America is an image-conscious nation. The urge to collectivism, with its accompanying political correctness (PC), is creating a new ideal image for Americans. Take, for example, the issue of body image. It’s in to be thin, out to be fat. Fat people generally get no love. Nor is fat discrimination an exclusively American phenomenon.
Air India, for example, has warned its 1600 cabin crew members to lose weight or face being grounded (The Guardian, December 16, 2005). Overweight pilots and flight attendants have been given two months to lose the tonnage, or face consequences. (At a safe ½ pound/day, the most you could lose in that time would be about 30 pounds.)
One official for the airline reportedly said, “Imagine if crew members can’t fasten their seat belts, how can they fly?” This suggests that seat belts on the airline may not accommodate the full range of human girths.
According to J. Eric Oliver, author of the book Fat Politics, “fatism” or “size-based discrimination,” is endemic in America. Writes Oliver, “…there continues to be one group that is systematically mistreated throughout American society – fat people” (Fat Politics, p. 60).
In a chapter of his book entitled “Why We Hate Fat People,” Oliver says, “In education, fat people have a harder time getting into top colleges, are subject to severe harassment and stigmatization by peers and teachers, and, in some instances have been expelled because of their weight. At work, fat people have trouble finding jobs, and they are evaluated more negatively, are less likely to be promoted, and are paid less than their thin colleagues. Fat people are denied insurance coverage for many medical conditions, and are routinely mistreated by health professionals. Fat people even have a harder time renting apartments [ibid. p. 60].”
The author describes fatism as the last bastion of socially acceptable bias in America. (I disagree: It is also socially acceptable these days to attack Christians and all aspects of the Christian faith. Even Christians are attacking other Christians – so what else is new? Internecine wars have been going on since the beginnings of the Church, but let’s return to our discussion of fat.)
Oliver reports that fat people are stereotypically depicted as gluttonous, lazy, or impotent. On television, they are typically cast as villains or tragic figures. He writes, “…numerous studies have found that Americans, particularly white, middle-class Americans, exhibit strong prejudices against fatness and fat people. For instance, more than a quarter of college students believe that becoming fat is the worst thing that could happen to a person. A majority of college-educated adults think that obese people are weak-willed or lazy…One study found that two-thirds of doctors surveyed thought that fat patients were morally weak, while another study found that nearly a quarter of nurses said that obese patients ‘repulsed’ them” (ibid. p. 61).
If you’re fat, does that knowledge encourage you to seek medical treatment?
If you happen to be fat, as am I at the moment, this is not encouraging news. But those of us who have experienced tonnage increases as we’ve grown older know what its like to experience “fatism” first hand.
It isn’t just being fat that invites disapproval. You can be rejected for being too thin, too tall, too short, bald, black, female, middle-aged, old, or ugly. America is an equal opportunity discriminator. Americans want to look at beautiful people on television, in movies, and in the workplace. A beautiful person is, by definition, wafer thin, well-groomed, well-dressed in the hippest possible clothes, and startlingly good-looking. The farther a person moves from that image, the less love they get; the more doors slam in their faces. A handsome actor can slip from leading man roles to character actor roles in a matter of a few years – once he loses his looks. Note for example Burt Reynolds. (Actually character roles can be more fun and meatier for actors – they just don’t pay as well.)
The idea that we have to conform to a certain physical image to be approved is a culturally imposed phenomenon. In other cultures, fatness is encouraged and even celebrated. I can remember serving in a church congregation in Canada that was approximately 70% German. Whenever we’d be assigned a lean ministerial assistant for the summer, the German women tried to fatten him up with tortes and other goodies. In Germany, in those days, fatness was viewed as a symbol of prosperity and success. The German women didn’t want their men to look skinny and emaciated.
In the Cameroon, in Niger, the Middle East, the Marshall Islands, and in various places in Africa and India, fat is where it’s at. Writes Oliver: “Although Western television images, global marketing, and improved standards of living are beginning to change these perceptions, most of the world continues to celebrate physical largess” (ibid. p. 62).
Much of our image consciousness is driven by Hollywierd, and by advertising. We are being conditioned to believe that certain physical images are associated with character deficiencies like laziness, lack of will power, or just plain malevolence. The fat person in the movies is often cast as an evil, self-indulgent, gourmandizing, wine-quaffing, slob who will stop at nothing to get what he wants (remember Victor Buono?). Or they are cast as stumbling domestics who frequently drop or bang into things, arousing the ire of all assembled. The beautiful, slim young woman gets the handsome man, the money and the power, while the fat woman is relegated to the depressing backwaters of life.
As we get older, we tend to lose whatever “looks” we had when we were young. As our metabolisms slow down, our weight creeps up. Our hair thins or falls out, and our skin dries up, creating wrinkles. Short people get shorter and tall people stoop. Eyesight fails and we have to don glasses. For many, illness sets in. As our conditions deteriorate, our “support system” of friends and relatives edges incrementally away. We are no longer attractive to look at, and we have become “high-maintenance.” As age and stress take their toll our world shrinks. We are driven back down the “hierarchy of needs” to the level of basic survival. We are no longer in demand, no longer viable, no longer able to bring in the bacon (beef or turkey of course).
Junk Mail Ageism
As we age, we find the complexion of our junk mail changing. We start getting mailers from “The Neptune Society” and various HMO’s that want to capture our Medicare premium dollars. We are encouraged to buy burial plots, scooters, and to ask our doctors if this or that medicine “is right for us.” Churches and charities encourage us to name them in our wills. At some point, we find that the only thing anyone is interested in is capturing as much as possible of whatever pile of money we may be sitting on – even if our survival depends on it. What friends, relatives and marketers don’t get, the government will extract in the form of its “death tax” – the final insult!
The progressive discounting of the worth of the individual in our annoyingly superficial, image-conscious, society can have the devastating effect of making one feel unloved, unappreciated, and uncared for. The less we conform to the ideal image of the beautiful person, the more our worth as persons is discounted by employers, the medical profession, marketers, husbands, wives, children and other relatives. Even fair-weather friends my blow away when they find we’ve become too “high-maintenance.”
American life is all about image, demographics, money, power and establishments. We the people are a manipulated mass whose major worth is to feed the massive maws of America’s entrenched establishments. We are the food supply of the rapacious corporations and ever-burgeoning governments that constitute the national infrastructure. Once we become unable to supply major dollars to these two entities, we are quickly spun off to the edges of society, there to be relegated to parasite status until we die.
If you’re not a beautiful person, you’re out of it. Most of us are not beautiful people. Most of us are less than perfect. When we walk into a room, all heads don’t turn and pay homage. Perhaps, as Winston Churchill famously said of a rival, when we come into a room it becomes “suddenly somehow emptier.”
No matter. All of this is cultural, superficial, and relatively meaningless. Our actual worth as individuals does not turn on our beauty, our material possessions, or the trappings of fame, power and importance. It turns on the fact that we are human, created in the image of God, and therefore of great intrinsic worth.
Before we allow ourselves to get lost in, and discouraged by, the values, or lack of same, of the world around us, let’s regain some perspective. Who we are in the world is relatively unimportant. Who we are in Christ is all-important. Let’s examine some relevant passages of Scripture.
John 2:15 – 17: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of the Father lives forever.”
John 3:13: “Do not be surprised my brothers if the world hates you.”
I Timothy 6:6-7: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
Luke 12:15: “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life consists not in the abundance of his possessions.”
I Samuel 16:7: But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his [Eliab’s] appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
That last quoted verse seems to sum it up. God is not concerned with our height, or lack of it, our appearance, skin color, weight, financial stature, the size of our home, the number of cars we own, the opulence of our wardrobe, our jewelry, our prettiness or ugliness, or our status in society. Rather, he is looking at our hearts. He wants to see what kind of people we are inside, not on the outside.
If a person had won the Nobel Prize in science, and yet was an immoral, mean-spirited individual, the prize would mean nothing. Human accomplishment seems to mean little to God. Our outward appearance means even less. What matters to him is the state of our inner man or woman. So what if you fat, frumpy and lacking in sex appeal. Do you think that matters with God? What matters is a good heart and the good works that flow from it. What matters is our love, kindness, gentleness, willingness to forgive, faith, goodness, mercy and similar qualities. Some of the most spiritual people dwell in the most unappealing bodies, while some of the most beautiful people have hearts as black as eternity.
Whom Would You Ask to Pray for You?
Let’s look at it another way: if you were sick, whom would you rather have pray for you: a homely person full of faith, or a beautiful person devoid of faith? Which best represents the Kingdom of God: material wealth and beauty, or godliness and mercy? It is humanly natural to defer to the beautiful people, to honor them above others. That’s a very human thing to do. Some churches parade “celebrity Christians” before TV cameras to boost their own appeal. They seat them in the front row so all can view them as pastoral trophies. James offers a correction that mentality:
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor many in shabby clothes comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or “Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4).
James then writes, “Listen my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor…” (Verses 5 & 6a).
It should be clear by now that God is concerned with our inner, not outer, qualities. A frump full of faith is better to God than a wealthy, status-hungry, slim, cosmetically beautiful, preening peacock with a power do, who is no more spiritual than Saddam Hussein on a bad hair day.
God Loves us Individually
Perhaps the most important thought of all is that God loves each one of us personally. Each of us, no matter our age, color, poverty or appearance, is a cherished child of the living God. God not only loved the world in general enough to sacrifice his son for it (John 3:16); he loved us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8).
To rule Israel, God picked a young, short youth named David over his taller, more impressive-looking brothers. He used a bald-headed prophet (II Kings 2:23), to speak on his behalf to Israel. Mary Magdalene, once possessed of seven demons (Mark 16:9), became a part of Jesus’ personal entourage. God raised from the dead a seamstress named Dorcas (Gazelle) who had sewn garments for needy Christians (Acts 9:36 ff.). Jesus paid attention to a short man in a tree (Luke 19:1 ff.). His name was Zacchaeus and he was a tax-collector. In those days tax-collecting was a “despised profession” of the lowest social status. One of the original prophets or teachers in the Church at Antioch was a black man named “Niger” (Acts 13:1). It is quite possible that a woman named “Junias,” a relative of Paul’s, may have been numbered among the apostles (Romans 16:7).
Heinz 57 Accepted
Jesus Christ has received into his body, the Church, all kinds of people of all backgrounds, sizes, shapes and descriptions. Paul lists the kind of people who made up the congregation at Corinth: “…Neither sexually immoral or idolaters nor adulterers no male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy or drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers shall inherit the Kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were…” (I Corinthians 6:9b – 11). Note the past tense of “were.” They had repented of these things and were now “washed” (verse 11). The point is: God received them, warts and all. Their background in sin meant nothing to him. What mattered is that they were willing to clean up their acts and get right with God at the level of the inner man. They had been “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (cf. Romans 12:1-2).
We are here on this planet for but a brief moment. Our lives are mere vapors – transient puffs of ephemeral smoke in the vastness of time and space. The greatest human accomplishments are dwarfed by the enormity of the context in which we accomplish them. The bodies we have are tabernacles – temporary dwelling places to be discarded after we are finished with them. At some point, we will be “gathered to our fathers” and our bodies lain aside like garments no longer needed. No matter how fat, skinny, short, tall or grotesque our bodies might be in this life, those bodies will replaced with a “glorious body” like the glorified body of Christ (I Corinthians 15:35-49).
In the world to come, we will no longer be discriminated against because of our appearance, our poverty, our illness, our lack of social status, our race or ethnicity, our height, our glasses, our wheelchairs, our deformities, the kind of car we drive, the size or neighborhood of the house we live in, our looks, or even our Christian faith. We’ll have new bodies, new outlooks, and new destinies. The sufferings of this sorrowful world will have passed into eternity. Cancer will never again ravage the bodies of hapless victims. Heart trouble and diabetes will be mere memories. The searing pain of migraines, osteoporosis, arthritis, and rheumatism will be over and forgotten. Damaged brains and crippled bodies will be no more.
Fat frumpy bodies with jiggling, cottage cheese-like cellulite will be replaced with glorious new bodies that will last forever and be a joy both to behold and to live in. To borrow a line from the Marines, we’ll be all that we can be. John wrote of this glorious future in the Book of Revelation: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying; ‘Now the dwelling place of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
All of the tears of humiliation, loneliness, rejection and embarrassment will be wiped away never to appear again. The old order – this one – will be no more. A glorious new order will be brought into being. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:5). Note the word “everything”! I believe those words. I look forward to their fulfillment.
This stinky world, with its humiliations, its hatreds, its destructive evils, and those who perpetrate them, will be a thing of mankind’s dark developmental past. The Lord told John that “…the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
Point is, take courage, have hope; for this ugly, painful world order is on its last legs. It’s not forever. It has failed, and it is failing. Yet, out of it God is building a new and glorious kingdom. The new order will bury the old. “Blessed are those who wash their robes [clean up their acts], that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).
Those unrepentant dogs that have made the world the ugly, painful place that it is will have no place in the world to come. Of them Christ says, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murders [i.e. terrorists], the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15).
With evil gone, and the righteous rewarded, peace will break out and the world will be full of the joy of the Lord. No one in the new world will be ashamed of his or her body. We will share in the glory and wealth of our Lord. God hasten that wonderful day!