Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Big Bottom Blessing: How Hating My Body Led to Loving My Life, by Teasi Cannon


A memoir of sorts, tracking the author’s struggles with obesity, self-image, and spiritual growth. I confess, I was expecting more of a how-to book—something that would offer me advice and hope in my own attempts to achieve (and maintain) a healthier weight. I’m not sure exactly where this idea came from, other than the fact that nearly all books about weight loss and “body image” are, at heart, guidebooks to the svelte figure of your dreams (or at least to the wholehearted embrace of the beauty of your body, whatever its shape). And this book is more autobiographical than instructional.  It tells me about the author’s story, but offers little to no help for my own battles with gluttony, laziness, self-indulgence, fear of man, and vanity. But now that I re-read the blurb on the back of the book, I realize that the book was billed as a memoir from the start. There’s a brief line on the back cover, telling me that her story will propel me to realize my own value and beauty, but I suspect that’s just hype from the publisher. This is her story, not yours. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

As for the content itself, I didn’t love it. Cannon is honest about the internal conversations and struggles that plague most women in today’s image-conscious society. I expect most readers will see themselves reflected in Cannon’s neuroses and temptations. But the gospel isn’t super clear here. Cannon focuses on God as adoptive father—and our resulting identity as princesses—rather than on our sinful rebellion against God. Of course, God is the adoptive father of His people (Eph 1:4-6), and the image of adoption is a beautiful picture of the gospel and the unmerited favor bestowed on us when we deserved nothing but wrath. (Ez. 16:1-14) Unfortunately, Cannon seems to be so fixated on this loving God that she doesn’t fully engage the sin issues that, at least in my case, are the true cause of my weight issues. I don’t gain weight just because I don’t see myself as the princess that I am. I am sinning—giving in to self-indulgence, gluttony, laziness, self-pity, and a host of other sins. I make my stomach my god. (Phil. 3:17-20) My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is not my own but was bought with a price. (I Cor. 6:19-20) Yet I neglect it by filling it with junk food, overeating, not getting good exercise. When I do this, I sin against God. I am not merely ‘not living up to’ my royal position. I am actively wronging God. (Ps. 51:4) And for this sin, I need to be forgiven and reconciled to my Father. Praise the Lord, this reconciliation has been effected by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross in my place. (Rom. 5:9-11) But I don’t think we can meaningfully engage in a discussion about obesity without a healthy understanding and acknowledgement of the serious nature of our sin.

Now, I realize not everyone who is obese is sinning—there are, after all, varying body types and thyroid issues and who knows what all. But I know my weight is a direct result of sin, and it sounds like Cannon’s struggles are steeped in sin as well—fear of man, envy, vanity, etc., all of which I know well myself.

Cannon’s incomplete understanding of sin is particularly noticeable when she is discussing the sexual abuse she endured as a child. She recalls a ‘conversation’ with God (the book is full of these) in which He essentially told her the story of a little boy who was physically abused and thus grew up to be so terrified of adults that he became a pedophile. She does not claim that this was true of the man who abused her, but seems to imply that sin is based on brokenness—that is, we sin because we’ve been hurt.  This is contrary to the Bible’s assertion that we sin because we are sinners. Ever since the Fall, it’s been in our nature to do bad things. (Ps. 14:3Eph. 2:1-3) We don’t need to be victimized in order to victimize others. It may be easier and more palatable to extend forgiveness to a pedophile if one believes he was the victim of circumstance, but I don’t know that it’s consistent with scripture. After all, God forgave us when we were in rebellion against Him, and we had no excuse. He didn’t say “well, she had it rough, so I’ll let her into heaven.” His forgiveness is revolutionary precisely because there were no mitigating factors. “Guilty, vile, and helpless”—that’s what we were. Only when we have a complete understanding of sin can we fully appreciate the lavish grace He has poured out on us.

Cannon also runs into problems in her discussion of God’s sovereignty. Again, when dealing with the sexual abuse against her, Cannon asks God why He didn’t protect her and prevent the abuse in the first place. Her conclusion, placed once again in the mouth of God Himself, is that God is powerless to override free will. He gave us free will and if men choose to pervert it, He cannot stop them. This interpretation leaves us with an image of a helpless God, wringing His hands in heaven as he worries distressedly over the horrible things people do to each other—things He would like to stop, but he cannot. This is not the God of the bible. (Gen. 50:19-20; Ps. 33:10-11; Ps. 45:6-7Prov. 16:49; Prov. 19:21Prov. 21:1Ecc. 7:14; Is. 46:9-10; Acts. 4:27-28Eph 1:11-12) The theology of suffering is challenging, to be sure, but stripping God of His sovereignty is no answer.

Finally, a word about Cannon’s “cure.” Essentially, the course of the book could be summed up as follows: I hated my body and my weight and I was overweight and sinful and I tried everything and nothing worked and I prayed and went to conferences and nothing worked and then one day God fixed it and now I’m happy. The end. It has the merit of being honest, at least—Cannon doesn’t claim that the solution lies in books or conferences or diets or even prayer. The solution is God, and He steps in when He sees fit. True, but not terribly helpful for those of us not yet ‘healed’ of our body image issues.

Then, too, this ‘healing’ doesn’t deal with the very real sins often interwoven with obesity. Even if tomorrow God shows me that my body is ‘beautiful’, that doesn’t mean it’s beautiful when I stuff myself even though I’m already full. It’s not beautiful when I give in to every craving even though I know the fat or sugar is bad for my body. It’s not beautiful when I laze about on the couch instead of stretching my muscles and taking care of my body so I will be fit to serve the Lord well and can stay mobile. We may be beautiful to God, and it is wonderful when He allows us to see ourselves as He sees us. But He cannot see our sin as beautiful—nor should He. Our sin is ugly. And no amount of God-given self-acceptance can change the sinfulness of sin. Our sin is forgiven; it is not accepted. (Prov. 15:25Is. 61:8; Matt. 23:25Gal. 5:19-21)  If we view our sin with complacence, we are not seeing ourselves as God sees us.

At the end of the day, this book was simply not all that helpful, and seemed to suffer from some very questionable theology. As such, there wasn’t really enough to warrant recommending it to others. If you struggle with food/health/weight issues, you’re better off reading Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Love to Eat, Hate to Eat, and giving this book a pass.

I received this book for free from Handlebar Marketing for this review.  This book has been identified by the marketing campaign as pertaining to body image, self image, low self esteem, sticks & stones, hurtful words, and how to build self esteem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm just so sorry that you are so hard on yourself. I feel sad that you judge yourself so harshly, because I think God would like to lavish his love upon you and call you his daughter. (see 1 john 3) Yes, sin is real. But God loves us in spite of our sin. when we think of ourselves as bad, we tend to continue to behave badly. When we see ourselves as deeply loved children of God, we tend to rise to those expectations and identity. I read this book as well and found it really helpful--but you're correct, it's not a weight loss guide. Grace and peace to you, friend.