the first of a two-part series
If you want to see me come undone, just make fun of the chubby kid.
BYU. 1989. Religion 324: Doctrine & Covenants Manual pg. 382.
My aged instructor read Question A out loud:
“Why did God give me a body that is fat and ugly? I’ll never get a date because I’m too homely.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, but the pretty brunette across the aisle shot her hand into the air, “That’s ridiculous! God didn’t make her fat—she did it to herself. The spiritual solution here is to stop feeding her face.”
Laughter rippled across the classroom, but my spine stiffened and I rose to my feet. “Don’t you laugh! Obesity is a genetic curse; if you’ve never had to face it you don’t know what you are talking about.”
Shaking, I turned, slowly scanning every face in the classroom before dropping back into my chair.
Yes, yes, yes, I know. American obesity rates are horrific. Mormon obesity rates aren’t much better. As a people we need to turn off the TV, lengthen our stride and throw away the funeral potatoes. Thanks to the Word of Wisdom and our spacious ward gymnasiums we should be the healthiest people on the planet.
But individually, it’s not that simple. Modern science is finally proving what we’ve always known—that the same diet and activity level can result in vastly different body shapes. It’s not about “calories in, calories out” as much as it is “how much does your mother weigh? Your brothers and uncles and grandmother?”
My mother was fat. And it killed her. But not in the way you’d assume.
Shortly before her death this summer, my mother was diagnosed with a metabolic disorder: Cushing’s Disease. Cushing’s causes a round face, a hump in the back, depression, pain, uncontrollable weight gain.
Her weight was a symptom of her illness. Not the cause.
For years my mother had visited doctors complaining of poor health. The right blood test or MRI would have alerted doctors to her ridiculously high cortisol levels and/or revealed the tumors forming in her liver. But the doctors never looked that closely—they took one look at her bloated body and told her, “Go home, honey. Lose weight. You’ll feel better.”
I’m furious about that advice now, because an early diagnosis could have saved her years of agony. And instead of sobbing over the breakfast dishes this morning because my five-year-old asked, “Do you think I’ll get to play Candyland with Grandma Zoe in heaven someday?” I could simply call my mom and arrange a play date.
I see prejudice against fat people everywhere. Certainly in advertising and on airplanes and at sporting events, but also at the mall where an overweight woman is ignored by salespeople and the slender one is fawned over. Are heavy people judged at church? I think so. The assumption is that they lack self-discipline, holy restraint.
The answer in the Doctrine & Covenants manual is thought provoking (in fact the entire discussion is excellent) “I realize that I have been placed in a body that is not thought of as physically beautiful. But my study of the Savior convinces me that what really matters to Him is inner beauty. If the kind of body I have to live with is important to my salvation, then He would have given me a different body. I will try to make myself outwardly as attractive as possible, but my real desire is to become spiritually beautiful.”
I find this sentence especially intriguing: “If the kind of body I have to live with is important to my salvation, then He would have given me a different body.” I’ve often thought that life would be easier if we were all given a standard issue body, similar levels of intelligence and an equal inheritance of wealth and talents. But that’s not the Lord’s plan.
Why do you think the Lord gave us unique situations rather than a more uniform life experience? What can we learn from each other’s abilities and weaknesses? Do you see bias against overweight people? Do you struggle with your own body?