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Surviving Resolution Season as a Fat Pastor

picture of author with a poinsettia

Amber Slate, Embracing the Joy of Embodiment!

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. Read more

Discipleship, Not Diet Culture

The table at the heart of our faith

“New year, new you!”

We’ve all heard it before. As the holidays wind down, and New Year’s Day approaches, the onslaught of diet culture begins. Countless ads, commercials, messages, and our friend’s Facebook pages promise us that we will love ourselves better and live more fulfilling lives if only we participate in their weight loss program. For the low, low price of $19.95, the life we’ve always wanted can be ours! Except the cost is really so much greater than that.

Church, it’s time to get honest. Diet culture is big business. My friend Courtney always says:  follow the money. She’s right. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry entirely predicated on shame and self-loathing (particularly for women). The idea that “if only I were a smaller body size, my life would be complete” is an ages old tale that stems from the patriarchy. It also stands in direct opposition to who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. We proclaim the bold truth that we are created in the image of the God who created heaven and earth, fully beloved and good. There’s no stipulation in there that the Holy One will love us better if we are thin. There’s no asterisk that says God will love us better if we follow a certain eating plan (which by the way is another word for diet), or refrain from certain foods. Yet, so often we subtly send these messages in our faith communities.

Weight loss, food shaming, fat shaming, and body talk have no place in the body of Christ. I know this may feel hard to hear, but it’s important. Do you run a weight loss program out of your church? Are you known to comment at the pot luck that you “shouldn’t have had that cookie?” Clergy, do you use your social media profile to proclaim the virtues of the latest food you’ve given up, or your latest diet craze? Intended or not, all of these things communicate (especially to a younger generation) that God loves some bodies more than others. Read more