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Fat is not the worst thing you can be.
It really, really is not.
And if you really stop to evaluate your deepest darkest fear, I think you’ll agree with me. When you delve deep into the fears you harbor that have never escaped your lips—I doubt if “fat” will be on that list.
No, fat is just the thing you openly fear—and therefore mock. Fat is just the thing you make out to be the worst thing to the people around you. Maybe it’s something you think you are. Or maybe it’s something you’re trying fervently to avoid—or perhaps you try to look like you’re trying to avoid it.
“Oh my gosh I’m so fat.” she says, as she eats something unhealthy.
“I need to lose fifteen pounds.” she says, as she denies a treat.
“Gotta lose the beer belly.” he laughs at a party.
“OMG have you seen so-and-so? She’s put on so much weight. It’s unhealthy.” she gossips.
It’s never overtly stated as a fear, but when so many people express their need to avoid it, it seems to amount to that. Those are a few of the many ways I’ve heard this fear of fatness expressed—in my presence. In the presence of your actually obese loved one. Or maybe in the presence of an overweight stranger—who is also loved.
All I ever fucking hear is: “I don’t want to be like Kim.”
And yes, most assuredly you don’t mean that, but as an actually fat person, this is how those statements get processed in my brain. And this isn’t just a me thing. Other overweight people (not just women), have expressed similar things to me—and if you look, you can probably see the discomfort on their faces when you make those statements.
I have two basic things that I want to communicate right now:
- Fat is not the worst thing you can be.
- I don’t think you’re afraid of being fat.
Let’s address #1: Fat is not the worst thing you can be.
Before you tell me all about how being overweight is unhealthy: I get it. I get the argument. Can it for a hot second, will you? Until you’ve had an in-depth conversation with the specific overweight person whose health you’re so concerned about, stop assuming overweight people are living unhealthy lifestyles.
And maybe, if it’s for yourself, rather than saying, “I don’t want to get fat.” try “I do want to be healthier.”
I’m not sure what is the worst thing you can be is, but after thirty-one years on this fallen fucking planet, here are some things that I’ve observed that seem more difficult than living in a fat body:
- I’ve grieved with friends that have lost loved ones. That kind of pain and suffering seems worse.
- I’ve prayed over and with friends with terminal illnesses. That seems more difficult.
- I’ve known many men and women who are walking the path to find some semblance of okayness after years of sexual abuse or assault. Sure as shit—that is worse. I know.
This list could go on—and on. (As I write this, I’m seeing the theme emerge that the things that seem worse/harder are the things that are well beyond our own control.)
All that said, while being overweight certainly comes with stigma, social issues, difficulty finding clothes that fit, and more—it has never, and likely will never be, the worst thing in life. Yet we outwardly treat it that way, even though I don’t actually think that we, deep down, think it’s the worst thing.
Hell, in my book, being the asshole that judges and makes fun of fat people is probably worse. But I guess that’s just me being a different brand of judgmental.
There are far greater pains. I know. I’ve experienced them—as a fat person.
Now for #2: I don’t think you’re afraid of being fat.
Sure, there are health consequences for the overweight body—and doing what you can to avoid them is simply good stewardship of the body you’ve been given.
However, beyond that—and with the tone that most people talk about fatness, I really don’t believe it’s usually that—the fear of fatness itself, but of the stigma—that you fucking perpetuate—of the fatness.
You’re not afraid of being fat. You’re afraid of being treated like you are fat.
And I believe the fear lies even deeper yet.
Fat = Unattractive
Unattractive = Unwanted
Unwanted = Unloved
After living most of my life as an overweight woman, and certainly all of my adult life, I can say confidently that the big issue with being in this body is not the body itself, but the treatment of this body by others.
And despite my body, by the grace and mercy of God, having served me well—it still gets me second (or less) class human treatment. It still brings me dirty and disgusted looks. It still gets me worse customer service than thin/attractive people. It still begets the assumption of laziness—and stupidity.
If you wouldn’t mind, I want you to stop and take a minute to take stock of what you think of grossly obese people—maybe start with how fucking “grossly obese” is commonplace and a culturally ok way to refer to a fellow image bearer—and you probably did not bat an eye when I used it.
What do you think of fat people? (Or yourself, if you consider yourself fat?)
Unattractive? Unappealing? Lazy? Out of control? Disgusting? Gross? Unwantable? Unloveable? Desperate for love? Take up too much space? Gluttons? (PS. These are all statements about obese people I’ve seen online, and have heard in real life.)
We’re not afraid of being fat.
We’re afraid of being subject to the sale stigma that we hold against fat people. You’re afraid of being thought of in the same way that you think of people like me—or maybe how you think of me.
My fat body has some limitations. (More than my fat body, though—my asthmatic lungs, and shit-from-birth joints and nervous system impose those limitations.) But no physical limitation I have because of obesity can hold a fucking candle to the treatment I’ve endured—perpetrated by fellow image bearers. No up-hill-out-of-breath-moment has been even remotely as hindering as the words that have been spoken to me—by loved ones and by strangers—about obesity, and my obesity.
I’ve written before about how The Way We Talk About Overweightness Needs To Change—but it runs so much deeper than that. The way we think about overweight people needs to change.
I don’t ever raise my hands in worship.
I used to.
But one Sunday about a decade ago, I had my hands up, and a woman stranger behind me tapped on my shoulder, leaned in, and pointed out how some of my side/back was exposed and and told me to pull my shirt down. I was embarrassed, and heeded her request—as I was (am) extremely self-conscious—and I put my arms down. And looked around. Both the girl to my left and right had more midsection flesh exposed than I did—as well as one of the women to her left. Yet I was the only overweight one, so it was my body that was too offensive for corporate worship. I have not raised my hands in worship since that day.
I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy, but to point out how the stigma around obesity is fucking stupid. How fat people, for some reason that wholly escapes me, are expected to cover more of our body than thin people. What’s “modest” for a thin woman is immodest for a fat one. Whaaaat the fuck. (Yes, this is on the list of “topics to write about” that I keep on my phone.)
In and out of Christendom being fat is addressed as some horrendous taboo. As is having honest discussions about it. And I do see the fat-positive marketing—I do see changes happening—but I also see the fucking comment sections, and I hear your jokes, and I see the looks on your faces, and I know no amount of Instagram posts of fat girls doing yoga will change our proud hearts that think less of fat-bodied image bearers.
For non-Christian readers, I’d invite you to evaluate the stigma you harbor toward overweight people—and begin to practice conscientiousness in opting out of the stigma—for others and yourself.
For the Christian, and I’m preaching to myself here, too, we get to repent. We get to call pride pride—and we get to confess thinking less of someone for the body they have in this life—and we get to repent. We get to turn away from sin, toward Jesus—and opt to love image bearers no matter their body shape or size—as the Christ loved us. Wholly. Sacrificially. Unconditionally.
For the overweight Christian, we get to (attempt to) hold fast to Imago Dei—and that our physical bodies, no matter what they look like, bear no weight when we’re beheld by God the Father because we are clothed in Jesus, the son that he loves. We don’t need to measure up to the world’s beauty standards because we get to daily reject the lies brought on by sociocultural stigma around fatness by rooting our identity in the gospel: wanted, loved—at all times—no matter what our bodies look like, or how they got that way.
I know it is easier to write this (though not easy) than it is to apply and do it. I know. I’ve been trying and failing for years.
It is hard to hear that still, small, heavenly “loved” when the world is screaming the opposite.
So, world, maybe stop screaming the opposite because you’re afraid of hearing the opposite screamed at you… please?