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The spirit of this age reeks. Just ask Oprah.

11 Dec

Okay, so she would not tell it to you in those words. But viewing her latest press releases with a little bit of discernment should make that fact abundantly clear.

(I think it’s only fair to warn you that a pretty serious rant is incoming.)

Firstly, let me assure you that I am not a big fan of Oprah for a number of reasons:

  • Extremely “Babylonian” theology (let the reader understand)
  • Prolific self-help options that attempt to circumnavigate any need for Jesus
  • Encouragement of people to perform charitable deeds to be trumpeted in the streets (see Jesus’ opinion of that in Matt 6:2), making  a Sweeps Week spectacle out of both the givers and recipients — all in the name of social justice
  • Putting incredible amounts of her resources into electing the most severely pro-choice president of our nation’s history

That much being said, although I  cannot and do not endorse her for a moment, my heart is really pained for her right now, because, once again, Oprah’s weight is making headlines. This confirms to me in a big way that the spirit of this age is an absolutely atrocious, insidious, hateful thing. I don’t usually use language that intense, but what’s true is true.

It is nobody’s business what Oprah weighs.

I mean it. I understand that she’s a celebrity, and with that comes a lot of people gawking at her and criticizing her. I understand that she has been a spokesperson for nearly every diet under the sun, and so it matters to people if the new diet of the month doesn’t work. But the fact that she has had to release the exact number of her weight is pretty ridiculous. The fact that it’s making headlines is even more ridiculous. Teenagers are rioting in Greece right now. Iran is test-firing missiles. Mumbai is recovering from a horrific terrorist attack. And the media has time to be horrified by Oprah Winfrey’s weight.

I have a news flash for the concerned American public: people gain (and lose) weight all the time. People are not static beings, and as such, fluctuations happen. I don’t think Oprah should have to answer for why she has put on extra weight, how she feels about her body image right now, and what her plan is for losing it again. She put on some weight. Big deal. If she’s bothered by that, all she has to do is say “oops” and move on. I don’t think she owes anyone an apology because her body is not their problem to begin with.

Which brings me to a side point that I won’t develop too much right now — I find it extraordinarily ironic that one of the big voices for a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body is now having to answer to the public for what she has done to her own body. The choice that ends a tiny human life is not a big deal. The choice that outgrows a dress size is. Something is incredibly out of whack with that picture.

The perfect body is (literally) too narrowly defined, as well as incredibly overrated.

We obsess in this culture about having the perfect body. It’s flat-out idolatry. Women are dissatisfied if they don’t fit into a size ___ (fill in the blank with any low-end single digit number you like). Men are dissatisfied if they’re not the right bulk of muscle. Half of infomercials in this country are about the latest greatest exercise machine that will turn you into a chiseled bronze athlete within weeks. Most of the rest are about amazing cooking devices that will help you make that low-fat low-carb diet possible to lose weight and feel great.

Some people will live off of iceburg lettuce and run for hours a day if that’s what it takes to lose those final five pounds. Others succumb to the deadly pattern of eating disorders, only encouraged in their self-destruction as all their friends tell them how great they look and cheer them on to keep losing weight. People who can’t muster up that perfect body spend their whole lives hating how they look and speaking in absolutely horrible terms about what kind of a person they are. Every bit of it is from the pit of hell. We have erected this mental image of what human physical perfection should be, and we rearrange our lives based on the leering presence of that idol in our hearts. We are sometimes quite literally killing ourselves to attain to that image — because after all, “We deserve it.”

That image is not a flexible one, either. Very few people actually believe or live out the, “take good care of your body to feel healthy” approach to life. Nearly everyone pursues the “look great and fight flab, get flat abs fast, fit into your high school jeans” kind of mantra. This is only reinforced as airbrushed models stare seductively at us from magazine covers, tabloids evaluate the best and worst beach bodies of our favorite celebs (who only have jobs in the first place because they’re astoundingly attractive people), and every day, some headline somewhere on the internet screams of the health hazards of having an ounce too much belly fat. Our self-worship and covetousness is often validated by health experts who treat weight as a loathsome enemy to be battled at all costs. The BMI is our ultimate standard to assess how we’re doing, not just in our health, but as a socially responsible human being (despite the fact that the BMI is fundamentally flawed because people are not math equations… but that’s another rant entirely).

Lookin pretty good, actually

Lookin' pretty good, actually

For instance, the lady of the hour, Oprah. This is a picture of her a few months ago. Currently, she professes to be mad at herself and embarrassed of how far she’s let herself go. The article which features this photo speaks of how she has “ballooned” to her current weight, and soberly warns its readers that obesity increases the risk of  high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. While I am all for smart eating, and I am all for getting a good amount of exercise and being responsible with one’s health, does the woman at right look like someone who’s got the Grim Reaper hanging out on her doorstep, sharpening his sickle for her inevitable heart attack? …No, I don’t think so either. Is she at a greater risk for all the usual obesity scares? Maybe, but I would venture to guess it’s not by much. I imagine she hasn’t been subsisting entirely on Krispy Kremes and Big Macs.

I have a very strong suspicion that nine times out of ten, when people are spouting all the language about increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, etc., what they really are thinking is, “It’s not the perfect body that we all worship and covet.” While, of course, having an unhealthy amount of weight can lead to those things, there is no way we should be using that to justify battling those last few pounds between us and our ideal body. It’s a very convenient smokescreen for the pain in our hearts over not meeting our own unreasonable and ungodly standards of beauty.

Is not life more than these things?

In a word, yes. In two words, of course. In five words, you had better believe it.

Living in a responsible, healthy way is important. But there’s an enormous difference between living in a way that allows your body to function well and living in a way to pursue that “just one size smaller”, convincing ourselves that we’ll be happy when we make it.

I think we would do well to apply the words of Jesus’ to this issue:

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? …Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek… But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:25, 31-33)

Jesus wasn’t talking about the weight issue when He gave this sermon. Space doesn’t allow me to go into detailed discussion of this passage, although it’s well worth discussing. For now, though, I would like to look at some overarching principles of these verses that definitely affect how we deal with our bodies.

Anxiety over food and clothing extends far beyond basic survival matters.  What I’m thinking  of is how these apply to our comfort, money, and honor. We waste so much emotional energy on what we eat and drink. Carbs or no carbs. Sugar or artificial sweeteners. How many calories have I had today? Do I dare accept that cup of coffee? etc. And what’s it all unto? What we wear. How we appear to ourselves and to others. The number that’s on the scale or on the tag of our jeans. Again, wisdom in nutrition is good and necessary, but that is a far cry from what the vast majority of us are worried about. Forty pounds (back to Oprah’s example) is not nothing, but it certainly isn’t the end of life as we know it.

Jesus said that sweating the small stuff is what the Gentiles do. It’s the system of this world that freaks out over honor and comfort and is perpetually driven to pursue those things. It’s the spirit of this age that stakes everything on a false image erected to some perfect human physique that doesn’t even exist. So much of what we uphold and pursue is chaff. It doesn’t matter very much temporally, and certainly not at all eternally. At the end of the day, life is more than these things.

If we spent half as much time working on our inner life as we currently do worrying about our appearance, we would all be in a much better place. The Lord is not going to evaluate our lives with a tailor’s measuring tape or a doctor’s scale. He wants to know what we did with our hearts and how we consequently possessed our vessels with honor to God, purity and obedience. If we pursue the Lord’s kingdom and righteousness first, as Jesus told us, then that will affect our ability to make wise choices regarding our health (although it does not guarantee us a perfect physique, because God is not worried about us having one). But if we pursue so-called “wisdom” in our appearance and health first, giving our strength, time, and money to that end, it will dramatically impact our ability to seek His Kingdom.

Again, I repeat. The spirit of this age reeks. The recent media ostracization of a very beautiful and basically healthy woman is just one symptom of it. I intend to fight that inward idolatry by the grace of God, and I plead with you to set your heart to do so as well.

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11 Comments

Posted by on December 11, 2008 in My Two Cents

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

11 responses to “The spirit of this age reeks. Just ask Oprah.

  1. Dorean Beattie

    December 11, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Awesome to hear a sane voice on this matter. Preach it!

     
  2. Scott

    December 11, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Amen. Especially as the dad of three girls ages 15-26. Amen.

     
  3. Nancy Wylde

    December 12, 2008 at 1:53 am

    This blog is fabulous! This ‘body image’ is still around! I have an entire chapter about this beauty myth image in my latest book.
    Nancy Wylde

     
  4. Wendy

    December 12, 2008 at 8:20 am

    Go Amanda – Flee Babylon!

     
  5. Kacie

    December 12, 2008 at 11:26 am

    thank you, precious treasure of a person, Amanda. simply… thank you.

     
  6. haley

    March 18, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    i agree for the most part; but I believe as good stewards of what the Lord has given us, we are responsible to steward the temples that are our bodies well- not just meaning ‘no smoking’, duh, but – the #1 cause of death in america (after hospital related accidents- scary) is heart failure. Why? because we overeat, and we overeat fattening junk food. America consumes 8 times more than any other country. we are overusing our resources and overstepping our bounds. instead of giving to the poor, we are exploiting them, directly and indirectly.
    We should never fear the opinions of others, worry about what we will eat, idolize a certain body type, etc. but we should definately not shorten the years God intended us to live and serve Him on this earth out of some misguided notion that we can eat what we want because it’s a superficial thing to think about. The use or abuse of food can kill you or heal you. It’s an amazing tool that God gave us, and we should simply use wisdom about what we are putting in our bodies, so as to give the most back to the Lord in our time, energy, health, and length of life. He can take me home tomorrow if He wants to, but I’m not going to step in front of a bus, or eat at mcdonalds every day, and assume that it was the perfect will of God when I die of bus-squishing or heart failure.

    haley

     
  7. Amanda Beattie

    March 19, 2009 at 2:07 am

    Haley: I agree, and I tried to mention that in my post. From my experience though, most of the time, for most people, we buy into the hype and self-worship of having a picture-perfect body, which is just as much in error as wanton gluttony. I have met very few people who will gorge on fast food every day and think it’s not a big deal, but I have met a whole lot of people who hate themselves for how they look. This article is mainly addressing that second group. 🙂

    Thanks for your comment! And again, I absolutely agree, good stewardship of our body is imporant.

     

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