Another video went viral last week. I hope scientists find a vaccine soon before the next contagion. Anyhow, this latest video is titled Dear Fat People by comedian Nicole Arbour. You won’t find a link here because of Arbour’s prolific utilization of F-bombs, which I personally find tiresome, especially when used gratuitously. In other words, the prolific F-bombs do not lend any creativity to her act. But it wasn’t the F-bombs that caused the brouhaha and hate directed at Arbour. Nope, it was her derisive (mocking) tone plus her encouragement of shaming directed at fat people that landed her in hot water. In her defense, Arbour makes it clear (halfway through her act) that she is not referring to people with a medical condition beyond their control. She is talking about the millions of Americans who are overweight because they do not control their eating while living a sedentary life. She says the shaming she uses should come from friends and family of the obese to prevent their overweight loved ones from an early demise where everyone stands around the grave and cries about them being taken too soon.
As a Christian and compassionate person I am conflicted about Arbour’s fat shaming. I found much of her content to be funny, but it also felt cruel. Weight is a sensitive, even raw, subject these days, especially among females of our species. Almost everyone with a fully functioning brain knows we have what experts call an epidemic of obesity in America. Yet the billions we’ve spent on education, laws, medicine, and weight loss programs seems to have done little to abate the epidemic. Is our society too soft on the overweight? Too hard? Do we help or make the problem worse when we use euphemisms such as “body image issues?” Arbour cleverly points out that hashtags won’t fix this problem. Does Arbour deserve the hate? In my humble opinion, maybe a little. But I also remember great comedians like Don Rickles, Dean Martin (yes, he was also a comedian), Foster Brooks, Sammy Davis Junior, and Carroll O’ Connor. Those guys used racial, behavioral, and sexual stereotypes to makes us laugh at ourselves, and by doing so they quietly made us aware that many of our stereotypes were an immoral lie. They chipped away at our collective conscience. Naturally, this angered many people with strong beliefs that the stereotypes were real (they were called bigots). Perhaps Arbour is on to something similar with her Dear Fat People video. Lord knows nothing else seems to be working at tackling the extremely expensive problem of obesity in America. The thing about the older generation of comedians was that they also knew how to make fun of themselves. Arbour does this a little in her video, but she should probably do it more often.
The Bible doesn’t say much about overeating and obesity, but what is does say is strict. For instance, Proverbs 23:2 says “Place a knife at your throat to control your appetite.” This does not mean we should kill ourselves if we can’t control our eating, though I occasionally feel suicidal after a break in character that leads me to dine at McDonald’s. This particular Scripture tells us via symbolism to undertake extreme measures, if need be, to get our appetites under control. In other words, the control of our appetite has serious physical and spiritual ramifications. It’s like God is saying “Pay attention to this, it is not a minor problem you can ignore and expect to have a fulfilling relationship with me!”
In conclusion, Arbour’s video comes off as overly harsh, but we’ve also become too soft as a society. In the golden age of comedy, comedians offended a lot of people, and in doing so they participated in bringing about positive social change. If nothing else, perhaps Arbour’s video has made us aware that there is such a thing as being too accommodating of poor choices.
Weight is a sensitive issue. It’s almost as taboo as religion and politics. (I’m trembling in fear even as I write these words.) I think most people know the basic reasons for the dramatic increase of obesity in America. We have become less active and we have a tremendous variety of delicious foods to choose from. Look at the many genres of restaurants in any given city. Portion sizes have increased. Grocery stores are bigger and have thousands of items for consumers to choose from. There’s even a Food Network on television. We have become a nation of epicureans.
On the other end of the spectrum there is a plethora of diet products for corpulent consumers.
The Bible Dictionary defines Epicureans like this:
“. . . followers of Epicurus (who died at Athens B.C. 270), or adherents of the Epicurean philosophy (Acts 17:18). This philosophy was a system of atheism, and taught men to seek as their highest aim a pleasant and smooth life. They have been called the “Sadducees” of Greek paganism. They, with the Stoics, ridiculed the teaching of Paul (Acts 17:18). They appear to have been greatly esteemed at Athens.”
Yeah, well, it’s easy to be greatly esteemed when you peddle a lifestyle that makes people feel good. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve likely heard the term glutton or gluttony. We know being a glutton is sinful, but let’s consider another angle on our love affair with food—addiction. You see, our problem with food is now so extensive and harmful that we need to replace the word “diet” with “recovery.” For many people, food has become an addiction. The ecclesiastical world focuses its ministrations on addictions to alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco, pornography, and Dear Prudie. (Just kidding about Prudie.) I propose that food addiction and self-image can consume a person’s thoughts as much as those other less genteel addictions.
Let’s go back to the beginning and look at our relationship with food before and after Eve took that fateful bite of the apple, or whatever tempting fruit caused all this brouhaha.
In Genesis 1:29 God is speaking to Adam and Eve: “Then God said, ‘Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all fruit trees for your food.”
The thing that jumps out at me in this verse is the perfect relationship that God created between himself, Adam and Eve, and the sustenance they would need to survive in this world. God created a world that would provide for the bellies of humanity. Adam and Even did not need to worry about what they would eat and how they would acquire food. They had the best the world could offer and they had an endless supply. They could trust God to provide for this most basic need. They experienced complete anxiety-free satisfaction in the food they ate.
Then the serpent enticed Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. I find it fascinating that God established this crucial rule for Adam and Eve around their most basic human need—food. God did not tell them they must not take a bath in the pond of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, he told them don’t eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. It highlights the significance God places on food in his grand design. But something changed after they ate the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 3: 17 – 19 God tells Adam and Eve:
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
This is one of the consequences of the infamous fall of humanity and the corruption of nature. Here’s the point: From this moment on humanity became responsible for feeding ourselves. Not only that, we have to do it in a fallen world that doesn’t always provide for us the way we would like. Additionally, we ourselves are trying to survive and thrive in bodies and minds perverted by the knowledge of good and evil. Our physical needs became exaggerated after our survival switched got activated. Hunger and mortality dogs us throughout life. No matter how much we eat, lasting satisfaction and fulfillment eludes us. We never feel like we are taking in enough life. This is the context in which we attempt to live a balanced life that includes our relationship with weight and food.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that some folks are overweight because of infirmities beyond their control. But it helps to know what we are up against. Like an alcoholic, change won’t happen until we arrive at that holy place where we admit to ourselves and God that we need help to overcome our addiction to food. Granted, food isn’t something that can be eliminated entirely through total abstinence.
So what’s the solution? I think a big part of it is found in Matthew 6: 24-25:
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?”
Indeed, life is more than food. I suspect that each day we need to ask God to help us live, to fill all our senses with life. He is able to bless us with much more than just food. When that happens, food isn’t as important and mind-consuming. Here’s a simple little example. As I write these words there’s a cup of tea on my desk. It’s an African tea with a fragrance that reminds me of an oak forest after a fresh rain. Throughout the day I’ll simply lift the cup to my nose, breathe in the tea’s aroma, and let my memory run through the damp oak forest with soft leaves underfoot. Now that’s living . . . and it cost me zero calories!