Author speaks out against the religion of thinness

Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa sold their T-Shirts before the lecture Thursday in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.

Caroline Havekost

In her lecture “The Religion of Thinness,” author Michelle Lelwica focused on the relation of religion and body image and how to understand their effects on our society.

Lelwica said she used to struggle with her body image.

When she began studying theology in college she finally realized the many parallels between body image and religion. She cited biblical stories on how a woman’s body is seen as inferior, shameful and full of distrust.

Lelwica said every person has spiritual needs, such as rituals, moral codes, inner peace and beliefs. When these are not met people often satisfy them in an unhealthy way.

In her book, “The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers behind Women’s Obsession with Food and Weight,” Lelwica has two tools on how to become more aware of body image: cultural criticism and the mindfulness practice.

Lelwica focused primarily on cultural criticism Thursday night. In using this tool, a person is to question social norms, examine assumptions and ask the question “Who benefits?”

Lelwica said cultural criticism is a spiritual practice people can use to alleviate suffering. To use this, Lelwica believes a person needs to wake up to what is happening around them.

Her lecture featured images of fashion models, magazine covers and cartoons that display the importance of a slender figure and how they send a mixed message to society.

“The lecture made me think about the social norms of the female body unconsciously coming through in magazines,” said Kaitlyn Schafer, freshman in psychology.

Schafer enjoyed seeing all of the images Lelwica shared and how unrealistic many of them were.

When asked how to teach young children how to have a positive view of their own body, Lelwica said actions speak louder than words. She believes that by having a positive attitude of your own body, you can set the example for children.

“You should use words to reinforce your actions,” Lelwica said. “For example, by telling a child that they have made a healthy eating choice.”

Lelwica said if people live by this “religion of thinness,” it will leave them disconnected and malnourished. However, by becoming aware they can inspire themselves and others to find peace with their own body.