[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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This morning as I drove over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house to hang out with my niece for a few hours I had the radio on to the local Christian station. They were talking about some McDonald’s diet. “Oh, here comes another Super Size Me conversation” I thought, but it was different. They talked about some science teacher who ate McDonald’s for three meals a day for something like six months and actually lost weight. He also added a walk to his daily schedule and didn’t have the same “eat everything on the menu, always say yes to the upsize” rule as the guy of Super Size Me fame did, but still, he ate McDonald’s for three meals a day for six months and lost weight and some of his other health markers (cholesterol and such) went down.
I was briefly encouraged by this conversation. I’m not a fan of McDonald’s for a variety of reasons –but I recognize its immediate affordability and efficiency in the lives of many people and I like to avoid demonizing people who are just trying to make life work or choose other hills to battle on.
So I was somewhat encouraged by the conversation on the radio for a minute – a conversation that pointed out that everything we assume about health and food isn’t necessarily true. That “bad” food can equal weight loss and lower cholesterol.
But, without missing a beat they went immediately into, “It’s all about discipline. It’s about self-control. If you make wise decisions you’ll lose weight. We just need to have self-control.” I lost count of how many times some form of discipline or “self-control” was said. Once again emphasizing that our weight is somehow all in our hands and our choices and if we are smart enough and dedicated enough we’ll lose weight. We can even do it at McDonald’s now –if we just make the right choices. I am not advocating against self-control. I’m advocating against the equation that self-control=weight loss. That assumes that the “right’ answer to that equation is thinness. That’s a faulty equation.
And then the morning show hosts segued into the music and when I heard the opening notes I turned the music up and sang loudly along:
Bring your tired and bring your shame
Bring your guilt and bring your pain
Don’t you know that’s not your name
You will always be much more to me*
I sang the words as a prayer – that these words’ appearance in the memory-building method of song would stick around longer than the shame-inducing words that came before it. That the words of the song would ring true inside the minds of the radio DJs – that they would know our bodies are not an acceptable place to hang our shame, that our bodies are not up for spiritually-backed scrutiny. That our bodies are called Redeemed. I sang the words loudly as a prayer that the others in their cars and homes and offices listening to the same juxtaposition of “be self-controlled and make yourself right and slim” with “bring your shame. . . .when others say I’ll never be enough…there’s a voice that calls me Redeemed” would hear the beautiful life-giving truth in the song and hold on to that.
Theologian Marva J. Dawn talks about the community of believers God desires for the Church.** Dawn, who has physical handicaps of her own (debilitating disease that affects her legs and vision), acknowledges that she cannot live up to the body demands placed on her by others or by herself. She asks: “What kinds of pressures are you under because you have let yourself, society, your family, or others around you put you there? How has that pressure caused you to function even less effectively because of the guilt and frustration associated with the failure to meet the performance principle? Notice how such conformity destroys our [community] as Christians.” (pg 35) She laments her own struggle to accept her handicapped body after previously living an athletic life. Dawn says, “I want to learn to rest in the knowledge that I am doing all I can to take care of my body. There are no requirements.” (pg 34) That is the peace I want for every fat Christian. I want to encourage nutrition and activity to the best of one’s abilities because our bodies are important, and then tell these bearers of the image of God that there are no requirements, you may rest.
[image background: the nightly view out my apartment window for a couple years. Those sunsets always initiated a deep, cleansing, breath.]
* Mercy Me, “Greater”
** Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Be the Church, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.)
Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone (IVP Books, 2013)
Reviewed by Nicole Morgan
Rachel Marie Stone’s book Eat With Joy is an exploration of a journey towards “eating like a Christian.” Stone deals with this issue holistically, tackling issues such as the health and perception of our bodies, ecological concerns and sustainability, care for our neighbor, and the spiritual practices related to food and community. The book’s chapters focus on viewing food as a gift from God, the importance of giving food to others, the significance of shared meals, how to view food as a part of picture of sustainability, how to glorify God in cooking and eating, and finally how to tie it all together to “Eat With Joy.”
As someone who has long been interested in the often volatile relationship humans have with food and the way it impacts how we see ourselves and those around us, I have been looking forward to reading Stone’s book. I was not disappointed. Stone does a good job of talking about our bodies and health without falling into the trap of advocating a certain “perfect” body type. This book is also, thankfully, not a “devotional diet” book. I was happy to see her inclusion early in the book acknowledging that the church as a whole has done little to combat (and at times has enabled) the damaging lies the media tells us about food’s relationship to our body.Read the full review in PRISM Magazine. jnicolemorgan.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com
[image: photographing the happy couple at my younger brother’s wedding]
Netflix released Gilmore Girls on their streaming service last month and I, along with many other people, have enjoyed traveling back to that quirky little Connecticut town and following the saga of the Gilmore Girls and crew. When people talk about body-positive characters on television – Sookie St. James is a go-to example. Sookie was a well-developed character who was a normal person – she had friends and family. She got married, had kids. Her size was not the butt of jokes or self-deprecating comments. Other characters were also fat on the show – Miss Patty the dance instructor and her pal Babette – – both who got to just be interesting people on the show, not props for fat jokes.
And yet as I’ve been re-watching the show, I’ve noticed that Gilmore Girls is not a particularly fat-positive show; the fat jokes abound. When it’s time to criticize someone or suggest that someone is undesirable – fatness is a go-to example. It’s not an overarching theme that is blatantly obvious or anything, but it’s there. Had I more forethought I would have recorded all the fat jokes as I watched them, but I didn’t, and I’m not about to start over. If you would like to take on that project, that would be lovely!
Yet despite the fact that Lorelai, Rory, Luke, Emily, Richard, Logan, Paris, and others make comments that fat is somehow bad or undesirable – those comments are never made directly to or about Sookie, Patty, or Babette.
When I first started looking at size-discrimination and how it affected my life I had a few people tell me, “but you don’t act fat.” On another blog years ago I posted the picture that’s in this entry and said I loved the picture and it’s candid beauty- capturing me in a moment I was enjoying. That was a big step to see beauty there since my arms have always been the hardest part of my body for me to love. Someone commented that they too liked the picture and didn’t see me as “fat.” Which confused me because the picture clearly shows “fat.” It can be both a good picture and a picture that shows a fat person – these things are not mutually exclusive.
What we mean when we tell a person that they don’t look “fat” is that they don’t look sloppy, lazy, ugly, disgusting, stupid, undisciplined, trashy. These are the connotations we have for fat. When we say, “Oh you don’t look fat! You look lovely!” we are assuring our friends that they are still socially acceptable, that they aren’t one of those fat people.
The obvious problem here is that some people are definitely fat. It needs to be OK to use that word. That word deserves a neutral stance as an adjective. It’s why so many people in the body-positive community embrace that word and use it proudly. I am so used to calling myself “fat” in the same tone as when I report on my brown hair or blue eyes that every once in a while when I meet new people, I see the way they are caught off guard. It’s a radical act to take a word that is being used as a weapon and to assign it to yourself, to make the public see that when you use “fat” like an insult that you are talking about me, and you and I both now know that’s unacceptable.
When we acknowledge that our friends and loved ones – the people we know to be smart and ambitious, dedicated and loving, disciplined and full-of-life, can also be people who are fat then we will start to see the humanity of all fat people rather than dismissing them as caricatures of undesirable qualities. When we acknowledge that our friends and family are fat and still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and love then we start to recognize when we make unconscious judgments about strangers based on little more than their body size. We start to not cringe when we are seated next to a fat person on an airplane. We begin to catch ourselves when we make snap judgments. We learn to better love our neighbors when we start to critique the way we use words that are deemed “negative” and who we assign them to and who we say are exempt from them. And if our own body is fat, when we start to realize that our fat friends and loved ones are people worthy of love and respect – then we start to realize that maybe our bodies have not doomed us to a life of shame and rejection.
Language matters. Understanding our language and how we use it for each other and ourselves matters.
[image: a satisfying dinner at the end of a long stretch of exhausting days]
Last night I came home from work and went immediately to the kitchen to start cooking dinner. It was the end of a seven day stretch of work days, three of them starting at 4 a.m. My sleep schedule was off, I was fighting off a scratchy throat that usually signals that I’m about to be knocked out for 24 hours, and my feet were killing me. I was craving some comfort food, and for me, that meant setting a pan of quinoa to boil and finally figuring out a way to use that grapefruit I’d had sitting on the counter. I scrounged around the cupboards and fridge and found some dried cranberries, walnuts, kale, a little bit of feta, and some broccoli and made myself a delicious salad with a grapefruit vinaigrette. It was a delicious meal full of layered flavor and just what I needed to feel calm and at rest after a crazy, exhausting week.
I’ve always loved cooking and food – but there were many years where I was ashamed to admit my love those things -thinking it would surely lead into a fat joke of the “of course she does!” variety.
If I am hungry and tired and want something that is going to give me energy and make me feel satiated – I will most likely crave something like my kale, quinoa, and grapefruit creation. But there are times when the sweet warmth of an apple crisp is what is desired. And sometimes the celebration of cake and ice cream with the smell of blown-out-candles wafting through the air is just what the occasion ordered.
Eating, and at times feasting, is part of our life. (For those of us privileged enough to have the food and resources and time to devote to feasting.) One of my favorite stories of feasting in the Bible is one that is completely counter-intuitive to our contemporary wisdom about food or “justice.”
In an article I wrote, I pointed out that “in the story of the Prodigal Son, the wayward son squanders his life on excessive living; he is a glutton. When he returns he is not met with strict rules of deprivation and a focus on what not to do; instead he is met with a feast. The father reminds him of the reasons to celebrate and rejoices with extravagant and abundant food.”
So much of the “devotional diet” advice is to restrict and limit and count. The overarching theme seems to be that we can’t be trusted with food. We talk of moderation, as if that’s the goal and the end and the way we know we are doing it right. There are of course ways to abuse food, to be wasteful, to eat in ways that show disregard for our fellow humans and the rest of creation. Moderation has it’s place – but sometimes, we feast.
And the Prodigal Son is not the only one who got to feast.
The ancient Israelite feasted regular – ordained holidays set aside to bring the best to the table for a time of celebration. We are continually told throughout scripture of a wedding feast. Jesus performed his first miracle at a feast – adding better wine to the celebration already going on.
There’s much to say about how our contemporary society has a problem with over-consumption, how we are on a downward spiral of always wanting more and better and new and bigger. There’s much to say about the differences in biblical feasts and the way we feast today. There’s a lot to say about that that is valid and true and important – but today, three weeks away from Thanksgiving in the United States and just a few more until Christmas – I want to remind you that feasting is good.
Feasting is God-ordained. Feasting has beauty and power and meaning and importance. Feasting is part of family and community and learning to love the people that share this planet with us.
You are allowed to feast without shame. You are allowed to enjoy the familiar smells and tastes and company without feeling guilty about what it will do to your waistline. You are allowed to change the conversation as directly or subtly as you wish if a fellow diner insists on spoiling the festivities by mentioning scales or the gym in some judgmental, shame-inducing way. You are allowed to proclaim your love of the food and the togetherness no matter what size your waistband is.