It’s Christmas break and we are officially in full holiday swing baking cookies, watching cheesy movies, and requesting Alexa play all our favorite carols on repeat (ask me about a dubstep version of Carol of the Bells I am fervently enjoying at the complete annoyance of my family!).
Lola’s off school of course, and she already celebrated with a secret santa gift exchange between her friends. I’m not sure how anyone’s getting any real work done these final few days of the year; I know I’m not even pretending to work over here.
Instead I put an “out of office” reply on my email and I’m drinking coffee by the Christmas tree, which stays lit 24/7 these days, and contemplating the treats Lola and I have baked to eat later this week; full-gluten sugar cookies with royal icing, fantasy fudge, and Christmas Crack, just to name a few (if you haven’t tried the crack, you are required to close this tab and immediately click that link, I’ll wait).
Thinking about all the treats has me considering all the years I spent avoiding treats altogether, because of what it would mean on January 1st to have to give them up again. I worried, rather unnecessarily as it turns out, that a few moments of culinary bliss meant I’d pay dearly on the eliptical later, or be unable to control myself aroud sugar in the future.
We tend to talk about and orbit around food like an addiction, and for many, it is.
But a couple of years ago I realized: there’s a girl with round cheeks and a perfectly heart shaped face watching my every move, especially my movements around food. All it took was her asking me a couple of times if something she wanted to eat was “good or bad” for me to know I had to stop assigning moral value to food. All food is good in moderation became my new mantra.
This attitude shift for my daughter’s sake helped begin to shape my overall opinion about my body, and I’m grateful to say these days I truly do not care what size dress I wear (thanks especially to a global pandemic for putting this issue into perspective for me!).
But body confidence hasn’t always been my reality.
I grew up with a grandmother who, depsite being loving, was thin-obsessed and severely critical of different body shapes. I remember she once told my dad how “benevolent” it was that he stay with my mom, “even though she got fat”.
Growing up, I heard a lot of messages about how the food we eat will come back to bite us in the oversized ass later:
A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!
Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels!
And when I got chubby in elementary school and the boys started making fun, my dad gave me his idea for the perfect response:
I may be fat but you’re ugly, and I can lose weight.
I used that line on a boy picking on me at youth group one Wednesday night, thinking it would make me feel victorious; instead, right after I said it, I ran to the bathroom and cried.
My fatphobia followed me well into adulthood. I tried diets, prescription pills, and literal street drugs to get the kind of results I saw on the covers of magazines and on MTV. In my 20’s I bought The Hunger Games from one of the endcaps at Target without reading the description, thinking surely it must be a clever title for some woman’s memoir about dieting. I was wrong!
Having a daughter of my own and loving her no matter what she looks like, never wanting her to change a single thing about who she is, has helped me gain a greater appreciation for my own body — just as it was made. Still I struggle with what to say sometimes, and I get it wrong a lot.
It was just after Christmas vacation just a couple years ago when eleven year old Lola came home to say someone had scratched the word FAT into her desk during the break.
I was furious. That was her desk, where she’d sat every day before the break and would sit every day until the end of the school year, and now she’d have to stare at that word all day. When she told me, I did not know what to say, and I regret what I eventually said emphatically:
“No you are not fat!“, etc etc etc.
Her mouth formed a thin flat line as she said nothing at first, which clearly communicated it was the wrong thing to say in the moment, but I didn’t have the verbiage for anything else. I wished I had kept my mouth shut.
A few weeks later I was up north photographing a weekend retreat and sharing a room with my friend Hannah, a brilliant thinker and keynote speaker who is not thin. I decided to share with her what had happened with Lola, mainly my lame response, and ask her what she would have said to her own daughter instead.
“Kylee, you have to reframe this. Fat,” she said as we did our makeup in front of the mirror, “is a word that describes a body shape. That’s it. Fat is a body type.”
I’m ashamed to say I had never considered it this way – that fat, like thin, was simply a descriptor. Nothing more, nothing less. Any emotional weight or extra meaning we assign to words like “fat” or “skinny” is entirely on us – though, society hasn’t helped *any of us* form our own opinions about the issue.
We’re changing that now, slowly but surely, molding our society into a more accepting one for people of all sizes to experience joy in their bodies. This is a good movement! But it’s only a start.
Brands including more actual-sized women in their marketing, rather than idealizing women into whittling themselves away, is a start. Companies creating clothing lines that reflect the average woman is also a start, like seeing Lizzo on the cover of magazines is a start. Influencers with huge platforms calling out diet culture and declaring truth over us that our bodies are GOOD when we are starving to hear it, is just a start.
But it’s a good start.
Okay so you might be wondering, that day when Lola came home from school and I opened my mouth to say the wrong thing, what did she say in response?
Lola, being infinitely wiser than I was at her age, looked at me puzzled and said,
“Mom, I’m not mad about it. Mr. B. says that when people bully you, it says more about how they feel about themselves than you anyway. So, that person must be really sad.”
And yet again I am reminded through the lens of my daughter’s vision that no amount of external acceptance matters unless you accept yourself. And in these strange social media times where kids her age are starving themselves to look like the tiny tummied stars they scroll past on tiktok, it made me consider that Lola might actually be okay.
Like so many women, I will likely struggle all my life with the negative thought that being smaller means being more worthy of love, even if I know it isn’t true.
One recently lazy Sunday we were in the living room talking bodies, when my nephew said I’m thick – “but like, thicc“, he reassured me, “in a good way”. I didn’t mind. At that moment, Christian walked over and wrapped his lankey arms around the curves of my body, reminding me yet again the struggle is almost entirely in my head.
It turns out there’s nothing to worry about around the Christmas cookies, not during a pandemic year or any other year.
It turns out fat is a word that describes a body’s shape, just like thin, just like tall or short or any other descriptor.
It turns out your body is, in fact, a temple of God’s spirit, just as you are — whether you gained 15 pounds last year (like me!) or lost a hundred due to grief. Your body is a temple where God lives.
And God’s spirit within you is a gift you don’t have to earn putting in time on the treadmill.
19A Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, whom you have [received as a gift] from God?1 Corinthians 6:19A
Later, over New Years, Lola and I will make mac-n-cheese with five specialty cheeses from the fancy cheese department. I have already adjusted the button of my jeans with an elastic, maternity pants-style.
I’ll check in on my emails and delete any that tell me I have to lose weight now that it’s going to be January. I will take special delight in hitting “unsubscribe” on the series of messages from a faith-based fitness program telling me to “say NO to sugar and YES to God!!!!!”, as if God is not already as near as our next breath, no matter what we eat.
And even later, on the last day of holiday break, I will consume the final bites of fantasy fudge from the dwindling christmas cookie container, feeling no guilt, no room for shame.
This must be what acceptance feels like.
But if you cannot accept yourself, consider how greatly Jesus already accepted you: by conforming to a life of sorrows and a gruesome death here on earth, while securing a position for us in good standing with God — a place none of us could ever earn for ourselves, no matter how “good” we are at following an eating plan, no matter how “hard” we work at our health. He did that, because he loves us: just as we are.
In the end I’d rather be busy accepting who I am than worrying about my weight any day.
I’d rather be thicker than a snicker, if it means I’m happy with me.
And that right there is the mentality I want to take with me into every new year.