The Quantification of Everything: Weighing Faith

I wasn’t familiar with the website/magazine freq.uenci.es (“a collaborative genealogy of spirituality”) until a friend linked to a fascinating article by Lynne Gerber on the Christian weight-loss program First Place. The article documents the ritual weigh-ins that begin meetings of the groups, and how members make sense of their results:

When being weighed, the member steps on the scale and recites the week’s scripture memory verse, one of nine commitments participants make for the duration of the thirteen-week program. The leader writes down the member’s weight in her book—it is almost always a her—along with the member’s success at recalling the verse. The fusion between religiosity and weight loss that marks First Place is exemplified in that moment where the member is held accountable to two sacred symbols of God’s power and will: scripture and the scale.

The article goes into some detail about how members make sense of their successes and failures at meeting the various commitments – both spiritual and physical – required by the program. The end is particularly punchy, and connects the scale and faith again:

The question Christian weight loss programs often poses for scholars of both religion and of dieting culture is similar to the ambiguity in First Place’s purpose: is Christian weight loss essentially a secular venture, luring believers into its programs by adding a spiritual varnish to a worldly practice, or is it merely explicating, marking or making clear the religious concerns that are at the heart of weight loss projects both sacred and secular. … First Place members don’t really care. They are much more taken with tension that mounts as the weigh-in progresses and their faithfulness is about to be measured by number. By collectively divining the scale in the wake of that judgment, the tension between godly ideals and bodily realities are eased and the program maintains its plausibility for another week. [Emphasis Added]

Highly recommended for a quick and interesting Monday afternoon read.

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1 Comment

  1. This sounds very much like what Natalie Allon found forty years ago in her study of Weight
    Watchers It was (and is) a secular group, but the meetings had this ritual-like quality, especially during the weigh-ins, and the language and general atmosphere were charged with feeling of religion, with talk of “sin” and “sinners,” and possibly even “saints.” (I’m working from memory here. If I still have my copy of Natalie’s book, Urban Life Styles, it’s in my office. She was a wonderful ethnographic sociologist, and her death at a young age was a great loss.)

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