Though it may be a global phenomenon, the roots of this fixation on the body may lie partly in American religion. We need only think of America’s many corporeal obsessions (from dieting to fitness crazes to cosmetic surgery) to begin to suspect that beliefs and commitments at the very heart of American culture are at work here. Harvard’s R. Marie Griffith argues that religion, specifically Protestant forms of Christianity, has been a key influence on the conception and creation of American bodies. Protestant ascetic expressions of Christianity, Griffith argues, promote what she calls “corporeal acts of devotion.” Griffith traces shifting Christian conceptions of embodiment from these early-modern Protestant roots through Christian Scientism and the New Thought Movement. The emphasis on manifesting the inner, spiritual self through disciplines shaping the outer, physical self has thrust the body to the forefront of the American imagination.
According to Griffith, the ideal of bodily perfection rose to general prominence toward the close of the twentieth century, emerging from the evangelical devotional diet movements that first cropped up in the late 1950s. Promoting the belief that inner goodness was apparent in one’s outer aspect, this vein of devotion was built on the doctrine that “fat was sin.” A thin, firm, beautiful body, it was believed, was the visible reflection of goodness and godliness.
The idea that “fit bodies… signify fitter souls” permeates the American consciousness with anxiety about the body while shaping beliefs about beauty.
Today….the forces of globalization have propelled the American conception of the perfect body into the world at large, where it has merged with and inflected traditional Western ideals of beauty…..“The promise of bodily improvement is fueled by advertising campaigns and commercially-driven Western media, reflecting an increasingly narrow palette of beauty.”
Should we start to consider our culture’s fixation with physical perfection as a new religion? An article in Religious Dispatches today says that we should:
Interesting stuff. Read the full article here.
Any thoughts or comments?