Shame

Beauty is not the basis of a healthy love.  Even the thinnest person gets old, their body fails, and they eventually die.  A person who is obsessed only or primarily with physical appearance in their spouse promotes an unhealthy standard which no person can ever hope to maintain.

– Sarah Sparks (RN)

My opinions of the New York Times best-selling book Love and Respect are well known.  A few months ago, I wrote a four-part review of the book, and its author Emerson Eggerichs.  In that series, I offered four theses.

  1. The biblical hermeneutic of Emerson Eggerichs is based not in sound scholarship, but in the desire to reinforce male privilege by disenfranchising women.
  2. Eggerichs’ teachings on marriage promote physical and sexual abuse by undermining consent and denying women agency over their bodies in marriage.
  3. Eggerichs’ views of gender and the science he uses to support them are harmful, outdated, inaccurate, and an intentional misrepresentation of data.
  4. Eggerichs is a spiritual abuser, and thus entirely disqualified from ministry.

In the end, I found the principles of Love and Respect as Eggerichs teaches them to be nothing but repackaged patriarchy and abuse apology.  His books, seminars, and ministry are based upon blatant deceptions perpetrated by Eggerichs in order to promote a system of male privilege.

After discovering all of these things, I was fairly convinced that little coming out of the Love and Respect camp could still surprise me.  Then came a recent article from their website entitled “How to be Truthful Without Being Hurtful.

I first became aware of this article through the Love and Respect Twitter account, where they promoted it with the tagline “How to answer the age-old question, ‘Does this red dress make me look fat?’”  Knowing L&R’s history of making disturbing comments on gender issues, I knew I was in for more.  But, to be honest, I was not prepared for just how vile this post was.

LR red dress

Telling the Truth

The post begins with a rather odd assertion: “Some questions from one spouse to another are nearly impossible to answer without causing heartache.”  This assertion is the preface to the apparently damning “red dress” question.

Emerson Eggerichs says that answering, “No, the red dress does not make you look fat.” is a lie.  As such, the assumption of this article is that the only possible truthful answer to my wife asking me if an outfit “makes her look fat” is “Yes.”  But of course, such an answer is unloving and hurtful, and thus the solution is to find an answer that says “Yes, dear, that dress makes you look fat.” without hurting her feelings.

Here’s the issue, in Eggerichs’ assessment .  A husband must love his wife unconditionally, but he must also be a Christian committed to the truth.  As he sees it, then, there are times in a man’s life when he will need to figure out how to “tell the truth” without compromising that love.

Emerson Eggerichs believes he has struck just such a balance.  That is, he believes he knows the best way to lovingly tell a woman she looks fat.  He offers as a template the following statement: “Because of the extra baby weight you still carry, which you’ll get off soon enough, the black is more becoming right now than the red dress. But I love you no matter what so give me a hug.”

It occurs to me as I read the above template, that Eggerichs presents this template in three steps:

  1. Actually call her fat, but be sure to explain exactly why she is fat.

  2. Assure her that you expect her to lose that weight, because it wouldn’t be loving to just love her as she is.

  3. Provide her a specially chosen “non-fat” dress, and be sure to tell her that even though you see her as fat, you still love her because love is unconditional.

Sadly, at the heart of all of this are two very problematic assumptions.

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http://cdn.wallpapersafari.com/27/32/SBjkH8.jpg

 

Truth vs. Love

First, it seems strange to me to propose that, for a person seeking to follow a distinctly Christian ethic, there is contention between the notions of Truth and Love.  In fact, as I see it, if the Christian ethic is rooted in the person and works of Christ, culminating in his death on the cross and its vindication in his resurrection, then there can be in Christ no divide between Truth and Love.

Consider, in John 14, Jesus tells us that he is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.  He is how we know the will of the Father, and apart from him our understanding of God as Trinity will be entirely incomplete.  With this in mind, then, it is important to discern precisely how Christ depicts a true disciple, one who embraces his ethic and lives according to his example.

In Matthew 20, we are told that a person who embraces the way of Christ cannot assert their self as a master over another.  They must be persons of humility, operating as servant of those around them in the example of the cross.  In John 13 we are reminded that people will know those who follow Christ by the ways in which they embody Love for one another.  According to Matthew 22, this Love is an expression and extension of the Love we share with God in the beautiful dance (perichoresis) that is Trinity.

It is further interesting that the Johannine author also speaks of Love in relation to Jesus in 1 John 4.  In this passage, we are reminded that the ability of any person to practice a love which reflects God is rooted in the cross.  That is, if God is Love, and if to Love is to be in God, then the man who was the embodiment and source of God’s Truth is also the embodiment and source of God’s Love.  This is no insignificant claim.

In Philippians 2 we are told that a love rooted in the example of Christ is a love which eschews personal status and privilege in order to uplift other persons. In John 15, Jesus reminds us his cross is the ultimate expression of Love, and in Philippians 2:3 we are told we cannot practice this cruciform Love by advancing our own selfish purposes.

A Love rooted in Christ is a love which humbles self, which speaks the Truth of Christ’s cross in freeing others from captivity (Luke 4:14-30) and in taking a stand with those whom others would seek to exclude and oppress (Luke 14:1-23).  This Love then, rooted in our faith in Christ, cannot be simply paid lip service, it must be embodied in our lives.  It must be shown through our actions and words (c.f. James 2:14-25).

This brings me to the famous “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians.  In Chapter 13, the follower of Christ is given an important reminder: Any act performed by one claiming to follow Christ is nothing but emptiness if it is not rooted in Love.

For a Christian, all Truth must begin in the cross of Christ and the embodiment of this example in the life of the believer.   We cannot present truth apart from our commitment to The Truth and we cannot truly love apart from the Love of Christ shown us in Christ.  There can be no conflict between the Truth and Love embodied in Christ.

The premise of this article that Truth is inherently hurtful, that kind and loving words like “No, you do not look fat” would be automatically lying to one’s spouse, operate under a false dichotomy.  I love my wife because I recognize within her the image of God and see her as an equal in both worth and commission in Christ. I cannot assume selfishly that her body is my possession and I cannot assert myself as an authority over it by seeking to “lovingly insult” her or taking a critical and hurtful stance.

I can recognize within her the beauty of our years together.  I see in her the beauty of childbirth, the fact that she has given me three children, and in that I see the power and grace of a woman strong enough to endure three Caesarian births in order to give life to our family.  I can see in her eyes the spirit and vigor God has blessed her with, a fire and determination to be supported and cultivated, not extinguished.  I can look at my wife and find her stunning because her every feature is a testament to our life together.

As a man claiming to lpractice a Christian ethic, I must recognize that she is not an object.  She is not my property to be controlled.  She is not my subordinate.  My wife is a gift from God, my partner and constant companion, my ezer kenegdo.   To treat her as anything less is to live a lie, to deny her the fullness of mutuality is to fail in my love for her.

no2bshame
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Love vs. Shame

This brings me to my second point.

The rhetoric of Emerson Eggerichs presented above is nothing short of body shaming.

This rhetoric is disgusting, it is abusive, and it has absolutely no place within any marriage.  In fact, a 2015 study suggests that body shame bears a direct correlation with poor physical heath.  Further studies seems to indicate that fat-shaming fuels weight gain, not weight loss, and can cause a person to resign them self to obesity, which of course also leads to adverse health effects as well.  These studies have led researchers to assert that shaming someone for their body-type or weight is only, ever, a harmful practice and has a strong likelihood of being detrimental to their health.

Concepts of beauty are societally conditioned, and in no way consistent across cultures.  If our only concept of beauty is a stereotype in a magazine, then we inherently do damage to the very real people around us.  People are not photo-shopped objects used to sell products, they are human beings.  And when we exalt artificial conceptions of beauty to the forefront of attraction, we reduce people to one-dimensional objects.  Any mindset which equates outward beauty with attraction inherently leads to bullying and denigration of those persons who fall outside the so called category of “beautiful.”

This is dangerous, as studies suggest that the perception of being “overweight,” regardless of any actual physical reality, can be directly linked to issues of depression and suicide.  Body shaming is a recognized cause of eating disorders.  Also, persons who feel rejected or shamed because of their body, have an increased likelihood of suffering from other mental illnesses.

All of this means that negative body image is far more dangerous to a person’s health than their actual weight.  Eggerichs fails to understand that a woman with a positive body image, even with those “extra 20 pounds of baby weight,” is going to be decidedly more healthy mentally and physically than a woman who develops a negative body image while attempting to conform to her husband’s demanding weight standards.

Is it not the height of selfishness to assume that a husband’s arbitrary standard of “fat-ness” ought to trump his wife’s actual health?

Despite Eggerichs’ offensive rhetoric, common sense and science both tell us a woman is not “fat” because she has gained weight after child birth.  This phenomenon is both perfectly normal, and entirely healthy.  In fact, many women work out and maintain healthy lifestyles, but never lose the weight fully.  Yet studies show healthy eating habits and exercise are a larger contributor to overall physical and mental well-being than actual weight on a scale.  In fact, because the medical definition of overweight is a Body Mass Index of 25, it is entirely possible for a person to be healthier at an “overweight” BMI than a person who is considered “normal” but invests nothing in their fitness.

Further damning for Eggerichs assumptions is a study which shows that our concepts of “beauty” in strangers has no actual bearing on our concept of attractiveness in persons we know well.  Often, a failure to find one’s spouse attractive is actually less related to their physical appearance, and more connected to some other major relational flaw which impedes a sense of closeness and safety in the relationship.  A husband who is so dissatisfied with his wife’s appearance that he would actually dare to think her fat, let alone call her fat to her face, for still having her baby weight is actually more likely to be an indicator of regular porn use or addiction than it is of her actual physical attractiveness.

All of this is to say, there is absolutely nothing healthy, normal, or loving about a husband calling his wife fat, no matter how he chooses to package it.  Instead, body-shaming is always and only a form of abuse.  For a Christian husband to shame his wife over her body is to devalue her health and wellness.  Such behavior is a disregard for her as a person, and instead views her as an object for one’s own personal means.  This is domineering and disrespectful, a denigration of her intrinsic femininity due to some perceived inability to conform to an arbitrary and harmful concept of beauty.

Again, disregard for the well-being of any person in promotion of a personal and selfish agenda is a textbook definition of abuse.  And I would hope it goes beyond saying that creating an abusive dynamic within a relationship is a betrayal of the call to Love others as Christ loved us in the cross.  Returning to Matthew 20, one cannot be both abusive tyrant and humble servant.

love-hands

Conclusion

With these things in mind, then, I remind the reader once again that Emerson Eggerichs is not an expert on gender or marriage.  His work is rife with unexamined bias and the promotion of personal privilege.  His theology is utterly bankrupt.  And most importantly, he encourages husbands to abuse their wives in order to preserve a patriarchal dynamic within the Christian church.

Where systems of abuse are allowed the flourish, the Gospel of Christ is diminished.  All such behavior is a betrayal of the Gospel of Christ, which demands we eschew shame and condemnation, pursuing justice and equality for all persons.

**Cover image from https://cdn.psychologytoday.com/sites/default/files/blogs/620/2011/01/53014-43961.jpg**

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23 thoughts on “Shame

  1. I remember my dad saying a few years ago that “I’d never find a husband if I kept letting myself go that way.” My mom backed him up and said he had a point. I cried for days and even though I have valid health reasons for having weight trouble that day has haunted me. Sadly nearly every Christian book about men and marriage echos similar themes.

    An hour ago, right before he fell asleep, my husband hugged me tight and said, “you are so beautiful, honey” like he tells me every single day. Me. At the same weight I was when my dad said I’d never find a man.

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    1. As a father of two daughters, it is horrifying to me that a father would ever say that to his daughter.

      I am so sorry 😦

      I’m glad you have found someone who loves and cherishes you for who you are.

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  2. “Some questions from one spouse to another are nearly impossible to answer without causing heartache.” – Causing heartache upon whom? I’ll have to suspend reality for a moment to believe that he’s talking about the husband thinking, “It really breaks my heart to have to tell you this…”

    Nate, you decoded the response to the red dress accurately. He’s only helped men to not appear as much of an ass with their response – even though we can still read between the lines.

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  3. As some have said, the media plays into this and shows lovely, trim, and sexy women in ads, etc. Then there is the game show (and it’s not the only one), “The Price is Right”, and I know a man/men who faithfully watch it. Gosh, I wonder why.

    Thank you, Nate, for your insight.

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    1. Carolyn…. Yes, it IS about the lovely babes on at least 3 game shows. I found it very obvious at my house. (I’m another “Carolyn” which is, BTW, not really my name! ha)

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  4. Another outstanding post. This has bothered me for a long time, particularly when it is combined with the teaching that if a woman fails to be “sexy” enough that the man will cheat on her.

    I’ll note that there is no corresponding teaching that men need to look sexy, and that a woman will cheat on him if he goes bald or gets a “dad bod.” (Although, I guess the corresponding teaching is that a man is a “man fail” if he isn’t the primary breadwinner, right?)

    As a previous commenter pointed out, the way the question is phrased seems to be assuming some insecurity already. Probably, most real life healthy couples don’t ask deliberately provocative questions like that. My wife has no interesting in doing a “gotcha!” on me, hoping I say the wrong thing. If she wants my opinion on an article of clothing, she will ask me an intelligent and specific question, like “does my bra show in the back?” Which is the same thing as my asking her if my pants and shirt match. (Distinguishing different shades of brown is not easy for me.) With an already healthy, egalitarian relationship, there is no need to play games.

    I’m also starting to wonder if Eggerich ever says anything about gender that hasn’t come straight from a sexist cartoon from the 1950s? I mean, these are laughably hackneyed anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Nate and Sarah! I have to say that this is the first time I have read any post / article through on this blog. That is not to say I haven ‘t seen or skimmed through, but this one caught my attention.

    Without openly going into some real life details openly on this little corner of the internet, I want to say thank you – heartfelt gratitude for continuing to share hope with people, and to shine light on this incredibly dark issue. This asshole is damaging, and is everything wrong with the proposed “christian” faith. I say it like that because he DOES NOT share the heart of a loving God. He’s an asshole who wants to assert his manlihood as a status symbol that not only condones, but downright celebrates ABUSE.

    So, just….THANK YOU for openly calling him out on what I know for a fact to be complete and utter bullshit.

    Now, most every part of me wants to go back and edit my comment above for appropriate language. I also want to apologize for it. But, I will do neither. This is not some act of defiance, but my own version of defining love. Love states that my opinions are valid, even if they use “bad words” as part of descriptives. SO, if you are offended by my language, I WILL NOT tell you to suck it up…I will apologize in that case because I value you as a human being, and if my words hurt, that isn’t and ever will be my intent.

    I guess my ramling could have been summed up by saying this. YESSSSS – this is absolute truth. This blog post actually breathed life into my heart, while I walk through this and more. (I am the fat girl, consistently looking for validation that I’m still beautiful….so yeah, there’s that. But, it takes almost a reprogramming of my brain to get to the place where i see inherent value or beauty in my own life — so to go back in time and erase the reasons I feel as broken as I do….that’s just silly, and not possible. But, to learn to love myself in spite of what one asshole (or many) have said or done to make me feel less human — that’s a work in progress.

    Thanks for allowing a safe place for discussion, even long winded rambling discussion I’m sure no one will have read through. Grateful to read your words and hear your heart here.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Nate and Sarah, Thank you once again for a beautifully written article. Every single word you have written is the truth, the absolute truth, with not a hint of lying, deception nor the manipulation that seems to be the standard practice of Eggerds.

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  7. Actually, the first thing I have difficulty with is Eggerich’s assumption that a woman would even ask this question. Personally it’s never occurred to me to ask my husband (or anyone else), because it’s not a factor in our relationship. I wonder if women ask the question because their husbands have made them feel insecure with the way they look?

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    1. Not only by their husbands, but by all of the media. Why is it that in EVERY single advertizement or commercial, only ‘sexy, beautiful’ women are shown. Rarely ever ‘real’ people. Society and the media play a huge roll in body shaming.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. deelmo, I suggest that using ‘real’ people would destroy the message the media is wanting to convey. Using ‘sexy’ plays into the idea that this body is a fantasy object, and you can have your way with it with no cost or consequence to yourself. Indulge yourself, it’s all about what you want!

        Presenting a real body would remind people that this is a real, living person complete with emotions and desires of their own. Suddenly, you’ve lost the promise of the narcissistic fantasy, and come down to earth with a thud.

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    2. I’ve asked my husband this question, actually, and he’s NEVER done anything to make me feel insecure about my appearance. It’s my own insecurity that makes me, a thin and fit woman, want reassurance from my husband that I look okay, that the outfit isn’t a disaster, etc. Over two decades ago, I had both bulimia and anorexia as a college student. The secular media’s influence really wasn’t to blame in my particular case; I didn’t pay any attention to its body shaming. (I watched little TV, few movies, and didn’t read many magazines other than Christianity Today and some news magazines.) But how the men treated women at my Christian college was a huge factor. The double standards were awful.

      I’ve been thankful to be married to a man who values me as a person, respects me, and loves how I look (even after a sweat-inducing workout at the gym!) Still, every once in a while, I ask that question (or, often, I tell myself out loud that “this outfit makes me look fat!”) and he has to tell me the truth. “Nope, babe, you look great!”

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Livingliminal…..Agree with you! I wouldn’t even ask that question ’cause we all can use a mirror to see if a dress is unflattering for a number of reasons, or just somehow “doesn’t look right”. Sometimes we play this ‘game’ in the car as we’re going someplace. I say, “Do I look hot?” He says, “Are you with me?” And then we laugh. This is pretty funny considering I’m over 70 and he’s over 80! LOL

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Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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