In my post last week, Talking With Your Kids About Fat People, I invoked the hashtag #allbodiesaregoodbodies. I was not the first one to use this catchphrase, but I think it represents size-dignity activism in a nutshell: all bodies are good bodies, so let’s act like it in what we think, say, and do. I got a little bit of pushback from my online community* specifically about the truth of the hashtag so this is my response.
Also, in case you haven't visited my home page, it is titled “Fat, Catholic, & Loved.” I am--(spoiler alert!)--a fat Catholic Christian, and so I will use both Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to make my case. See my note at the bottom for more about the Catechism.
The first time I talked with my daughter intentionally about a fat person, I chose to conclude our conversation with a phrase I had seen hashtagged in the Twittersphere: “All bodies are good bodies.”
One reader, Mitch, told me, “I keep trying to reconcile how an unhealthy body can be a good body.” I know many others have thought the same thing: Can we really say that all bodies are good bodies?
Mitch’s comment went further: “I get that every body has goodness because every body has been created by God, and each person in his image. I keep likening it to an [unkempt] garden. Gardens take work and tending to flourish and I guess I see healthy as good - spiritually, emotionally, physically [...] because Jesus came to heal the sick [...]. I'm aware that healthy can look different for different body shapes, but I'm struggling to see how we can call an unhealthy body a good body - regardless of it being skinny or fat.”
I get this question a lot. How can a body be good if it is unhealthy?
Whether something is good or not is often connected to its purpose. If we think that the purpose of our body is to possess good health, then an unhealthy body would certainly not be considered good. I love how Mitch alluded to the fact that each person is created in the image of God, a truth that automatically bestows dignity on every human who has ever lived. But were we made in the image of God so that we could possess good health?
In order to untangle these questions--what is the body for, its purpose? what criteria must a body meet to be good?--we have to start at the beginning. Or, rather, "in the beginning." With the goodness of creation. That gets straight to the root of the question of all bodies being good bodies.
According to the creation account in Genesis 1, when God finished creating the world, he stepped back and looked at what he had done: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 ESV).
The Catechism explains that “because creation comes forth from God's goodness, it shares in that goodness.” Any good we have within ourselves is because God is good. He’s good. (CCC ❡❡ 229)
God is good. And because we are made by him, we are good--along with the rest of his creation. Human beings hold a special place and purpose in created order.
Why did God make us?
- God made us to know him and love him.
Of all visible creatures only man is "able to know and love his creator". He is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake",and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity. (CCC ❡❡ 356)
- God made us for friendship with him. He doesn’t want to use us; he wants us to share in life with him in freedom (aka friendship). God doesn’t view us as tools or means to an end; he willed us into being for our own sake. He gave us the ability to know ourselves, to choose our own path, and to give ourselves to whomever we choose. By grace, we have the choice to become his friends, through faith and love.
Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead. (CCC ❡❡ 357)
If there was any question before if the dignity of our created being extends not only to our soul but also to our physical body, this statement below puts that to rest. Our whole selves--body and soul--are intended to become a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).
The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit: Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honour since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. (CCC ❡❡ 364)
It’s hard to get away from the impact of those last few lines in particular--“Man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honour since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.”
Our bodies teach us how to recognize our own need, in hunger and thirst. We learn from them that we have limits and need to rest like God commands us. Our bodies both are beautiful and bring beauty, through the thoughts we think, the art we make, the songs we sing, the stories we tell--using our bodies.
All these things reflect the goodness our bodies, things we couldn’t do or experience if we were not in our bodies. Our bodies are how we know God and how we love him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Doesn’t healthy equal good?
We can say health is good, but is it the highest good for a body? Should we pursue health above all else, so that our bodies may be good?
Our highest good is to love God with all that we are (body and soul), and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I believe that we won’t fully be able to love our neighbor until we can fully love ourselves. We have to let go of self-hatred and comparison, of feelings of failure and inadequacy. We need to cultivate a holy love of our bodies. Once we have a rightly-ordered view of our physical bodies, how much time will we have to get invested in the lives of the precious people around us? (Hey! I wrote an article about that.)
Health is definitely something we should pursue, but instead of the American version of health--conforming our size and shape to unrealistic and rarely attainable photo-shopped bodies--we need to find for ourselves a balanced health that envelopes body, soul, mind, and strength. I like Mitch’s analogy, that our bodies can be likened to a garden requiring tending. But a garden just beginning to be tamed is still a good garden. It is a garden with habits and edges that need to be curbed, but that doesn’t change the goodness of it. It’s good because God made it good.
I am reminded of the passage in Ephesians where Paul talks about the Body of Christ growing up and into Jesus, our head:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV)
When I speak the truth to my body in love, I also can address the habit of virtue I want to cultivate in my life. Like Chris Crane says so succinctly, “Healthy habits matter, and we shouldn’t neglect them.”
That’s what is at the heart of size dignity advocacy, reshaping our habits to reflect the goodness of our bodies and the love God has for us to walk in. We have to retrain our brains and hearts to build up our whole selves, body and soul, in love based in the truth of the Gospel. I am loved just as I am. He made me for friendship. I don’t have to perform to earn love from anyone. I don’t have to change my body for it to be accepted, because it is a part of me. I choose to love my body because God knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-18). By honoring my body and proclaiming its goodness, I proclaim the day that’s coming when God will raise us up again.
What about weak, broken, and sick bodies? Are they still good?
Yes! Our culture worships strength and power and despises weakness, but that is not how the Kingdom is ordered. I like to say that weakness is my tether to Jesus. Our bodies are good because they are the medium through which we get to know and love God and get to know and love our neighbors. My very first post that started my journey to size dignity activism, To All the Fat Girls, deals with this more in depth.
As we regard our bodies as good, we honor them as good creations of a good God and we anticipate when he will raise up these bodies on the last day.
Our bodies are a promise of the goodness of God.
Believing--and proclaiming--that “all bodies are good bodies” is actually preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God.
So, yes--I stand by it: all bodies are good bodies!
In this exposition, I lean heavily on the teaching of the Catholic Church, which is collected in a volume called The Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Insert link) The Catechism (referenced as CCC) fleshes out the truths of Scripture, with wisdom collected from Christian history. The numbers I’ve provided refer to paragraphs from the CCC, and you can easily access what I am referring to by Googling “Catechism of the Catholic Church + the number of the paragraph noted.
*My favorite place on the internet is the Christ and Pop Culture Members-Only Group on Facebook. It is included in the $5/month subscription (which you should totally get!) and I when I posted my piece there, I knew I would get thoughtful feedback--and I was right!
Other articles of interest at FatinChurch.com
Fitness Virtue Signaling ** Talking With Your Kids About Fat People
To All the Fat Girls ** Fat Hospitality ** Cultivating a Holy Love for Your Body
The Morality of Fatness ** Is It a Sin to be Fat? ** What Your Fat Friend Needs from You
Are You Biased Against Fat People? ** Making Room for Fat Christians
Fitting Back Into My Body After Pregnancy (for the 4th time)
The Luxury of Weight Loss ** Dating and Anti-Fat Bias in the Church
Thanksgiving: Let’s Start With Our Bodies