Separation of church and…scale? • Leslie Friedman Consulting: Fashion, Personal Branding, and Communication Resources
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Separation of church and…scale?

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Image Consultants get to have lots of fun discussions with their clients. We talk about shoes, handbags, the best way to style a blazer for the weekend. We chat over wine about which glasses will be the most flattering and which hairstyle best accentuates your face. We’ll dig into the inner psychology of body language and help you harness it to be more powerful, approachable, or polished.

However, there is one conversation that I don’t like engaging in as much, but it’s just as important to your image as body language, clothing, hair, and accessories. Yes, it’s your weight.

To be clear, it’s not my job to tell you that you are  too fat or too skinny. (The term ‘fat’ in and of itself is a ridiculous one because it is so relative…case in point: have you ever heard someone use the term ‘skinny fat’?) No, my job isn’t to assess your weight and condemn you; my job is to help you portray a certain set of qualities through your appearance. And let’s face it: It’s hard to convince someone that you are disciplined when you are morbidly obese (remember- chances are they aren’t aware of a surgical complication that may have caused the weight gain). It’s equally as difficult to convince someone that you are worthy of respect when your bones are protruding through your skin in an unnatural manner and you don’t look like you even respect yourself (once again- most people don’t automatically assume a medical complication).

Obviously, there’s a lot of middle ground between obese and underweight, but I’m not too concerned about those people. We’re not the ones having that conversation. If you are in-between the extremes (which most of us are) you are most likely, relatively healthy. The key is to keep your body in a condition that is healthy for your height and body type. I say ‘condition’ rather than weight because how you feel is much more important than what the scale says. When you feel healthy and fit, you know it; you don’t need a scale to confirm your emotions.

So what does this have to do with the Church? I want you to understand my full view on body image before we talk about it in a Christian context.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine started an exercise class combining stretching, aerobic fitness, and at the end- a short devotional. The class is open to women of all ages (chair routines are available for those who have joint issues and need a lower impact workout) and all denominations. You don’t even need to be a Christian to join or even go to church. She told me that the class was designed to reach people with the love of God in a non-traditional way. How fantastic! While the class was wonderfully refreshing, welcoming, and fun, it made we wonder (and not for the first, second, or third time in my life) why the Church so often glosses over the fields of health and fitness. Why is doing something healthy ‘non-traditional’ when it comes to the Church?

I mean, think about it. When was the last time your pastor preached about the sin of gluttony? Have you ever heard of a congregation rally together to do a 5k or even a mile walk? I was raised in the Methodist denomination, and if there’s one thing Methodists are great at, it’s a mean pot luck. I don’t think too many other denominations are that far off. If you count the number of food get togethers you have in your church compared to the number of health or fitness related activities, there’s absolutely no comparison.

So here’s the big question: WHY?

Here’s a few suggestions (with, of course, my devil’s advocate responses):

1. It’s a really touchy subject and we don’t want to offend anyone. As pointed out above, there is a big difference between healthy and unhealthy (whether that be too big or too small). It’s far more of a grey zone than say, being gay or cheating on your spouse, or not reading your Bible even. Although, you don’t find a lot of pastors who have a hard time sermonizing on the above issues. Plus, isn’t it much more fun (and non offensive) to just talk about Heaven?

2. It’s just not as fun. Like fat, fun is a relative term and similar to beauty- as it is in the eye of the beholder. Many people would argue that sitting around fellowshipping over a grand meal is much more fun than doing a walk with matching Church t-shirts. This is when the Church needs to get creative. A lot of churches have kitchens. Have someone do a cooking tutorial on preparing healthy meals for one or two people (many older people would love the social interaction while learning great tips) or for quick weeknight family dinners. Host an exercise class like my friend (who btw- teamed up with a dance teacher because she has no formal fitness training). There are ways to make healthy fun.

In a 2011 study, Northwestern University found that church goers are much more likely to be obese. In fact:

Even after controlling factors such as age, race, sex, education, income, and baseline body mass index, 32 percent of those who attended services the most became obese by middle age, while 22 percent of those who attended services the least became obese. Source here.

The study was conducted to target possible at risk groups to help better educate them about the dangers of obesity. Does anyone else see the irony here? The Church, who has been enlisted to teach others and who abides by a Holy Book warning against gluttony and instructing readers to “view their bodies as a temple” is in need of an education!

What we (as the Church) need are strong leaders who are willing to rise up and encourage new traditions of health and wellness. We need creative individuals who are willing to spend time loving others by helping them live healthy lifestyles. Does this mean that we should halt pot lucks all together? No, but it may mean raising awareness and consciously acting to better the community of believers as a whole. It is my hope that one day some University or College will run a study to try and figure out why Christians are healthier and respect their bodies more than the average populous. Wouldn’t that be great!

What are your thoughts? Should their be a separation of church and scale (figuratively of course…as I pointed out, numbers aren’t the issue) or not? I’d also love to hear about great health and wellness programs that your Church is doing. Sharing your ideas could inspire others.

~Leslie

Disclaimer: This essay is my personal opinion and does not reflect any stance taken by a specific denomination or religion.

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