A Fat Girl in Purity Culture

[image: 11th grade me on a mission trip in London, where I saw God in the smells and bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral and heard a whisper that I must learn to look in unfamiliar-to-me places]

Here are some things I remember knowing to be true as a teenager:

  • Males are hard-wired to think about sex when they think someone is attractive
  • Christian men should strive to see character, not appearance
  • As girls, there were ways we could de-emphasize our appearance and emphasize our character
  • A woman’s inner beauty is what would matter to godly men

That’s what purity culture taught me.

Culture taught me:

  • Fatness is not attractive

When I put all this together in my head, I reached the seemingly logical conclusion that only godly men would be attracted to me because they were the only ones who would have the self-control and discipline needed to see my inner beauty. I remember, as an 11th or 12th grader, opting out of the “Someday, a Marriage Without Regrets” class offered to the teens at my church because surely, I reasoned, I did not need to worry about avoiding bad relationships because only a truly godly man would ever entertain the idea of thinking about me romantically. It would take someone very close to God to get past the fat and see my heart. Men without God were incapable of finding me desirable. I’d never be faced with having to turn down the attentions of a man who wasn’t following God. I didn’t think my “character” and “inner beauty” was perfect or anything – but I did believe I was worthy of love and that I would make a great Christian wife.

So when a man came along who was interested, it took me four seconds to assume he was the one one.

I dove in head first and came out with a battered and scarred faith and I am still discovering the rippling implications that unhealthy relationship had on how I think and act.  My personality, purity culture, and the way I understood how “fatness” worked in regards to relationships were the perfect storm to set me up for this damaging relationship.

As the years went by I began to notice a trend. While I was taught that a godly man would see my beauty, it seems that the boys who were taught to “look for the inner beauty and she will be beautiful” were still just looking for beautiful.  As if they all seemed to think that a godly woman would be a “righteous fox.” (Raise your hand if you heard a youth pastor/speaker or two say that about his wife from the pulpit.)  I have a pretty high self-confidence. I have moments of extreme vanity, moments where I catch myself in the mirror and gasp because I just really think I am physically beautiful. (And I have the other moments too.)  This is not about me thinking I’m ugly, but even with my high self-confidence I can logically deduce the general perception of my appearance, and based on my completely anecdotal, biased from-my-perspective, sample-size-of-one study – – it has been the non-Christian men, or those who are “culturally Christian,” who ever express any interest in me beyond friendship.

I’ve found it to be almost 100% true that if a guy is genuinely attracted to my personality and my character and my appearance – the entirety of me, he is not a Christian. 

This has spanned my life from when I had a very conservative, women-against-feminism, I-just-want-to-be-a-housewife standpoint to who I am now – – left of center politically, feminist, who still really enjoys domestic things.  I recognize that my singleness has not a single-reason cause and that “fat people” are not the only people who experience stories like this,, but from my experience, the intersection of my fatness with my Christianity seems to make dating near impossible.

The only conclusions I can draw are from my own experience – but if other girls grew up “fat” or “overweight” in a conservative Christian / “purity culture” environment – I’d love to hear what your experience was like.  If there are any guys out there who grew up in purity culture and have input on what “type” of girl you were looking for as a result – I’d love to hear about that too.

This is a type of entry I’m hesitant to post, because one thing I loathe is a “poor pitiful me” attitude. So I hope that tone is not what you found here. I am talking about the subject because even though I am generally confident that my life has taken a course that has provided me with numerous blessings – there is still part of me that mourns the “married young with children early” life I’ll never have, and that part of me intersects with my interest about fatness in the Christian church and wants to know if it’s connected on a broader scale than just my story and perceptions.

 

 

 

37 thoughts on “A Fat Girl in Purity Culture

  1. Well, I grew up in a purely atheist, secular, feminist environment where I was taught that I could be anyone I wanted to, with or with out a man, as long as I was thin. Funny how different out backgrounds can be but the social norms around fatness seem to change very little.

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  2. I am an overweight 26-year-old virgin who grew up in a Christian home. I was taught that true love waits and I wore a purity/promise ring up until a couple years ago. I have never (to my knowledge) had a Godly man interested or even attracted to me. I have, on the other hand, had very ungodly men show interest in/attraction toward me but I found out all they wanted from me was sex. I guess they assume that chubby girls are easy because they lack confidence and self-respect.
    I firmly believe that God has a man out there for me, who will love every part of me. Someone who will see my outer beauty because of Christ in me!
    …or maybe I just believe that because it’s what I grew up hearing…

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    • Hi Whitney, sorry you struggle with some of the same realities I did! I don’t know if marriage is in the future for you, or for me, but I do believe that the way our church culture talked about bodies and relationships complicated that search a bit.

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  3. I feel like this question begs for acceptance of “fat” as though it’s the same as blue eyes. It’s a symptom of our broken world….so it’s tough to answer this question. Yes. Men were hardwired for beautiful things. And we were made to be beautiful, inside and out. I doubt Eve was overweight. Or a nag. We know she wasn’t too tired….or sick…or self conscious. Then there was sin. An illness can cause you to be overweight. But that wasn’t part of the original plan.

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  4. Yes that is what I experienced as well. In fact My youth pastor did say pray for what you want your wife to look like and he will do it. They ‘claimed’ it. But girls like me just got ‘the right one will come one day or God has a special plan for your life’

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    • oh wow. That is crazy specific to tell the guys they could pray for their appearance desires! But, yes, I got a lot of the “just wait and he’ll come” message.

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  5. thanks for writing this, very interesting. I am an overweight woman, but have been “praying” for my weight issues to be solved. I just had so many thoughts about this. One of the characteristics of anorexia is to feel pure or saintly, bc of the fasting/holy ritual. I read a book on a theory of eating disorders. I also read one time that heavy women imagine themselves as thin women in their minds during fantasies. I also had the recent epiphany that women gain weight in order to carry a pregnancy so part of our biology is the ability to sustain life and often having a family with consecutive children doesn’t always allow for weight loss. Obviously something wrong with our culture. I work at a fast paced fashion giant in NYC. I had two women come in from Europe and tell me European men won’t date heavy women. This was just after I was rejected by a Eastern European man at church who would longing look at me from a distance, and essentially mocked me when I told him I loved him. As if he would ever…I guess he couldn’t admit his attraction to me, I was shocked if only bc all the signals were there. I am so saddened by this you have no idea, I can’t help thinking it’s my weight. I also think that gluttony is supposed to be a sin right? Which I have prayed about. I am also considering surgery, but am at a crossroads. It tells you how bad the problem is, I’m obese. It does affect my quality of life. There are also other theories like set point theory which means one can’t really change, the 96% chance that if you lose it it will come back and then some, and the fact the U.S. Has a large overweight population which I think must mean it’s our food. I have also heard weight problems could be viral.

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    • Hi Frances, So sorry about the recent rejection from that co-worker. 😦 Some people can’t get past their weight bias, even when somewhere inside they know it’s wrong.

      I too have read about the “purity” feelings that can come with extreme deprivation/fasting/anorexia. It’s very much a spiritual problem when we think “controlling” out body will give us a purer spirit.

      As you seek to improve your health, I encourage you to focus on health markers that are not your weight – look at blood levels or energy or endurance – – then go from there. Of course, always consult a doctor. 🙂

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  6. A lot of men want only one thing from any woman!! Christian or not, that’s just the male way!! I used to go to Christian single conferences, and although I was truly blessed by the preaching, and the socializing with other women, the men were still pigs. They didn’t have any desire to be with you if you were heavy, and form the stories I heard about the thin women that had hooked up with them, they wanted one thing and one thing only. And as soon as they got enough from you, they left you in the dust and were on to their next conquest!! But I really feel for those guys, because they will have to answer for their sins in the end!! I’m definitely far from perfect!! But it sure would be nice to have someone to share this blessed life with. And I am 60 years old, so imagine what the future looks like to me!!

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  7. I am a 40 year old virgin. I have struggled with weight and body image all of my life. I have often had dialogues like your blog in my head. I often have to remind myself of Isaiah 55:8-9. The question I ask myself is do I have enough trust in God to believe He would have me married or in a relationship if He wanted me to be in one? He is Alpha and Omega. If He wanted it to happen, it would happen. Regardless whether I eventually meet Mr. Right or not, I put it in God’s hands. Maybe that’s the lesson I’m learning.

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  8. My daughter is a mid-twenties, overweight Christian woman who was brought up in the very same culture as you. Like you, she is a beautiful young woman. But she is the “friend” and the “buddy” of all of the “godly” Christian men, while none of them ever take an interest in her or pursue her. She is so used to getting hurt and rejected that I’ve seen a huge change in her confidence and her faith is being shaken. She’s afraid to be attracted to a guy because she has been rejected so much. Usually, they like her friends who are thinner and they will befriend her to get close to them. She always hears, “God has an amazing man for you, it’s just not me. You are beautiful, you are wonderful…yada yada…but…I just don’t feel that way about you. Some man is going to be soo lucky one day.” As her mother, I don’t know how to help her get through this. I’ve always been told the same things she’s been told, so that is how I raised her. Now I feel like I’ve very unintentionally made things worse for her by doing that. Any advice you can give me on how I can help her through this? What is the wrong thing to say? What is the right thing? I’m just so heart-broken for her. As hurtful as it is for you girls (and trust me, I know how much this hurts), being the mother of someone in this position is devastating in it’s own right – especially when it’s possible we could have contributed to it some way unintentionally.

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    • Please know I hear your broken heart. My standard advice for anyone supporting someone else is to just listen and only offer advice/instructions if they are asked for. Doesn’t work for all personalities – but it’s my go-to place to start. The type of emotions and thoughts that happen when marriage seems like a fantasy is hard in part because it’s SO central to so many dreams about the future. No one is guaranteed a spouse and a family, no matter how lovely and wonderful they are – so, for me, when people are honest about that and don’t try to act like eventually life is destined to be a fairy tale, I appreciate that. I like when people dream about all the many possibilities my life could take with me. So I guess to sum it up, my rather imperfect advice is to listen a lot, offer suggestions when asked, and dream big dreams with her that are amazing whether or not a husband ever shows up.

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  9. I am a fat 27 year old raised in purity culture. I’ve been married for 6 years and have 3 beautiful children with my wonderful Christian husband. I was shocked when he showed interest in me. I had been convinced by comments made to me and my own hatred of how I looked that no one would ever find me beautiful because of my weight. Learning to believe my husband is being honest when he tells me I’m beautiful is one of my biggest struggles in our marriage.

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    • As a single person, I don’t know if I I’ve really thought about the damage this type of teaching on fatness takes into marriage. Thank you for pointing that out.

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  10. There is a man out there for each of us and sometimes you have to look in different places to find him. At 25, I was a big girl who had an occasional boyfriend-all three supposedly Christian- but two dropped me when I said no. The third stuck around for a short while longer but a long distance relationship wasn’t working. I decided to try something unconventional at the time and went on match.com. I found a strong Christian man, who got to know my mind and heart prior to meeting in person and I have now been married 16 years and don’t regret how we met. While my weight and other issues have kept me from becoming a mom…I found the one who is my soul mate and is happy to spend his life with me.
    Be careful with the online as you are in reality bc there are some weirdos and I talked with a few…but I trusted my senses and never met them. God hears your prayers and will answer at His time not ours. He brought me my husband when both he and I were ready to meet each other and used our pasts to prepare us.

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    • There might not be someone out there for each of us. And that’s ok. Wanting a spouse and not having one doesn’t mean we “aren’t ready” or whatever – it just means it hasn’t happened. I’ve tried the online dating thing – not for the faint of heart! Glad you found someone 🙂

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  11. I was just on the high side of healthy as a teen, but put on a lot of weight when I started dating at 22. My boyfriend became my husband 5 years later and he is a small athletic man. I know that my weight is something he wishes I would change, and sometimes I wonder if he would have married me at this weight if we didn’t have 5 years of history.

    There’s a hard balance between striving to be healthy and obsessively hating your body because you are fat. I think many overweight women carry loads of baggage into relationships because they feel like they are lucky to have even found a guy willing to be with them. I remind myself often that even though I may feel self-conscious, I still have the choice to be confident, pleasant, and joyful.. which is way better than just being thin.

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    • So sorry you struggle with this. When I used to still try to lose weight, I was somewhat afraid that I’d lose weight, get married, and never really know if he would’ve loved me fat. That’s a lot of baggage to take into a relationship.

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  12. I think the bigger issue for me growing up in Christian cultural expectations was that the boys were taught they had a choice to marry or to not marry, and God would use that but many of us girls were made to feel that marriage (as soon as possible) was the greatest possible service we could do for God and the church. While I never fully excepted the belief that God has a perfect person who’s coming to marry me, it can still be very faith shaking to be constantly passed over by Christian guys I respect for whatever reason. And, yeah the most interest I get is from non Christian guys.

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    • absolutely! Like, still being single past your early 20s becomes some sign that you failed at Christian womanhood – because we were soemwhow taught that it would just. . happen. That there was a godly guy who would propose.

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  13. I feel your situation. I’m actually 28 and I never dated a guy. Well to be honest, I get butterflies when I’m around them. I’m an only child and that can be a reason. After being bridesmaids for million(not really) weddings and people asking me, “why are you still single?” It gets really tensed. So I decided to search on my own. However, it’s really hard to find someone now a days. So I told my parents to go ahead and find someone. Basically arrange marriage, but I still have to get to know him and say yes. My friend also gave up and told her parents the same. She has been looking and her parents have been looking for 5 years or so. So basically every proposal/date she had said no after they seen her. However I don’t find her fat. She always argues with me- guys/men dont go for fat girls. I never believed that, but slowly I am. It hurts when she says I don’t see myself getting married. She’s a person who wont change herself/looks for a reason like this. She always says, “let the guy accept me for how I look”. Hopefully that special one does come her way.

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  14. This is really powerful! My weight has fluctuated throughout my life, so I have been underweight, average weight, and overweight! Honestly, I’ve spent a little more time overweight than the rest, but…anyway. I had a baby a little over a year ago and haven’t lost any weight since the delivery room basically. I married a wonderful man who has loved me the same whether I gain or lose 60+ pounds, so please know there are good Christian men out there! They’re just too well-mannered to knock all the idiots out of the way! Thank you for sharing this. It’s so true in showing the effect of a perfectionist, overly-sexualized culture focused on flesh. I love the quote about pastors from the pulpit! That’s crazy true. And weird now that I think about it.

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  15. Well, if it helps, my high school boyfriend married me because I “fit the description”. I was a young, virginal, christian girl so I got the job so to speak. He was a bait and switch and started policing my music, reading, work, and education. After 7 years I got out because abuse only escalates when you resist. I would never take it back because it has made me who I am today, but I do activly try to warn girls it is better to be single than marry someone for a flimsy reason.
    I quit looking and decided God had to throw someone in my way and really go through the ringer; and what do you know, 5 years of married bliss!

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    • I’ve given thanks many times that I didn’t marry young for that reason – I had a long dating relationship that “made me who I am today” in terms of me figuring out that guys can do the bait and switch thing.

      While I’ve not been looking for a while now , Gods man-throwing arm must not quite reach me out here in left field 😉

      Definitely not a formula that works for everyone! 🙂

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  16. I’m going to guess that you’re a bit younger than I am since the purity drive looked different and didn’t kick in quite in the same way until I was a young adult. Part of me is grateful for that. Part of me realizes that the lack of Christian men who can see beauty in a fat woman isn’t generationally dependent. All these people who meet partners at church? Not even close. I’m glad my intentions weren’t to go to church to meet a man, but it would’ve been nice to meet some who held my beliefs and wanted to hold my hand. I dated men who I met through their interest in me as a fat woman first and foremost. I can’t say what’s in their hearts regarding their faith, but I do feel it was harder for them to live as Christians with a “kid in a candy store” mentality that comes when there are more fat women of faith than men of faith who want [or will tolerate – and I personally don’t want to just be tolerated] a fat wife. I absolutely know some men have a strong preference [and my honey’s strong preference for my curves is evidence of that] but you would think that more would intersect with that Christian circle on the Venn diagram of dating. I wonder how much the church influences thinking about fat growing up and how much those who prefer fat women learn to embrace less traditional beliefs because traditional society doesn’t understand them. Regardless of the Why, it’s still a lonely place to be.

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    • I was a teen in the late 90s. I think it picked up even more when I was in college, but it was in full force when I was in “youth group” for sure!

      The whole “small intersection on the venn diagram” thing is such an odd, odd phenomenon. I think the correlation to less traditional beliefs is a big part of it I’ve been able to get to know people I never would have known if I hadn’t of learned of the fat acceptance movement – there’s a place for a wider variety of people there than in the church most times, and that’s really sad.

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  17. Looking back, I’m glad I’m fat. It protected me from having serious relationships/marrying three guy friends who would have been terrible for me. They kept me in the wings as a “backup” and I think that makes them kind of not great people, at least not my type of people. To be totally honest, I really want to meet the type of person who is either authentic enough to be honest about their love for fat women or who loves a person’s mind more. Either that or start a little village of single, fat Christian women who raise a bunch of foster kids together. Those would be pretty cool women.

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  18. While I can’t directly identify with you. I definitely can see where your coming from, as a 22 year old guy who is a Christian and is definitely attracted to fat.

    Through out my teen years, I struggled with my faith and seeing my fat attraction as a sexual perversion, a prevailing sin in my life.

    From youth group conferences of men against porn and lust, I started thinking that godly men need to give up their corrupted view of beauty along with their sin. Which led me to believe that being attracted to thin is what God intended.

    I remember wishing that God would make me attracted to “normal”.

    I of course don’t believe that now, but it’s been a struggle to try to figure out my sexuality while maintaining that my faith remains first.

    I’ve often been afraid of relationships with girls of any size from the fear that they might see me as some sort of creep, or pervert.

    Because how exactly am I suppose bring up that I’m attracted to and turned on by their fatness in a God honoring relationship?

    I think there’s definitely more guys that have had and are having that same fight in their faith.

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    • Hi Alex, Thanks for responding with a bit about what it was like for guys growing up in the church/purity culture. Really interesting to hear that you got the message that “thin” was what was God’s best for women as well.

      As far as your question. I agree that’s a hard thing to figure out in our culture. My advice is the same to any guy: pay attention to her character and personality. Yes, physical attraction plays a part and it’s important, but few women, no matter her size, wants her body to be the center of her worth. In other words, train your mind and heart to see women as complete humans instead of as bodies you are attracted to or not. Notice and acknowledge the entirety of who a woman is. Notice and name the way that our culture teaches us to devalue women by making their physical appearance the starting point for whether or not they are desirable – no matter what one tends to “like” about that appearance.

      Honoring God in a relationship is about things other than the size of the humans involved – it’s about seeing the image of God in each other and the people around you and working together to love God and love neighbor. My advice? Focus on those points; start there.

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