff. And I’ve spent a lot of time in singles wards, where I suspect the problem might be more acute. But throughout my life, in various circumstances and locations, when it comes to settings in which I might worry about appearance, church has generally been the place I dread most.

Things were especially hard when I was a teenager. At that point in my life, I had no bubbles of sanity, no refuge from a relentless cultural pressure to look a certain way—and church, if anything, exacerbated the situation. We don’t do a lot of teaching our young women about things like body acceptance and healthy attitudes toward food. Instead, we hammer the message of modesty—which, it seems to me, reflects a very male view of where teenage girls are going to get in trouble and what messages they most need to hear. The bloggernacle has produced a number of eloquent feminist critiques of LDS modesty discourse, pointing out that they objectify women. And lest they be dismissed as simply feminist theory run amok, I would like to talk about this from a more personal perspective.

I was, as I imagine is the case with the majority of teenage girls, intensely self-conscious about how I looked. It did not help that I came from a family which rarely bought new clothes, making me feel like I stood out in a largely middle class ward. But much more painfully, I was acutely aware of my weight, which was on the higher side when I was an adolescent. Six years of sitting through YW lessons was absolutely excruciating. The message I got, loud and clear, was that yes, how you look matters—in fact, it matters crucially, and is something you should be seriously thinking about. Your purpose in life can best be fulfilled with an appropriately attractive appearance (because that’s the path to temple marriage: attractive enough to get to the marriage, but modest enough to get to the temple). For me, this did not spark a desire to be modest, but rather reinforced some already intense self-hate. I learned to cast a critical eye on my body not only from movies and billboards and magazine pictures, but also from what I learned at church. The fact that I had a lot of caring YW leaders mitigated the pain somewhat, but lessons on modesty (and appearance-related issues that showed up in other lessons) still hurt in ways that at the time I could not even articulate. All too often, church reminded me that even God was unhappy with the way I looked, that my weight was a moral failing. During the modesty talks I would stare at the wall and wish desperately to be elsewhere, certain that my physical appearance was being evaluated and judged. The fact that I was not in fact dressing immodestly was beside the point. The meta-message was all too biting.

As an adult, I’ve generally escaped the modesty madness. But I still find that the American religion of thinness and eating “right” has enmeshed itself in Mormon culture. As do women in so many settings, LDS women bond by complaining about their bodies and comparing diets. Sometimes this is done with a Mormon tinge: the Word of Wisdom gets interpreted in all kinds of ways, and people at times describe their particular eating choices not only in the language of personal preference, but also in the language of morality and what God wants. Righteousness gets tied to eating correctly, connected to the prized values of self-discipline and restraint. Sometimes I go to church and find it overwhelmingly depressing to see bright, accomplished, articulate, attractive women talk about the latest diet they’re trying.

And once in a while there is outright contempt. I would definitely describe myself as a liberal Mormon, but on this issue, I at times part company with some of my fellow travelers. I’ve heard far too many snarky comments about the supposed hypocrisy of orthodox believers who avoid alcohol and coffee but engage in the absolutely horrifying behavior of eating foods which the Nutrition Police have labeled evil. I’m similarly exhausted by those who complain loudly about how judgmental conservative Mormons can be, but who have no problem criticizing  the eating behavior of the unenlightened. These attitudes are not necessarily tied to one end of the political or religious spectrum, of course—I’ve met plenty of more traditional members of the church who also talk about food in charged and moralistic terms. But I find the attitude particularly ironic when expressed by a group which so often argues for tolerance and objects to proselytizing. Or perhaps I simply find it more personally stinging to encounter those who can accept my heterodoxy, no matter how wild–but who run for cover at the mere mention of high fructose corn syrup.

Every so often I run across a casual bloggernacle comment that makes me flinch. A suggestion that weight should be added to the temple recommend interview. Dismissive comments about overweight Mormon women. Accounts of going to church and being perturbed by the unfashionable, unattractive people there. It’s not just Mormon blogs, of course. A few months ago, I read a comment in the NYT comments section about how we should just kill all the fat people. (I imagine that if such a thing had been said about women, or blacks, or gays, it would have been moderated. But evidently it was supposed to be funny.)

So I cling to my safety nets, and I feel very fortunate to have them. And while I’ve focused on the negatives here, that’s not the whole picture—as I hope to discuss in a future post about religious questions, there is much in Mormonism I find helpful. But as I said earlier, this is an area where I wish the church were more counter-cultural, and less prone to adopting toxic cultural norms about dieting and appearance.

27 Responses to “Mormonism and Eating Disorders, Part II: Church”

  1. 1.

    I agree. We need to be more counter-cultural about hating our bodies. I try hard to opt out of conversations where women complain about their bodies or obsess about diet and weight.
    One of my biggest hopes is that my daughters might never hear me say something negative about my body’s looks. And never hear me say something negative about someone else’s looks. And rarely hear me comment positively about my looks. And rarely hear me comment about someone else’s good looks. It just shouldn’t be so important.
    I can see how church might be a little more self-conscious looks-wise. It’s a dress-up kind of place. And there is a lot of just pass by and say hi.

  2. 2.

    My recent Segullah post on vice and contempt was sparked by the contempt about overweight people I read in a Facebook thread. The defensiveness about their contempt was disappointing to me as well–that it’s somehow okay to feel superior/pity towards overweight people because they are not taking responsibility for themselves. Sigh. It’s so much more complicated than that.

  3. 3.

    jks, that’s something I’m still figuring out how to do gracefully, to get away from the dieting conversations. I have friends who will say something like, we’re a bunch of interesting women–don’t we have anything better to talk about? I’m definitely not in a place where I’m comfortable calling attention to the issue, though; I usually just leave as soon as I can.

    Emily M, yeah, that’s the kind of thing that makes me crazy, too. The American myth, of course, is that weight is perfectly correlated with eating and exercise and self-control, when as you say it’s so much more complicated (a lot of research bears this out, and speaking as someone who’s done all kinds of things in an effort to change my body, I know this personally all too well.)

    Recovery from an eating disorder in the age of Facebook has posed some interesting challenges. I’ve ended up hiding my friends who post a lot about dieting and weight loss, or talk about food in moralistic ways. In some cases, especially when it’s people that I really like, I’ve felt kind of bad about it–but in my current state, reading that stuff just messes with my head.

  4. 4.

    For the first time in my life . . . including post-mission when I was significantly underweight (which I most certainly am not right now) . . . I am happy with my body.

    I think that being in a marriage where I was so objectified has led me to reject objectification, especially when I’m the one doing it. Kind of like being forced to smoke a whole box of cigarettes when your dad caught you with one. I’ve lost the taste for criticizing my body.

    I still evaluate my body and my health, but it is with a much more relaxed feeling. I’ve taken to seeing my own body the way I see the body of a horse: as a sleek, beautiful machine that I want to take care of, even though I am a touch overweight, so that it will do what I want it to do. I’ve learned to love the feel of my body working.

    And the beautiful thing is that it just happened. It was a blessing from the Spirit in answer to prayer, I believe. I just woke up one morning and realized that I enjoyed my life, including my body. Sometimes I still have moments of physical self criticism, but now I’m able to stop myself.

  5. 5.

    And I want to add that you’re a brave and wonderful person, Tirzah, to post about this.

    Thank you for meeting it head on.

  6. 6.

    Thank you for an interesting and informative series. I was about to call my daughter to try to encourage her in her weight loss endeavors. She is so unhappy. She is considering skipping a cruise because of her weight. I decided not to call her after reading this post

    Please forgive me for taking this opportunity to tell Silver Rain how much I enjoy her articles. It is too difficult for to make comments on her site.

  7. 7.

    It’s amazing to me how personally people take food issues when someone is on a restrictive diet. They’ll argue with you, “oh no, you can eat this, it’s very healthy!” Or they’ll try to say your doctor is wrong, “that sounds like a terribly unhealthy way to eat, to me.” Or they’ll just beg you to cheat, “just this once won’t hurt.” Lastly, they’ll get hurt themselves and take it personally if you don’t eat something they cooked or bought, some special treat.

    I know that sharing food has lots of community-building and psychological uses in addition to just feeding ourselves, but If I had one wish about people and food, it’s that we all would just take someone’s word, take “no” for an answer, without comment or special notice, and respect each other’s choices.

  8. 8.

    Thank you, lara. I’m not sure why, but Blogger is giving a lot of people grief lately.

  9. 9.

    I wonder if one of the reasons that food and body image plays such a big role in church culture is that they are both means to make comparisons as well build community. So many church activities involve (or revolve) around food. These activities demand that everyone consume food together, yet many people are hyper-aware of what (and how much) others are eating. “If everyone eats a lot, then I feel okay eating. If she skips this, then I feel bad eating it.” I have a restricted medical diet, and I often talk myself out of attending church activities, because I feel embarrassed explaining why I can’t eat whatever is being served. Attending these activities with an ED must be excruciating. I wish that we would not compare ourselves with other church members based on body shape or eating habits or equate these activities with moral or spiritual characteristics.

  10. 10.

    I have a restricted medical diet, and I often talk myself out of attending church activities, because I feel embarrassed explaining why I can’t eat whatever is being served.

    I have been in this exact situation and it’s utterly miserable. People take offense that you’re not eating what they prepared for you or they assume you think less of them for eating dessert (I’ve often had to restrict my sugar consumption) or they feel like you must have some sort of iron self-control for not eating some foods. Eating is just an emotionally charged situation and little things can set people off if they’re already on edge.

  11. 11.

    In fact, by far the place where I feel the most self-conscious about my appearance, the mostly likely to be judged, is at church.

    A very good point. I’ve heard women say that the message they consistently get from church is this: “Don’t be living pornography. Well, do, but not too much.”

  12. 12.

    As someone who loves to cook and experiment, and loves to share successes with others, I have tried to learn to take refusal with a grain of salt.

    But I also like to know special dietary restrictions, so I can cook to them. They offer specific challenges. One vegan coworker told me not to worry about her, but I loved to try to make something like Red Velvet Cake turn out scrumptious without eggs or cream cheese frosting.

  13. 13.

    SilverRain, I really like that reorientation from objectifying your body, to appreciating the way it functions. That’s awesome.

    lara, that sounds like a tough situation with your daughter. I know it’s complicated to figure out how to be supportive when people are really miserable with their bodies and wanting to lose weight. I think you can acknowledge and empathize with the unhappiness, without necessarily agreeing with any underlying premise that ties one’s weight to one’s worth. And I think there’s a difference between wanting to engage in healthy behaviors because you care about yourself, versus hating yourself and wanting to lose weight to try to fix that. Like if someone thinks they’d feel physically better if they ate differently and were more active–versus waiting to live your life or let yourself be happy until you hit a certain weight, which is bound to make you crazy. Easier said than done, I know. But though I totally get it, that’s really sad that someone would feel like they’d have to skip a cruise over this. Like you’re not allowed to have fun or enjoy life if you’re not at The One True Weight.

    Tatiana, Fideline, and Katya, I really appreciate your sharing your challenges. It’s fascinating to me—and also disturbing—to see what a loaded issue this is from all directions. Given my issues, I’m always paranoid that people are judging me for what I eat, but I can see how it goes the other way too, with people getting offended if you don’t eat something. Part of it, I would guess, is the cultural tie between food and hospitality, in which rejecting someone’s food can seem like a rejection of them personally. And then, because eating is such a loaded issue, people (including me) can be very quick to feel defensive, to read implicit judgment which isn’t actually there. I imagine if I were more confident in my own eating choices, I would probably be less touchy and less prone to read hidden meaning into other people’s behavior. Another good reason for me to work on that!

    I’m also wondering with food, people sometimes don’t accept refusals at face value because for some people, it’s standard to refuse once or twice before finally saying yes (even though that’s what they wanted all along), because to admit right away that you wanted that piece of cake might be too shocking.

    Anyway, it’s helpful for me to know that people are feeling self-conscious in the other direction, too, though I’m sorry it’s happening. This really is a crazy topic.

    I’m thinking that this dynamic can also be related to the problem of nice Mormon women who have a hard time saying no. I really like this story from Jenni Schaefer’s Life Without Ed, just because it resonates with me so much:

    How many times has someone put a plate of food in front of you and said, “I made this just for you”? And did you feel as if you had to eat it? After all, it was prepared especially for you. In reality, for all you know, Aunt Mary probably tells everyone that she made her extra chocolaty chocolate layer cake just for them. But, you are hooked. You feel guilty. You have visions of the generous cook slaving over the dish in question—flour on her forehead—all just for you. And if you even dared to say those horrid words, “No thank you,” you will ruin the cook’s life. She will probably collapse on the spot.

    The good news is you can actually say no. You don’t even have to say thank you. You can just say no. If you refuse to eat that pumpkin pie that Grandma ordered from Peggy Jean’s Pies especially for you, she will not die. I know this is true because I’ve done it, and I am still alive and so are all of the cooks that I have denied.

    That’s hard for me—and not just with food. I was talking to a therapist about this, and he noted that I don’t have trouble saying no to alcohol; I do that as a matter of course, and without much thought. And I realized it’s much easier because I feel like I have permission to do so. Whereas things are shakier with food.

    Mark Brown,

    I’ve heard women say that the message they consistently get from church is this: “Don’t be living pornography. Well, do, but not too much.”

    Ha—that’s a great way of putting it.

  14. 14.

    I understand how women can be encouraged to develop eating disorders.

    People in general are kind and loving. We don’t as individuals go out of our way to humiliate others or make them feel bad. But I wish that church was a more accepting place of people who do not resemble Barbie Dolls. I have many friends who daily deal with eating disorders and I personally suffer from an extremely low self image because of my body not looking like I imagine it should.

    As a girl, I sat in sat in Sunday School classes where the stake president made some crack about how some overweight sister had obviously stretched her spirit all out of shape, because she was going to look so different at the second coming when she was made perfect. Which was greeted with a room of laughter.

    As a woman I have felt judged and condemed for being overweight. The people I attend church with are loving, but back handed comments and things said out of concern are upsetting.

    I was feeling really good about myself one Sunday until a concerned sister approached me and pulled me a side to encourage me to look into weight loss surgery so men in the church would be willing to give me a chance.

    Or the few sisters who have spoken to me about how men’s standards for a wife don’t concern looks after the age of 30, so I should be getting more opportunities to date since I am such an amazing person and have such a pretty face.

    Somehow even in posts people make about weight, they have to clearly state they are fitting into the expectation. “I am not lazy.” or “I am a healthy weight.”

    Why can’t people go their own way? I think your personal look should be just that, personal. I think the message as an LDS community should be, “The Lord loves you Period.” NOT “If you look like XYZ, the Lord loves you and people will accept you.”

  15. 15.

    Thank you for sharing all of this. I know it is not an easy thing to get out.
    I’ve been going back through my past experience with an eating disorder this year and sorting out my thoughts and writing and is so hard to articulate just what you feel.
    I appreciate it when I know others share similar experiences.

  16. 16.

    i appreciate your story, danielle. i definitely think one of the contributing factors to developing an eating disorder or tendencies in that direction is the fact that many people see commenting on weight as acceptable, if put in terms of a ‘health issue’. don’t know why my health is anybody’s business, and even if it is on some social level i don’t see the same kind of flack thrown at alcoholics, caffeine addicts etc. but for whatever reason people think it’s okay to hassle overweight people (or people they perceive as overweight). this can run the gamut from gentle prodding to outright contempt, and none of it is helpful.

    i liked what tirzah said to lara, who IS in a difficult situation. if we know and love someone who genuinely wants to lose weight, there are ways to support them in that without tying their worth directly to their size. but it is still a delicate situation, and i think, generally, we should keep our mouths shut unless asked.

  17. 17.

    oo and as a baker with body image issues, i have definitely been on both sides of the social eating conundrum! i know the frustration of trying to eat healthy and having everyone around you take it personally. and i can say that, on the other side, the more annoyed i feel about someone’s refusal to eat my food/eat with me, the more insecure i am usually feeling about my own body/eating habits.

    how do we support each other, from either side, in a culture with such unhealthy attitudes toward food?

  18. 18.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. As someone who had an eating disorder and struggled with weight issues in high school I can see where you’re coming from and I can relate to the experiences you describe about YW and church rhetoric surrounding appearances and weight.

    But as much I can intellectually internalize the need to stop talking about it altogether, it seems like an unlikely scenario, and it sounds like you have problems with both sides of the conversation. Either someone is frustrated that the dialogue focuses on the ubiquitous struggles with healthy weight, or with the focus on our culture of body perfection and being thin enough. And while I find myself asking “thin enough for what?” I’m one of those people that you are apparently frustrated with that sees a problem with the focus on one aspect of the WoW in church culture, and not enough focus on the rest of it.

    Now, I hope I haven’t been snarky when I’ve expressed that opinion, but it IS one that I’ve expressed – mostly because I don’t like the judgmental attitude that I myself have received over my own choices. So no, holding my nutritional beliefs over someone else’s is not productive or kind or tolerant, but I’m also a little frustrated that it sounds like you think people that are passionate about certain food philosophies and ideals are just doing it because we’re wanting to talk about the “latest diet” that we’re trying.

    I’ve never considered the way I eat to be a “diet”, and my choices are based on so much more than how food affects my appearance. I do notice when eating in a way that makes me feel healthy also helps me control my weight, but I actually struggle with the opposite side of the spectrum. I have had too many experiences where people acted and made statements to the effect of “how can you know what you’re talking about, you’re not at your ‘ideal’ weight” – and those come from people all across the board. I hate fighting the conversation and trying to compete with people to see who’s really got health at the heart of their interest. But that doesn’t mean I can’t express frustration with people that are contributing to large scale nutritional deficits by turning a blind eye, or supporting bad farming practices and corporate greed by defending their choices.

    So I don’t know what your point really is. If it’s to stop talking about appearances as if they’re the only thing that matters, then I agree with you. I have an acquaintance that literally talks about nothing else at church (regarding herself or others) and I think that type hatred of our bodies needs to stop. But I’m not going to suppress my beliefs about improving our relationship with food to do it.

  19. 19.

    Hi Corktree. Thanks for commenting. I realize that my rant above was a bit provocative, so it’s good to have some pushback to help me clarify more what I’m trying to say.

    Part of my issues around this are directly eating-disorder related, but I think it’s probably complicated in that I have a lot of issues around class as well. I think a lot of the national discourse doesn’t address this, but I see class as very much tied into our cultural attitudes and weight. It’s especially the bodies of poor people, and the eating habits of poor people, that get held in contempt in the name of health. (That’s not at all aimed at you personally, by the way—it’s more a general frustration.) And I think conversations about health are definitely worth having. I’ve just had too many frustrations with a liberal paternalism that I find distasteful. And I’m doubtless hypersensitive because of my own background, of feeling like I’m “passing” in a middle class environment.

    Also, I currently live in an area of the country which is obsessed with healthy eating, to the point where people have yelled at me on the street for eating the wrong thing. So—that’s a bit more background about why I’m touchy, and I hope that helps a little in explaining where I’m coming from.

    I didn’t meant to conflate dieting with general nutritional concern in the post, and I apologize if it came across that way. And for that matter, I probably came across as too hard on people on diets—it’s not as if I don’t get that. It’s more the discouragement of attending an RS activity and noticing that this is the primary topic of conversation, with people comparing how much weight they’ve lost.

    And you’re right in that I’m complaining about both ends, which may make it sound like I want to simply drop the conversation. But I agree with you that that’s not going to happen—and maybe it’s not even a desirable aim. But I do want to think about how to do it better. (This post, obviously, was more a rant than a constructive proposal—I’m kind of in a ranting stage right now.) I think it would be really helpful, for one thing, to de-couple concern about healthy eating from weight, treat them as separate issues.

    Recovery for me has definitely included learning to eat in a more healthy way, and that’s been a real positive. But first I had to be in a place where I didn’t feel like certain foods were forbidden, where it was okay if I decided to eat potato chips all day. Because it’s that kind of freedom that’s allowed me to move beyond labels of right and wrong to noticing how different foods made me feel. I’ve spent way too much of my life steeped in guilt for not eating nutritiously, felt condemned for that, so it’s really only recently that I’ve discovered that I can do it in a way that is caring of my body.

    So I guess another thing, though I realize it’s not easy, is that ideally I would like to find ways to not talk about food as a moral issue. That’s one reason I admit, why I’m wary of tying it too closely to religion. I’m not necessarily talking about broader social practices like the ones you’re raising concern about, so much as how we talk about eating habits on the level of individuals. (Though maybe that’s not possible, to do one and not the other? I don’t know.) But I don’t think moralistic approaches, which are hard not to hear with undertones of judgmentalism, tend to be effective in terms of bringing about change—I think they usually just spark guilt. (There might be a parallel here with the way we approach pornography, though that’s a whole can of worms right there. I’m just thinking about the challenge of critiquing what I see as a destructive industry, but laying off the shame when it comes to individuals.)

    But it’s helpful for me to hear how you’ve felt judged, too. I’ll be candid: part of the reason why I’m not blogging under my real name isn’t just that eating disorders are sensitive issues (though that’s a big part of it), but because I respect the feminist blogs and bloggers (including you, by the way), and a lot of the people involved are my friends. But sometimes I can’t read those blogs, because of this issue. Because I think some of the people who know me would be horrified to find out too much about me—specifically, my eating habits. And that hurts. And it can be scary to go to church wondering if this is going to get whipped out as a club to beat me with. I’m in a vulnerable place right now, I realize, and I know I can’t expect the world to tiptoe around my personal sensitivities. But I do think we can do better with how we talk at church. And though I have passionate views about a lot of things, I’d like church to not be a place of political activism, regardless of the issue. Again, not meant to be aimed directly at you—I don’t know enough about how you approach this. But in my current struggles with church related to eating issues, this stuff is a big part of it.

  20. 20.

    I just re-read my previous comment and wanted to clarify something—I’m not at all, at all, trying to suggest that I think feminist blogs need to change their topics or not promote this kind of activism or whatever. That’s totally their prerogative, and it’s my responsibility to not read stuff that will upset me. Just trying to explain why sometimes I feel a bit alienated from the community of Mormon feminists.

  21. 21.

    Thanks for responding charitably, Tirzah. I was a little on a rampage myself – emotions tied to food run deep. But I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon.

    It sounds like we’re actually more on the same page than I gave credit for. I’m coming to realize that part of my activist feelings are a way of dealing with food in a removed way that helps me with my own issues, but this may not work for others. And I do think we need to identify the real enemies and take the blame off individuals. Maybe that’s the way to change the judgmental attitude when we look at someone and think we know something about them based on how they look. Much of my own anger is directed at companies and groups that are making it too hard for people to fight these battles successfully, but I do find that I still hold people accountable for their choices too much and I need reminders to let that go and focus on what really needs to change. So thank you for helping me to look at this from a different angle.

    And I’m sorry that these types of discussions have not helped you to feel as welcome in the feminist community as you could. I hope your posts contribute to positive changes in the conversation.

  22. 22.

    Thanks, Corktree. I’m (obviously!) pretty worked up about this issue myself—as you say, food is such a fraught topic. And engaging in this conversation has actually made me stop and think the ways I can be judgmental, too. It sounds like we probably have some differences of opinion on some of these questions, but as you say, a fair amount of common ground. And your comment about activism has gotten me thinking about some things I’d like to come back to in a later post.

    Danielle, yikes. I’m sorry about the crazy comments. There’s no question that I’m overly paranoid about this issue, but as a single woman in the church, I always wonder if people are looking at me and thinking, well, it’s pretty clear why she’s single. The “pretty face” line is always a favorite! (My weight has been all over the map, but getting to a crazily thin place actually didn’t get me married. Who would have thought.)

    Thanks, Sandra. It is a tough thing—I hope things are going well for you in sorting out your own experiences.

    nobodyputsbabyinacorner, ha—a baker with body image issues. That does sound like a challenging combination!

    how do we support each other, from either side, in a culture with such unhealthy attitudes toward food?

    And that’s such the question. Reading this thread has been really good for me, in terms of making me realize the variety of ways that people feel judged around eating and not eating. In my self-obsessed way, I probably haven’t been as clued into other ways people are being given a hard time. So as I said earlier, I’m really glad people have brought in that angle, too.

    It really is striking, the dynamics of this. It reminds a little of the mommy wars, in which everyone ends up feeling defensive regardless of their choices. As I mentioned earlier, I would imagine that the more relaxed of a place you’re in around your own relationship with food, the less loaded this whole thing is. Looking at my own reactions, I know it’s easy for me to get threatened by people’s choices if I interpret them as some kind of social statement, or an implicit indictment of people like me, when (as demonstrated in this thread), it might well be nothing more than their own health needs. People on diets sometimes scare me a little—it brings up a lot of emotion: envy, frustration, anxiety. As I mentioned to Corktree, people with strong views about nutrition can scare me a little, too, because I have so much baggage of feeling guilty around that topic. And so I get prickly. But I’m hoping that I can get more grounded and confident about where I am in a way that will enable me to be a little more mellow about a lot of this.

  23. 23.

    I wanted to link two recent posts in the bloggernacle that have touched on some of the issues I raised in this post.

    See Julie at T&S on modesty:

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/06/stop-telling-the-yw-to-be-modest-for-the-ym/

    And fMhLisa on discussion of food in RS:

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=5430

    Both fabulous posts. (Though both have comments that remind me why I can get a little crazy when these topics are discussed.)

  24. 24.

    My eating disorder has dictated much of my life. And the eating and not eating in front of people is always at the forefront of my mind when going to gatherings.

    I’ve been appreciating your posts and relate a lot to them.

  25. 25.

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. I am a non-Mormon woman with 3 beautifully perfect daughters, at least in my eyes they are. The only caveat: at 5, 3, and 3 years old, they are ruthless to each other, and to me about weight issues and body image.

    Before the age of two, with tears in her eyes, one of my youngest commented that she was fat! Since that time, the things that my children have shared with me are horrific. At ages 2 & 4 they spoke of being measured! Currently, their food issues are severe. The things they say to me are the most god awful comments I’ve ever heard. I’m in my late 30’s, without food issues or serious self-image issues (thankfully) and still their comments sting, like no other. Yet I now am starting to know that what they’ve experienced, during their limited visits with my former in-laws, was so much more degrading and dehumanizing than the insults they sling at me.

    The most unfortunate part of it all is that they believe what they’ve been taught. At 115lbs, they are repulsed by me. I want to just sob thinking about it. Most days I feel as if I’ve completely lost my daughters. They are in so much pain, and I feel helpless to effect any change.

    Tirzah, I am so very sorry for the pain you feel. I have the utmost compassion for you. While the Mormon church does well in a lot of areas, this is one area where they fall flat on their faces. And the fallout is complex and overwhelming.
    Sadly your comments aren’t crazy, at least not in my experience. What some women may be thinking in the back of their minds, is what my children have told me point blank. That college is for fat women (I went). That at my current “scale-tipping weight” I am a bad mother. That I am an ugly mommy (I’m assuming only by virtue of the fact that I’ve not yet married). In college I was teeny, tiny. When my twins were born, I’m nearly positive I went through some evil body transformation in the hospital; but I know that I continue to be the most devoted mother that I could possibly be. Certainly the fact that I am in jeans rather than a dress, doesn’t dictate the type of mother I am. Does it?

    In my mind, I just can’t believe how foolish their talk is; but in my heart, I just want to die. I can’t imagine having ever even thought any of those things about my mother. I guess what I’m trying to say is that they believe what has been drilled into them, regardless of whether it applies to the situation or not. It’s not just a weight issue. It is a teaching that encourages self-loathing. And one that keeps many young girls as well as women trying to reach a finish line that keeps moving away from them.

    Taking body measurements of a toddler is beyond reproach and is a much more complicated issue to deal with. Please know that the judgement within the church surrounding these issues is extreme compared to the rest of society. As a pseudo “outsider”, what many of my mormon girlfriends were subjected to as young girls and teens, and what my daughters have experienced, on the surface looks like a toxic, societal norm; but that seems to be where the similarity ends. And whether intentional or not, the church is driving a very permanent, very damaging wedge between its mothers and daughters. Hopefully this trend will right itself in the near future.

    My parents separated when I was very young and so on the weekends that my brother and I were with my dad, he would drive us to church. Early one Sunday, I began to cry at the realization that I had forgotten my dress for Sunday school. I can still remember the dress. And I can also remember the outfit that I wore in lieu of that dress. I cried. I didn’t want to go. I couldn’t go. Not in my play clothes. I didn’t want people to look at me or for the kids to point at me and snicker. My dad is about as unreligious as they come, but, to this day, I can still remember what he said that slowed my tears. “Who cares what anyone else thinks, it doesn’t matter that you aren’t wearing a dress. God doesn’t care what you wear. He just wants you to be there. Being a good person is what’s most important.” To this day, I still believe what my dad said to me that Sunday.

    Faith should be a refuge, especially during the challenging times. I’m of the opinion that as long as we are kind, good people God accepts us as we are.

  26. 26.

    “Taking body measurements of a toddler is beyond reproach and is a much more complicated issue to deal with. ”

    Just wanted to clarify that what I was trying to say here is that the body image issues (be it my children, girls, teens, women) are so much more complicated than what they seem on the surface. And it can be discouraging at times trying to find help for such a multi-faceted issue.

  27. 27.

    i used to live in pleasant grove, UT. i grew up mormon. i recall going through puberty as some kind of hell on earth experience. and yes, I blame the atmosphere of body shame and objectification disguised as modesty!!
    i remember not being able to shower without wearing a shirt. i remember for many months using an ace bandage to hide my shape. i felt evil!
    i developed an ED, much in part because of the ‘modesty’ (body shame) but also because of the degrading and emasculating environment that women endure in Utah.
    i was terrified of my fate: get married, have lots and lots of children, put away the dreams of college (it never once crossed my mind growing up, that i could actually have a career for my life, instead of a family!)
    i never wanted to be a mom, or wife! that looks like hell!
    I WAS TERRIFIED OF GROWING UP!!
    since leaving the church i realized that that mormon fate does not have to be my future! it was such a relief!
    but it came at a huge price!
    lost my job, my few friends, my home, my entire family. i had to leave utah to start my life over, where no one new me!
    but at least my future is better because i can have a career and be single and thats ok to do!

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