Loving Your Fat Friend

Woah! Did I just use the F word?! Fat is a word that I have even heard small children spell. Once I complimented a young girl’s high jump from the top of our church pulpit. That’s probably something most people would discourage a child from doing, but you should have seen this young child stick the landing! It was Wonder Woman-esque.

I was like “Woah! Nice landing! You must have super strength!”

This precious amazing child responded “No–I am (gestures to her tummy area) F-A-T.” Then she held her head down in shame. As people, our first reaction is to say, “You are NOT fat!” Because, we have honestly bought the lie that F-A-T is the worst thing you can be. Instead I responded, “It was a nice landing. You have a good body. Just so you know, fat isn’t a bad thing. I know lots of amazing fat people.” She looked at me stunned.

I’ve decided I won’t spend my life convincing people they aren’t fat. I’m okay if people don’t do the same for me.

Fat. It’s a word I am reclaiming. Because as an eating disorder specialist, I can’t keep sending my clients out into the world where fat is a word we spell because we are too afraid to speak it.

Fat is a neutral descriptor. Like blonde. Like tall. Bearded (I threw that in there because it describes my handsome spouse … hey hey).

The truth is someone at some point decided what fat means and this needs to be reclaimed. Why? Because there are fat people in your pews and they need to know that they are okay. Created. Good. There are children who are wrestling with their bodies, hearing your demonizing of fat, and wondering if they should be ashamed of their bodies just like you.

Bodies have fat. Some more than others. But as my friend Amanda Martinez Beck likes to say, all bodies are good bodies.

We need to stop making assumptions about fat bodies. We are quick to assume that fat people must be lazy, stupid, unhealthy, and unworthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

The truth is there are far worse things a person can be than fat. Like mean, judgmental, critical, unneighborly. These are things worth focusing on.

It’s not hard to love and consider fat people, because it works exactly the same way as loving and considering thin people.

Here is the struggle. We are disgusted by fat. As a nation it is our constant nemesis.

We spend 60 billion dollars a year trying to get rid of fat.

We participate in self-punishing exercise because we hate fat.

We preach fat-shaming sermons and praise people for their weight loss because we believe fat people are less amazing than their thin counterparts.

We have “fitspo” instagram accounts because we need inspiration to be rid of our fat.

We spend hours upon hours obsessing about food and weight to avoid fatness.

We talk about weight loss so much that not a single one of my clients (or myself) made it through Thanksgiving dinner this past year without hearing about the evils of food and fat. Not. A. Single. One. On a holiday that is supposed to be about gratitude.

That is how disgusted we are with fat.

It is not a huge leap from being repulsed by your friend’s fat to being repulsed by your fat friend. In fact, some would argue that it is impossible to not do that. As it turns out, it takes some serious psychological gymnastics to hate the “sin” but love the “sinner.” When we are disgusted by a person’s behavior and body, we usually hold the person in pretty high contempt as well.

Seriously, close your eyes right now and conjure up an image of your fattest friend. Maybe you don’t even have fat friends (which may be the biggest issue of all). Then conjure up an image about your fattest acquaintance.

Now what thoughts come to mind about him/her?

Did you know we are more likely to describe fat people with negative adjectives than thin people?  Sad, but true.

I want to challenge you to question these myths about your fat friends.

And if you are the fat friend and you are reading this, I want to invite you into a space of healing. You don’t have to fight against and hate your body. I know that is radical and it may even be the first time you have heard this. You have probably received a lot of shame and judgment about the way you are.

I am here to tell you that your body does not need to change; society needs to change.

Here is the part where your friends will say, “Woahhhhh … we are just caring about you. We don’t want you to be unhealthy.” 

Here is the deal. You can have health at any size. But also, it’s okay to not be healthy. If your thin friend is unhealthy you don’t shun them. And no amount of fear and shame will ever bring you health. In fact, it is likely to decrease your health.

What can you do?

  1. Find friends who support you. I have found incredible support on social media platforms. I am currently loving this Facebook group.
  2. Find a non-diet dietitian. That is a thing! Here’s my favorite. It is likely that your relationship with food has become pretty harmed listening to all of those external forces telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. It is possible to get back in touch with your own inner voice and find support that won’t shame you or give you another list of impossible standards to uphold.
  3. Work with a body diversity promoting therapist. Here’s a list. It is also likely that living your life in a larger body has been very difficult for you. You might even be internalizing some shame and self hatred. Freedom from that is truly the freest freedom I’ve ever felt.
  4. Find a medical doctor who will focus on behaviors and health and not your body size. Here is a list. 
  5. Get rid of any media influence that tells you your body is wrong.
  6. Get vocal! Shame often keeps us from speaking up. Instead, as fat people we often internalize shame and think we need to change. I encourage you to speak out when you are feeling able and willing to. This can take some time and healing.

Here is the deal, church. You have fat friends and they have been sitting in your pews feeling shame, judgment, and condemnation. They see your stares, they hear your fat-bashing conversations, and they are feeling isolated and alone. The question is, what kind of friend do you want to be to them? What kind of friend would you want if you were them? Be that friend, church. Because I would take a fat friend over a bad friend any day.

Celeste Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate and eating disorder specialist from Tyler, Texas. Celeste and her husband have been in youth ministry for 16 years and currently work for Glenwood Church of Christ. She is passionate about self care, self acceptance, intuitive eating, and the church. Celeste desires to advocate for the church to become a safer space to those experiencing mental health struggles. She loves youth ministry, reading, spending time with her three children, coffee on the porch with her husband, road trips, and backpacking.

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Author:  Publish Date: May 10, 2018

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
Dr. Carisse Berryhill
Dr. Jason Fikes
Karissa Herchenroeder
Mac Ice
Chai Green
Tammy Marcelain
Molly Scherer
Dr. John Weaver

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