Fat Pride or Fat Shame: The Only Options?
I have always been overweight to some degree. I’ve never been “skinny”. I have had times where I was more slender than others, but mostly I’ve always been a bigger girl.
It probably started when I was young, being raised in a home that largely adhered to the standard American diet. Being a chubby kid is no fun. Kids are cruel. We teach children so many things about how to survive in the world, but it seems that so often we neglect to teach kids not to be mean. So I was bullied and I was teased. And I survived.
When I got a bit older, I determined that I wanted to try to change. I was tired of people being mean to me. I was tired of feeling like my body gave them the right to tease me (this is often how kids are made to feel). I tried lots of different ways to slim down. I changed to a very healthy diet… probably healthier than most people my age at the time. I walked, I exercised, I moved. The result? Nothing. No change. What the HECK?
I went to lots of doctors who gave me physical exams and reported to me that I was healthy. Good blood pressure, strong and sturdy heart… healthy. It’s just… I was healthy and chubby. And in this society, that just won’t do. Try approaching a bully who is teasing you for being fat and saying, “But I’m actually very strong and healthy!” I challenge you to find me one bully who backs down and says “Whoa! My bad!”
As time went on, I became frustrated. I began to feel helpless. And as I moved into young adulthood, I started to believe the notion that my weight made me unlovable. No one would ever want me. I was completely undesirable. I started to feel cursed. Why couldn’t I lose weight? Why was I like this? I knew that as a person I had lots to offer. I had musical and artistic talents. I was relatively intelligent. I was compassionate and I loved people. Why did the size of my body seem to have such a strong bearing on my worthiness?
It turns out, there was a very valid reason for my weight issue. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. Women with PCOS have the fat deck stacked against them. We deal with a dysfunction in our beta cells (cells that secrete insulin) which causes them to overreact and inject more insulin than is needed and it results in more glucose being stored as fat. On top of this, we deal with slower metabolism so we actually can eat far less than the average person and still gain weight. Further, we suffer a deficiency in the hormones ghrelin, Cholecystokinin and leptin… all responsible for apetite control and the feeling of satiation. So, while you can tell a person without PCOS to simply stop eating when they are “full”, a person with PCOS might be like, “But I never feel that way!” (It is important to note that not all women with PCOS deal with these metabolic issues. PCOS has a way of manifesting in different ways for different people, but the metabolic issues are very common)
Now, this does not mean that weight loss is impossible for me. It just means it is a heck. of. a. lot. harder. On top of this, PCOS also manifests in hair loss and all kinds of other icky ways that don’t really help the overall struggle to feel worthy in a society that has set a standard for beauty that excludes all of the things that I struggle with.
Here’s another confession: I am bawling as I write this. This is a deep wound for me. This isn’t anything I want to talk about. This embarrasses me and exposes me and opens me to further scrutiny. I’d rather ignore it. But I can’t. Because my health issue is one that is partly worn on the outside of my body. Everyone can see that I am overweight, but no one can determine why. So, naturally they presume that it is because I am a weak willed glutton with zero self control. And even with all of that, I’d much prefer not to say anything. I’d prefer to deal with this alone in my own way, between myself and God. However, I find it impossible to sit quietly when I know that this extends well beyond myself. That there are people in our society who are made to feel less than… sometimes even sub-human… due to the shape of their body. I have girls who write to me telling me how they wear a brave face in public, proclaiming to accept themselves as they are, but privately they are in shambles because they are constantly reminded that they are second class citizens due to their size.
I understand that there is a very real problem in our country where we draw lines in the sand. Either you are upset by fat people and make it your mission to remind them incessantly that fat is bad, or you are a fat person who proclaims “fat pride” and “fat acceptance”, disregarding the very real health risks that can arise from being overweight. As with everything in this culture, we are polarized and incapable of recognizing a saner, kinder, more realistic middle ground wherein it is acknowledged that it is to most people’s benefits to maintain a healthy weight, but also recognizes that there is a plethora of reasons WHY people are overweight, and sometimes the solution isn’t “Just stop eating so much, fatty!”
As a Christian, I recognize that my value does not come from the world and what the world thinks of me. My identity is in Christ. But my heart breaks for the way people, even Christians, try to justify their attitudes toward people who are overweight, who have bad skin, who struggle with any number of issues that may or may not have anything to do with anything they are personally doing.
As Christians, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior. It does not mean that we shouldn’t encourage healthy behaviors and lifestyles, but we must be ever mindful of the power our words have over other people. I will probably be accused of being a spineless whiner, but words DO hurt! So we must use them wisely and never for the tearing down of others.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. – Proverbs 18:21
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. -Ephesians 4:29
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. – Matthew 15:18
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. – Matthew 12:36
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. – Proverbs 29:20
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1
I think there is a real problem amongst Christians right now. We have rejected progressive politics and liberal agendas which seek to promote all manner of unhealthy behavior, but we’ve allowed the pendulum to swing too far to the other direction; presuming that somehow we are justified in our “righteous” judgement of behaviors that we personally find unappealing. We seem to have decided that being sensitive to how we make others feel to be a sign of weakness, or that it signals our solidarity with movements which exploit human sensitivities. I would submit that as Christians, we of ALL people should be sensitive to the way we treat other people and we should be devastated if our words or behaviors have encouraged feelings of rejection or self-loathing.
I wrote this article very quickly and I have probably neglected to be as eloquent or compelling as I would have liked to be, but this has been on my heart and I felt pressed to address it. I guarantee I have anticipated what most of the responses to this post will be before they are even written, and yet I am sharing it anyway because I feel that it is important.
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. – Proverbs 16:24