Body Shaming in the Bible
“There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face.” —Genesis 29:17
In the opening number of the musical Seven Brothers for Seven Brides, Adam, the eldest of the seven brothers, belts out how he is “lookin’ for a wife.” Shopping for a bride in the remote Oregon country of the 1850s, Adam selects a wife based not on compatibility, wit, intelligence, business sense, religious views, community service, faith, heart, or an empathic ability to care. Adam chooses a life partner based on her size and her figure.
The song I sang in the leading male role a few weeks ago is meant to be funny. It isn’t funny. It’s sexist. And wrong.
The musical that turned into a 1954 movie is based loosely on a short story written in 1937 by Pulitzer prize winner Stephen Vincent Benét. The American author titled his work “The Sobbin’ Women.” Benét parodies Roman mythology by retelling how the men of Rome commit a mass abduction of young women from surrounding cities.
We should all sob when we allow, even in jokes, women to be seen as prizes, objects. We are wrong when we appraise someone based solely on looks.
What can be made right from this wrong is that we can learn. We can listen. And we can certainly love—love like we are supposed to. How are we Christians supposed to love? We love by seeing the person, not the appearance.
Genesis 29:17 happens when Jacob meets two sisters, Rachel, who is beautiful, and Leah who, according to the text, is not. The Hebrew translation of there being “no sparkle in Leah’s eyes” is unclear. Maybe this verse means that Leah is somehow unattractive—inside and out. Then again, it could be a play on words. Perhaps Leah has “dull eyes” because she is not attracted to Jacob, this new suitor in town.
What is clear is we cannot allow body shaming. What is also clear is we can see the wrongs Jacob did here and correct ourselves. Have you looked away from someone wearing dirty clothes? Have you personally assessed someone with very poor hygiene?
We are caught—and convicted—when, like Jacob, we see the pimples not the person.
The Bible is a living tool for learning. Use it. Let scripture enable you to see, really see. The lives of those in our sacred text teach us not just by what they do, but by what they do not do.
Notice the girl, not the fat girl. Smile at the boy, not the toothpick teen. Live out God’s love by seeing not the slob but the soul.
[The photo accompanying this prep is from the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers starring Jane Powell and Howard Keel.]
Prayer: Oh God, open my eyes that I may see. Open my heart that I may feel. Open my arms that I may shake someone’s dirty or stained hand—or offer a much-needed hug. Amen.