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Seeking the Straight and Narrow

Lynne Gerber's new book, "Seeking the Straight and Narrow," subtitled "Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America," is now available from US booksellers, from international booksellers, and from

Here's an excerpt from the University of Chicago Press's description of the book:

Losing weight and changing your sexual orientation are both notoriously difficult to do successfully. Yet many faithful evangelical Christians believe that thinness and heterosexuality are godly ideals—and that God will provide reliable paths toward them for those who fall short. Seeking the Straight and Narrow is a fascinating account of the world of evangelical efforts to alter our strongest bodily desires.

Drawing on fieldwork at First Place, a popular Christian weight-loss program, and Exodus International, a network of ex-gay ministries, Lynne Gerber explores why some Christians feel that being fat or gay offends God, what exactly they do to lose weight or go straight, and how they make sense of the program’s results—or, frequently, their lack.

Lynne has also contributed a piece, weigh in, to ", a collaborative genealogy of spirituality." The article focuses on First Place, a Christian weight loss program, and the relationship between the spiritual and physical demands of the program.

I haven't read the book yet, but the article is engaging and insightful. As someone who hasn't been involved in a church, I found Lynne's analysis of how spiritual and physical goals interact in the program really interesting:

First Place’s range of commitments reflects a central ambiguity in the program’s purpose: whether First Place is a weight loss program whose value is enhanced by the inclusion of spiritual practices or whether it is a spiritual program whose value is enhanced by the inclusion of weight loss practices... Ostensibly, the program positions itself as the first: as a weight loss program that is enhanced by spirituality. First Place is effective at weight loss, they claim, because it focuses on the whole person, integrating spiritual concerns into the heart of its practice. The absence of God is depicted as the problem in secular weight loss programs and First Place presents itself as filling that crucial void.

Yet there is reason to see First Place as primarily a program of Christian discipleship that instills spiritual practices by linking them to the popular goal of weight loss. Spiritual changes are often the changes celebrated in First Place literature and its spiritual disciplines inculcate Christian practices that are deeply valued yet quotidian in the evangelical subculture...

Most of the time this ambiguity is not an issue. Within this self-help landscape, weight loss aims and spiritual aims are seen as so vitally interconnected, so conflated, that there is no need to distinguish between the two. Thinness is God’s desire, and godly devotion will effect weight loss. But when the judgment of the scale threatens to reveal possible tensions between First Place’s spiritual and weight loss projects, distinguishing between the two can be helpful...

Lynne also has a website,pondering the body in American religious life, where you can find links to other articles she's written.

I should probably note that anyone who's very sensitive to the discussion of weight loss dieting may find both the book and article triggering.

Vive la ReVolution! It Starts January 1 | CBC: a HAES story on Ontario Morning

MReap January 3rd, 2012 | Link | Just downloaded it to my

Just downloaded it to my Kindle. I have a long flight tomorrow, so I hope to get most of it read. I'll report back when I can.

strawberry January 3rd, 2012 | Link | I have to admire the very

I have to admire the very clever title.

DeeLeigh's picture
January 4th, 2012 | Link | I agree Strawberry. The

I agree Strawberry. The title is a winner. Also, the book sounds fascinating and potentially controversial and I can hardly wait to read it.

DeeLeigh's picture
January 13th, 2012 | Link | Got an e-amail message that

Got an e-amail message that pointed to a book on a similar topic:

We are living in a food- and body image-obsessed culture. We are encouraged to overconsume by the marketing tactics of big corporations, and are the berated by government and the medical profession for doing so. At the same time, we are bombarded with media images of unnaturally thin celebrities who go to enormous lengths to retain an unrealistic body image, either by extremes of dieting or through plastic surgery or both. The spiritual realm is not immune from these pressures, as can be seen in the flourishing or weight loss programmes such as "Slim for Him", that encourage women to lose weight physically and gain spiritually.

"Lisa Isherwood examines these phenomena in light of the Christian tradition, which has often had a difficult relationship with sexuality and embodiment and which has promoted ideals of restraint and asceticism. She argues powerfully that, despite this, there are resources within Christianity that can free us from this thinking, and lead us towards a more holistic, incarnational view of what it is to be human.

"Accessible for general readers, as well as students of theology, sociology of religion and gender studies, this book provides a fascinating study of the complex ways that food, women and religion interconnect, and proposes a new Christology of embrace and expansion that emphasises the fullness of our incarnation."

I haven't read this one either. A direct link between overconsumption and body size is assumed in the book description above and that's simplistic at best. Other than that, the book sounds interesting.

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