A new study finds that nearly every woman - no matter her weight - thinks she just isn't thin enough. A Cornell University professor and graduate found that half of underweight women want to stay the same weight or get thinner, and 90% of normal-weight women still want to lose weight.
The researchers said women idealize a body weight and shape that doesn't match healthy standards. Travis Stewart, director of ministry relations for Remuda Ranch (a Christian eating disorder treatment center), said the church should think about how it addresses body image and eating disorders.
"We tend to take those diagnosed with eating disorders and put them in a category and say that they're different from ourselves," Stewart said, but many women without a full-blown disorder still see their bodies inaccurately and may under-eat or over-exercise.
Stewart said anorexic girls tend to be perfectionist, a problem that a performance-based, legalistic church can worsen. He cited Lilian Calles Barger, author of Eve's Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body, who says thinness has replaced chastity as a virtue. Modern women believe that a strong, self-controlled, virtuous woman is a woman who exercises and controls her eating. This reflects Stewart's own experience counseling girls who say they feel pride or shame based on what they eat: "Think about the implications of that in the church. The most self-controlled, the most godly woman is the woman who controls what she eats, exercises."
Stewart said the church needs to have a deeper discussion about the theology of the body. We say that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but what does that mean? "We don't really challenge the cultural view that our body is primarily sexual," Stewart said. "I think the church would do well to understand a person as a whole person."