[image: a picture I love because it’s a skirt I made, because it was taken at a time I was happy, in a home where I was loved and loved, because the twirling and the dancing on Easter morning is spiritually significant, especially that year. But still a picture where I must intentionally continue the battle to insist that I am worthy despite the ways my body differs from the “standard.”]
I was talking with a friend the other day who is taking the first steps into body-positivity and battling bravely against all the lies that our culture puts in our heads about our bodies. She asked me, “How do you not hate yourself?” And, what I knew she meant, “How did you get here? How did you find freedom?”
I have no 5 step plan. I have no guarantees. But in the hopes that it will be useful to others- these were some of my first, memorable, steps into the land of not hating myself. Maybe something will work for you.
I do want to say – I’m still on the journey. I am more likely to roll my eyes at weight loss ads and I am usually pretty laser-eyed at spotting the subtle body-shaming that is everywhere in our society. But there are days when it feels like being thin would solve all my problems, when that new diet idea seems like maybe it would work, when it seems like the perks of thinness would be worth all the costs. Those days are rarer all the time, but they happen, and that’s ok.
Our culture is designed to make us desire thinness, it makes life easier for thin people. We are not likely to entirely escape its well-financed pull.
1. I intentionally spent time in body-positive online spaces. For me that was “fatshionista” back in the glory-days of LiveJournal. As a fashion blog, there were many pictures every day of large humans, mostly women, looking fabulous. I was able to see the beauty in other people first. It was an important step.
2. I measured myself. I set up my camera timer and took a full length photo of myself. I wore something I liked and smiled. Then I used a basic photo editor to add my measurements. I now knew, and had a reference of, the number of inches around my bust and waist, thighs and upper arms. This was beneficial in a number of ways: I KNEW my size. Much of plus-size shopping is done online because there are so few option in local stores – now I had the power to shop better with the various sizing methods of various brands. This was empowering. Also, in the fatshionista community, it was common for people to post their weight/size/measurements with their photos. Knowing my measurements, I was able to spot my “body twins” and was astounded by thinking. “She’s pretty. She looks fabulous. Does that mean maybe I look ok too?”
3. I started posting pictures. “Dear world. Here is me!!!” I was in a supportive community, so I got a lot of supportive feedback. The more I posted. The more confidence I gained. I no longer take the effort to set up cameras and timers to get full-length shots, but I’m a big fan of the feministselfie, “unflattering faces” included.
4. I dated a few different guys during the early years of learning to love my body (that’s not the tip)- – I slowly learned to be intentional at believing when they told me they found such and such about me attractive and not brushing it off or making some weird comment about myself in reply. I would say “thank you” sincerely. As much as my feminist side wishes it wasn’t this specifically male-gaze that was one of my influential steps, it is what it is. I’ll critique it – but it was still there. So – whoever is saying nice things about you in your life: choose to believe them.
5. I did a lot of standing in front of the mirror in various states of dress. I didn’t really “compliment” myself or find things I loved – I just got used to me. I just saw me. Years later, I’ll sometimes catch an unintended glance of myself in the mirror and think, “beautiful!” in that split second before I realize it’s me, and I just kind of laugh joyously.
6. I stopped wearing clothes that I didn’t like the look or fit of. Mine is not a body built for off-the-rack empire waists and button-closure shirts. I look FABULOUS in wrap-shirts, but they’re not really my day-to-day style, feel too formal for me. My style has shifted and changed various times over the years, but unless it’s something I HAVE To have – I just don’t buy anything that I don’t love. When I wear clothes, I like them for either their comfort or their style. I wear things that make me feel good.
7. I didn’t really tell people for a while, I want to say years. This is my personality type. I figure things out in my head, and then I tell people. I had a couple friends who knew I was trying. I had my online support community. But for the most part I stayed quiet about it with friends and family. I was battling some strong foes inside my own head trying to prove that I deserved dignity, I did not yet have the strength to be the go-to “fat and happy” person in my everyday community.
8. I started calling myself “fat” in a neutral tone. Not “plus size” or “curvy” or “fluffy” or whatever other euphemism there is. Just fat. I know others prefer euphemisms for their own body-positive reasons. Do what works for you. Find a word that is empowering and liberating. Find a word that tells yourself, and maybe others, that you are ok with you. Use that one, even if you don’t quite believe it yet but want to.
If you’ve started this journey as well, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you – even if it’s been those infamous steps forward and backward.
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I am sitting in a guest room that was once my room at my parents’ home. I’m typing away with my feet propped up on a box and my computer on top of an antique vanity that belonged to my great-grandmother. The years have cycled back, the way they do, to the first season. The room is mine again.
The red Georgia clay and the bare winter limbs on the oaks outside are part of the season that birthed me 32 years ago. I joke with my parents that I am the poster-child for the boomerang generation. Three cross-continent moves, a graduate degree, and a couple “adult” jobs under my belt, but here I am typing away at a vanity where I can see my name that I etched into the wood as a kid.
On my first cross-country move I landed just north of Chicago, a ten-minute walk from the shore of Lake Michigan. It was a land of straight and flat roads, crossing at hard-right angles until you got to the shore where sand and rocks met vast water. I had a spot near the lake—a tree arched over the edge of the water and every season I marveled at the changes there. I once waded waist-high in snow drifts to get close to the icy lake. I watched in awe as the weather changed from week to week. For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to ache for the coming of spring, to see the green shoots of grass start growing as the slushy, dirty snow finally melted.
In Chicago, the beauty of the Lake and the beauty of the architecture fed my soul in tandem. Chicago introduced me to myself in a way that’s only possible when you flourish somewhere brand new. As a suburban girl, I barely knew my neighbors, but here I passed them on the sidewalk regularly as we all walked to the train or the coffee shop or church.
When spring came, we all went outside. The two elementary school children across the street played football with their dad in the front yard, Henry the beagle and his caretaker made frequent trips around the block; I chatted with the next door neighbor about plants as I edged my lawn right next to her driveway. There was an annual block party and an Easter-egg hunt. My introverted self means I can’t tell you the names of many of these people, but I was drawn to the community and togetherness–these seeds of community burrowed into my heart.
And when the season in Chicago was done, I landed in the hills and valleys of Eastern Pennsylvania to attend seminary. Here, I would check the weather for rain and plan my life accordingly. When it rained the basement flooded and blocked my path to the washing machine for a day. The roads flooded in such a way that my old car protested and sputtered over every puddle.
But on pretty days I’d sometimes find myself on a hill in the beautiful Valley Forge National Park, textbook and pen in hand as I did my reading for my seminary coursework. During those years the theology I studied and learned began to stitch together the pieces of my life. I was desperate to know if I was changing, or just growing. Had my years as an educator and a non-profit worker, my experiences as a single woman and a fat woman, my understanding of God learned in a suburban Southern church and an urban Midwestern church finally all come together to produce who I was?
That last year in Pennsylvania was a bountiful harvest. I had seen the beauty of community while watching my Chicago neighborhood, I got to live it in Pennsylvania where every Sunday night neighbors gathered together for dinner. Relationships were deep and meaningful. Ideas and hopes and dreams were always close at hand. After a lifetime of not knowing what I was passionate about, I finally had answers (to some things!). There were places where I could voice a firm “yes” or “no.”
Those passions and ideas unexpectedly led me back to Georgia, a move not for work or grad school, but a choice to be near family. There is a lot that is uncertain for me about life back in Georgia. While I found a worthwhile reason to move, one that was born out of the community I experienced with people who had been strangers, my current situation lacks the structure to define my day’s activities. There is a freedom to find what will shape my life here. It is planting season: time to sow the seeds I reaped from a Pennsylvania harvest, first nourished in a Chicago spring.
The dark wood of this old vanity and the even-older red clay outside remind me that there are roots already here. This very specific plot has nurtured my beginnings before. A harvest will come again. Now, counting on the hope of spring and the bounty of autumn, I sow.
Originally published as a guest post over at You are Here Stories
This is not fat theology. But this is absolutely body theology. This is absolutely community theology.
Earlier today I skimmed through a blog on how to incorporate black history month into the season of lent. One of the ideas stood out to me – – to research lynchings near your town.
I found one and the newspaper article recounting the murder of Neal Winship makes my stomach heave.
In 1879 a man is accused and captured, but before a trial can be held, not that it would have mattered, a group of men arrive and drag his body from the jail and take him down the road and hang him. Hang him in front of a black church.
[The highlighting of “negro” throughout the article is because I used that word to search digital files of old Atlanta papers. The highlight is obviously not a part of the original document.]
The tone and bias of this article probably surprises no one. We know enough of our history to be able to clearly see racism in the past. But I do want to take a minute to look at what it’s doing. I think it’s important to name the ways we dehumanize people, the way we uphold systems of oppression. When we can identify why this article is racist – what attitudes are present that make the kind of society that lynches black men and women, then we can better identify racist thought that still exists today, even if it almost never ends in lynching anymore.
The article clearly sets up the white people as the benevolent victors. The white law enforcement “closely guarded” him – a show of their “care” to protect him, but the the ‘righteous indignation’ of the proud men who were “not disguised” was too strong.
They hung him in front of a church. His church? The men who murdered Neal probably didn’t even know. If this swift “justice” for an attempted crime is really about punishing a “bad negro” – then there is no need to leave his body hanging on a tree, to be found in the morning by a black church. The only reason you do that is to inflict terror and fear and to remind people exactly what you think of them – that their life is worth nothing, their life is not worth a chance of self-defense, a trial, the right to breathe.
The truth is, Neal probably wasn’t a “bad negro” or full of “villainy.” That’s just what is told to justify the violence. So the story goes: if you behave, then you’ll be treated well. If you act respectable, then you’ll be given rewards.
If you follow the letter of our unwritten laws, then we’ll allow you to breathe tomorrow.
Even if he was guilty of the crime he was accused of, the way “justice” was carried out for him was racist and unjust.
The lynching itself is unspeakably horrific. The barbarity of it reinforced by the barely reserved glee with which it is reported. The article upholds and condones a lie of white supremacy that paints the white men as warriors for justice protecting the decency of women and goodness.
I started digging and found the location of where the church would have likely been in 1879. Google street view told me there was a cemetery there today. I had some timing flexibility today that gave me enough time to get there in daylight. I needed to go visit.
It’s a small cemetery, mostly run down – with a few newer graves – even a fresh one. Many of the gravestones were broken or had fallen over. Up in the corner there was a scattering of older graves. The oldest I saw was 1862. I didn’t find one for Neal, not that I really expected to.
I stood near those older graves though, which were resting near a tree. It was cold today in Atlanta – bitter wind. Quite different from what Georgia in July is like – the month when Neal was killed. Yet the cold seemed fitting.I’m sure it was not that tree, but it was one like it and one close by. This was the tactile, physical connection you can’t get just reading old articles on the computer: the tree and the tombstones and the cold bitter wind.
I wanted beautiful words, something that would make my standing there in a cemetery remembering a man who had been dead for over 140 years matter. All I had was, “I’m sorry. Forgive Us. You are not forgotten. I know your name, Neal Winship.”
And later when I got home I did some more research to see what else I could find about Neal. And I found an article from a week later.
It turns out that the newspaper had incorrectly reported which county’s citizens had gone into a rage and kidnapped and murdered Neal.
What I noticed though is that they changed Neal’s last name too. He went from Winship to Wimbush. They did not bother to take the time to acknowledge that mistake. (Though I guess Wimbush could be the mistake. Either way, careful journalism seemed to not be an issue in this story.)
One of my seminary professors would often say “remember” as re-member. To again member, to put back together the parts of the whole, the parts of the body. That’s what I was doing there in the cold wind, under a tree, on a blood soaked land: trying to put back together Neal, trying to put back together the community, trying to put back together myself. To re-member all of us, to remind myself that it all matters. The beginning and the end. The history that is never really over. The past and the present and the future are all part of the same time.
Neal Wimbush/Winship: I remember you.
After writing my Discovering My Tastes posts the other day, I saw this at the grocery store this afternoon. This is what I’m talking about. If you love dessert, eat a dessert.
This is a multi-layered, multi -corporational, multi-year marketing scheme that says you’re supposed to love dessert (because it’s supposed to feel like you’re breaking the rules), but not supposed to “look like” you love dessert (be fat), and you’re supposed to eat “healthy food” (yogurt).
So here’s a way you can satisfy your market-created craving for something “rebellious” in a market-approved way.
[image: a french toast feast with neighbors on a snow day.]
One thing that’s been fun over the past decade as I’ve learned to eat intuitively – out of hunger or desire – rather than based on some set of rules, has been discovering what I like.
I’m a bit of a foodie. I love vegetables and food preparation techniques that are way too time consuming to be practical in my life. Arugula is my favorite type of leafy green. Few things relax me more than wandering through farmers markets and I have, on more than one occasion, read cook-books cover-to-cover. Learning to accept these “foodie” parts of me has been its own, mostly exciting, journey.
As a kid I remember turning down chocolate-chip pancakes on more than few occasions. I remember telling myself, “I shouldn’t eat those.”
I think perhaps one of the most surprising things that I’ve learned about my own food tastes is that I have no desire to eat chocolate chip pancakes.
Somehow I believed that because I was fat, I was supposed to inexplicably love all things dessert – chocolate and whip cream on your breakfast included. I turned them down with the conscious thought that I was saying no to a “forbidden” thing I was supposed to crave.
Turns out, I don’t crave them. Not at all.
Turns out I have a very strong aversion to dessert “flavored” things that are not dessert. Leave the cheesecake out of my yogurt. The words “chocolate chip cookie dough” do not belong anywhere near the “healthy energy bar” aisle. And for goodness sakes, please leave the chocolate out of my breakfast!
For the record, in case you ever have me over to dinner. My hands-down favorite dessert is a home-made cobbler. Warm with a crunchy oat topping.
On Sunday, the congregation lined up down the outer aisles of the church to walk forward and receive the bread and the wine. We took communion via “the ancient practice of intinction” as the chapel leaders at seminary would say. A piece of bread, the body of Jesus, dipped into the wine, the blood of Jesus.
I had made my way back to my pew and sat, facing forward, hearing the murmuring whispers of the body of Christ: broken or you, the blood of Christ: shed for you repeated over and over again as the congregants took the bread and wine, body and blood.
The gentleman’s hand shook as he raised it from the walker to take the bread. And when he lowered his hand towards the goblet, it came down with an unintended force, splattering the wine up his hand. His face gave away his frustration, but he placed the wine-soaked bread in his mouth, returned his hand to his walker, and made his way back down the center aisle.
Then a young woman stood from her seat and met him in the aisle. She had a white tissue in her hand as she reached for his, gently wiping away the splattered wine.
And there it is. The body and the blood – that’s what the body and the blood looks like when it’s moving and living. It looks like a towel wrapped around the savior’s waist – kneeling to wash the feet of his disciples. It looks like a tissue in the hand of a young woman, rising to clean the hands of an elder.
Much of my fat theology centers around the idea that all bodies are made in the image of God and that our bodies are not any less important than our soul or our spirit. As I’ve attended this new-to-me church the past few months and watched the way they care for the lives and bodies of the aged and the sick, I have seen beauty. And these aged bodies are not just cared for, they are not just passive participants in the life of the church, no one blinks an eye that the age range of the church is reflected in the age range of those who serve and lead and do the life and ministry of the church. Call it the ignorance of youth – but thinking back on previous church experiences: this is new to me. It is new to me to see the aged and the elderly so frequently in leadership positions.
It’s beautiful, and right, and good.
Any size, any age, any ability: fearfully and wonderfully made and called according to God’s purposes.
[image] the view outside my one-time home, a world blanketed in cold beauty
It was an early December Sunday a couple winters ago. I was coming off a marathon week of classes, papers, work, and a conference and had one more 10 page paper to knock out that night, so I stayed home from church. I had my books about theology and our bodies piled on my desk, post-it notes tabs sticking out at all angles. I knew the forecast said snow, so I pulled open the blinds and let light stream in as my fingers clickety-clacked over the keys and I tried to keep my passion for the subject in the boundaries of the assigned paper. Only stopping for brief pauses to sip coffee. Then a few pages in, I glanced out the window and saw the snow falling, a light dusting already on the ground.
I kept typing with renewed enthusiasm to finish so that I could enjoy my favorite part of winter. Philadelphia never had a good snowfall last year and I missed it.
A couple hours later one of my roommates made it back to the apartment with a couple of our Sunday night dinner guests in tow and we decided the thick blanket of white called for a snowball fight. We bundled up and headed out – pelting each other and the windows of neighbor friends who decided not to come outside. We fell backwards and made snow angels before heading back inside and drying off. Then, I was back to the paper.
I typed away until it was time for Sunday dinner. It was our Christmas party week. We served up plates full of food from everyone’s offerings, then opened gifts while laughing and taking turns wearing a Santa hat.
And then once again I was back to my computer, to run one more edit and submit the paper, proud of the work I had done. Confident that the work I was doing on this topic was important and part of the reason I am on this earth.
A few years ago someone asked me, “What’s your passion?” and I had no idea how to answer them. It wasn’t that I didn’t have things that interested me, I just didn’t know what my passion was – I didn’t know what it was that motivated me or lead me to do the things I did. So I started looking at my life and trying to figure out that answer.
I looked back on my adult life to that point and the things I had pursued, things that were common denominators no matter where my life was. It was things like, “I like cooking for people.” “I enjoy thinking deeply.” “I like to have people over to my home.” “All else being equal, aesthetics are important.” “I want people to feel comfortable, welcomed, and thought-of.”
And I started pursuing those things a little more. And that Sunday in December is kind of my answer to “What are you passionate about?” I’m passionate about friends and taking the time to enjoy the beauty of life. I am passionate about thinking about things that matter and engaging with them on deep levels – *specifically about talking about our bodies and our faith and how those things intersect for better or for worse. I’m passionate about communities and sharing meals and developing friendships and having people who show up at your house for snowball fights and warm soup.
What about you? Have you had a day that let you unexpectedly live your passions? What was it like?
(this post originally appeared on my previous blog)
[image: my view from an Amtrak train as I traveled across the country. Somewhere in Colorado, 2009.]
I read another “women’s devotional” this morning that talked about how losing weight is an example of having “good” and true faith. This is my response:
(you can click to make the text a bit larger if need be!)
One of my favorite places for creative and visual reminders to love your body in a holistic way is Pinterest. I love that I can “unfollow” certain boards and follow others. As a result -my pinterest home page is typically pretty awesome and free of body shame!
Here’s my Body Diversity and Acceptance Board:
Are you on Pinterest? Do you have a favorite body-positive pin or board? Would love it if you’d share it with me.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
When I was 18 years old I had one of those rare moments in faith – where the connection between you and the Divine God of the universe seems so concrete, so near. I remember closing my eyes in prayer and seeing a face, mostly vague and blurry but for warm brown eyes. For me in that moment, those were the eyes of Jesus. Human eyes that saw me. Human eyes that had cried. Human eyes that had closed in sleep and death and prayer. Human eyes that had stayed open though long nights. Human eyes that had sent their piercing, knowing gaze towards Peter as he denied for that third time.
James Cone, a theologian who talks about blackness and persecution and liberation talks about an Ontologically Black Jesus – a Jesus that understands the lived experience of people who live life in black bodies in our contemporary Western wold. A Jesus who sides with the oppressed and the marginalized. It is a Jesus not whose skin is definitely black, but a Jesus who understands the struggle and gives his life in the name of freedom.
As I began to study the intersections of fatness and theology, an ontologically fat Jesus was on my brain. It did not come easy – the first time someone showed me a picture depicting a fat Jesus* I recoiled, I said, “But, very likely, historically, he was not fat.” But why did I recoil? We don’t know what Jesus looked like.
My recoil was not about historical accuracy, it was about painting Jesus with a flesh that looked like my own – a flesh that was round and soft.
A flesh that people describe as excess.
As too much.
As worthy of shame.
But the prophet foretells the messiah who “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
And so in this season of advent where we wait for the one who will put on flesh and dwell among us, I remind myself that in all those ontological ways, he put on fat flesh. He understands the small and great injustices that one is met with when living life in a fat body. He understands and sides with the marginalized. He sides with me. This word that came to dwell with us, full of grace and truth has harsh words for those who would seek to tell people that one must be thin in order to properly serve God. He sees my flesh and my heart and my eyes with compassion and with an understanding of the wounds that are inflicted on those who life life in a body deemed less than by the power structures.
So come Emmanuel, God with us.
Come and bring your truth into our systems of oppression.
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity . . . Light and life to all He brings!”
*My favorite images of a fat Jesus come from Colombian artist Fernando Botero. You can see some of his paintings depicting the stations of the cross here and in this video. From what I know of Botero, his reasons for painting a fat Jesus and my reasons for liking it are different, but I’m thankful that this artwork exists in the world!
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[image: dressed up for an outing to a tea room with my mother and some friends. Bright colors. No sleeves. Enjoying the spring day.]
Back in undergrad when I first started learning about size-acceptance and health-at-ever-size, my entrance into that way of thinking was through a fat fashion community on LiveJournal. Eery day I scrolled through my feed and saw pictures of women who looked like me. Even when looking at plus-size clothing advertising, the models are rarely my size. You just don’t see images of fat women looking happy and stylish in the media. These women often posted their size, measurements, and weight. These women were stylish and beautiful and confident. They wore bright colors, no sleeves, loud patterns, short shorts. Modest and immodest. Casual and Chic. Elegant and down-to-earth. The styles varied, but all of them were fat bodies.
I got out a tape measure one day and took my measurements – measured around my hips and waist, my chest and bust. I measured my thighs and my calves. My upper arms and my wrists. I set my camera timer up and took a full length shot of me and then I wrote the measurements on to the picture.
As I scrolled through the fashion photos of these other fat women I started to compare my measurements with theirs. “She is beautiful! Our waists are the same width?” “Oh, that dress is LOVELY. We wear the same size?” Seeing their beauty, helped me to see mine. If they could walk confidently, make light-hearted comments about thunder thighs, then perhaps I too could stride with confidence. Perhaps I too was beautiful?
I soon began posting my own fashion pictures. I had never been the epitome of style, but experimenting with new styles and putting my picture up for a bunch of strangers to affirm was validating in so many ways. There is much to be said for being seen. For having strangers and friends acknowledge your existence – – and no small part of that is for your existence to be acknowledged as it truly is. It does me no favors to say, “You’re not fat! You’re beautiful!” as if the two are mutually exclusive. To deny a factual part of who my body is, a part that influences my interactions in this society and this economy on no small level, is to deny a fundamental part of who I am.
Seeing pictures of other fat women, learning to embrace my fat self in pictures, allowed me to say, “I am fat.”
It is a neutral adjective if we are just talking about my body shape. It is a loaded adjective if we are talking about the way this society tries to manipulate me so that I fear my body. It is a loaded word if we are talking about the subconscious and conscious biases that are stacked against me in the job field, in healthcare, in education, in relationship-building – because my body is perceived as “wrong.”
So I do not shy away from the camera. I smile and I act serious or silly. I join in on family pictures and groups of friends. I am intentional about making sure there are full length photos of me, sometimes intentionally catching “unflattering” angles to remind myself that “flattering” does not belong to those who view me only as part of the market.
It’s part of being visible – seeing the photos helps me to remember that my body is fat, and that matters because it’s a political and social statement to be fat and not trying to be skinny.
And I hope that the photos of me that others may see will do what the photos of others have done for me.
What about you? How have the images you’ve seen (or not seen) of others influenced your self-confidence?
We have one week until the first big holiday feast of the season! Here’s some tips for Thanksgiving dinner, but they’ll work to get you though the entire holiday season as you seek to keep food off your thighs!
1. The first is so easy most of you probably already do this when you gather to dine with friends and family. So, you just need to commit to following through on this during the holiday festivities.
So here’s the tip: Wear clothing that covers your thighs while eating your Thanksgiving dinner.
2. But sometimes fabric is thin and gravy is hot. For an added layer of protection, add a napkin on your lap. Whether your gathering is the “paper towel” or the “cloth napkin” variety – finding an extra layer to cover your lap will help keep spilled wine or dropped cranberry sauce from ever touching your thighs.
3. The next one is tricky depending on the formality of your particular dinner. Don’t fret if you’re in a very informal atmosphere or in a crowded place where the only seating left is on the couch – tips 1 and 2 do a great job of keeping dinner off your thighs. However, if you are eating at a table , scooting your chair as close as possible to the table will also provide a substantial barrier between your food and your thighs.
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