The Gospel of Gluttony and Sloth

March 14, 2009 | 43 comments
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Some years ago, I noticed a trend among female general auxiliary leaders. With few exceptions, they all lean (no pun intended) to the slimmer side of the LDS population at large (ahem). Much as missionaries have a particular grooming code, is there an unwritten appearance requirement for “upper-level” service? I’m not talking about swimsuit competition, surgical augmentation (or retraction), or raving beauty—but the women who represent the church are usually not just good spiritual representatives, but pretty good physical representatives, too.

If we are otherwise “fit for the kingdom,” but overeat to the point of obesity, does it make us not only unfit physically, but unfit to represent the church?

Similarly, if our houses are unkempt and dirty, would our presentation be so negative that we could be taken off God’s short list?

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43 Responses to The Gospel of Gluttony and Sloth

  1. Timj on March 14, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Maybe it’s just the Temple Square syndrome.

  2. Julie M. Smith on March 14, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    “Similarly, if our houses are unkempt and dirty, would our presentation be so negative that we could be taken off God’s short list?”

    If it is because you had four kids in five years and your husband works more than full time, I’d guess not.

    If it is because you are undisciplined and lazy, then I don’t think the house situation per se is a problem, but I do think undisciplined and/or lazy people have some work to do before they can enter the kingdom of heaven.

  3. Mark Brown on March 14, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    If we are otherwise “fit for the kingdom,” but overeat to the point of obesity, does it make us not only unfit physically, but unfit to represent the church?

    Given that Thomas S. Monson is at least 50 pounds overweight, I’d say the answer to your question is No.

  4. Margaret Young on March 14, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    There is a requirement for missionaries to be within a particular range of “ideal” weight, but I believe that’s more so they can endure the rigors of a mission than for the sake of appearance. I’ve seen all sizes at the MTC. And I’ve known missionaries (male) who’ve lost many pounds as part of their preparation to serve. Though I’ve seen various sized women in visible leadership positions (general RS and YW), they do tend to be slim, well-dressed, and very “professional” looking. “Professional” is the touchstone word in the MTC. (And of course I could make a pun on the various connotations of that word, but it would be tasteless, so I suggest that others who see the obvious should likewise restrain themselves.)

  5. Zack on March 14, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Liar! That pun was definitely intended.

  6. Shelah on March 14, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Mark–

    I inferred (perhaps wrongly) that Alison was referring to female auxiliary leaders only. Although if I remember right, President Monson was fairly slim when he was in his 30s and became an apostle.

  7. E on March 14, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    I can think of at least one auxiliary leader who definitely does not fit the description of “slim and fit”.

  8. Bruce in Montana on March 14, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    We are here, in part, to learn mastery over the flesh.
    That’s what the wow is all about but limiting it to the 4-don’ts is really a minimal effort IMHO.

    Should temple recommends be pulled for obesity?

    I think so.

  9. One of manly girth on March 14, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Bruce in Montana: Whose criteria would we use to decide where to draw the obesity line?

  10. Naismith on March 14, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    I think that anyone can look good if they wear the right clothes. I am shocked when people refer to me as “skinny” because I feel very fat, carrying the typical post-menopausal weight around my waist.

    But I am darned careful about what I wear, especially if I am going to be chairing a conference session at a professional meeting or speaking in sacrament meeting.

    At a class on wardrobe planning a while back, the teacher at the end took off her clothes and showed the unitard underneath, and it was shocking! But she had looked great in all the clothes she had modeled.

    Now, I do think that older female leaders seem to dye their hair more often than not. I wondered if that was required, and why, because if you are old enough to be a grandmother, why not look like one? Does gray hair make one less “presentable”?

  11. Ann on March 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    While we’re at it, let’s pull TR’s for nearsightedness. And perhaps male pattern baldness. And protruding ears. And flat feet. And halitosis. Definitely halitosis. And small breasts.

  12. E on March 14, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Yes, definitely halitosis.

  13. marta on March 14, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    Oh, Ann, you really pile it on. I am obese, slovenly, nearsighted, have male pattern baldness, flat feet, protruding ears, halitosis and one small breast. And gray hair.

  14. ukann on March 15, 2009 at 3:59 am

    ……I think we’re treading on dangerous ground here…… speaking as one who carries too many pounds – and honestly has a very healthy and portion controlled diet. And I also have several extremely slim female friends who constantly ‘pig out’ – eat twice as much as me, and never show it – much to my chagrin. I’m asking Heavenly Father for their metabolism in the next life………………..

  15. Hans on March 15, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Hey cut President Monson some slack. He’s diabetic, as am I, and keeping weight off is a real challenge.

  16. Peter LLC on March 15, 2009 at 9:10 am

    A senior missionary couple from Utah* once had the nerve to tell me that the outfit I wore to a ward council meeting was inappropriate. I told them if they think that’s bad, they should see what’s on the inside.

    *I only mention where they are from because it would appear that, in fact, the church (thankfully) is not the same wherever one goes.

  17. barndoor benji on March 15, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Just like the rest of the world culture Mormons are more influenced by appearance than they should be. Some leaders write off fat people and messy people and dumb people instead of following the spirit.

  18. z on March 15, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    It’s probably just a function of affluence, which seems to correlate heavily with leadership positions.

  19. Realty Unchecked on March 15, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    If I start believing that leaders of the church are called on any other basis than through the Spirit, then my faith would be dead indeed. It may very well be that people who are “affluent” may be called on a basis of the faith and skills and work ethic that got them rich in the first place.

    Also, I think the Lord knows what he’s doing with the criteria to get a TR. Until we hear otherwise, let’s not mess with it. :-)

  20. Mark B. on March 15, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Since the holy scripture contains the injunction, “let your soul delight in fatness,” I think we’d better ignore all our modern notions about what size is appropriate.

  21. z on March 15, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Would believing in a correlation, rather than causation, be fatal to your faith, Realty Unchecked?

  22. jerry on March 15, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    From what I see it is not just general authorities. Size is one area most people feel free to judge and condemn. We often link as you have in this post title that Slothfulness and being fat go together automatically. While many fat people may be lazy certainly not all are.

  23. Stephanie on March 15, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    I can think of one general auxiliary leader who is on the heavy side, but I admit that the real distraction for (shallow) me is one who has crooked teeth.

  24. JES on March 15, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    To continue #22′s comment. My mother is the least lazy/slothful person I have ever known. But she deals with stress by eating. So she’s overweight, but it’s not b/c she’s not a hard worker. We really can’t judge others. We all have our habits that we don’t control very well.

  25. PV on March 16, 2009 at 8:52 am

    The goal posts have definitely moved in our modern society on what constitutes a healthy vs unhealthy weight. What was once considered overweight is now normal, and it takes morbid obesity to qualify as “fat”. I live in an urban area where people are, on average, in shape, and it’s always a bit of a shock when I’m outside the area and see how widespread (ha!) obesity is in the rest of the country.

    As such, I don’t know that the current set of leadership is slim as much as they’re normal; but relative to suburban Utah standards, they’re virtually underweight. Age probably plays a role; people do tend to lose weight as they get older. Also playing a role is the very heavy travel schedule, which is physically demanding. But ultimately, people who take care of themselves spiritually will also be taking care of themselves physically, and as such will be closer to an ordinary weight; not perfectly slim, just having a healthy weight.

  26. Rameumptom on March 16, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I had a bishop years ago, who was not svelte by any means. He used to quote the following verses as a defense for his bulkiness:

    Prov. 11: 25
    25 The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.

    Prov. 13: 4
    4 The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.

    Prov. 28: 25
    25 He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat.

  27. Jerry on March 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Given all of the sugary treats and foods to prompt mormons to attend meetings other than the main sunday block it is amazing we have anything but obese people active in our church. One more reason to be inactive.

  28. Alison Moore Smith on March 16, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you all for the input. I’ve just been enjoying the comments from the sidelines, but I’ll respond now to a few comments.

    #3, my thought was along the lines of Shelah (#6). He doesn’t seem to have been overweight when called even if he is now.

    Margaret (#4) thanks for the info. I wasn’t referring so much to missionary weight as the “grooming code” required of them. They are expected to have a clean, conservative, presentable look and so I’m wondering, similarly, how the appearance of our bodies and homes is part of the equation for service.

    Shelah (#6), I was not thinking only of female leaders, however I suspect it is probably more of an issue for women than men, following the cultural trend. Of course, that may mean that how successful a man is in his profession may also play into it disproportionately. Most of the mission presidents I know (only one exception I can think of), for example, are quite well off.

    #7 I can, too. That’s why I said “with few exceptions.” But I can only think of one during my adulthood.

    #10 Hair dye is another issue along these lines. Having grown up with a mom who didn’t do the dye thing (the one exception being the 70′s period of “The Frost”) I’m kind of clueless as to how it all works. I was actually in my early 30′s before someone explained to me that when woman have darker hair near the root, it’s because they dye their hair. Holy cow. I just thought their hair bleached out in the sun. (My husband and a couple of kids have hair like that.) Like I said, clueless. But I’m still pretty sure the President Monson dyes his hair, so I guess we’re safe on that count, eh?

    Peter (#16) I think I’ll use that line in the future, if you don’t mind. Classic. When I moved to Florida I was told that my skirt was “so Utah.” I asked what that meant. She said only Utahns wear corduroy.

    Posted by: Reality Unchecked If I start believing that leaders of the church are called on any other basis than through the Spirit, then my faith would be dead indeed.

    RU, I’m glad you posted this. A couple of decades ago, the first time I was in a “ward council attending” position, I was shocked. Here I was fasting and praying and going to the mountain EVERY TIME I had to submit a name for a calling–and these crazies were actually sitting around the room tossing names back and forth, bantering, and sometimes even arguing (in a loving, spiritual, kind, generous, civil way, of course!) about who got whom in their auxiliary. What about the Spirit!!!!

    I learned over time that “feeling the Spirit” is more than just kneeling and waiting for revelation. It includes all sorts of practical issues as well. And that’s OK.

    Last year I was called by inspiration to be the Primary pianist. I told the counselor I’d be happy to do it, as long as he understood that I don’t play the piano. The calling was withdrawn. And that’s OK.

    Posted by: jerry We often link as you have in this post title that Slothfulness and being fat go together automatically.

    Actually, the intention was to link gluttony to being overweight and sloth to having a messy house. Of course neither deadly sin is always the cause of such things. But it is true that obesity is directly related to food intake and most really messy houses have something to do with owners being reluctant to clean them up.

  29. Bookslinger on March 16, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Pres Monson seems to have lost weight since 2002.

    He’s definitely lost weight since 1987.

  30. Alison Moore Smith on March 16, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    I wish I could say the same, Bookslinger!

  31. barndoor benji on March 17, 2009 at 1:19 am

    I’d rather have a leader who was overweight (not obese) than than one who lived in a dirty, cluttered house. Weight is much harder to manage than a pile of crap on the floor. If someone can’t be bothered to pick up theur clothes how are they going to manage an auxiliary? They are probably just spending too much time on the Internet. Watch some slob come in to argue with me–when they should push the off button and start sorting their garbage instead.

  32. Clovis on March 17, 2009 at 2:21 am

    The faithful are highly judgmental!! Such an attitude would be merely pathetic and sad were it not one of the major human attitudes that He regularly denounced! I don’t think anyone above my comments here should have to feel a need to confess or stipulate their weight.
    Just let your eyes roam those WIDE seats in front of us at conference and regard how many of the ample chairs are filled- completely!!! OOO did I say that? I guess I did. We as a people are such murmur mongers!!!

  33. Naismith on March 17, 2009 at 6:34 am

    But it is true that obesity is directly related to food intake and most really messy houses have something to do with owners being reluctant to clean them up.

    This assumption can be very hurtful. One of the fattest people I know is a former olympic athlete, who taught physical education for many years. Her problem is NOT food intake (she hardly eats anything) but that her body won’t adjust the metabolism to account for her current reduction in physical activity since becoming injured and switching jobs. It got used to hoarding every precious calorie and won’t give them up. It’s been years since she was injured, and it still hasn’t switched gears.

    And she hates going to church because of the looks of judgement that she gets.

    Also, I find it interesting that a while back I was criticized for hiring professional cleaning help to avoid the slob situation, so clearly some people are never happy with what we do:)

  34. WillF on March 17, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Jerry’s criticism in #27 about sugary treats and foods used as motivators really rings true to me (I have to admit I haven’t started a personal boycott of them though, and I guess according to some here based on my weight I shouldn’t get a temple recommend).
    In my current ward I think the treats are out of control. It seems like candy has become the primary motivator to get children to do almost anything. Part of the problem is that it works — kids will memorize the Articles of Faith for a treat, for example. I think on occasion it is fine to do this, but I think that food bribes can really take over if you aren’t careful. It becomes an expectation — so if there isn’t a treat, people feel like they’ve been gipped.

  35. Alison Moore Smith on March 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Truth hurts, Naismith.

    Please note that I didn’t say every incident of obesity is *caused* by food intake. Of course it’s not. (No more than every incident of thinness is due to a regimented diet and exercise.) My own mother had her thyroid removed and was diabetic, both causing weight issues for much of her life.

    And I’m no skinny minny myself, even though I work out every stinking day (I ran a marathon 4 years ago) and am a “clean eating” freak. I gained 50 pound with each of my six full-term pregnancies (and proportional amounts with the six I lost). Losing has been a huge struggle and harder each time. I was a chubby kid who killed herself to lose enough to survive through high school and college and compete in pageants (and win swimsuit competitions–to prove a point, I guess).

    And, yes, I friends who eat garbage 24/7 and never work out and are thin as reeds. A number of them. (I try not to slap them around too much.)

    Weight is a complex issue. As bb brought up, it’s easier to tackle ten pounds of laundry than ten pounds of fat.

    So, to assume that a *particular instance* of obesity is caused be gluttony would be stupid. But to realize that “obesity is directly related to food intake” is just the truth.

    …a while back I was criticized for hiring professional cleaning help to avoid the slob situation…

    Do tell.

  36. Alison Moore Smith on March 17, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    WillF, in a past ward, there was a woman known by all as “The Candy Lady.” She was a divorced, late-middle-aged woman with no children. She didn’t associate much with adults (and actively tried to avoid most of them), but loved working with the kids. She would not allow visiting teachers to come to her home, but the nursery kids adored her.

    She sat on a bench at the back of the building every week and passed out candy from a large bag. The line of kids snaked through half of the church. Some parents got really bugged about it. (I admit it wasn’t my favorite thing to load them up right before we went home to a healthy dinner.) But she so loved doing it and the kids so loved it–and connected with her because of it–that I didn’t have the heart to drag them away. She did it with nothing but love for the kids.

    That said, if we lose the chocolate and pastry bribe to get people to sit through extra meetings, then we darn well better lose the basketball bribe to get the young men out, too!

  37. Kathy Green on March 18, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Alison, thanks for surfacing this issue. I have no particular expertise or inspiration, but I believe leaders are called because they are perceived as influential, and I believe we are all influenced, consciously or otherwise, by appearance.

    In my experience, there is a strong positive correlation between the appearance of a person’s home and his or her success in other areas (such as fitness and grooming). I have no guesses about “righteousness,” but all the senior vice presidents and CEOs I have known personally are at least passably athletic, spiffy dressers with good hair, and immaculate housekeepers. It seems to be a predictable success package.

    Obviously they’re also smart and ambitious. But there’s the appearance thing too. I can’t think of any exceptions.

  38. Alison Moore Smith on March 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I believe leaders are called because they are perceived as influential, and I believe we are all influenced, consciously or otherwise, by appearance.

    Kathy, I think you nailed it.

  39. WillF on March 19, 2009 at 9:01 am

    I think we also now have the formula for never being called into a leadership position. Thank you.

  40. queuno on March 21, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Hmm. At least one former bishop of our ward was an absent-minded, overweight, slob.

  41. msg on March 22, 2009 at 1:24 am

    Wow. I’ve never thought about it before but yes–the women who hold public leadership positions in the Church are quite “professional” looking and not the average matronly looking woman who is the revered mother of several children and usually has no college degree -the ideal Mormon woman image the Church portrays.
    It’s also interesting to note that the General Authorities who marry a second time seem to choose a well-educated, professional LDS woman, who has never been married ,instead of the “ideal” homemaker type. (Of course women in those situations would be professional women because they had to provide a good living for themselves.)
    I wonder if the Church hopes to attract the world’s attention by “showing” the professional women we have or do we just have a double standard? At least it shows all women in the Church that mo matter what their individual situation, we all make an important contribution and belong.

  42. Alison Moore Smith on March 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    (WillF, pass it on.)

    queno, I think we all experience that on a local level to some degree. When I was the Relief Society president of my ward, a woman I had known in high school visited. After seeing me conduct the meeting she asked what my calling was. When I told her she said, “Wow, they must be hard up.” I wasn’t overweight and I wasn’t a slob, but obviously I was deficient in numerous areas!

    msg, interesting insights. There may be another motive for the second marriages. If the conversation I had with Eldred G. Smith a couple of years ago is any indication, it’s because they have a responsibility to provide sealing ordinances to those who haven’t had the opportunity to get them. But he’s a bit outspoken about polygamy.

    Over two decades ago I decided to stay home with my kids after President Benson’s “big talk” to mothers. It wasn’t something I had ever wanted to do. Soon after, when Sam was still in grad school, I attended Women’s Conference. It was so discouraging to me. Ever single speaker I heard was lauded and praised for her career contributions.

    So, I’m supposed to stay home with my kids, but if I do then what I think won’t be deemed worth listening to?

    In a similar way, I can promise you that if I’d had just one or two (or even three or four!) kids, I’d look much more the “successful woman” part.

  43. Shawn on March 25, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Had a professor at BYU who lived near Sis. Tanner of the YW General Presidency. He once made a slightly disparaging comment along these lines, “Sis. Tanner runs by my house every morning jogging. I’d like to tell her that she needs to teach the youth of the church some real doctrine (ie. the fall via Milton’s Paradise Lost), instead of running everyday” The comment was a backhanded criticism of her focus on working out. Personally, I thought it was great that she was setting an example on taking care of both the physical body and spirit.