Over thirty years ago, feminist theologian Carol Christ pointed out that our minds abhor a vacuum when it comes to sacred images. When traditional symbols fall out of favor or are found to be socially and psychologically harmful, we need to exercise great care in replacing them. Christ herself advocated the image of the "Goddess" as a means for affirming women's spiritual authority, their changing bodies, and their bonds with each other (see "Why Women Need the Goddess").
While I value these insights greatly, I doubt there is only one remedy to the theological dysfunction that has quietly contributed to women's body image and eating problems. What we need are new and diverse ways of thinking about the divine. We also need to recognize the relevance of our God -- images for how we see and experience our bodies. Questions about what our images teach us about the nature of power, and about gender relationships, and about the connection/distinction between "body" and "spirit" belong at the center of our conversations.
For those of us who have struggled or are struggling with body image and eating problems, our Sunday school images of God -- the old, bare-footed, white-bearded grandfather wearing a bathrobe and surrounded by clouds -- will no longer do. Indeed, whether or not we believe in "God," we need sacred images that affirm our ability to grow and to heal, to love ourselves and our bodies regardless, and to do the work we need to do to create a world in which all bodies can flourish.
This article originally appeared on the blog The Religion of Thinness at PsychologyToday.com and is reprinted with permission.
Michelle Lelwica is an Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She received both her masters and her doctoral degrees from Harvard Divinity School. She has been writing, researching, and teaching courses in the area of religion, gender, culture, and embodiment for the past 20 years, and is the author of Starving For Salvation: The Spiritual Dimensions of Eating Problems among American Girls and Women (Oxford, 1999) and The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers Behind Women's Obsession with Food and Weight (Gurze, 2009), as well as scholarly articles and book chapters.
Her blog is The Religion of Thinness at PsychologyToday.com.