Surviving Resolution Season as a Fat Pastor
Post Author: Amber Slate
This January I am sending out reverse trigger warnings. I have slowly been embracing a new compassion for my body and a new neutrality about the word “fat.” But it’s fresh and tender, and I know this will be easier said than lived, especially during New Year’s resolution season.
Looking back, the idea started in a garden where a group of women had gathered on the warm grass to sit and talk about our seminary assignment for the day. It was a class designed to ask students to pay more attention to their theology of creation and embodied experience by doing the embodied work of gardening and eating together and then reflecting on the connections to our readings.
I was thrilled to be considering the goodness of embodied life which is proclaimed in creation and affirmed in the incarnation. I grew in my conviction that God cares about our different embodied experiences of race, sexuality, ability, gender, class, and body type and how we address the different kinds of privilege that come with each one. It made me wonder if I had been taught to overemphasize the holiness of sacrifice, control, and disembodied spirituality only to neglect the holiness of planting, eating, loving, resting, moving, and creating.
But on this particular day, the writer, who had done an excellent job of praising the grace manifested in creation, happened to casually mention pursuing health by losing weight as a response to that grace. I felt a little fire ignite in my belly – angered by the oversimplification and the lack of consideration for the variety of narratives that exist around that topic. Spurred on by my strong reaction, I swept past any shame that might have silenced me previously and plucked up the courage to ask the rest of the group what they thought about it.
Since I had risked some vulnerability, the others also began to respond. One woman talked about how when she developed an eating disorder, everyone around her praised her for how thin and healthy she looked and no one noticed that she was sick. Another woman talked about how much judgment she had internalized about her body and how she looked back with regret for not enjoying her body and youth. Another woman talked about how that narrative can erase the experience of people of color like herself.
We talked about what access to health looks like on the spectrum of class and the differences in expectations according to gender. I shared about how my introduction to dieting had begun cycles of extremes that left me totally disconnected from my body. It left me always trying the same ineffective and harshly depriving approaches with increasing intensity which might be successful for a moment but then left me disappointed once again with a narrative of self-loathing and personal failure. I shared about how I longed for the ability to find more connection to my body and to find a way not to measure my value or my happiness based on my smallness.
Then I encountered Health At Every Size (HAES) and knew I had found an approach to thinking about bodies (and my body in particular) that aligned with my theological convictions in such a deep way that I was not going to be able to ignore it. For those who are unfamiliar, HAES is a theory and social justice movement made up of many elements including celebrating body diversity, believing individuals’ lived experience, challenging cultural assumptions about dieting, approaching science and medicine without a weight bias, acknowledging the impact of thin privilege, considering joyful movement to be the birthright of every person, trusting our bodies to hold the wisdom about what they need, and encouraging compassionate forms of self-care.
So, despite how hard I knew it would be, I decided to embrace this as a lifestyle. It was scary to lose the perceived control that striving for an ideal had imparted to me. It was sometimes lonely to see the looks of total incomprehension when I tried to broach the subject with others. It was hard to have joy speak louder than the voices of shame or mockery, especially when they are used as a weapon. It was hard to know what it meant to pursue health if that wasn’t driven by a scale. It was hard to see people I loved filled with disgust about their own body and wonder what that meant about how they saw me. It was even harder to imagine doing all of this as a young clergy woman where my body is in prominent view and where many people feel entitled to comment on my body, be in charge of my body, or ignore my boundaries about my body.
Knowing the challenge that I was facing, I have summoned all the support I could. I found a great HAES nutritionist who empowered me to be informed about my body and explore the complexities of my health. I stopped following anyone who had a social media presence that focused primarily on diet culture or a prescribed plan to achieve health. I will not participate in any program that baptizes diet culture in religious language. And to get ready for January and its resolutions, I created this reverse trigger warning that I hope is helpful to my community and even to others who might be reading this:
I want to give you a heads up about new food/body related stuff I’m in the middle of! Basically, I’m trying to root out “fatphobia” and diet culture from my own life…. something that has only brought me shame, isolation, and lack of self-care. Instead I’m working with counselors/dietitians/doctors to pursue Health At Every Size (HAES).
That being said, I’ve been noticing that I’m especially sensitive to negative comments others make about their own bodies or about food in a way that categorizes body fat as good/bad or different foods as good/bad.
This doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about food or bodies or hopes/feelings related to them (which are valid even if they come from a different perspective than me), but I just wanted to make you aware of where I’m at, especially because January seems full of that messaging everywhere I turn.
I’m happy to talk more about it if you have any curiosity, but I would also be happy to just enjoy the chance to see you all and share the warmth of being around the table and in the same room with you! Looking forward to our time together!”
I am so thankful for those who have been both supportive and vulnerable in response and for communities that create space for me to flourish. I hope that my story will be an invitation to reflect on your own embodied theology, beliefs, and practices at every size.
- Podcast: “The Appetite” with Opal: Food + Body Wisdom
- Podcast: “Love, Food” with Julie Duffy Dillon
- Documentary: “Embrace”
- Documentary: “Fattitude”
- Book: Health At Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon
- Research Studies: https//edrdpro.com/resources/studies/
- Website: www.sizediversityandhealth.org
The Rev. Amber Slate (she, her, hers) serves as pastor of Aurora Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Oregon. Amber grew up on a farm near Ritzville, Washington, as a part of the Mennonite Church USA. She earned her BA in Theology from Whitworth University.
After college, she served for five years as the Middle School Youth Director at a Sammamish Presbyterian Church near Seattle. She graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2017 with a MDiv and a MA in Christian Education & Formation with an emphasis on Spiritual Formation & Mission. In her spare time, you can find her attending The Moth for the great storytelling, and exploring the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest.
Amber, thank-you for sharing your story! I agree 100% and have recently ditched weighing in unless I’m at the doctor’s office – I know whether I am practicing good self-care without the shame that comes from a number. A friend of mine co-founded a great blog called Fuel the Body Feed the Soul that promotes everything anti-diet culture. Carol & Alex’s wisdom has helped me greatly. You may want to check out their articles and recipes: https://www.fuelbodyfeedsoul.com/blog
Thank you for this! The last several years have been a similar season of re-new-ing for me. This bit :: “It was hard to see people I loved filled with disgust about their own body and wonder what that meant about how they saw me. It was even harder to imagine doing all of this as a young clergy woman where my body is in prominent view and where many people feel entitled to comment on my body, be in charge of my body, or ignore my boundaries about my body.” :: just sang right into my soul.
(You likely are, but if you’re not familiar with Amy Pence-Brown (based in Boise ID), and her work with HAES, body pos, and more, I think you’ll relish her work. She’s a lighthouse.)
Grateful for your theological emphasis in this deeply personal conversation. Ongoing joy and peace to you!