Content Warning: Body weight, body image, weight loss, weight gain
We are living in a scary time. Not only is the actual reality of the virus itself worrisome, but incompetent leadership, non-compliance by neighbors or family members, and panicked behavior by all kinds of people ramp up a general miasma of anxiety and terror. All of this is compounded by the layers of grief we are experiencing. Grief in regular times is a deep dish pie; grief during COVID-19 is baklava, except not at all sweet.
These stressors pluck at our illusion of control. In the best of times, only a few of us are able to acknowledge that control is an illusion. The rest of us are more along these lines, “I’m not a control freak! And don’t you tell people that I am!” Mostly, we have control over ourselves and a tiny modicum of authority or influence over others. That’s it.
In the present circumstances, all sense of control is gone for many people. We cannot buy what we want, go where we want, or do what we would normally do. It’s hard. It is very, very, very hard.
Difficult times, however, do not permit us to give up on our effort to make the world a better place. Across the internet, I watch people who would never dream of making a racial slur, who take exquisite care with pronouns, who put up a strong fight against the patriarchy- I watch them talk about their fear of becoming fat, that gaining weight would be terrible, that they need accountability so they don’t “blow up”.
I am sure that for the people saying these things, it is a real fear because it is a tangible sign- for them- of things feeling out of control. Yet, for other people, that conversation- held in social spaces- causes pain. It tells me and other fat people that the worst thing these people can imagine is looking like us.
The worst thing a person can think of in this time is to have a larger body? My friends and I, with our fat bodies, are still loved by God. We walk our dogs, play football, have sex, worry about our elders, laugh with friends, go hiking, own small businesses, pastor churches, sing in choirs, run in races, attend Zoom meetings, and care for our children. We buy cute clothes, lingerie, hunting gear, wetsuits, specialized shoes, thrifted outfits, outerwear, basic wear, wedding outfits, and yoga pants, too. We love ourselves and our bodies.
Our fat friends, while seeing people comment on the “nightmare” of looking like us at the end of this, have their own layers of fear. We know that an encounter with a new doctor inevitably ends up with a discussion about our weight, even for a mundane visit. We worry that asking for help with respiratory symptoms may lead to assumptions about our health without looking at our history or analyzing our new symptoms. We stress about being considered expendable when and if it comes down to who can be saved through medical intervention and who can’t.
I am not a doctor. I am not offering ANY KIND of medical advice. I am not quoting books I’ve read or my friend who is a dietician or anything like that. I am not deriding people who have chosen a path to health for themselves that includes weight loss. I am not negging people who are working out every day right now, as much as they normally would, because it’s good for their mental health.
What I am doing is asking you to think about what you say about becoming fat. Think about the meme you share that equates weight gain with moral failure. Consider conversations in which accountability is about the number on the scale and not about overall health. Think about your fat friend, who is not only worried and bored like the rest of us, but also learning who in their friend group isn’t actually a friend, all because “it’s okay for you to look like that, but I couldn’t do it”.
In the most embodied season of the church year, let’s think about all the bodies. God restores life to the body of Jesus- a man of a certain race, in a certain time, at a certain place. This resurrection of the body is the very basis of our faith- that God cares about bodies and will not let them be separated from love or grace. Our bodies- of all shapes and sizes (among other attributes)- are the image of God. Love your body. Love your body by having a conversation with yourself that opens all of you to the consolation of being made in God’s image. And love and respect the body of your fat friend, who is also made the same way. In the image of a loving, all-encompassing, capacious God.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Big Timber, MT. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit and is President of the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.
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