Appeal: Examples of progressive religious people behaving badly (or goodly)

Shapelings, in a few weeks I’ll be giving a public lecture at my new academic institution. In the lecture I plan on doing a theologically-inflected Fat Acceptance 101. Or perhaps it will be a Theology of Embodiment 101 with a big helping of Fat Acceptance. I don’t know, because I haven’t written it yet. But it would help me out tremendously if you could post or send anecdotes/examples of lefty religious settings — especially white liberal churches who fancy themselves tolerant and welcoming — engaging in either fat shame or fat acceptance.

I wish I could give the pertinent details but I keep my online identity separate from my work identity. But do know that I thank you very very much for the help, and will credit anyone whom I quote or whose work I use, in whatever way you wish.

Posted in Fat

80 thoughts on “Appeal: Examples of progressive religious people behaving badly (or goodly)

  1. I wish I had an anecdote for you, but I’ve got nothing. I honestly can’t remember anything about body size, positive or negative, being said at any of the various (and usually white and very liberal) churches I’ve been to.

    In regard to bodies but not fat, my favorite church I ever attended (a tiny campus Episcopal parish), they used to say “Please rise in body or in spirit,” rather than “Please stand” or “Please stand as you are able.” I don’t know why, but I thought it was so much nicer and less ablist than “Please stand as you are able.” They also used “Hear what the spirit is saying to the church” after each reading (rather than the “This is the Word of the Lord.”), which I also loved, and so I wonder if “rise in body or in spirit” is also from the New Zealand Prayer Book, but I don’t think so, because I’ve heard of it being used in non-Anglican settings as well.

  2. I assume you are familiar with “Weigh Down”, the Christian weight loss program?

    Sadly, a google search of “christian weight loss” yields a lot of hits. None of which I can bring myself to click.

  3. I also really wish I had something for you…especially since I’m in divinity school. I’m not especially religious myself, though…

  4. Okay, so I attend the Unitarian Universalist Church in Orlando and one of the members of our Worship Committee hopes to be a personal trainer someday and has given many lectures on the body as temple metaphor. I remember one of the earlier services when I started attending was called “Does this sermon make my butt look big?” and was so well received that she did a follow-up on it. Her partner is fat and I know that she (the sermonizer) has helped her partner come to terms and accept herself for who she is and how she is, so I know she doesn’t hate fat people. It’s been so long that the actual sermon is no longer posted on the website. Sorry I can’t give you more, but it was a few years ago.

  5. Does the church-sponsored Weight Watchers club at my white, suburban UU church count? I know that’s kind of generic, but I was surprised that it’s the only non-religious club the church sponsors. (By sponsors, I mean is run by the Church as opposed to an outside group just renting space during the week)

  6. My church considers itself pretty liberal and accepting, but recently, in a small group all-female setting, a woman asked us to pray for her that she would be able to lose weight that she’d gained since giving birth to her child. She began to cry as she recounted everything she was doing to try to lose the weight (excessive dieting and daily exercise), but saying she just couldn’t seem to lose it.
    Two of us spoke up, saying she was beautiful and did not need to lose any weight, but she argued and the group prayed that God would give her discipline to lose weight.

  7. Thank you! Yes, it all counts — even a congregation’s studied silence on the matter.

    Lori, we use both those phrases in chapel here, and I agree, they’re terrific. Plus now that I’ve read Irigaray and Catherine Keller, the expression “The Word of the Lord” falls on my ears like “The Big Schlong of the Mean Dude In The Sky.” Which doesn’t put me in a worshipful mood.

  8. @Lori – I love that “Please rise in body or in spirit”! That sounds so much more welcoming than the alternative. Even saying “please stand as you are able” has a sort of unspoken implication of difference to the people who can’t stand. Like, people who don’t stand are automatically assumed to be disabled in some way, instead of perhaps simply moved only to stand in spirit.

    Aside from that, I got nothing, since I don’t attend church, liberal or otherwise. I would be really interested in seeing a transcript or notes or something from your finished address, though, A Sarah! Sounds like a great topic.

  9. Do non-liberal, non-progressive “moderate” churches that are quasi-feminist count? That’s what I attended from fetus-hood through college. I do recall my mother running a weight-loss / prayer group called “First Place.” I have a feeling that would have not fit in at all with FA, but was probably not shaming and chock-full of “God loves you just as you are,” messages. Otherwise got a very strong vibe making any sort of value judgement about others or ourselves based on looks, body size, etc. was worldly or not part of the Kingdom. There is a concept that I think was phrased like, “seeing as Jesus sees” which sort of sees that kind of stuff as irrelevant details. I don’t think there was really an indication that fat was something bad that we should “look past” either. It’s been a while. Also, I had some serious body dysmorphia going on in high school and thought I was obese (and thought that was ugly), so I think I would remember if they were critical or specifically affirming of fat.

  10. That should have been “was probably not shaming and probably WAS chock full of “God loves you just as you are” messages.

  11. Rachel, YES, thanks, that’s awesome. [jots down notes furiously]
    Thank you all so much!

    Actually, let me widen my appeal to ANY attitudes (including stare-at-the-floor-and-don’t-talk-about-it silence) about bodies in religious settings. The lecture will focus on white progressive religious folks just because that’s the audience — but everyone’s perspectives help put that group in context, not just the insiders’ perspectives.

  12. A story more of dominant cultural thinking over-riding other thought- but at our Church’s free weekly lunch one volunteer was inviting guests over to enjoy the ice cream that had just been brought out. “Come, have some dessert… it doesn’t have any calories in it”

    The same woman who had, a few days before, been telling me how important these meals are, in part because they are, for some guests, the only food they’ll eat that day- and what they take home from the cupboard may mean the difference between eating tomorrow or not.

    So – we know you’re counting on the energy from this food to get you through for a while… but there’s no calories in it.

    Neither fat shaming nor accepting- just- a weird disconnect.

  13. Isn’t there something in Mormonism about one’s body and how it is with you in the Celestial Kingdom (apologies to Mormons if I am grossly simplifying this).

    I know Elna Baker wrote something to that effect a few years ago in Elle. She’s a Mormon comedian (*rim shot*) who lost a lot of weight, iirc.

  14. Plus now that I’ve read Irigaray and Catherine Keller, the expression “The Word of the Lord” falls on my ears like “The Big Schlong of the Mean Dude In The Sky.”

    This made me LOL. “God’s Phantom Schlong”

  15. Oh, cool, then I can participate! I come from what you would definitely NOT call a progressive religious background, so a lot of the size stuff would just fade into the background compared to the exhortations for women to STFU and submit to their husbands, stop engaging in godless career ambition, etc, etc, but there were a few moments.

    The most spectacular was a thin woman in a Florida church who took the floor during a Sunday School class to insist that fat people ought to be restricted in their religious participation because they were obvs. engaged in the kind of body abuse and non-godly self-indulgence that meant they were unfit to be permitted to participate in activities meant for the pious. Really. Everyone just sat there and let the woman natter, too, which makes me mad enough to spit. (I was not present; my sister came and found me afterwards in a state of near-hysteria.) What the woman was suggesting was a step short of excommunication and shunning for fat people–really, literally, precisely Official Church Action to disallow participation for the fat.

    Ah, good times. So glad to be a godless heathen these days.

  16. My church, also UU, uses “please rise as you are willing and able in body or spirit” which I like. However, over membership now in two UU churches, one in Boston and one in Oregon, I’ve heard several mentions from the pulpit of things I would call fat shaming.
    One was a male minister who had gained some weight (in his middle age, imagine that) who revealed from the pulpit that his wife (a former co minister at the same church and usually ROCK ON with lots of stuff) had shared her “concern” (sound familiar?) over his weight gain and how he had to decide to give up ice cream. I don’t remember what this anecdote was in service of, like a larger message, but it struck me as, well, odd. In my current Oregon church, the female minister spoke of her weight several times last year, with the comment that when she relaxes she loses weight… with the implication being that she is constantly on the quest to lose weight, or at least not gain any. This is from a woman who looks totally normal weight (whatever that is!) or even underweight, and has an overweight female partner… Again, I can’t remember what the comments were in service of–which is maybe the point, that, for me, comments about weight seem out of place in that context, they only serve to undermine my newly emerging body acceptance and make me wonder if the speaker or members of the congregation are thinking about my body, in a way that seems totally inappropriate for the religious context. Oh, and this is also the congregation who gave a standing ovation to a woman who shared at candle lighting time that she was planning on getting weight loss surgery (type unspecified) and “hoped to be a mere shadow of my former self in a year.” I am not trying to pass judgment on individual decisions about surgery, but more the uninformed and unquestioning attitude, without knowing about the woman’s medical history or about the risks and likely outcome of the surgery (that is NOT “a shadow of her former self”) that really bothered me.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is little progressive discussion of bodies or embodiment, but infrequent but significant notice to bodies which are fat and therefore perceived as unhealthy, if that makes any sense.

  17. Of course, we’re talking about a religion that takes Official Church Action against sex outside of marriage (for anyone), alcohol use and coffee drinking, so asceticism in general should probably not surprise. Still, whoa. At least the others are official church doctrine.

    Oops, gave identity of non-progressive religious community away to religious scholar types.

  18. My current pastor, who’s fat and well known as a cook and gourmand, has made comments to the effect of how it’s good for us during Lent to think about indulging less, “especially including myself”–that kind of thing, with an implicit reference to his own size but nothing really mean.

    I guess this is about embodiment–I used to attend a different, leaning liberal Catholic church and one year, the pastor ran in the marathon. He got up after the evening Mass that Sunday (another priest had celebrated it) to thank everyone for their support and it turned into this ten minute long speech on the incredible experience of running the marathon and pushing yourself and relying on God–I thought it came across as self-aggrandizing, not to mention theologically simplistic. I turned to my dad afterward and said “Gee, I’m glad women can’t be priests, otherwise we’d have to sit through endless speeches about the amazing experience of childbirth.” (Coming from me that’s obviously sarcastic.)

    Come to think of it, most of the (white, liberal, progressive) churches I’ve been to in [this city known for a marathon--I'm trying not to call anyone out too badly] usually offer Prayers of the Faithful for the runners and may spotlight well known people in the parish who are running.

  19. I’m afraid I got nothin’ for you, since I don’t go to any church, but as a plus-sized professional, I am just reveling in my recent discovery of church suits, worn primarily by southern women, I believe. Many are over the top with satin and beads, but there are lots that would make terrific business suits as long as you don’t buy the matching hat. And many are available in way plus sizes. Just search for “plus size” and “church suit” on Google. You wind up with a lot more choice than if you search for “business suit” or its synonyms. Little tip there from a nonfatshionista.

  20. A Sarah, are you looking for Christian experiences in specific, or all religions?

    I’m Wiccan. The Wiccan community tends in my experience to be almost all white, almost all liberal, and mostly fat. :-) And as a whole, the community tends to be pretty accepting of fatness in other people, though individuals may be trying to lose weight themselves (in that classic “it’s OK for you to be fat but not for me to be fat” that so many of us know so well). So I was really startled to read something recently by a well-respected Wiccan author, one whose writing I usually agree with, giving her opinion that spiritual health and power is dependent on physical health, in what came across as a very thinly veiled “you gotta be thin to be a good Wiccan” message. (It was especially puzzling because as far as I know, she’s a fellow fatty herself.)

    That’s the exception in my experience, not the rule, and I’m very glad.

  21. This is probably not quite relevant to your presentation, but the people at my mother and stepdad’s church have been really wonderful about bringing food over since my mom has been ailing. When my stepdad had to have surgery and I went down there for several weeks to help them both out, I literally did not have to cook once, because so much food was donated by church members. It was a really kind way to use food as a moral gesture without being moral about the food, if that makes sense.

  22. I’ve mostly been at moderate to liberal white churches for the last 10 years. One think that I’ve found is an intersection between singleness and weight. I’m single and of a marrigable age and dating/marriage comes up in Christian settings quite frequently in my experience. I’ve heard at least once, that maybe the reason you aren’t dating is your weight, and maybe God wants you to change that to please your future husband. (I seem to recall a boundless.org article to that effect). I think in communities where sex prior to marriage is forbidden, there’s an idea that young men marry only for sex, and if they don’t want to have sex with you, you won’t be “chosen”.

    Now, logically, I don’t want to marry someone who wants to marry me just for sex, but simply saying that God won’t let me find a husband until I lose weight is hurtful, and theologically and anecdotally incorrect.

    On the other hand, I’ve heard a few great talks about how giving up something for lent (chocolate, dessert etc.) shouldn’t be because you want to lose weight. I think that’s a great message. Lent isn’t Christian dieting season, and it’s nice to know that some pastors realize that it occasionally turns into that.

  23. I’m not sure if this is very relevant for your purposes, but from a (Spanish) Catholic perspective, one’s body and religion just don’t mix. A congregation may pray for someone’s health, but unless it’s directly linked to a serious condition, fatness and obesity are not mentioned at all.

    This also goes for Spanish society as a whole. Fatness is seen mostly as a question of aesthetics, for better or worse, and is taken seriously mostly as an aesthetic problem, not so much as a health problem.

  24. Hmm, I don’t know if this exactly qualifies, but just in case, I’ll post it.
    It’s a link to a sermon last spring at the UU church in Quincy, MA. This is one of the oldest parishes in the country and was founded by the Adams’ (and both presidents are buried there). Anyway, why I thought of it is that while the congregation is diverse in many ways, it’s a predominantly white, middle to upper class parish of a church literally founded by the Founding Father. In it, the pastor talks a lot about the UU’s white, priveledged history, and white priveleged practice of it’s precepts. She gives examples of how white liberal UUs’ privelege can interfere with treating other people well and meeting goals of compassion and justice for all people.

    http://www.ufpc.org/sermons/walsh_20081116.pdf

  25. I have a MDiv degree and am particularly interested in the intersection of fatness and theology. Lately there have been a few people who’ve been getting started on this whole Fat Theology thing (as one of the many flavors of Liberation Theology). Check out:

    http://revmom.wordpress.com/
    http://kataphatic.wordpress.com/
    http://community.livejournal.com/fat_theology/

    Generally, fat theologians (so to speak) are tired of the neoplatonic dualism that has been so much a part of certain strands of Christianity. We seek a Christianity (for those of us who are Christian) that embraces embodied existences. We are tired of embodiment theologies that only embrace some types of bodies.

    Lisa Isherwood wrote a book, The Fat Jesus: Christianity and Body Image that gets a lot of things right, while still using the words “overweight” and “obese” here and there and seems to not quite get HAES just yet. For all that, though, I think it’s a groundbreaking book.

  26. I suppose you could consider we United Methodists on the more liberal end of the Christian spectrum (or at least we were considered thus when I lived in the mid-South). I don’t know if I’ve ever had any specific experiences that were either positive or negative concerning my weight in church. It’s just never really come up. Perhaps I’ve just tuned out any talk like that, but I don’t really think so, since I could give you accounts of numerous incidents outside of church where I’ve been called out on “being fat in public.”

    One of the U.M. churches I briefly attended had a woman pastor who was plus-sized and had difficulty ambulating. The very small, rural, mostly white congregation had raised the money to purchase one of those motorized seats that enables people to go up and down stairs and had it installed. I suppose they could have made it difficult for this woman; instead, they found and used precious resources to enable her to more easily serve the church.

    I must say that one of the earlier books I read concerning size acceptance (it was in the early 90s, I think) was written by an evangelical Christian woman named Liz Curtis Higgs. The title was “One Size Fits All…..and other Fables”. Sadly, it’s no longer in print, but you might be able to find it on half.com or some other used book resource.

  27. The summer before my wedding I participated in a church-run weight loss program called “First Place.” It was basically WW (in the days before points), only the idea is that you give Christ First Place in your heart, and then you’ll be free of the sin of idolizing food.

    I lost 15lb. My wedding dress still had to be let out.

    I’m still married. Still Christian. But “First Place” can kiss my huge ass.

  28. I changed churches about five years ago, and some part of that was to do with my sense of feeling fatter than the rest of the congregation at my old church, though (of course) it was much more than that. The first church, the one I grew up in, is moderate to liberal. But it’s very, very homogenous: almost entirely white, fairly preppy. Every other woman my age (late twenties at the time) seemed married to an investment banker type with a couple of kids, and they all seemed very thin and even very focused on staying that way. At my new church, a diverse community racially and socio-economically, there are so many different ways to look and to live. I don’t feel like I stand out, because nobody does, quite. The diversity in those other ways makes for a congregation that looks and acts in a bizillion different ways. I feel so much more OKAY at my new church: and it all feels richer, deeper, more fabulously as church should feel. And I’m much, much less distracted: at the first church, so much energy was lost to my focus on not being perfect in the way that those around me defined perfection, and so forth. So, the overall commitment to diversity in a church has many, many unexpected benefits…

  29. Another UU story here. At my church in San Diego, the lead minister recently gave a sermon on “Ethical Eating” in the course of which he touched on a lot of the connections between food and physical and spiritual health. There was quite a litany of ills that he traced to disordered American foodways – but NOT EVEN ONCE did he suggest that obesity was among them. I was impressed.

    And I don’t think it was accidental, either – adding obesity to the list would have been the easy move and would not have raised too many eyebrows in the congregation, at least among those with a stated interest in food issues. There are several groups devoted to sustainable living, a couple of which have had more or less explicit “Live simply, lose weight!” agendas.

    I don’t think he got through to that part of the congregation though – during coffee hour afterwards I was talking with another church member about the sermon and mindful eating, and she said cheerfully to my 10-year old son (who being goofy and rubbing his face into my stomach): “Well, maybe your mom & dad will be making some changes and losing their bellies!”

    So even in this progressive church some do think your internal “virtue” will automatically manifest in your (socially acceptable) outward appearance.

    (And as someone who is not fat but who spent most of her teens and 20’s restricting eating, exercising obsessively and directing WAY too much energy to policing her body, I will say this Pisses Me Off. But I didn’t tell my fellow congregant that. I just said, with a couple more ticks of vehemence than were strictly called for: “I most certainly will NOT!”)

    BTW we say “Please rise in body or spirit.” And sometimes “Please rise or sit with gusto”

  30. I remember this guy talking to my Sunday school class about giving up pizza. He said it was hard to think about giving up pizza forever, but it was easy to decide not to have pizza for one day and then do that every day. Like Aurora, I remember the diet talk but not the larger point he was trying to make (assuming he was trying to make an analogy and not just bragging to a captive audience).

    The religious setting was neither particularly liberal nor particularly conservative. It was a Conservative Jewish synagogue (the Conservative movement is actually the middle-of-the-road movement).

  31. I am a fat pastor in a liberal denomination. An elderly woman greeted me after services one day by putting her arm around my waist. “There’s more here than there was the last time we saw you,” she said (I had been on an extended leave). “Yes,” I said. “I’ve been eating my way around the world!” “Well, it’s time to get back to an American diet!” she said, and went her way.

  32. Hi everyone. I’ve been a lurker around here for a long, long while. I heard about this blog from my old therapist, the wonderful Deborah Burgard of Mt. View, CA, who helped me recover from my eating disorder. She suggested Shapely Prose as a form of body-acceptance-oriented community because I had moved to an area where I didn’t have much of that around me. Even though I’ve been just a lurker, it’s definitely been that for me. So thank you all.

    I wanted to chime in on this one because it’s so right up my alley. I’m a fat, liberal, Catholic academic, so I sympathize both with the desire to think through how body acceptance works in a religious setting and the need to generate material to give talks :).

    When I moved to this new area, I went church shopping and struggled to find a community where I felt comfortable. I found a place that was fairly good (which in my mind means liberal enough that I’m not constantly annoyed by messages that I don’t believe in that disrupt my ability to be centered and peaceful). Then one of the priests, who was leaving the parish, gave a homily about the great things that he had experienced while there, which involved 1) getting a dog, 2) writing a book, and 3) losing 70 lbs. Already annoyed that none of his experiences had anything to do with the congregants themselves, and what they had brought to his life, I was completely turned off by the triumphant, Golds-Gym-plug-laced weight loss anecdote, and left to find myself another parish. I think church communities have a totally admirable desire to celebrate the life triumphs of their members. Weight loss, especially drastic weight loss, is one of those triumphs (or so we have been taught endlessly). But it made me seriously, seriously angry to have the person in the pulpit–who by virtue of that position has a tremendous amount of spiritual and psychological power over the congregation–proselytizing for weight loss and the nice, supportive folks down at Golds Gym.

    But then I found another church at the local Jesuit college where among other nice things, they always offer food to the students after mass. In the context of a college, where many of the students are away from their families, this after-mass food is feeding their never-ending desire for free food and also implicitly offering them a family-away-from-family in the church community. And of course, Communion is the same thing, theologically speaking. So the mass experience for me is centered around eating, which is necessarily about bodies, and accepting and feeding those bodies’ natural hungers.

    In my old church, a very liberal, university parish, I was in a small faith group in which we decided, among a variety of other spiritual explorations, to share with each other “art forms” (very loosely defined) that brought us closer to God. I had us dance, another person had us cook and eat together, and we even played soccer and squash–all as spiritual meditation and communal bonding.

    Well, this is another reason why I lurked for so long: when I write, I tend to write a lot. I hope some of that is helpful, A Sarah; I’ve really been enjoying your posts. The motherhood/dieting one was an epiphany!

  33. Once, a long time ago (2001) I attended a Baptist service in upstate NY. I know, not progressive or tolerant. Long story. Let’s say it was research. But I do want to share this: At some point during the sermon, the pastor talked about “serving the lord” by being healthy and not eating out at restaurants as much, and generally being mindful of how we eat, because our bodies are “His” and not ours. So Heaven Forbid they don’t look like what “we” think “His” image is. Or whatever. Bah. Would love to hear your presentation!

  34. One of the most vivid fat-shaming moments in my life came when I was a teenager in Young Life (an evangelical youth-group thingie). We were listening to a tape of some guy talking about ‘walking the talk’, and it ended up being an explication of why fat people were extra-sinful. According to this man, all fat people are guilty of gluttony, and ignoring God’s law, of desecrating the body, which is the temple of the holy spirit.

    I was the only fat kid in the room. I still remember that crashing feeling – that this group, which had taught me of God’s boundless love for me, had introduced me to the idea that God’s boundless love had definite bounds when it came to fat people. That the God of love hated fat people. And nobody talked to me about it afterward – maybe they didn’t notice the hate in the message, because it didn’t apply to them, or they tacitly agreed with the message, or they were just too embarrassed to talk about the damage that speaker’s words had on my spirit.

    The good thing about it is (and isn’t that the basic essence of so many religions- to find the goodness in the shit?) that I was able to use that experience to explain to someone in my current church WHY it’s not okay to use material from a gay-shaming pastor – I equated using Rick Warren’s bible study in our church to using material by someone who has it in for fat people – speaking as a fat woman to another fat woman.

  35. Well, I grew up in a religion famous for both its sexism and racism. someone mentioned Mormons – that’s it! No offense taken, and yeah, I *do* feel I have the right to criticize it, because I was seriously hurt by it, and that doesn’t mean I’m being mean. Anyway, if you’re interested in fatphobia (which, in Mormonism, I think is more like general body shaming that conflates morality with bodies, including fatphobia) in Mormonism, I’d be happy to share. But since you requested for examples from liberal churches, I’ll refrain. Just let me know if your needs change. I’m actually not sure if there’s official Mormon doctrine against being fat, but I may be able to find some if I dig (I keep being shocked to find out what is beyond unspoken rules and is actually written doctrine – you’d think that after being actively Mormon for 20 years, I’d know these!)

  36. One of my most radical fat-acceptance moments was when I realized that, if there is a literal resurrection of all people in perfected and eternal bodies, I’ve already got the size 14-16 jeans that fit that body. Which is good, because in my idea of Heaven, there is no jeans shopping.

  37. I’m a UU, and we had an ethical eating “communion” that idolized locally-grown, unprocessed food and that demonized Big Food as a fattening industry that starves the body and spirit while packing on needless pounds. (I have no intention of doing a second shift of gardening and canning to live up to a foodie UU’s idea of moral dietary habits. I also don’t understand how shunning the grocery store helps to feed the world’s hungry.)

    Another episode: I sent a religion column by a local baptist minister to my UU minister. The column was horrifying. It made reference to “The God Bod” (oh, gross. What are you, a frat guy?) and intimated that only fit, lean, young bodies were fit to serve god. It cited the “obesity epidemic.” I raved to my minister about the fat-shaming and my minister wrote to me that “you know that you and I weight too much.”

    She didn’t say what we weight to much for, or what we weight too much to accomplish. I was really angry about it. Especially considering that my fat ass has put more time and energy into the church’s life and health that any among our church leadership.

  38. I attend a UU church. I had an incident a few months ago involving a child. One week after service around everyone the boy stops and steps back into his father and says “Look at the big fat lady!” very loud and my response was to just ignore it and go on (at least on an outer level. I heard the father talking to the child. A few weeks later I was talking to the religious ed director in her office and the little boy ran into me again and said “Look at the big fat man!” (I suspect he was told not to call me a big fat lady and perhaps thought the issue was with gender)

    So I found myself avoiding the family afraid that it would happen again. I only let this go on a week before I contacted the minister for advice really unsure how she would handle it. She seemed pretty concerned about my feelings and about helping the child. She wanted permission to talk to the RE director. I ended up talking to the RE director who then talked to the family (she gave me the option of being there). Then the child and I talked. He wrote me a very nice note and I touched his hand and got on his level. It hasn’t happened since.

    Then the first time I spoke a sermon length presentation in front of the group one person decided I had a hard time breathing at one point because of my weight and talked to me about it. (I have asthma and didn’t really have a hard time breathing, it was more nerves) She mailed me an article about Gluten allergies. Another person talked to me about a book title at a different time.

  39. Regarding fasting and Lent: I wrote this last Spring about the Ash Wednesday “Don’t Give Something Up, Take Something ON” sermon that has become an annual tradition in the (affluent) parish churches I have attended recently. There was more, but this is the cut-to-the-chase summary:

    At Ash Wednesday mass today, the priest gave the usual “don’t give something up, take something on” speech about spiritual discipline and Lenten sacrifice. You know… go to daily mass or volunteer or some such thing.

    He’s saying: “Giving food up when you have so much isn’t noticeable. Giving things up will be socially approved because it probably will help make you thin. Giving up chocolate or fries satisfies your vanity (and secretly shows off you can refrain from doing something, which in our society is a good thing to do in the face of moral excesses). Lenten commitment should mean something, and the pursuit of thin isn’t it.

    Okay, so I’ll buy that. Dieting for the Lord was not really what restraint in the Lenten season is for. I am, however, going to interpret “don’t give up, take on” in a food related context.

    I just taught an article about pishtacos in class today. They are fat sucking Andean vampires that convert nice healthy Indian fat into creams and grease and cooking oil for white people in the cities of South America to buy and use. It goes without saying, white people are jealous of Indian fat because theirs is of poor quality and not good for the uses to which body fat is put. They need more fat, and they need better fat.

    Once a pishtaco, who may look like a doctor in scrubs or a tourist in a land rover, takes your fat, you inevitably will die in a few days’ time. The author points out, “white” doesn’t mean “racially genetically white” but “capable of consuming goods that create a certain kind of body we can present to the world that show the ability to buy and sell commodities with wealth.”

    The whole point of it is, the bodies of Indians are converted into commodities that are bought and sold in the global marketplace and consumed by the wealthy and powerful.

    I love this article because it reminds me that the fatness or thinness of my body, as an individual body, shouldn’t be an open text for society to read. It doesn’t document my my moral behavior by revealing my consumption habits. My consumption habits are, instead, a way of being and a series of acts that affect my fellow global citizens. It’s not about how by body is, it’s about what my relationships are.

    This Lent, I am not giving up and Dieting For The Lord, for the “good” of my body. (I will admit to having done this in the past). I am going to take on and buy coffee, chocolate, and spices that are from fair trade or direct trade sources grown sustainably. I will consume (as much as I want of these goods, for whatever purpose I wish or need) for humanity*.

    *Dude: I did this. And it cost me by putting up my food budget by a fair amount. The hidden costs of the global market became really rather apparent to me then. It was ok for 40 days, but would be pretty hard to pull off, budget-wise, every day all year.

    ETA: And also, consuming for humanity is not an invitation to be “fat taxed” to prevent an obesity epidemic BOOGA BOOGA.

  40. On the other hand, I’ve heard a few great talks about how giving up something for lent (chocolate, dessert etc.) shouldn’t be because you want to lose weight. I think that’s a great message. Lent isn’t Christian dieting season, and it’s nice to know that some pastors realize that it occasionally turns into that.

    I still hope to hear someone say they’re giving up dieting, self hatred, or even moderation itself for Lent. (Ok, giving up moderation is just me being silly.) Just being willing to let those things go and turn that energy to something spiritual or charitable should count as much as chocolate or booze.

  41. @GodlessHeathen Some years ago, when I was a member at the local UU church, the minister gave a sermon around Lenten-time talking about the habit of giving something up, and meditating on this same pattern folks have already discussed about how Lenten sacrifice (in Middle class predominantly white American communities) so often circles around eating habits — where some treat is set aside for that time period and then slotted right back into one’s lifestyle after Easter.

    She declared that she intended to give up self-criticism for Lent, in the hopes that that stretch of days would be long enough to build a strong habit of self-acceptance — one she’d be able to carry with her well beyond Easter weekend.

    Still moves me to this day.

  42. “Wow, that Christian dieting stuff goes right back to the medieval fasting-girl tradition, doesn’t it?”

    It’s an interesting contrast, because, while in Hinduism we highly value ascetic acts and fasting, I’ve almost never encountered a weight-focused dimension therein.
    In my temple, people have a great deal of respect for my animal-free diet and the fasts that I undertake periodically for health reasons and I’ve unintentionally acquired a reputation as an ascetical sort of person, but no one seems to find it at all incongruous that I’m also very fat. The various monastic founders of our particular tradition, who are known to have practiced harsh austerities, came in all shapes, sizes, and builds, judging by the photos we have of them.
    (In fact, one of the holy persons who is mentioned in a number of our texts was a wandering monk who lived in the late nineteenth century, and apparently weighed about 300 pounds, went everywhere completely naked, and is said to have practiced a constant complete fast, living entirely on air.)

  43. Well, before I got right with my size, I used to get really frustrated with all the food pushing at Lutheran churches. Coffee hour had to involve sheet cakes, cookies, and all manner of sweet caloric baked goods I was trying to avoid. Most everyone was hefty, so it was a pretty accepting bunch.

    Episcopal churches not so much. Both Lutheran and Episcopal churches were totally quiet on the subject, except that the Cathedral (Episcopalian) offered a Weight Watchers class for a while at the request of a few of the 4,000 members, but it also offered just about everything else, so it didn’t seem at all important. Pretty laid back–whatever.

    The Friends were tending toward vegetarian-Fascism, but not because it would help lose weight, more of a diet-for-a-small-planet/PETA thing.

  44. I mean Episcopalian churches not so much food-pushing. Still very accepting of any size, as they are of just about anything, fish-fork jokes not-withstanding.

  45. Aaaaiiieeeeeeee!!!! I just went out for dinner with my inlaws and kids, and must go visit with them some more, but I am utterly BOWLED OVER by all the replies. more later, but for now: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  46. I don’t know if this helps, but I did just think of something while reading all these comments about giving food up for Lent.

    A friend of mine is also Jewish. Last year, she chose to give up chocolate for lent. Except she’s Jewish, remember, so the inherent reason behind giving something up is missing. This year she’s decided to fast every day for Ramadan, perhaps in solidarity with her Muslim boyfriend, but given her history with ED and restrictive eating, I have a few questions…

    I don’t always even fast for Yom Kippur (which is coming up, incidentally) because I’m hypoglycemic and fasting can trigger, among other things, severe migraines for me. And you’re not supposed to fast if you cannot do so for health reasons.

  47. In addition to various Hindu and health-motivated fasts, I’ve fasted twice for Ramadan (Others: “But you’re not Muslim!” Me: “So?”), and found it to be an extremely challenging, but spiritually beneficial exercise. I’m somewhat hypoglycemic myself, but found abstaining from liquids to be the much more difficult part of it. You do traditionally celebrate sundown with a huge meal, though (and sometimes start with a big breakfast), so there’s usually no overall food restriction. My health isn’t strong enough to permit it anymore, unfortunately.

    I’ve observed Lent in the past, too, though I think I just gave up things like TV, not food items. I don’t see that one’s particular religious affiliation would change the underlying benefit to these acts — all religions have some sort of austerities associated with spiritual self-improvement.

  48. For a very depressing example of this, the “Bronx Health REACH: Making Health Equality a Reality” web site’s faith-based initiative includes the 12-week fat shaming curriculum, “Fine, Fit and Fabulous” (can be downloaded from the link).
    It’s subtitled “a purpose driven spirituality, nutrition and fitness program.” The Bronx REACH program has done some great things (like bringing healthier foods to botegas), but I’m not convinced this one is not one of them.
    Here’s an excerpt from the workbook:
    Congregants who participate in Fine, Fit and Fabulous meet at their church for twelve weeks, which includes group discussion sessions and exercise sessions taught by a certified fitness instructor. Each person is assigned a buddy or group for support in completing exercise and nutrition goals. Some of the weekly discussion topics include:
    The Food, God and Health Connection
    Solomon said, “Where there is no guidance, the people fall” (Proverbs 11:14)
    Self-Indulgence and Gluttony are Sins – Are you sinning?
    “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked: filed with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior.” (Deut 23:15)
    Self-Discipline, Moderation, and Self-Control – Is that your stomach growling or your soul?
    “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that Will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25)
    Using God’s Strength to Live a Healthier Life – Trade in “fat and happy” for “fit and healthy”!
    “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

    Not being Christian, I don’t mean to call this out as the only example. The rabbi at our synagogue has never engaged in fat shaming or made any disparaging comments about bodies of any size, but I’ve certainly had other experiences with congregants and rabbis at other synagogues that were not positive.

  49. @vidya108

    Food-related asceticism in Christianity goes back to the earliest days of the Church. In general it is not, however, related to weight–it’s about self-denial, like most religious ascetic traditions.

  50. Yay, I can de-lurk for this one! A Sarah, I wasn’t clear on whether you were looking for anecdotes that were Christian-specific, or from all religious traditions, but anyways…I’m part of the Jewish Renewal movement (think eco-feminist neo-Hasidism, for what that’s worth) and, oh, the stories I could tell. As Meems pointed out above, Yom Kippur is coming up on Monday; it’s traditional to fast from food, water, sex, bathing, and the wearing of leather clothing. I’m really wrestling with whether or not to fast this year, because I so strongly disagree with the idea that mortifying or denying the body exalts the spirit (one of the reasons for fasting that I’ve heard discussed in my community. Last year the rabbi even taught that we wear white on Yom Kippur and abstain from food because we symbolically are raised to the level of angels, and angels apparently don’t eat. Um, what?). It seems like every other person in my community is on some sort of cleanse. In a Jewish education class just last night, I was talking about my issues with fasting with another woman and she suggested that I think of it as a kind of cleanse. I said, “But I don’t think the body is dirty!” and she just looked at me weird…

  51. Don’t forget all the ways that nice progressive churches exclude disabled people (like all churches, they’re exempt from most of the ADA). I knew one nice progressive church that replaced a smooth walkway with stairs because “it looks nicer.” In 1999. I knew (another) church that thought you made a restroom accessible by buying one of those blue signs at Home Depot and attaching it to the door–zoom presto, it’s a miracle! At one of those churches, the only so-called accessible parking (again, into the 2000s) was in a gravel driveway. These were congregations with plenty of resources and no sense of including every body as a matter of justice.

    There’s also the irony that the nice progressive churches are more likely to have female pastors–and then to concern-troll a pastor’s every move when she’s before the congregation on a weekly basis. Oh dear, what’s she wearing? How’s she doing her hair? Is she gaining weight? She looks tired, she should work on her posture. Are those shoes appropriate? Isn’t her voice grating? I’ve seen amazingly mean and irrelevant comments in pastor evaluation surveys whenever a woman is the subject of the survey.

  52. I’m an out, fat (almost) Unitarian Universalist clergywoman. It’s nice to see so many UUs pop up here (as well as those of us with other religious identities and those with none!) and I’m also really bummed that folks have negative experiences to report. Sigh!

    At my alma mater, Starr King School for Ministry (a UU and multi-religious seminary at Berkeley, CA’s Graduate Theological Union), the weekly chapel service was recently about fat phobia and sizism in religious community and Christian history. It rocked and I know there is a written manuscript–maybe even a podcast.

    A Sarah, I’d be happy to put you in touch with the people responsible for it, if you get in touch with me. (Uh, I don’t know how this blog magic works, but I assume you can see my email address. Right?) Good luck!

  53. I still have to read through the rest of the comments because they are great but wanted to share. First, I LOVE the “Please rise in body or in spirit” thing and may suggest that at my church…though really no one actually says it; the places are just marked in the bulletin in bold but it might be nice to alter the key for what that bolding means!

    I go to a congregationalist church. I think the interim minister who brought my husband and I into the membership was a hoot and made reference to something along the lines of the church always eating well and “diets are a moot point here” or something; I forget the text but it was a happy play on the fellowship hour after service where many snacks of the sweet or salty manner are available.

    Now our current minister is a lovely larger woman who seems to be dieting via something called “Boot Camp”. Her facebook posts (pretty progressive, eh?) tend to be about “getting back on the wagon” and such and I know she has mentioned having to diet at least once in a sermon a while back but haven’t heard any body shaming at services in a while. But it is discouraging just how much your minister’s own body shaming and off-hand comments at gatherings “Oh, I shouldn’t be eating this. This is naughty” just reinforces those body ideals and thin-worship attitudes.

    Reflecting upon it though and from some of the examples I’ve read so far I have to say that my current experience has been rather mild and refreshing in comparison! Hope that helps your project!! :)

  54. Millefolia, I would nowadays call myself pagan rather than specifically Wiccan, but my experience in the Wiccan/pagan community tends to bear out what you’ve said: many women will happily worship a fat Goddess, but look in the mirror and decide their own bodies could do with being smaller. I never experienced fat prejudice myself, though, and one of the groups I attended some years back was run by a very fat priestess whom nobody would have dared to say anything snarky to. (And I’m pretty sure she’s still around; I’ve seen her rather unusual name under some typically pithy comments on a few UK fat-related news stories. So, good on her.)

    I have seen debates about fat and health in the pagan media now and again, though. And I’m remembering an interview with a very famous priestess and author (who’s always been thin, BTW) where she expressed disgust at a coven she knew of where the old priestess had stepped down and her expected replacement – a wise, capable woman of many years in the Craft, who also happened to be very fat – was passed over in favor of someone much less practised, but young and skinny. The lady implied that it wasn’t an isolated incident and that basically, youth, looks and slenderness were often the determining factors in which women got to hold authority in the skyclad (ritually naked) traditions. Since the whole idea of going skyclad is supposed to be about being without everyday trappings and equal in the eyes of the Gods, it’s rather sad that for some people it turns into another beauty contest.

  55. I have just finished a lovely breakfast of a packet of Malteasers (my local Harris Teeter got in a stash of UK candy and I am happy), so I have the strength now to revisit my childhood in an Anglican religious school that fat shamed me from the day I walked in to the day I walked out. Morning sermons frequently talked about how evil food was, and how we should all lose weight to be morally acceptable (this was in the “progressive” 70s, and this was a “progressive” school), and we had monthly weigh-ins and tape measurings.

    I was a slightly chubby child (photos show me as not fat at all), but I left that school convinced I was a gross obese monster, thanks to all the attention paid to the ten extra pounds I carried. Phys. Ed. was a nightmare, where the teacher encouraged the other kids to shame me (I was also klutzy, though I am now extremely good at fencing, hiking, and dancing) with such antics as collapsing theatrically under my weight when we did “leap-frog” (which I was a master at – I could scale really high things) and laughing with them.

    This was reinforced with constant dieting messages at home, so I made it into my teens as a binge eater, and turned bulemic in college. How could I have turned out any other way? Fat was shameful, I was fat, therefore I was shameful.

    It got so bad I couldn’t sing the word “Deity” in hymns, because it looked too much like the word “diet”. My mouth would go dry in horror and shame.

    Good times, eh?

  56. Last year our lead minister gave up complaining for Lent. He couldn’t just bitch about things – he had to either accept and forgive, or actually DO something about it. He said it was one of the hardest things he’s ever done.

  57. A very Catholic friend of mine has a history of ED. She told me once that she’s not sure whether her attraction to Catholicism was magnified by the fact that there were so many fast days she could observe. She ultimately started talking with a priest about her ED, and he counciled her to no longer observe fast days by actually fasting. As Meems mentioned above, this reminds me very strongly of the Jewish precept not to fast if you have a medical condition that can prevent you from doing so, an idea I shared with my friend at the time. I really respect both the priest and my friend for acknowledging that the ED was real, serious, and to be regarded as such (rather than a silly illusion).

  58. UU here, in an area without many UU’s. Our sanctuary doesn’t have regular pews. Instead, it used to have the kind of seats you would find in a movie theater, but with unmovable armrests between each one. The seats were really narrow, the width of airplane seats. The very back row (the accessible row) was just regular chairs, and that’s where all the fat people sat.

    When we re-did the sanctuary, we still didn’t get regular pews. We got chairs that attach side by side, with no space in between. It makes it really obvious how much space you’re “supposed” to take up. I still see all the fat people sitting in the back, or rarely, on the end of a row, either taking up part of the next seat over or else awkwardly bracing themselves with 1/3 of their body in the aisle.

    Chalk it up to thin privilege, but I was part of the problem in not advocating strongly enough for non-shaming seating arrangements. I mentioned it when we re-did things. I was challenged to provide names of actual fat people who were made uncomfortable by the seating. Catch-22, either I’m calling out individuals and shaming them myself, or I’m unable to prove that it’s a real problem. I backed down.

    The minister is charting his weight loss journey in the church newsletter. His latest insight was that he’s lost XX pounds just by eating less and exercising more, and who could have known that would work? “Funny” filler material in a December newsletter included that old email forward about how holiday food doesn’t have any calories in certain situations.

  59. We recently had an ice cream social at the United Methodist church I’ve been attending. I brought a gallon of homemade spiced apple ice cream, and there was still a good 2/3 of it left when I asked the pastor if she’d had a chance to try it. “No, I’m being good,” she said. “I’m trying to lose that last 10 pounds.” I thought hard about challenging that link between goodness and weight loss right then, then bit my tongue. I’m sorry I did.

    For a little over a year, I attended a UCC church in San Francisco, where the pastor said, “God doesn’t want you to leave your brain at the door. Your body, either.” I really miss that pastor, who is the first (and so far only) person I’ve ever heard say something like that from the pulpit (and she said it more than once).

    I have attended various liberal protestant churches (mostly UMC and UCC) where pastors have talked about Lenten penitence, traditionally practiced, as something that can make deprivation into its own reward (a caution I’ve always heard as a veiled shout-out to those who live with ED of various kinds). Those pastors have counseled parishioners who want to honor Lent to consider taking on a new practice (daily prayer, meditation, volunteering) rather than giving something up. I love that approach– it may not be explicitly body-loving, but it doesn’t feed into body-hatred for me the way that fasting does.

  60. I have attended various liberal protestant churches (mostly UMC and UCC) where pastors have talked about Lenten penitence, traditionally practiced, as something that can make deprivation into its own reward (a caution I’ve always heard as a veiled shout-out to those who live with ED of various kinds).

    I think our culture as a whole is so disordered in its thinking about food that you don’t even need to have or have had an eating disorder to have that experience. I find myself very attracted to the idea of fasting, but I’ve decided that, at least for the time being (well, back before I was pregnant, since it will be off the table as an option for a while now for practical reasons), my motive for fasting would always be so tainted by the cultural virtue we associate with self-imposed food deprivation that I don’t think it could be, for me, a genuinely spiritual practice. We’ve made self-denial of food to be such a sign of secular “goodness” and “virtue” that I think, for me at least, it would be really hard to not have that be the primary feeling I took through a fast, rather than any sort of experience of self-denial for spiritual purposes.

    Maybe in cultures that have more of a tradition of fasting it’s less of a conflict, because I’ve talked to a few Muslim women about fasting, and they just don’t seem, by and large, to have the same association of fasting with dieting that I have. If you grew up in a culture or religious tradition where fasting is a common, regular practice, it’s probably different. For me, my primary frame of reference for anything involving denying yourself food is dieting for weight loss. It’s such a strong association that, for me, I don’t think I could have a fast from food that was truly spiritually motivated.

    I do think it’s interesting that there seems to be a growing interest among some Christians in fasting as a (supposedly) spiritual practice in the last few years, just as hysteria over the obesity epidemic has been growing. I can’t help but imagine the two are related, and many people are attracted to fasting not just because of its status as an ancient spiritual discipline but because of how much of a secular virtue we’ve turned self-starvation into.

  61. I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian, and I remember vividly once when I was about 12 or so, some church friends (probably including a minister & wife) were over, and we were talking about how no one really knew what Jesus looked like, and I said, “Yes, he could have been short, fat, and bald!”

    DAMN did I get read the riot act for that one after the company left. I hadn’t even meant it in a snarky way — just, why do we always portray him as so conventionally good-looking? What if Our Savior looked like Jason Alexander? Taught me a good lesson about who, exactly, was supposed to be made in the image of God and who wasn’t.

    I’m a Reform Jew now, and I do think it’s funny how almost no one in my congregation keeps kosher at all, and looks down on it as a superstition — I think a lot of people think I’m some sort of zealot just because I don’t eat pork or shellfish. But once during kiddush some women were discussing recipes for roasted vegetables, and I piped up with one I’d just learned for roasted beets, and they all recoiled in horror and said, “No beets! We’re in Phase 1 of South Beach!”

    Shulamit, due respect, but I’ve never heard an interpretation like your rabbi’s. I was taught we wear white on YK, and fast, etc. because we are trying to come as close to death as possible. Jews are traditionally buried in a white robe, the name of which escapes me.

    Or maybe it’s because, hey, it’s safe to wear white on a fast day, you’re not going to spill food on yourself. Judaism is a very practical religion!

  62. I saw that Weigh Down has been mentioned a couple of times. I was introduced to that program as a eating disordered teenager. Although it is pretty extreme about how everyone should be able to be thin if they just don’t eat too much, it was the first time that I had heard of anything like intuitive eating. They really believed that no food was ‘bad’ and should eat whatever you feel like eating. It was revolutionary for me. And it transitioned me nicely into FA when it just didn’t work to make me thin.

  63. I don’t nessecarily know what you’re looking for, but I am pagan. And the Pagan community that I am blessed to be a part of is fairly diverse racially, sexually and politically, but on the fat topic we’re all pretty much on the same page. Beauty is beauty no matter what package it comes in. The Venus of Willendorf is considered beautiful, and the women who resemble her are beautiful and valuable. Innana is beautiful and the women who resemble her are beautiful and valuable. Bacchus is beautiful (because we feel that beauty isn’t restricted to females) and valuable and the men who resemble him is valued and beautiful. My pagan community really takes a deeper look at things and people and we accept and love and value you no matter your race, your shape, your political views, your spiritual path, or your sexual preferences.

  64. Shulamit, due respect, but I’ve never heard an interpretation like your rabbi’s. I was taught we wear white on YK, and fast, etc. because we are trying to come as close to death as possible. Jews are traditionally buried in a white robe, the name of which escapes me.

    It’s a kittel. I’ve been thinking of making one for wearing on Yom Kippur because that will ensure that I don’t wear it on other days and thus it will stay white. ;-)

    My Reconstructionist synagogue uses language like Shulamit’s fairly often…it probably just depends on denomination.

  65. Limesarah, thanks for reminding me–I was thinking “katan,” but I knew that was wrong.

    I also realized the moment I posted my comment that within Judaism, there is every possible interpretation for every doggone thing we do! It’s a very polyvocal religion, and I shouldn’t have implied that Shulamit’s version was “wrong” just because I hadn’t heard it.

  66. A few years ago my sister, a devout Catholic, was reading some book (can’t remember the title, something like Pray your Way to Thin) about how truly loving God meant you would be able to lose weight.

    I hadn’t even heard of fat acceptance then, and was well on my way to be known as the family atheist, but I saw that and snapped at her, “You seriously think that God’s floating around up there caring about whether you lose those last five pounds? What happened to unconditional love?”

    She still reads stupid diet books, but at least they’re stupid secular ones.

  67. I was raised Catholic (now I’m more of a casual Wiccan) but I can honestly say I don’t remember any fat shaming at church. The only mention of overeating was from a Jesuit, who made a joke about how when Jesuits fast during Lent they eat about the same amount as everyone else eats during the rest of the year.

  68. Another Recon Jew here (and Jewish scholar)… yes indeed, yay for a multiplicity of interpretations. The white kittel is associated with purity (and with death) and the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are a time when traditionally we might be seen as close to death (fate undecided), and then on Yom Kippur, when you should have done all your repenting, you’re as pure as you’ll be the whole year long.

    I’ve heard the ‘angels don’t eat’ but not been personally bothered by it– for me, it’s part of seeing YK and fasting as being part of temporarily suspending earthly concerns like eating/drinking (and consequently going to the bathroom), sex, showering, etc– not that bodies are *bad* (although it’s certainly not perfect, Judaism has a long tradition of honoring human bodies) but that it’s valuable to occasionally experience the attempt to transcend our physicality.

    As someone with a checkered ED history, I do struggle with fasting for spiritual/religious purposes because a)it seems not to agree with my particular body chemistry, and b)it inevitably brings up unholy ED-related thoughts and feelings. So I try to find a balance that will let the holiday be most meaningful to me– if that means drinking water, eating some, or whatever. And Recon Judaism definitely encourages doing what’s meaningful for you, over only obeying the letter of the law.

    The traditional well-wish pre-Yom Kippur is to bid someone ‘an easy fast’ (which is kind of nice in itself, not over-emphasizing the bodily mortification aspect) but I have noticed recently that people will say something like ‘Hope you have an easy fast, if that’s your practice’ or in another way indicate that a meaningful Yom Kippur (or being a good Jew) doesn’t always mean fasting.

    Another thing I’ve noticed in the Recon community, which tends to be more hippie/dressed-down than the (large, suburban) Reform and Conservative synagogues I’ve attended, is that the casual atmosphere downplays the practice of women at services seeming to compete for who has the fanciest clothes and best bodies. I really appreciate going to worship and knowing that no one will expect me to be done up or in a skirt.

  69. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I’m a Quaker; and I’ve definitely never once had a Quaker say anything to me about weight. In fact, I don’t know I can remember a Quake talking about obesity at all. However, I’ve always *felt* like my weight set my family apart, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

    In my communities, actually, I can’t think of many other plus sized people – definitely a lot of inbetweenies, and maybe even BMI calculation think they’re obese: but generally pretty slender. Being one of the few plus sized sets us apart.

    However, I think Quakers were generally early food-justice adopters; there are a lot of very careful *diets* in Quakerism. Not weight loss, per se, but Quakes in greater numbers were vegan or vegetarian, organic, localvores, raw foodists; lots of beans and brown rice. Lots of cyclists, too. When I was dieting, I would resent these foods, because my body wanted to eat straight baby donuts to get back to my set point. So my experience of Quaker food was that everyone was always and forever on a diet, and I was the freak who couldn’t maintain eating that way, because I wanted some bloody calories, omg.

    Also, we were some of the poorer people at meeting.

    Of course, now that I’m older and not dieting, ie: not starved, I make many of the granola food choices that are, in essence, my comfort food. (However, I also eat Hawkins Cheezies and a nice burger once in awhile.)

    So, to sum up: unaddressed issues of weight that are part of the food justice movement seemed to say something that went unaddressed. Which maybe is weird, actually, because Quakers are often early adopters or sensitive to progressive movements; ie – civil rights for all is a big one.

    Not having Quakes address fat-phobia; huh. I find this interesting, actually. Huh.

  70. A few years ago, I was at the wedding of a dear friend of mine. She and her husband are Jewish; this was I think 2 years before she finished rabbinical school. She’s now a rabbi in the greater Chicago area, though I don’t know where specifically. I don’t know which type of temple she’s affiliated with, but knowing her it’s a very very liberal one.

    She’s a relatively slender woman, but her friends are of diverse body types and sizes. At the reception of her wedding, one of her male relatives was watching a bunch of us on the dance floor and made a comment about one of us being fat. She turned to him, aghast, and said ‘What are you talking about? Just look at her, she’s beautiful!’ The woman in question is definitely fat, with nice curves, a smile that promises mischief and trouble, and great hair. The last three aspects I mentioned, and other positive things, are (I believe) how my friend sees that woman.

    I went to a roman catholic all girl’s high school. I was raised in an irreligious household, and eventually in college became a pagan after sampling a handful of other faiths and local churches and temples.

    At the school, I cannot ever remember hearing a single fat-shaming comment from any of the teachers, not even the PE teacher. If she thought you weren’t trying, you’d get shit – so I, with my chronic injuries, was always on her shit list – but never do I remember a comment on someone’s weight, nor did she go after heavier girls any different from skinnier girls.

    We also had this great tradition of shared meals during school celebrations. It tended to be pretty limited food – one main dish, a coule of sides, no drinks – but there was still this tradition of eating together. As long as you waited until everyone had been served once, no one gave you a hard time about getting seconds.

    One of the biggest messages I remember getting there is that God was the source of love, and when we did things in love and with love, we were acting as children of God. That we were beautiful as we were, because we were crafted by God. That femininity, that our bodies, that our selves were valuable to God…and to ourselves, our teachers, and our friends.

    We had a yearly day of service, and we’d be broken into groups and sent to places like S.O.S. and Second Harvest that focused on getting food to people in need.

    The clearest single message I remember, though, was that we should work for social justice. ‘Give me, o lord, a love full of action.’

    If I took nothing else from there, heh, at least that stuck as part of me.

  71. I have had this post in my bookmarks since it was posted, meaning to respond but needing some time to compose my thoughts. This was posted just days after we had a guest pastor (the son of one of our members) preach the sermon, and honestly I am still really struggling with the comments that were made.

    He started out talking about how people want the easy way out of things, how they are unwilling to put in the work needed to do something. I was really open to him and what he was saying at first but I started tensing up as I could see where this was heading and just mentally hoping that it wouldn’t. He gave some random examples of things people do to take the easy way out of something, and then he started talking about how yes he needs to lose a few pounds and that is going to take work but some people won’t even put in that work (I was by this time biting my lip and holding onto my chair because I really just wanted to stand up and walk out) then he says “and some people just decide to take the easy way out and go get their stomach stapled so they won’t have to do the work, because they aren’t willing to do what it takes.” Ok right then and there I bit a hole in my lip trying to not start crying, I felt like I had been slapped and betrayed again by what is supposed to be my safe place. This was the first time I had heard something so blatant from the pulpit and I am still struggling with a whole lot of anger. After the service I left as soon as I could by the back door because I knew that if I walked by that guest pastor I would either end up bawling, or chewing him out, neither of which were good options in our tiny church.

    At lunch with my parents I asked what they thought of the sermon, they said they thought it was good, but you know they didn’t even really realize what he said. I told them of how hurt and angry I was, that not only did he in essence say that any fat person who isn’t actively trying losing weight is choosing not to because they want the easy way out, but then to say that weight loss surgery was the easy way out!?! So mutilating your body and forcing yourself into a permanent state of anorexia or bulimia in the easy way out?! I burst into tears as I explained to my parents about all the people I have read about or know who’s lives have been ended, or who deal with massive health problems because they felt the need to take the supposed easy way out. How awful it is as a fat person to live life everyday hearing about how awful I am because I am fat, to deal with the crappy treatment, people looking down on you, and holding you up as morally suspect because the size clothes you wear and then hear from the pulpit that if you chose to get weight loss surgery because you just want to be seen as “normal” or “acceptable” then you are taking the easy way out and it will be perceived as a cop out. GAH!!!!!

    So you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t!?! I am still boiling about that. It frustrates me that some people in the church can take these kind of stances, most often holding up the verse about your body being God’s temple and therefore judging anyone who’s “temple” doesn’t appear the way they think it should as being unworthy. I have often had people say to me, well your sin/addiction/shortcoming is apparent and compare me to a drug addict or an alcoholic and then “tsking” about how it is sad that those people can hide their stuff but I can’t. It drives me nuts!!!!

    Gah ok I need to stop ranting about that.

    Moving on I do have to say that my senior year of high school I did the WeighDown Workshop (WDW) and I have to say it is the most HAES type of program that I have ever been in. It just made so much sense to me, being that I believe that God created humans and believing that he would have most certainly have made our bodies with the ability to regulate itself in the area of food. WDW tells you that your body is made to tell you what it is needing and wanting, and teaches you how to listen to your body for when it is hungry, when it is full, what it needs or wants. There is no “good” and “bad” foods or food lists/menus you are told that all food is good to eat and even the whole thing about ok don’t worry if you are craving chocolate for the first few meals it is just because you are new to this freedom thing and that soon your body will start to crave something else that it needs. For the first time in my whole life I felt freedom from food, diets, and the obsessing that goes along with it. It was my first introduction to HAES and so when I first heard about HAES I embraced it because of that sense of freedom I knew it would bring. My mom was the one who got me to go to WDW and she could not handle the thought of food freedom, she tried bring the weight watchers menus into it all and kept warning and watching me about the bad foods. Reading the article about christian weight loss programs in Christianity Today that was posted above that was one of the things that was such a scandalous thing that no foods were offlimits or bad and THAT JUST CAN’T BE HEALTHY blah blah blah. It kind of made me giggle because that was the panic my mom showed as well , when to me it seemed like the most natural, freeing, healthy idea I could imagine.

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