This is going to be a very personal post, since this topic is one that effects me quite a bit. It may be triggering for some especially if you have, or are recovering from, eating disorders. Any comments to this post that are fat shaming, victim blaming, concern trolling, or negative diet talk will be deleted immediately.
When this post goes live, I will have given a workshop at my church about the language that we use to oppress ourselves, and others, about body size. Right now, I’m writing this a few days before the workshop and I’m anxious about the reaction people will have to what I will present. This is a hard thing I’m about to do because not only am I trying to convince people that weight and health are not always the same thing, but I’m also trying to convince people that the oppressive language they use to talk to each other and to themselves about their bodies is just as bad as any other oppression. That the hate and vitriol about our bodies, particularly fat bodies, qualifies as a legitimate social justice issue. And not because there’s an “obesity epidemic” (due to whatever the bad food thing of the day is), but because people are being shitty to themselves and others because of their body size.
The worst part about this is that being shitty to people because of their body size has the full support and force of society, the medical establishment, the diet industry, and even our government. There have been bills introduced into state governments to ban sodas in both schools and in towns. There are companies that give discounts to employees for completing “Biggest Loser” style workplace competitions, but if you are unable to participate, for whatever reason, you get to pay more (and let’s not get started on the ableism part of these programs). Even churches have gotten in on the act in the name of “health.”
But, here’s the kicker: when I, as a fat person, get all these messages from all of these places, they are NOT encouragement. These messages are emotionally abusive. It becomes shame, doubt, fear of rejection, a belief that I’m ugly and worthless. When I hear it in church (and I really want my clergy friends to read this and understand this) I hear that I am not worthy in the eyes of God. That I am somehow morally inferior because of an assumed lack of willpower and laziness. When I see posts from prominent Pagans decrying how there are too many fat people, I feel like my community will devalue anything I say because I’m fat. When all art that I see of the deities I work with are socially acceptable body types, I feel like my body is not acceptable to the gods. When fat people are the butt of jokes, or when people post memes just to make fun of the fat lady eating from a jar of mayo on the bus, or even when friends talk about how they’ve been “so bad” for eating a cookie, I feel, in my heart, that my body shape is not acceptable to anyone. And I worry that if they are saying that to themselves, what must they think of me?
No matter how much good I’ve done, no matter how much people tell me I’m wonderful, or nice, or beautiful, I have been trained to hate myself. I have been trained to see myself as inferior, morally bereft, and unfit to be seen in public. I have been trained to see my body as something that is broken and bad and not worth loving or don’t deserve to have love in my life. I have been trained that it is better to mutilate my body through surgery, starvation, or drugs in order to be acceptable to the rest of society. I have been trained not expect appropriate healthcare because of my size, or to be allowed to travel comfortably (without greater expense than thinner travelers), or to even be able to eat a meal at a restaurant in peace. We are trained in all of this from a very young age, and there are kids now who are dieting and getting eating disorders at younger and younger ages because they believe that fat is the worst thing you can be.
Much of this shame, doubt, and fear are so much a part of me now, is so ingrained into my psyche, that it doesn’t take much to start the self-abuse: physically and in my head. There are times, even now, where I will not eat in front of people because I’d rather starve than be seen as the “fat girl eating,” even when I know that, for legitimate health reasons, it’s dangerous for me to do so. I will always have to justify being healthy because of my fatness, and I will always have to fight with doctors to be able to not just be diagnosed as fat, even for a sinus infection.
Like all other oppressions, I have to continuously justify my right to exist in my body. No amount of wishing I ever did, or rigorous exercise that I did, or starvation that I put myself through has made me any thinner or more acceptable in the eyes of society. I have also been trained to believe that dying is preferable to existing as a fat person. And, believe me, there was one time I tried that, too. (Thankfully, I stopped myself and got help the next day.)
I urge everyone, but particularly those of you who consider yourselves clergy and those who work in social justice movements, to really think about what you are saying when you talk about health, food, and the body. Even if you’re just posting in social media, because you never know who is listening.
Just because it’s acceptable in our society to body shame and body police people doesn’t mean that it’s not oppression and doing serious damage.