I think just about everyone has been ready for 2016 to fade away, to get a fresh start in 2017, right? For me, a new year is like starting a new journal--clean, crisp, and unblemished by ink or wear. And so, every year in late December, I try to make some space to sit down and think about the year ahead, to prepare for what is coming and to dream a little.
The word that came to my fingertips as I wrote about 2017 a few weeks ago was a familiar one: dignity.
A little background:
My body tells My story. It's the whisper that I heard in my heart as I was spending time in the adoration chapel in the first few days of 2016. It's the whisper that has changed my life, because if Jesus lets his wounds tell me of his love for me, I can let my body tell my own story of love. Yes, I can steward this body God has given me, but I don't have to be ashamed of it--on the contrary, I need to love it. But how? I've been so trained to yearn for thinness (or health or fitness or whatever euphemism is popular) and to make it the goal of my life. How different would my life be if I chose to love my own flesh and blood, and to stop assuming that I wouldn't have anything to offer to God or to others until I wasn't fat anymore? I had written a little about it in a blog post called To All the Fat Girls back in June 2015, but it was proving to be a hard lesson to learn. In the Jubilee Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, could I learn to have mercy on my own body and the bodies around me? I knew that I wanted to try.
So, in early 2016, I made the decision to be an outspoken voice to and for fat Christians like myself who have felt sidelined, marginalized, and just plain forgotten in our churches. My first published piece in 2016, Oprah's Best Body and the Body of Christ, was about how churches can get caught up in culture's beauty standards instead of proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. In my second piece, Christians and Plastic Surgery, I followed that up with the concept of letting our bodies tell our stories. I started blogging regularly about being fat in church, and I found that I wasn't alone--that fat Christians (and fat people in general) have been pushed to the fringes and told, whether directly or subliminally, that they would be more valuable and accepted if they weren't fat.
Being vulnerable with my own journey in being fat in church led me to meet another Christian who was talking and writing about fatness and faith, J. Nicole Morgan. (Can I take a moment to say how wonderful it is to find a kindred spirit via the Internet?) Nicole put me in touch with Don Clemmer from Our Sunday Visitor, which led to both of us being interviewed for his piece, Dignity at Every Size.
Dignity. That word stuck in my heart. It resonated within me. In the Year of Mercy, I realized that I needed to have mercy on my own body. I realized that I had to offer mercy to the bodies and souls around me. And why did I need to do that? Because of the inherent dignity that each person possesses. Each of us bears the image of God, and that reality alone makes each of us worthy to be loved and to be treated with respect and kindness.
When I started writing about fat acceptance and body positivity, I got push-back from some Christians. "Shouldn't we be healthy as a way to honor God?" is a question that comes up frequently. The answer lies in what really honors God: loving Him and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Treating people with dignity is rooted in acceptance of each person. "Fat acceptance" is another way to ask ourselves to see that we are worthy of being accepted just as we are. It's not about doing something to earn acceptance. It's about offering the love and kindness of God to each person we meet. It's about learning that the upside-down kingdom of God uses the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
I have concluded that size dignity activism better expresses what God has called me to as I speak out against injustice and mistreatment of fat people. The lessons I have learned about being fat in church are applicable to so many areas of my Christian walk; injustices that exist because of size can be similar to those that exist because of race, age, ability, and orientation. As I seek the Kingdom of God, I commit to seeing the inherent dignity in each person I encounter, no matter how different she is from me, or how foreign his life is to me.
Join me? It may not be size dignity for you--maybe it's the inherent dignity that your Muslim neighbor possesses, and it is being threatened. Maybe it's the dignity of the unborn and the elderly that you stand up for. Maybe it's the inherent dignity of the people whose skin and culture are unlike yours. God loves, accepts, and calls us into relationship with Him just as we are, and that is how I long to accept and love my neighbors. Let's do it.