Episode 81: The Religion of Thinness and Spiritual Undertones of Women’s Obsession with Weight with Dr. Michelle Lelwica

Why We Love Michelle:

Michelle Lelwica is Professor of Religion at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she teaches courses on the intersection of religion, gender, culture, and the body. She did her graduate work at Harvard Divinity School, where she received a Masters of Theological Studies in Christianity and Culture (1989) and a Doctorate of Theology in Religion Gender and Culture (1996). 

She is the author of Shameful Bodies: Religion and the Culture of Physical Improvement (Bloomsbury, 2017), The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers behind Women’s Obsession with Food and Weight (Gürze Press, 2009), and Starving for Salvation: The Spiritual Dimensions of Eating Problems among American Girls and Women (Oxford University Press, 1999), as well as scholarly articles and popular blogs that explore women’s conflicted relationships with their bodies. She has also published articles and taught courses that focus on mindfulness practice and social justice. 

In her non-professional life, Dr. Lelwica enjoys gardening, spending time in the natural world, cross country skiing in the winter, listening to music, and cooking (when she’s not in a hurry). She is the mother of two young men (ages 17 and 20), whose endless activities and strong spirits challenge her to continue growing as a whole person.

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On the Pod, We Discuss:

  • How our quest for thinness can give us a sense of meaning in life
  • The different religious components of diet culture and how they function in our lives
  • How corporations profit from our collective shame and from propagating this mission-based religion in all of us 
  • The idea that it isn’t just shame around body size but around race and ability and aging – regardless of the body, women’s bodies are never okay 
  • How the shame we feel is not natural, that it’s a religious and cultural training we all go through in life 
  • How social media is our current shame frontier and how to combat it without just entirely quitting it 
  • Why media literacy and paying attention to the violent, colonial language used to promote wellness and asking what type of relationship that language is encouraging us to have with our bodies
  • Why the uniformity and ubiquity of the thin or fit ideal conflicts with recognizing our own unique beauty 
  • Why distinguishing between thin and healthy, internally, is a conflict we have to address 
  • How eating clean is like the purity culture of religion 
  • The white supremacy that is the foundation of diet culture 
  • The solutions that she offers to escape and combat the religion of thinness
  • And more

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