Tonight in Dietland…

As I was driving home from a race this morning, licking my wounds after being beaten by one-tenth of a second by a guy in a hand-bike, I happened to hear an interview with Sarai Walker supporting her novel, Dietland. There aren’t a lot of novels that focus on militant fat people, but apparently Walker’s is just such a novel. And I hasten to add that I use the word “fat” because she used that word rather than “heavy” or “full-figured” or somesuch.

I’ve never been a fat (or heavy or full-figured) woman, so I’m not all that well equipped to comment in this area. For most of my life I was a fat man–not huge, but certainly carrying around sufficient weight that I would never make the cover of GQ. Does that count?

If Sarai walker is correct, then being a fat woman is a dreadful thing. She tells the interviewer as much on behalf of her main character.

You know, society hates fat people and she’s been stigmatized her whole life, so of course she hates herself and she wants to lose weight, which is of course understandable. But then when she meets the women of Calliope House, she begins to think about her relationship with her fat body in a different way. She begins to think, you know, maybe there’s nothing wrong with my body; maybe it’s the way that other people are treating me. And so I think that she comes to see it as a politicized issue, because it is. I mean, a fat body is always a politicized body.

I can’t argue that society has a dreadful bias against people who do not conform to expectations of appearance. I also can’t argue that this bias is more pronounced with regard to women than to men. Men, by and large, can get away with being fatter than women. That’s not fair.

My question, though, is whether unfair bias in one direction means that we should simply embrace fatness and dismiss it as irrelevant. Or do we shift the threshold for “fat” upward.

It’s important within the church that we look at people, as much as we are able, in the way that God sees us. In God’s eyes, minus the transformative power of Christ, we are all pitiful creatures swimming around in a cesspool. The “beautiful” people might only be 95% covered with sewage, while the outcasts–the fat, the skinny, the ugly, the scarred–are 98% covered. Would you really brag about that sort of difference? We also have to recognize that we have surfaces other than the exterior that can smeared with foulness. After all, didn’t Jesus say something about white-washed tombs?

At the same time that we attempt to look with eyes of love at others, regardless of their bodily defects, we all need to admit the 95% or 98% coverage of nastiness upon us and work toward cleaning ourselves up.

Sarai Walker seems to sympathize with her band of Fat Terrorists, as if being looked at in an unkind way justifies violent behavior. I’d have to disagree with her on that count. But I can’t ignore the fact that the fellow on the handbike is a bit “heavy.” If I had beaten him, who knows how he might have reacted.

Not Knowing Enough: Amy DeRogatis’ Saving Sex

9780199942251(An entry coincidentally published on Mark and Penny’s 33rd wedding anniversary)

As a professor of religion and American culture at Michigan State, Amy DeRogatis does not immediately rise to the level of expert on the evangelical world’s view of sex, although she has clearly studied more evangelical sex manuals and advice books than anyone I know. Should you want a long–and I mean long, as in nine pages–bibliography of primary sources on the topic, DeRogatis’ book, Saving Sex is your source, and her mind is clearly powerful as it scans over and analyzes these sources. Unfortunately, as an outsider to the people she is studying, DeRogatis commits the all-too-common interpretive fallacy, allowing her comments to reflect more her own predispositions than the actual content studied.

An example of this thinking is found toward the end of the volume, when she asks, “If sex within a sanctified marriage is fabulous, why do evangelicals continue to buy books about sexual technique and practices?” I might flippantly turn that same question around on the author and ask, “If casual sex in a hookup culture is so fabulous, why does Cosmo need to put several advice articles into every issue?” She might have asked the simpler question: “If evangelical marriage is so great, why do they have so many marriage workshops and retreats?” The answer, which any honest questioner could provide for him or herself, is that even great evangelical marriage can be better. In fact, returning to her rather catty sex question, the proliferation of books can be easily taken to indicate that “sex within a sanctified marriage” is fabulous enough to be worth making even better.

Not surprisingly, this book focuses on aspects that the author finds particularly peculiar or (my word, not hers) creepy. Honestly, I can see how an outsider might find purity balls, where young Christian girls pledge their fidelity before marriage to their fathers, to be questionable.

Another topic DeRogatis takes up, one much farther afield from the evangelical mainstream, is found in a book called Holy Sex by Terry Wier and Mark Carruth. This 1999 publication espouses a belief that you might have never heard before. It seems, according to these authors, that demons are transmitted by bodily fluids.

I don’t fault DeRogatis for including this bizarre teaching in her survey of the topic, but she dedicates roughly 20 pages of the 155-page total in Saving Sex to this one source. This is not a book published by a prominent evangelical house, by a household-name author, or by an organization like Focus on the Family. The book is, apparently, out of print and does not seem to have left much of a footprint on the discipline. Why then, does this author give it so much attention?

An explanation for this, I believe, is that DeRogatis has her beliefs and evangelical beliefs aren’t them. Early in the book, she says, apparently innocently, “Scholar Breanne Fahs explains ‘purity balls enter women into a system of commerce in which their sexuality becomes an object to be traded between men.'” Fahs explains? Is that the right word? Fahs might be said to “opine” or “suggest” or “theorize,” but she’s hardly explaining in this quotation. By the same token, she might have suggested that Wier and Carruth explained in their book, but she does not give them that sort of cachet.

As a married Christian, I am enthusiastically in favor of sex. What I favor less is allowing the secular world to define the vocabulary and the values that surround our sexual practices. In this case, the author admits that she did not really know much about the topic before her research began. In the end, I have to argue that while she knows a great deal about it, she doesn’t really demonstrate the sort of understanding that one might gather from within.