don’t judge a book by its cover. don’t judge a person by their weight.

I don’t know how to approach this post in a politically correct way so I’ll just say it. It’s a quasi-post about weight, obesity, and overweight people in society.

There: I said it.

In some ways but especially in the church, it’s one of the “elephants” in the room.

And by that, I’m not try to sound like a jerk or smartarse in any way by the usage of elephant, it’s literally a rare a conversation we host. It’s certainly not something I regularly teach or preach about but I should if I care about my congregation.

And by that, I’m not saying that it should be directed at those who are overweight but to really approach it from the perspective of stewardship, body, and health. And that being said, I can tell you that I’m personally struggling with health, exercise, and the stewardship of my body.

But the conversation isn’t just about “weight” but there’s even a more important, critical, and soul question. What is it?

Our judgments:

It’s the way we judge those who are fat or obese. Just those words in themselves conjure up certain preconceptions, judgement, and assumptions.

And if we are truly honest,  we all do it on some level. We judge and make assumptions:

overweight, gluttony, lazy, not useful, or whatever

and perhaps most painfully from our church perspective, we go beyond judgment to condemnation:

not gifted.

not able to be used by God like “normal people.”

And that is something we need to repent for.

Honestly, I think what needs to happen is that both of these conversations need to happen – but always in the context of trust, love, and relationships. That’s why…it ought to happen in the church.

Because if they don’t, I can assure you they probably just happen in the minds and hearts of people – in isolation. And that’s where judgments fester.

Consider these words from one of my blog readers:

I’ve endured a lot of judgment and condemnation from people (pastors, church leaders, family) who have either said out loud to me or to my friends behind my back that I am an embarrassment, lazy, a burden, selfish, undisciplined, and perhaps the most hurtful . . . that they don’t believe I can be effective or credible in God’s work.

There are many underlying reasons for obesity; overeating is not always the cause. It’s very hurtful to make an assumption or critical judgment, or show pity or contempt. Why not get to know the person, spend time with them, ask them about their struggle, and become a friend rather than a critic.

You may be surprised to find treasure that has been discarded because of its packaging.

Watch this beautiful video:

But let me just share this video with you starring opera duo, Charlotte Jaconelli (16)  & Jonathan Antoine (17), as they sing ‘The Prayer’  in a very recent episode of Britain’s Got Talent 2012.

It’s beautiful, magical, and inspiring. I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. Here’s 7 thoughts that randomly ran through my head:

1. The voice.

Wow. What a voice. Wow.

2. We all know what the judges and crowd were thinking.

It’s the same thought we all had about someone like Susan Boyle (“Wow…she’s old and doesn’t look the part.”), Sung-Bong Choi (“But he’s an orphan?”) and this duo: Jonathan and Charlotte. (“He’s fat.”)

And for some, perhaps, that’s all we see. How tragic.

Learning a bit more about Jonathan’s story, he shares about #3 and I’m sure the constant comparisons to his sister…who’s an aspiring model. You can’t make this up.

3. The impact of judgment to the soul.

Something haunting about how Jonathan describes the judgments of people:

“It took a little piece out of me in a sense.”

In an interview I read somewhere, Jonathan shared that has had been so badly bullied about his weight that he “suffered a nervous breakdown in October and is currently seeing a psychiatrist.”

Before blowing away Simon Cowell and the rest of the judging panel at the BGT auditions, the curly-haired teenager opened up about his past.

‘At primary school I had the mick taken out of me and it damaged my confidence quite a bit,’ he said. ”When people would say something it would take a little piece out of me.’

However, despite suffering from a breakdown last year, Jonathan revealed that it was with the help of his singing partner Charlotte Jaconelli that he found the confidence to get up on stage.

4. I really like Simon Cowell.

Really blunt and honest but in my opinion, a helpful way. That’s me. We can’t have 100 Simon Cowells in our lives but we all need at least one Simon Cowell.

“Dump her…”

How honest can you get?

5. Collaboration and Loyalty.

No one is an island to themselves. No one.

“Well we’ve come on here as a duo and we’re going to stay here as a duo.”

6.  Carmen Elektra?

What in the world is Carmen Elektra doing there as a judge?  Really?

7. Who didn’t tear up even a little bit?

I want to know.

[ What are your thoughts?]

  • About Jonathan and Charlotte?
  • About the conversation of weight, health, obesity, and the judgments. Fair? Agree? Disagree?

43 Replies to “don’t judge a book by its cover. don’t judge a person by their weight.”

  1. I don’t know, Eugene.

    I wonder why and if this should even be a question or conversation. No one talks and chats about thin people, right?

    But I agree with you. The video is amazing.

    1. I think it’s an important conversation for the reason I mention in my post:

      “… I can assure you they probably just happen in the minds and hearts of people – in isolation. And that’s where judgments fester.”

  2. Funny thing about cultural differences – in the black community it’s almost automatically assumed that if you’re overweight you can SANG. But these people are ridiculous. Didn’t we go through this a few years ago with that older chick? People suck.

    1. I definitely started rolling my eyes when Jonathan started singing and everyone began cheering, after looking incredibly doubtful. I was more surprised by the crowd’s looks of indifference than I was by his ability to sing well.

  3. As a singer who weighs over 400lbs (and I hear the judgements as soon as I even type that), this story is personal to me. I have a rare recurrent hormone producing pituitary tumor (Cushing’s Disease) that causes this symptom of obesity, but that is not what people think to wonder when they see me. They don’t know about the failed brain surgeries, the years of diligent efforts lost to progressing illness, none of that – but even if it were not disease that caused this weight, please understand that you never know what someone’s story is. You don’t know when you see an enormous person like me, if they’ve already lost 200lbs and are working really hard, or were in a car accident and horribly injured and unable to exercise, or whatever the reasons may be for their weight. You don’t know. Everyone deserves compassion, even if (and maybe especially if) they ate themselves there. Even better, a chance to shine! Thank you for bringing this up, and celebrating a rare moment where someone *was* able to shine through others’ preconceptions. It is an enormous feat of personal strength to walk out the door when you know that for many, many of the people who see you that day, their main reaction will be disgust. I cheer when I see others who have courageously stepped out to live their lives anyway, and welcome the conversation, because it is something I face every day of my life, whether we talk about it or not.

    1. Thank u. I know people judge me, even people that are supposed to be close to me because I have gained 100 pounds. I also believe that I am turned down for positions that I apply for because of it. I am trying to lose the weight because I AM unhappy not because of what they think but I have found it difficult to lose. I don’t think that anyone should be judged because of what they look like EVER.

  4. It’s an interesting question where to start this conversation – which I agree needs to take place. A few initial thoughts:

    – the industrialisation of food production in the west has been a major factor in the creation of the current obesity epidemic. This has structural as well as personal dimensions, with low income families being disproportionally affected by a lack of availability of healthy low-fat foods at affordable prices. In this sense, we are looking at an economic and institutional issue, rather than simply an individual “lifestyle” issue.

    – we need to think carefully about whether obesity in the current western context is or is not equivilent to the Biblical sin of gluttony, which is how the issue is sometimes approached at a popular level. We therefore also need to be rigorous in examining our prejudices and being sure that our conversation is not merely following the cultural currents around us

    – I agree that the issue of stewardship is very relevent to the conversation – though I would broaden the terms of reference to include stewardship of the land, the seas and the skies, especially in terms of their capacity to bring forth nourishing food for men and women for the glory of God.

  5. I love how Jonathan stuck up for Charlotte, they are clearly more than just a singing duo, they are gifts to one another…this is as wonderful as their performance. #cryingalltheway

    1. I absolutely agree with bcoyouth! What character it showed to stand up to Simon Cowell (of all people!) and correct his assessment that he should leave Charlotte. Amazing.

      My first thought when he started to sing was “Of course he sings opera … he LOOKS like an opera singer” and then I felt relief (sadly) that he sings opera because I could imagine how difficult it would be for him to gain acceptance in the “pop” industry.

      He’s amazing, and I love your thoughts on the matter of weight.

  6. Katc – Thank you for your honest and incredibly vulnerable post. I think you are 100% right about the fact that we don’t know anyone’s story until we get to know them…and usually by then compassion is a very natural thing to give. Thanks again.

  7. Thank you Eugene Cho for this observation. I’ve endured a lot of judgment and condemnation from people (pastors, church leaders, family) who have either said out loud to me or to my friends behind my back that I am an embarrassment, lazy, a burden, selfish, undisciplined, and perhaps the most hurtful . . . that they don’t believe I can be effective or credible in God’s work.

    There are many underlying reasons for obesity; overeating is not always the cause. It’s very hurtful to make an assumption or critical judgment, or show pity or contempt. Why not get to know the person, spend time with them, ask them about their struggle, and become a friend rather than a critic.

    You may be surprised to find treasure that has been discarded because of its packaging.

    1. thank you so much for sharing this. your comment was so moving that i added it to the post.

      i’m sorry for the hurt you’ve experienced.

      i would be lying if i haven’t been guilty of assumptions without having the courage and heart to ask…not for the sake of asking but for the sake of wanting to simply know more about someone.

      1. Thank you for your comments. I think all of us are guilty of making instant judgments at one time or another. What helps keep me in check is trying to celebrate each person I meet as an image bearer of God who has a story to tell, and from whom I can learn something. Since I identify with and have a heart for hurting people, God has graciously given me a ministry of encouragement for those who are broken. It’s called “Broken People”.

  8. Eugene, thank you for this thoughtful post. It was moving and I too wish we could talk more about the judgments we make about people, especially persons who are overweight. Knowing stories breaks down walls. How do we create opportunity for conversations? I need to do more.

    1. “Knowing stories breaks down walls. How do we create opportunity for conversations?”

      That sounds like a great class or a book!

      Many reasons…but for me, the one that sticks out is that it’s hard work. Relationships and community are hard work.

  9. Eugene – first of all, thank you for sharing this. From a musician’s perspective – this was wonderful and heartwarming and encouraging. (and I’m going to have to agree with Simon a little bit – her voice doesn’t live up to his…. but they ARE a great duo because of the RELATIONSHIP)

    Second of all – YES. Wholeheartedly YES this needs to be a conversation in the church. I’ve been obese most of my adult life and struggle with image issues and self-confidence, etc. Where better than the loving arms of our church family to learn to be better stewards.

    To Dennis W – I don’t think Eugene is limiting the discussion to obesity. In fact, he clearly mentions his own struggles with stewardship. The issue is two-fold: how do we address physical health and fitness in relationship to Christ? AND what can we do to work on the judgement issue as well?

    Your sentiment actually is an issue of judgement: who said that “thin” is “healthy”? The issue of health and fitness and stewardship of this Temple for our Soul – these are issues for EVERYONE, not just obese.

      1. In the little things, as well as the big. Make a conscious effort to offer healthier options at “Coffee Hour” – that social time before/after worship where usually there are only cookies, cake, and sugary punch. Snacks that the younger kids have in Sunday School – something healthy instead of pumping them full of sugar and additives before giving them back to their parent(s) and/or guardians.

        An adult class looking at stewardship – in general – and then maybe breaking it down into areas of our life: finances, work, family, health/physical, spiritual…

        The point is to not make it about losing weight – make it truly about becoming more holy, wholly.

        Physically – the idea of stewardship extends to everyone, and when addressed THAT way, it is less daunting (and embarrassing) for one group over the other. Thin can be just as unhealthy as obese. Addictions are part of this. Food choices – veggie, vegan, whole foods, only organic – why should we prayerfully consider all this – and more importantly: what does scripture have to say.

        A sermon series on the Genesis command that we care for this Earth that we have been blessed with.

        My mind is racing with ideas – but the basic premise is to include EVERYONE in the teaching, because we all have something to learn and change in our own lives. This will help with the judgment issue – if everyone is helped to see their own places for growth. And address things holistically. Don’t just start a “Christian Weight Loss Program”, since that doesn’t really get at the heart of the issue.

        As someone who is working hard to lose this weight (45 pounds gone so far), for me it is about making better choices within my limits. And the better choices come as a result of learning the “WHY” behind everything. WHY does God want us to take care of our bodies? WHY does fresh food do more for my body than processed (and quick) food? WHY is exercising important? WHY is God interested in my physical, as well as spiritual, health?

        Answer the WHYs – for everyone, not just the obese – and it becomes a community project in being better stewards of our temples and of the earth.

        1. Those are excellent ideas, Jenn. I’ve found that understanding how certain foods interact with my body helps me make better choices. How awesome it would be for churches to begin teaching a series on how God’s kingdom works, beginning with the interaction between Father, Son, and Spirit, followed by God’s original design for his creation (Moody Science Films are incredible resources to show why creatures have been created so uniquely), and how He can redeem the colossal mess we’ve created by inviting us to live by His kingdom principles rather than our own flawed wisdom. That would create a renewed awe and respect for God and our world, and motivate us to be better stewards instead of being obsessed with appearance and dietary/exercise rules, By catching a glimpse into a kingdom saturated by such amazing love and grace, it could change us (emotionally, physically, spiritually) so we crave more of what actually gives life to its fullest.

        2. Great thoughts!

          I’m glad you’d make sure to include all folks when it came to body stewardship. And I like idea of tackling the “Why” questions. It shows the beauty of the Wisdom of God… who was incarnated in our Messiah.

          You could tack on time and giftings to the stewardship categories. Both have been areas of stewardship that I struggle with. Speaking of faithful management of time…

          1. John – exactly!

            The idea of stewardship is really a lot more gigantic than we, in the church, express. We’re not just talking about money (or tithing) – which is generally when it comes up. Growing up, my church always had a “stewardship sunday” once a year – and even as a teen who barely paid attention to the sermon, I KNEW what was coming. “blahblahblah – tithing is holy and right – blahblahblah give what you should, God will take care of your needs – etc”

            It wasn’t until much later that I had a pastor truly TEACH about a more holistic view of stewardship (his approach was time, talent, treasure). I would take it farther into our everyday lives – so that the idea of stewardship seeps into every corner of our lives.

  10. To appreciate just how great a singer Jonathan is, watch videos of Pavarotti and Domingo. While not as polished or perfect as these masters, he’s already at least (if not more) powerful than these men. The sky is the limit.

      1. Yes I did. Most people would have cracked under that stress. He nailed it!

        I’ve worked with several seriously obese – and brilliant – persons over the years. I mostly fear for their health and untimely demise. Jonathan seems to have the right attitude: Yes, I’d like to improve my health by losing weight. But meanwhile, I deserve to be accepted as I am now.

        I am curious why he came onstage so casually dressed. I suspect that the handlers wanted it that way, to accentuate the surprise. He has appeared at many other performances dressed in a suit.

  11. I appreciate your remarks on stewardship… We are called to be stewards of EVERYTHING we possess because we believe this life is temporary. In the context of a loving community there should be nothing we cannot discuss and resolve… Often times either immaturity or phariseeism derails opportunities / obstacles we face

  12. It saddened me to hear Simon Cowell say, as Jonathon and Charlotte walked on stage, something to the effect “and I thought it couldn’t get any worse”. I like Simon, but someone should make him eat those words.

    1. Simon deliberately casts himself as the “reluctant” judge. This comment was planned. The show is carefully staged. The judges have a good idea what is up next – and may have seen the rehearsals (like DWTS). You can tell how fully planned a show is, by how “on-cue” the camera cuts are.

  13. Thanks for starting this conversation, Eugene.

    I have wondered what changes would occur if each thin person had to wear a “fat” suit for one day. Then they could experience the prejudice, stares, judgment, and negative energy those of us who are overweight experience.

    I’ve been bullied/verbally abused since I was in elementary school, even though I wasn’t fat then but still bigger than the other kids. In 6th grade, kids walked by my desk and made pig sounds. People’s behavior toward my weight influenced everything, my entire worldview of beauty and worthiness.

    Ironically (or due to my experiences), I catch myself judging people, especially beautiful people. I assume they are judging me, are self-focused, and unkind. I hate that I do this, but at least I am aware of it.

    To simplify our world we categorize people, which easily leads to negative judgments. Allowing each person to be an individual with their own story is hard work and most people don’t take the time or energy for this.

    Is there an easy solution? Probably not. If I am in a community, then I expect people to at least respect me. But if I am just walking down the street or at a restaurant, can’t I just be ignored? I don’t need/want stares. Why waste your time on me? Go about your business and I’ll go about mine.

  14. First of all WOW what a voice! And I loved how Jonathan said they came as a duo and they’d stay a duo. Awesome.

    I can relate so much to what Jonathan was saying. I grew up in a household that the women {my mom, sister, and I} would regularly “forget” to eat a meal or two a day to maintain the thinness. And while my low self esteem didn’t come from being overweight {because I wasn’t}, I did have incredibly low self esteem until I met Christ and my wonderful husband Jason.

    When our oldest daughter was not quite a year old, I began to gain weight and sleep all the time. No matter what I did to stay awake or to lose weight, it wouldn’t work. I still slept 15hrs or more a day and gained weight.

    We found out I had hypothyroidism.

    Even with a diagnosis, I still had family and even certain friends that would doubt me when I’d say there was nothing at all I could do to help it. I’d cut down portion sizes, exercise when I had energy, drink a lot of caffeine to stay up …. it didn’t matter. Still gained weight and still slept a lot.

    For over a year, until my levels were finally normalized again.

    I got up close to 300lbs. I got the stares … I got the snickers … I got the revolted looks on peoples faces when they thought I wasn’t looking. I’ve heard people wonder what my amazing husband is doing with some fat slob like me when they thought I couldn’t hear. I got the snide, rude anonymous comments on previous blogs I’ve had about my weight and how I need to get off my lazy butt and stop shoveling food into my face.

    They didn’t care how their words hurt. They didn’t care that I honestly wasn’t eating a ton and I was honestly trying to be more active. They didn’t understand and they didn’t want to.

    God healed me completely of my hypothyroidism over 4 years ago. I was pregnant with our 2nd child and told them of my past issues with it. They tested my levels and, even though I hadn’t taken my medication in months {finances, at the time, were really really tight}, my levels were completely normal. I’ve had them tested a few times since and they’re still totally normal. PRAISE GOD!

    I’m losing the weight which, by now, isn’t just from that year-long struggle. A move across the country {VT to WY} and some incredibly stressful financial times had me turning to food far more often than I turned to our ultimate Provider, unfortunately.

    But I still do get those occasional comments and looks. And it still hurts. But I know what I’ve come through …. …. I know what God has done for me …. it doesn’t matter any longer if anyone still thinks I sit on my rear all day shoving food into my face. My children love me … my husband thinks I’m the hottest woman on the face of this planet … that’s more than enough for me 😀

  15. I’ve been guilty of passing judgement, and when faced to confront my words and actions have felt the horrible shame of it. It can be incredibly difficult to acknowledge it, so I understand when people refuse to own it. Once I owned what I my faults, I received the gifts of forgiveness, insight and friendship.

    We judge people by the superficial things, I don’t think that will ever be stamped out of our nature. The realization is that those moments are crossroads and determine the type of person I want to be is affected by the choices I make at those moments.

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