Just about everybody in modern society has something to say about weight – their own or someone else’s. And it’s usually not very nice. In fact, dishing about weight is practically a national pastime.
But is fat evil? Is there a moral outrage behind fat shaming?
For many people, I think there is: fat is the one visible symbol of ‘weakness’ or ‘lack of self control’ that they can openly mock or criticize. And so many of the behaviors that have been historically be deemed ‘bad’ are now tolerated, even venerated.
How can I think that? Let’s take a look at the Seven Deadly Sins, shall we?
– Greed – Lust – Pride – Envy – Wrath – Sloth – Gluttony –
Looking at the list, sins like greed, lust, and pride aren’t really that big a deal for a lot of people – television shows are dedicated to worshiping people for accumulating vast sums of money, seducing multiple romantic partners, and praising their own accomplishments. Add envy and wrath and you’ve got a Real Housewives franchise. Throw in a little sloth and you’ve got the Kardashians.
But if it’s okay to be a shark in deals, trade in your spouse for the next best thing, or cat-fight with the Bad Girls, it’s not okay to be fat. And why not? Because being fat is still sinful.
Gluttony as a Female Sin?
“Gluttony – an inordinate desire to consume more than which one requires.”
Gluttony might be seen historically as taking food from others’ mouths, especially in times of scarcity. But it’s also seen as a wanton act, its definition stretched to apply to a lot of other female desires, especially sex. Even in showbiz: as a young vaudeville performer, Mae West was criticized early on for her ample figure, which critics jeered at because she so obviously satisfied her ‘carnal desires’.
Women are encouraged to have sexual desires today, but mostly if their desires are more about pleasing others than themselves – like one of Hefner’s multiple girlfriends. And in this way, fat can be seen very easily as a way of satisfying one’s own carnal desires instead of prioritizing others’. And we can’t have women putting their own desires up front, can we?
It’s kind of ironic, actually: in a culture where almost any desire can be sated, women (and increasingly, men) are told that they can have anything they want, as long as they abstain from any desires that would interfere in their looking young and desirable to everyone else.
In other words, be as bad as you want – just don’t get fat:
Amy Schumer can be dark, but we’ve all been there: ashamed of how ‘bad’ we’ve been, when all we wanted was a piece of cake. Gluttony is a different ‘sin’ now – Kelly Osborne famously remarked that she got more flack for being fat than being a drug addict. Because the modern imperatives for morality are cosmetic: perhaps no one can tell what drugs you’re currently taking, but if you look good in yoga pants, they don’t really care.
And it’s not just the immoral modern crowd that do this – there’s a version of ‘Fat is Evil’ in the Christian community as well:
This is (currently) a smaller crowd than the usual fat-shaming hordes, but strangely (since Christians are supposed to be more forgiving than the rest of humanity) no less judgey. Know this: if you’re working towards moral perfection, then you can make sure to repent your sin of gluttony while you’re at it. And you can work your sinful issues out either by simply eating half of what you normally do, or putting yourself through a twelve question self-interview to make sure each questionable eating event is not sinful. These methods seem ironic to me, since most of my moral guilt over eating revolves around how I should eat every.single.bite of my food as gratitude for not having to worry about starving to death – but growing up Catholic with parents who survived the Great Depression will do that.
Living in a culture of plentiful food, it’s easy to project our concepts of sin onto fatness. And there are so many ways to self police – low-fat, paleo, vegetarian, and slow food diets all promise to wash away our guilt and doubt about our eating. But the public moral imperative is mostly cosmetic, especially for those of us who live in big cities. Strangers passing by on the street would never know if we’re sociopathic serial cheaters who’ve murdered a couple people along the way, but they can see whether we look like we go to the gym – or at least whether we look like people in the ads for the gym. And that meets our need for the most common temptation of all – to judge others.
Devil’s Fire Cupcakes photo and recipe at CakeWalker.
“Big Fat Sinner” graphic from ChristianWeightloss.com.
Gluttony photo of Alicia Wadden by Katie Alves. P.S. Katie also did a seven sins series in her trademark effects makeup. Here is Gluttony: