I first read the phrase fat acceptance when I stumbled upon it while I was trying desperately to find fashion tips that would make me look slimmer. I was a junior in college and had my first boyfriend.
The fact that he started dating me as a fat girl did nothing to convince me that he wouldn’t want me thinner. Years of trying to be thinner had proved unsuccessful, but I thought perhaps I would be able to find clothing tricks to at least look a little thinner, a little better.
What I found instead was an online community of mostly women who believed that their fat bodies were not wrong. They did not try to hide their fat; they embraced it and treated it as worthy of love and respect. It was a community devoted to plus-size fashion with a side of fat politics and activism.
I learned about the structural oppression that fat people face in everything from finding employment to getting adequate health care. I read medical studies that made me question what had been my commonsense understanding: that fat is bad for the body. I learned to call myself fat as a way to reclaim a word that is so often used as an insult.
I use the word fat specifically and intentionally throughout my book. Fat is an adjective. It speaks to the amount of flesh on a person’s body. From a social/political context, this self-naming as fat is about destigmatizing fat bodies and pushing back on the way fat bodies are treated.
I reject terms such as overweight because the word contains an inherent judgment that there is a correct weight. Euphemisms that seek to be positive often set further dichotomies; for example, curvy speaks to a male gaze that sexualizes and fetishizes women while still failing to encompass all the curves a body might possess.
J. Nicole Morgan
Other terms, including fluffy and plump, are the preferred terms of many fat people, but not for me personally. My book uses the word fat frequently to both describe myself and others.
I also want to note that there is an important difference between feeling fat and being fat. Thin persons should not call themselves fat in an effort to be allies to fat people. The way an individual person feels about their body is important and significant, but the way others perceive a fat body contributes to various oppressions that will be addressed throughout the book.
If you are not sure if you feel fat or if you are fat, think about whether or not your body prevents your access to spaces or things because of its size. Consider whether you have trouble finding seating or clothing, or if you regularly check weight limits on things and find that your body exceeds the limits. Regardless of whether you are fat or not, there is much to learn about how our world, our churches, and our communities interact with fat people.
As I’ve come to understand the social and political implications of fat acceptance and to see the oppression and discrimination where it exists, I’ve become increasingly passionate about challenging any body type prioritization and pointing out its flaws—both in terms of anti-fatness and in regards to racism and other oppression. Intersectionality says people can experience oppression and discrimination for more than one reason.
My freedom to live in a fat body is bound up in the freedom of all others to live without fear in their bodies. The humanity and freedom of fat people is bound up in the humanity and freedom of all. Loving my neighbor as my fat self means that I work for justice both for people who face oppression as a result of their fat body and for those who also endure the judgment and systematic oppression that comes with other marginalized identities.
Four years after I first heard about fat acceptance, I found myself kneeling at the altar of my church once again. I was not praying about my body that time. A woman I had known for years came over to me, placed her hand on my shoulder, and began to pray over me out loud.
“Dear God,” she said, “please help Nicole to overcome her sin of being overweight. I know how hard it is to walk around where all the world can see your sin.” All this woman saw was my fatness. She was also fat, and I imagine she thought she understood what drove me to the altar; perhaps her own body shame fueled most of her prayers. I have no doubt she was trying to show empathy and solidarity. All I heard, though, was that all that mattered was my body. I knew better this time.
Four years into learning about fat acceptance, this moment sparked a fire. Later I would realize it was this moment that began my journey toward a calling to tell others that their fat bodies are okay.
I knew my message would specifically be about how Christians talk about bodies. God cares about our broken hearts, not the wideness of our calves. I stubbornly choose to believe that God is about restoring broken things: broken dreams, broken hearts, and especially broken theologies that hurt rather than heal.
Any theology that sees first the size of someone’s hips cannot be the message of a God who showed up on earth and taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Excerpt from Fat and Faithful by J Nicole Morgan copyright © 2018 Fortress Press. Reproduced by permission. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Fortress Press. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.