The odds are high that you have at least one friend who is fat. How deep does your friendship go?
I was on a walk with a friend. We had known each other for several years and were talking about deep things.
"Can I talk to you about something hard?" she asked. I nodded. I don't normally run from hard things. She continued, "I'm worried about your health." My heart sank. This friendship wasn't safe anymore. From that moment, I knew that every time this friend saw me, all she was thinking about was my weight. If I was 'doing better' and losing weight. Or if I was 'doing worse' and gaining.
I had put on about 30 pounds in my first year of marriage and I didn't really know what to say to her. I knew I was fat. I knew everyone who met me could see that.
Here are some things you need to know, friend.
1. I know that I'm fat. I don't need you to tell me.
There is absolutely no need to point out to anyone that they have gained weight. I already know. Your fat friend is likely very aware that everyone around them knows, too. Our society does not let anyone get away without a knowledge of their size and how they fit in the echelons of weight and fitness.
2. I have wounds from the judgment of others and myself. So when a friend comes to me, couching an observation about my weight in concern, it signals to me that they are comparing me to someone--my former self, themselves, or other people. As hard as this is to grasp for nonfat people, this is dehumanizing. You might say, "But this friend sounds truly concerned for you. Shouldn't a friend be able to express concern to another friend?" In the area of fatness, I'd say no. Why? Because our culture is doing enough to tell fat people how concerned they are for their health, which turns out to be a code for disgust. You can express concern about your fat friend's health in many other ways. Ask, "How are you doing, really? How is your life? Any stresses? Anxieties that won't leave you alone? How can I bear your burdens?" This is much more helpful and it communicates true concern. If a fat person wants to talk about being fat, let them lead the conversation. By listening and being there for them, you are being a good, concerned friend.
3. I need you to love me, not in spite of my fatness, but with that as a part of me. I am not just fat. I am a whole and integrated person. My body is inseparable from my being. But when you talk to me about my weight or my appearance, no matter how sensitively you think you're being, I feel like you are reducing me to my size. I am not just fat--I am funny and intelligent, creative and caring, silly and insightful. Don't let our friendship be defined by my weight or your perception of it. So don't talk to me about being fat unless I bring it up. Talk to me about all of who I am, what I am into currently, what music is touching my soul and what tv shows are making me laugh and cry, what books I am reading and what I think about our country's needs in leadership, what God has been teaching me and how I am going to change the world.
Here are some practical ways you can start loving me--your fat friend--in a more excellent way.
1. Admit your bias and repent of it.
The stereotype of fat people is that we are depressed, lazy, unhygienic, and in possession of a death wish. Of course, there are fat people who fit each of these descriptors, but my guess is that these are just as frequent among nonfat people as they are among those who are fat. I know fat people (and am one of those) who takes joy in life, who love to be outside and romping through nature (or just sitting peacefully), who bathe regularly, and who are anything but lazy. American media presents us so awfully that I'm pretty sure you have a bias against fat people that you're not even aware of.
Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where you have judged people (or yourself) because of what they weigh. Ask specifically about judgment or preference you may have shown because of weight in your personal life, your professional life, and your church. Where he convicts, confess and repent. It's his kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and I bask in that kindness, because it brings healing for myself and for others.
2. Ask God for wisdom and grace in your friendships with and future encounters with fat people.
It is amazing how faithful God is to answer prayers like this. Ask that he will let you see your fat friend just like he does. Nothing more, nothing less. You will reap a great reward when you start to see how mistaken you have been about people--of all sizes--and how precious each one is to him, how beautifully created is each one.
You will probably have to challenge some of your deeply-held assumptions about worth and performance to stop thinking about my weight, like "If she just worked out..." or "Calories in, calories out--that's what it's all about..." The reasons for fatness are multitudinous, and even as well as you might know me, you still don't know the whole picture.
3. Channel your newfound insight and concern into prayer.
If you're a Christian and you're concerned about me, pray for me. Don't pray for me to 'get healthy' if what you really mean is for me to lose weight. Pray for me to know I am loved. Pray for me to see myself like God sees me. Pray for me to feel free to be truly myself, unshackled from the expectations society puts on me, like I owe my body or my health to someone else.
Now get out there and be a better friend. I'd really like that.
Originally published at FatinChurch.com, August 2016.