(There are 1,465 words after this. That’s a little less than five minutes of reading for the average adult. This is a continuation from An introduction to being overweight.)
“Oh my gosh, I’m so fat.”
*shoves food into mouth* “Haha I’m gonna get so fat!”
*is telling a story from the day* “… and this fat woman—and she was huge—did this *mildly offensive thing*…”
“He was like—disgustingly overweight.”
*after eating a meal* “I feel so fat.”
“Oh my gosh did you see the fat lady on the bicycle? She looked so ridiculous!”
Those are all things I hear on the regular—from people who I love, and from people who love me. They’re not about me—but it feels like they are. The ones I listed above actually come from specific memories—I recall each of those moments clearly because they felt so uncomfortable.
(I feel like this is another good time to stop, and invite you to stop, and sit in my shit heap with me. Don’t respond with encouragements devoid of the real Gospel. Don’t coddle. I hate being coddled—and don’t need it. Sit. Read. Absorb. Think.)
If you know me, and love me, you’re probably aware of the fact that I’m overweight—it’s not like I can hide it—but you probably don’t, by and large, lump me in with the other overweight strangers you see. I realized a while back, though, that if my friends talk about the obese people they see in their day-to-day life like that—that the people I don’t know are likely at some points talking that way about me to their friends. Who knows, maybe they even have a fat friend who’s squirming inside as they make a joke about me.
I have a plethora of qualms with the concepts in these phrases—and I’ll address some of them over time—but one thing I want to really nail down in this particular post is this: The way we talk about overweightness—and overweight people—needs to change—for the sake of your overweight loved ones.
There is a HUGE amount of shame that comes from being in an overweight body—especially as a female. I don’t deny that overweight men have their problems—but in years and years of observations, I also know it’s not the same. I doubt if any of the overweight men I know have ever been called a “fat cunt” for sitting in the empty seat next to a man on the bus before. I have. Twice, actually. That number increases drastically if we switch the phrase to “fat bitch”. Probably, for most overweight men, they’ve never been told they should wear Spanx to hide their rolls by a coworker. They’ve probably not been told over and over and over again to dress for their body type. They’ve probably never been told, “Maybe you should consider losing some weight if you want to attract a wife…” I’m not saying that to garner your sympathy, but to let you know that it’s different.
A few times a week, I’ll be walking through downtown and notice a person look me over—from my feet to my head—and grimace. Once they’ve gotten a good look at my body, they literally contort their faces into an expression of disgust. (I like to make eye contact with these people—and smile—to force them to come face to face with my humanity. Also, I’m a bit of an ass.) And it’s not unusual for loved ones to reiterate that message—that overweight people are disgusting.
I used to dance a lot—not any sort of organized dancing, but I wasn’t afraid to cut a rug from time to time. I am now. I’ve been told plenty of times that “no one wants to see that” by raging assholes—and that never stopped me. What stopped me was my friends and family making fun of other fat people in motion. Because overweight people who are moving are inherently funny or some fucked up thing like that.
It’s not actually the strangers saying cruel things—for me, at least—that makes me feel like I’m encased in the stuff of nightmares. It’s not the looks of disgust on the street, or the harsh words spoken about me by people I don’t even like—it’s the constant reiteration by loved ones that confirm the fear that being overweight is simultaneously the worst thing that can happen to a person, disgusting, and a joke. Sometimes it feels like the whole fucking world has joined in chorus to let me know just how disgusting I am—even if they’re not directly talking about me. Consider it the harmony to strangers’ melody—or the low notes that give the piece substantiality.
And I want you to hear, clearly, from an overweight person (who you may or may not know and/or love)—being overweight is not the worst thing that can happen. I’ve got friends who have lost babies and brothers and sisters. I’ve got friends who are fighting cancer. There seems to be a suicide epidemic with some demographic groups nearly doubling their suicide rate in about 15 years. There are hundreds of thousands of kids who are enslaved by adults buying and selling their little bodies. Being overweight is not the worst thing that can happen—so stop talking about it like it’s so horrific. Unhealthy? Yes. Horrific and disgusting? No.
Hear this, friends: I am created in the same imago dei that you are. I reflect the same divine image. I was deemed worth saving, just like you. (Maybe if I say it enough in enough different ways, someday, I’ll believe it.) My body is not disgusting, and it is not the punchline to your joke. And I know—I know—you would never say those things about me—but someone does—and I hear it every time you say those things about an overweight person that you’ve probably never even met. When you talk about other overweight people as though their disgusting and worthless, I hear it as though it was meant for me—and I know I’m not the only overweight person who hears it that way. And it makes me feel hopeless.
That sort of speak attempts to strip them—us—of the worth given to all mankind by our Creator—and while nothing can actually strip us of that worth, sometimes it feels like it’s been stripped. It’s not fat shaming. It’s me shaming. It’s human shaming. It’s divine image bearer shaming. It is divine image shaming. It’s certainly not a bad thing that I have to constantly preach to myself the Gospel—but it’s often disheartening that I have to tell myself again of God’s love for me because again I feel as though I’ve been stripped of my worth because of the body I live in. And it’s disheartening to know that even though I’ve been repenting of the sins that have lead to this body (I’ll write about *that* at a later date—and how it’s not only our sins that get us there), I’m still being looked at and accused of the sins that have brought me here—because repentance and change don’t immediately undo the years of damage.
I also can’t pretend that I’ve never been to blame here either. I used to think it was ok to poke fun at fat people because I was one of them—it’s not. Changing that language we use about overweight people requires a change in thoughts about who they are—and that requires repentance and the realization that they are divine image bearers—and we have neither the right nor the authority to strip them of that. I need to repent of this—my feeble attempts to strip others of their God-given worth. You, Christian, need to repent of this, too.
I’m sure right now some of you may be thinking, “I do see overweight people as divine image bearers!”—but I hope that this blog will put that bug in your head that helps amplify the voice of the Holy Spirit when He points out how you’re thinking—and speaking—about that overweight person you don’t know (or don’t like). At the very least, I hope it inspires you to change your language around me—because I am exhausted by the lies you confirm.
My intent here is not to make you feel bad—and I don’t want your apology if you recall a time this may have been you—your past (and future) opinions and words about overweight people are on the cross. But just recognize the reality that those words and thoughts belong on the cross. They are unloving, careless, and antithetical to divine image and ultimately the Gospel.
I’m not reading this one again and editing it before I hit publish it, by the way. If I do that, I’ll never click the button. #barf