Fat. Single. Christian.
“I see how so much of love is physical attraction, especially at the beginning. It’s not the story we’re told. It’s not the one I wanted to believe.” In the latest episode of the “This American Life” podcast, Elna Baker discussed her journey of losing 100 pounds only to grow frustrated with the superficial attention she began to attract. We resist the narrative of physical attraction dictating love, especially inside the walls of the church where we hope to find much more stringent, substantive dating criteria than waist size, but maybe Elna’s onto something.
It feels like things should be different in the church. Markers of spiritual maturity, like depth of character or a willingness to serve, should trump my above average BMI, but very rarely is that the case. I see it in the faces of guys I’m meeting for the first time after being matched on eHarmony, even though we’ve exchanged weeks of witty banter and embarrassing confessions. I hear it in the concerned tones of mentors and parents and friends who repeat phrases like “You’ve got such a pretty face,” and “I know you want to be married someday. Do you think losing weight would help?”
Every ounce of my being cringes, because they’re probably right. And I hate that. I am talented and opinionated and passionate and valuable. I am good at writing and making jokes and cleaning. I would make a wonderful wife, and I would spend the rest of my life trying to selflessly love and serve my husband. I would love to whittle away the days manning a minivan full of foster kids and friends to soccer games and recitals and tutoring. None of these things would be diminished because of my size, and yet none of them seem to matter because of my size.
I once had a close friend confide in me that a boy I liked told her he could never date me, despite being “attracted to my personality,” because of my weight, because he was embarrassed by me. It was my worst nightmare come true — that my personality does not offer enough redemption for my looks. That my body is a great concession that my future husband would have to make. That everything that makes me lovable cannot outweigh my weight.
I wish I could say this guy was in the minority, but we have to face facts: for men in the church, it’s a buyer’s market. With the surplus of godly, talented, accomplished Christian women, men can afford to be pickier, holding tightly to standards of physical attraction, sense of humor, similar interest, or taste in coffee. Women, on the other hand, have narrowed down their lists primarily to non-negotiables: growing in the Lord, bathing regularly. That’s it.
Over the Weighting Game
And if you are overweight, you can’t remain that way. When getting to know a guy, I like to hint at my weight loss journey (truly a lifelong battle — I remember being on a diet when I was only eight), because it seems the only kind of tolerable fat person is the one who’s not okay being fat, the one who despises it as much, if not more, than everyone else. “As long as you’re a fat person who’s trying not to be fat, that’s acceptable. That’s a good fat person,” says Lindy West.
This rings especially true in the church when not only do people offer diet tips out of concern for my health and inability to acquire a spouse, they now also serve as a spiritual admonition. Suddenly my body is a temple, and being fat directly correlates to excessive gluttony, despite the fact that there are a whole host of outside influences that may impact a person’s weight (including a body sabotaging itself and plummeting one’s resting metabolism after significant weight loss). Gluttony, however, only seems to be a sin when it results in displeasing physical appearances.
Often I feel identified by three adjectives, and always in this order: fat, single, Christian. The fat explains the single, and both of these make me less of a Christian — or at least that’s the way it feels when a well-intentioned friend tries to convince me of the spiritual and relational merits of losing weight.
In my limited dating experience among believers, I can testify to the truth of Elna’s statement at the beginning of this post. Love isn’t even given a chance to grow without attraction, and when it seems that godliness is equated with an average BMI, I feel like I’ve lost this game before I even got a chance to play. Dating is hard enough without having to navigate body issues and the spiritual deficits that come in the pockets of my size 16 jeans.
So as I’m covertly hiding the Snickers in my cart and contritely loading up my diet shakes, I take peace in remembering that God sees the heart. God cares so much more about my prayer life than my calorie intake. He expects me to love my neighbors, of all shapes and sizes, and He welcomes me at the foot of the cross, where there’s enough room for all, even those of us with sizable hips.
About the Author
Joy Beth Smith hails from Charleston, SC, but she’s left pieces of her heart in Lynchburg, VA, Nashville, TN, and Chicago, IL. Joy Beth is passionate about connecting with other singles, and with the abundance of faulty theology surrounding singleness, marriage, and dating, she hopes to contribute to the ongoing conversations revolving around these issues. Joy Beth enjoys writing, reading, and coffee drinking, and you can often find her lurking in the corner of a local coffee shop pretending to read while shamelessly eavesdropping.