Consumerism

The Body of Christ Needs to Talk About Body Image

Nadezhda Bolotina / Shutterstock

“This is my body, broken for you,” Jesus says to us in the central mystery of our faith. “Take and eat.” Eating is an inherently good activity, a channel of God’s goodness.

But in recent decades, this well has been poisoned for huge numbers of people. Anorexia, rare until the 1970s, today affects an estimated 1.5 million people in the United States. Perhaps twice that number have or are recovering from bulimia, a cycle of binge eating and purging (through vomiting or laxatives); millions more have binge eating alone. Up to one in five people with anorexia die from it—the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness. Eating disorders devastate the body, eroding teeth and bones, and stopping kidneys and hearts.

Christians certainly are not immune from eating disorders (they were “everywhere” at evangelical Wheaton College, one alum in recovery reports). But when was the last time you heard eating disorders mentioned in church? The body of Christ has a vocation to speak truth about the deadly idols of this present age, but instead we’ve kept a deafening silence.

Worse, underneath that silence are rubrics that reinforce rather than unravel the problems. You’re damned if you diet (vanity!) and damned if you don’t (gluttony!). Desire (for food or anything else) is blamed on the body, and both are lumped together as potential causes of sin. Old-fashioned sexism or newer libertarianism both give a pass to the hypersexualization and commodification of women.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2009
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It's the Simple Things

With the nation facing fiscal uncertainty (actually, complete and absolute certainty—just like the in­evi­table wedgie I got every day in junior-high gym class), maybe it’s time to take a break from our anxieties and appreciate the simple pleasures in our lives, the ones not yet taken away by rogue bands of unemployed bankers.

What really matter are the daily celebrations of life, those little moments of com­passion and joy that separate us humans from the animals (except for dolphins, whales, mountain gorillas, Canada geese, and various other species who have highly developed social orders that have not, at this point, been compromised by a failed banking system).

Personally, I like to watch a little television of an evening, a cost-free activity that, though joyful and deeply satisfying to a superficial person such as myself, has not been without controversy in the home. My spouse and I have a long-standing difference of opinion about the TV’s location. I like it in the living room. She prefers it sitting on a shelf at a thrift store. So we compromised: I can watch, but without the sound. This way she is not distracted from the reading she so enjoys, including her latest book, an autobiography of a woman who lived for three decades in Stalinist Russia. (I skimmed through a few pages, and maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t think it was that funny.)

Not that I don’t enjoy reading myself. I, for one, can’t wait for John Grisham’s next novel, The Noun. But in these days of fiscal uncertainty … which reminds me of an incident at my junior high cafeteria ... [Editor’s note: We GET it, already! Move on.] I prefer television—specifically, really bad television. Even with the sound off, nothing purifies the soul and elevates one’s battered sense of superiority like watching the worst the small screen has to offer. I refer, of course, to the Home Shopping Network.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2009
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Buy, Buy Baby

The branding of childhood is almost cliché by now. Who hasn’t heard the statistics? Kids recognize logos by 18 months old. The typical first-grader can name 200 brands. The average American kid watches 40,000 commercials a year. The corporate takeover of childhood is so evident that even Parents, a glossy magazine chockablock with advertisements, can publish—with no trace of irony—an article subtitled “How Corporations Turn Our Kids into Consumers.”

Less examined until recently, however, are the ways parents themselves have become marketing targets. The increase in marketing to children can actually distract parents from seeing how businesses target them directly, writes journalist Pamela Paul, author of Parenting, Inc. Indeed, long before the child in the shopping cart can point to the SpongeBob fruit snacks or beg for the Cinderella bed sheets—in fact, even before he or she is born—parents’ desire to raise safe, healthy, smart, and happy offspring is being rigorously studied and engineered. The “mom market” is estimated to be $1.7 trillion annually, according to Paul, with the toy market aimed at babies between birth and age 2 totaling more than $700 million a year.

If numbers aren’t proof enough that a new era of parenthood consumption has dawned, a visit to a baby or children’s superstore should suffice. There you’ll find videos to make your baby a genius, $150 diaper pails, luxury strollers, and crib mobiles operated by remote control. One baby superstore chain has stores containing more than 20,000 products. Then there are the services that accompany the burgeoning raft of consumer goods: baby sign-language classes, toddler gyms, and baby-name consultants.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2009
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