Here on the Fat in Church blog, my goal is to ask questions and provide talking points for Christians who are fat in church and their Christian brothers and sisters. So here is a really important question:
Are you biased against fat people?
This isn't just a question for "skinny" or "normal" people, because fat bias exists in people of all sizes, and it is detrimental to our calling as Christians.
Here are some things to consider when you are evaluating if you are in possession of an anti-fat bias:
When you see a fat person that you do not know, do you think that if they lost weight, how much better their life would be?
When you see a fat person that you don't know, do you get concerned for their health?
When you see a fat person that you don't know, do you think they could dress better if they lost weight?
When you see a fat person that you don't know, do you assume that they eat poorly?
When you see a fat person that you don't know, do you assume that they don't exercise?
When you see a fat person that you don't know eating a hamburger and fries, do you think, "Well, there's their problem"?
When you see a fat person that you don't know in pain, do you attribute it to their fatness?
When you see a fat person that you don't know who is sick, do you think that their illness is caused by their fatness?
When you see a fat person that you don't know who isn't married, do you think that if they lost weight they would be able to find love? \
When you see a fat person that you don't know, do you assume they they are unhappy?
All of these thoughts--these 'snap judgments'--reveal an anti-fat bias. The reason I specify "a fat person you don't know" is that you have to know this: your fat friends are encountering these negative thoughts from people who don't know them every day. And a lot of times, strangers communicate these things verbally to your fat friends.
Also, I'd be willing to bet that the first few times you met your fat friends, you had these kind of thoughts about them. Maybe you still do, after years of friendship. Anti-fat bias is an insidious way of thinking that devalues and dehumanizes your fat friend.
Why should we as Christians want rid ourselves of anti-fat bias?
First of all, carrying anti-fat bias--as culturally acceptable as it is--is antithetical to the love of Jesus. Jesus created fat people with the same care and love that he created each person. He loves us with an indefatigable love that can't be swayed by the circumstances we encounter or the decisions we make. He accepts us as we are and finds us lovely. He delights in us and encourages us. He does not use shame as a motivator. He compels us with great compassion, tenderness, and love. When we follow Jesus, he invites us to see the people around us like he does--with eyes of love and compassion. Anti-fat bias prevents us from doing this well.
Secondly, as followers of Jesus, we are called to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Making assumptions based on cultural stereotypes about fat people is damaging and unjust. The negative thoughts you have in your head about fat people you encounter may not seem like a big deal, but think about how our thoughts influence our decisions. Fat people are regularly treated with disdain and disgust. Anything wrong that happens to us is considered "our fault." Heart attack? Should have lost weight. Diabetes? All our fault. Cancer? That's what happens to fat people when they ignore current medical opinion. Never mind that skinny people have heart attacks, diabetes, and cancer? Any time these things happen, they are tragedies. But 'normal' or thin people are given compassion while fat people are the subject of blame and disdain. Our initial judgments of fat people affect how we respond when life gets hard. The disposition of our hearts toward fat people has a real impact on people deeply loved and cherished by God.
Now, you may be asking--
But what about being concerned for my fat friend's health?
Your fat friend's health is actually not for you to comment on. If you are concerned, pray for them. Ask for God to give them health in their body and soul and mind. Ask God to give you kindness and compassion to be there for them when they need you. Trust that they can hear God. Our culture already gives fat people an overdose of fat concern. It's called "concern trolling" and it is everywhere. Trust me, your fat friend knows all about losing weight and the benefits it supposedly gives. She is not blind to the "lose weight, feel better, increase your life expectancy" narrative. She hears it every day from people who don't care a fig for her. Be different. Show your care in a different way, like in being a kind and thoughtful friend who sees her for more than the shape of her body. Even if you are a medical professional, if someone isn't seeking your professional advice, don't be a concern troll. Trust God to lead your fat friend, to hear him for herself.
But what about wanting my fat friend to be happy?
Revelation: FAT PEOPLE CAN BE HAPPY. Thinness or being in shape is not a magical cure for sadness, either. I know plenty of miserable skinny people. To assume that someone will be happier if they weigh less is an indication that you connect being happy with being thin. Your fat friend doesn't need to be thin to be happy. He can find love as a fat person. He can enjoy the beautiful world around him without changing anything about himself.
If you realize that you indeed carry an anti-fat bias, ask the Lord for the courage to leave it behind. Let his truth renew your mind as you think on his love for yourself and your fat friend. Stand up for your fat friends when the culture rips them apart. Be a safe place for us to be ourselves without being self-conscious about eating a burger and fries. Compliment us on our personality, our humor, our creativity, our wisdom and insight.
You may have no idea on what you're missing out on because of the anti-fat bias you hold. Friendship is an invitation to experience more depth and beauty than you have let yourself see before.
Originally published at FatinChurch.com in September 2016.