One of the points Matt raises in Earthen Vessels is that evangelicals should probably be a bit more careful about our recent embrace of body modifications. Citing the common line, “it’s my body, so why can’t I get a tattoo if I want?” Matt quotes his wife who once in a moment of frustrations asked, “If someone told you they’re going to chop off their arm because they like their body better with one arm than two, are you really going to say, ‘well, it’s your body’?” Obviously that’s an extreme example, but it makes the point effectively enough: Is simply insisting on the ownership of one’s body a good argument for body modifications? And if it isn’t, then what’s a better way to think about the issue?
To frame it another way, if we can tell a person, “No, you should not chop off your arm, it is wrong,” then how do we distinguish between that kind of extreme body modification and the more common types of body modification, like piercing and tattooing? I think we can draw distinctions between those different types (I’m not opposed to pierced ears, after all), but how we do so is vital.
These considerations are background for thinking about this recent story from Britain which raises uncomfortable questions about the ethics of body modification: A 23-year-old woman is eating 5000 calories a day (including having her boyfriend force feed her with a funnel) in order to reach her weight goal of 420 pounds. (Before beginning this “project,” she weighed 112 pounds.) Her reason for wanting to gain that much weight? There are people online at “big, beautiful women,” sites who will pay to watch a livestream of her eating. I hope that Christian readers will be disturbed by this story and agree that this isn’t an ethical way to modify the body. But the counter-argument for good moderns will be, “It’s her body, she’s not hurting anyone but herself, and she’s finding a way to actually make a living from it… so what’s the problem?” What’s the appropriate response for thoughtful evangelicals?