I’m not going to be able to blog much today, because I’ll be busy in Washington, but I wanted to say a final word on the obesity thread. First, I want to thank you who have shared your painful personal stories about struggling with weight. I am deeply impressed (and not in a good way) by how much people’s screwed-up attitudes toward food come from childhood, especially from bad relationships with one or more parents. It really does make it clear that overcoming obesity is far more complicated than simply an act of will. I thank you for helping me to understand that. Reflecting on this thread, I also have come to understand that while I absolutely should exercise more and eat less — again, I am deeply hostile to accepting the belief that I’m a victim of circumstance, and powerless to affect my own weight — I have nevertheless realized that no matter how thin I might become, I will never be thin enough in my own mind. That’s crazy. But there it is.
I also had an epiphany yesterday while looking at a couple of those evil “thinspiration” websites, which promote anorexia. They are truly revolting, in the same sense that the Jersey woman who gorges herself with food in an attempt to gain 1,000 pounds is revolting. But my reaction to the pro-ana women was overwhelmingly one of compassion — I thought, “Those poor women are in desperate trouble, and they need to be saved, whether they know it or not.” Yet that wasn’t my response to the morbidly obese Jersey woman, who is surely committing slow suicide in the same way the anorexics are. I did feel sorry for her, but mostly I saw her with disgust. Maybe it’s because her eating food struck me as something she does for pleasure (because food is pleasurable); that’s not the same as avoiding food. But on second thought, how can anyone who consumes food like the Jersey woman does possibly take real pleasure in it? Or if she does, it’s plainly a disordered pleasure; similarly, though I can’t imagine starving oneself is pleasurable, the truth is those who suffer from anorexia must, at some level, take masochistic pleasure in hunger. I can see myself — my gluttonous self, which I can’t stand — in the Jersey woman, and ironically, that ability to identify at some level with her did not lead me to have more compassion for her, but rather to despise her. I repent of that. My inability to see the morbidly obese woman who disgusted me as in the same category as the anorexics who elicited my compassion represents a failure of imagination on my part. So I’m sorry about that, and I appreciate having learned something from this discussion.
Regarding obesity and one’s struggle with weight, it sounds corny, but I guess the words of the serenity prayer really do apply: “God grant me the strength to change the things I can, to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
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About Rod Dreher
Rod Dreher is director of publications at the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy that focuses on science, religion, economics and morality. A journalist with over 20 years of experience, Dreher has written for The Dallas Morning News, the New York Post, and other newspapers and journals. He is author of the book "Crunchy Cons." Archives of his previous Beliefnet blog, "Crunchy Con," can be found here. He and his family live in Philadelphia.