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There are many today who believe a person's sexual orientation is fixed from birth and revealed later in life, often through the decision to "come out" to friends and family. Increasingly, in culture and in law, people identify themselves by their sexual attractions.

A growing number of people also believe that gender is fluid--that is, gender is a social construct that goes beyond the binary of "male" and "female" and includes various expressions that fall outside traditional norms and do not correspond to a person's bodily form. This belief has led some to identify themselves with whatever term they believe best describes them: transgender, genderqueer, bigender, and so on.

These developments should not come as a surprise. We live in a society influenced by the philosophical currents of late modernity. Our devotion to radical human autonomy intersects with a new view of freedom: we are free when we overcome nature and the body. Freedom and "equality" requires the rejection or redefinition of "norms" when it comes to sexual behavior, sexual preference, and gender.

Most likely, the next phase of this cultural shift will challenge the norms of health and beauty.

What does it mean to be healthy? What does it mean to be beautiful? Are these not social constructs, too?

Coming Out as Fat

A recent episode of This American Life, "Tell Me I'm Fat," chronicles the journey of several individuals who have struggled to come to terms with their weight and appearance in light of society's expectations.

In the first segment, Lindy West speaks to the damaging notion that thinness should be the norm and that fatness is exceptional:

"The way that we are taught to think about fatness is that fat is not a permanent state. You’re just a thin person who’s failing consistently for your whole life. . . . So to actually say, OK, I am fat--and I have been as long as I can remember, so I don’t know why I live in this imaginary future where . . . someday I’m going to be thin."

Fatness is a bodily reality; therefore, it should be embraced. According to this line of thinking, the word "overweight" is problematic because it "implies that there is a correct weight for people."

Fatness and Health 

No matter what you currently weigh, you may be thinking: Wait a minute! Aren't there medical reasons that should lead us to maintain a healthy weight? Yes, of course there are!

But in a world in which no one agrees any longer on what the human body is for, why should those reasons matter? When it comes to gender, marriage, and sexuality, we have already abandoned any notion there being a telos or goal for human existence that is given to us by nature or by God. In light of that loss, who's to say a certain weight is truly healthier or better for a person?

Do you see how the logic plays out?

  • Our bodies have no ultimate meaning or purpose when it comes to sexual intercourse. "Heteronormativity" refers to privileging sexual relations between a man and a woman designed for the reproduction of humanity.
  • Our bodies have no ultimate meaning or purpose when it comes to our gendered physical forms. How else do we explain the government’s agreement to pay for the mutilation of perfectly healthy reproductive organs in order to "confirm" one's perceived gender identity?
  • The individual parts of our bodies have no ultimate meaning or purpose. This why some people now ask doctors to amputate healthy arms or legs or blind their eyes if they believe they are "transabled.”

Why, then, should "health standards" matter for what we weigh?

If there is no ultimate purpose or meaning of the human body (apart from whatever we, as independent individuals, decide such meaning to be), then beauty and health must be created, not discovered. And what society has traditionally said is "healthy" may be radically different than how people today construct their own definition of health.

A psychology professor recently criticized doctors for "medical fat shaming" in order to "motivate people to change their behavior," because this “malpractice” is stressful to patients. "Sizeism" must be confronted, just as "sexism," "ageism," "classism" or "transphobia."

Seen in this light, Michelle Obama's fitness and food initiatives are exercises in discrimination, reinforcing the prejudiced notion that one should strive for a certain kind of physical form. According to those who come out as fat, no weight is better than any other weight. To assume otherwise is to further prejudice.

Fatness and Beauty 

No weight is better than any other weight when it comes to beauty either. No physical form should be considered more beautiful than another. Neither fatness nor thinness is objectively desirable.

Lindy West believes we should change society's expectations of beauty so that fatness will be accepted. "Fat rolls and arm fat and bellies," she says, "what if I found that objectively beautiful? What if I decided that's beautiful?" If we decide what constitutes "health," why not "beauty," too?

In the end, all we are left with is difference and diversity, where the only way to find happiness is to accept your current state and oppose anyone who would be prejudiced in some way against your appearance.

Testimony of a Trans Fattie

I've been reading Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, a resource for the transgender community that explains the gender theories that drive the transgender movement.

Early in the book comes a testimonial from someone who identifies as a "Trans Fattie." Note how the story ties together "coming out" as transgender with accepting one's fatness:

"I am a genderqueer, trans woman. I also weigh over 400 pounds. These two realities have shaped my life in ways I never imagined, for both better and worse."

Here's how the story begins, with a little boy who feels out of place in society for reasons related to gender and weight:

"When I was a young, fat, feminine boy, my teacher was concerned that I was both out of shape and not behaving like the other boys when it came to recess and athletics. This is just one instance when my fatness and my transness came to be inextricably linked."

The first "coming out" was as transgender. But watch how the story unfolds as this person feels the implicit judgment of society due to weight gain:

"As I grew much fatter, I started to notice the discrimination and stigma from my family, my doctors, and the 'caring' friends who expressed their worries. I became much more aware of the constant fat-shaming in the media, and the push by the medical establishment to forward the notion of the 'obesity epidemic' and the need for dangerous gastric bypass surgeries."

Acceptance of this person's gender identity didn't go far enough. Discrimination and stigma remained, only now it surrounded weight not gender.

Note the quotation marks put around the word "caring." The writer implies that it is judgmental and unkind for someone to express worry for your mental or physical health. The only way to show your love for someone is to accept everything about them as good, or normal, or acceptable. (To see just how radical this notion is, imagine if this were the story of someone struggling with weight loss instead of weight gain, and the only way to show kindness to someone with anorexia was to affirm the weight loss, no matter how damaging or life-threatening!)

"But when I came out as queer and trans back in the early 1990s, I made a promise to myself: never to allow others to make me feel bad about who I am. I was sick and tired of others hating on me in a misguided attempt to puff up their own sagging self-esteem. . . . Fatness is a benign characteristic much like being blond, or left-handed, or tall, or flat-footed. It was not being fat that was the problem, but the prejudiced society in which the fat person lives."

Few doctors would say "fatness" is benign, like being blond or tall. Still, the person here has decided that the problem is the prejudice of society, not one's weight.

"As people who are marginalized due to our bodies and our identities, the trans community should be natural allies to the fat community. Sadly, I have witnessed a lot of fatphobia in the trans community. . . . We have learned the value of affirmative slogans over the years: Black is Beautiful! Gay is Good! Trans is Terrific! And the latest: Fat is Fabulous! In order to be a whole, healthy community, we must celebrate the dazzling diversity of everyone and stop the fat-hate once and for all."

The "coming out" as fat is the next stage in this person's self-acceptance, and then after the conversion comes the mission: rid others of the sin of "fatphobia" until they accept people for who they are.

Wrong Turn

What is happening here?

Our society is entering the next phase that follows from our radical notions of human autonomy and freedom. There is no cosmic order, nothing essential about human nature, no objective truth, and no absolute morality. Freedom today means the individual can (and must) define his or her own reality. And, increasingly, the definition of love has been twisted into accepting an individual's self-definition.

Despite the efforts of some to show how compatible this view of human nature and freedom is with Christianity, the historic and biblical understanding of the world is very different.

First, we must recognize that gender and weight are not the same kind of thing. We are born male or female. But a number of factors can affect our body's weight, and these factors often go beyond choice and discipline.

Second, we must reject "body shaming," bullying, or the promotion of unhealthy social stereotypes (the beautiful Barbie is always skinny, and so on) that harm people who may be out of line with societal expectations. We believe in the dignity of all human beings because we are all made in the image of God. Human worth is not affected by human weight.

Third, as Christians, we recognize that in a fallen world we all face challenges with our bodies. We are all broken in one way or another. The answer is not to normalize our brokenness, but to long for resurrection hope. As theologian Oliver O’Donovan has written:

“The sex into which we have been born is given to us to be welcomed as a gift from God. The task of psychological maturity--for it is a moral task, and not merely an event which may or may not transpire--involves accepting this gift and learning to love it, even though we may have to acknowledge that it does not come to us without problems. . . . None of us can, or should, regard our difficulties with that form, or with achieving that good, as the norm of what our sexuality is to be.”

Finally, and most importantly, Christianity’s dissent from gender ideology gets to the root of what it means to be free.

We do not believe that freedom is best defined as the absence of limitations or constraints, or the escaping from societal norms. Freedom is not from our bodily constraints, but freedom for life within the grain of the universe, to live in a particular way. Freedom means to flourish within what Marilynne Robinson calls "givenness of things"--accepting certain constraints within which we fulfill the original design God has for us.

Likewise, we do not see nature as something to overcome, or the body as a tool that can or should be shaped however we please in order to fulfill our deeper aspirations or identities.

We believe there are answers to the question: What is the body for? And we do not believe that every answer someone gives to the question "What is the best way for me to flourish within my bodily form?" is equally valid or will lead to human flourishing.

Following from this, we do not seek a world devoid of all judgments, where all choices are seen as good, or where the idea of "norms" is discriminatory. Our vision of human flourishing depends on the willingness and courage to call people to live in line with God's design. We do this morally, when we discourage a person's flaws and vices, and we do this physically, when we call people to live in light of God's design for health.

Today's buzz words of "stigma" and "shame" and "judgment" would rid us of the notion that we should oppose any part of our neighbor's personality. But the Christian view is that when we oppose a person's vices or unhealthy habits, we do so because we love our friend and desire their best. And this vision of what is "best" comes from outside ourselves, not from inside.

This is the fundamental dividing line in our society. Is truth created or given?

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15 thoughts on “On Coming Out as Fat”

  1. Gerry Collins says:

    Very interesting and accurate take. We could also ad AGE to the mix. I don’t feel like I’m elderly; I consider myself 30 again! I don’t feel like I’m 10 years old; I consider myself to be 22! In this example, we see the absurdity of it all. We can’t just ‘decide’ we’re something we’re not.

    Overweight people often strive to lose weight, knowing the health risks of being overweight. But some overweight people are already experiencing those health concerns in heart attacks, kidney failure, weakened knees, and a host of other very real issues! And many can’t say ‘I was born this way’, because they weren’t – they KNOW that they’ve done it to themselves.

    But sexuality? Surely, we can’t apply the same ‘logic’! How about a kleptomaniac? Surely it would be a violation of their human rights to be jailed for doing what they were born to do! But no, it seems that too many ‘Christians’ also seem to pick and choose which portions of scripture they feel like obeying, if any at all! After all, we were born this way! And in this statement, we’ve finally hit some truth – we WERE born this way – we’re all SINNERS in need of a Savior to help us turn away from our natural state as sinners! So when a person wants to claim that they are what they feel they are, they could be right. But since our natural state is always wrong – whatever our sin of choice is – we need to turn from our natural state and run towards Jesus Christ!

  2. Luke Lilevjen says:

    In this article, the author asserts that there is a biblical standard of health and body shape. What are they? What scriptures support such a claim?

    1. Suzanne Evans says:

      I cannot find that assertion. Do you mean he implies there is a biblical standard of health and body shape? Even that I do not really find, other than that what we have now is a distortion of God’s original design due to the fall. “We recognize that in a fallen world we all face challenges with our bodies. We are all broken in one way or another. The answer is not to normalize our brokenness, but to long for resurrection hope.”

      1. Jacob says:

        But what about the scientific fact that humans are biologically hardwired to find certain body shapes more attractive? Did God design men to be attracted to women with ideal waist-to-hip ratios and conversely for women to be attracted to men with ideal shoulder-to-waist ratios? What about facial symmetry? Or was this the result of the fall?

  3. B. says:

    It’s an interesting take, but medicine has moved toward this thing called “evidence-based medicine” that guides patient education and treatment decisions, and determinations as to what is a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle are based on data through research; with prevention now being a key factor in controlling healthcare costs, what is “normal” and “healthy’ is not quite so subjective. We knowwhat a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle will do to the heart, pancreas, and kidneys. We know what excess weight does to the joints over time. People are free to make informed decisions, but thankfully the medical community has research data to provide in order to actually inform that decision. And, I believe that one day – probably sooner rather than later – we will have the data to show the wreckage that this gender experiment will leave behind. One can only hope and pray that there will be a rational interpretation of that data.

  4. Topher Grace says:

    So I’m trying to understand the point of this article. Being against certain doctors shaming fat people is a bad thing. Doctor’s should shame overweight people. Fat people finding themselves beautiful, or advocating that they can be beautiful is a bad thing because beauty standards are objective truth and they don’t include fat people.

    This is also all tied into homosexuality and trans-sexuality. Because trans people advocate for changing what is masculine and feminine, ergo fat people advocating for acceptance are trying to change the natural standard of beauty, which is thinness apparently. I don’t know if this is what you are trying to say but I have read this article twice and that seems to be the implications of what you have written. I really think this article needs to be rewritten. A big problem is the author does not define what constitutes a fat person, or what a beauty standards are.

  5. Gracie Wheeler says:

    Most people don’t realize just how badly some doctors treat overweight people. I’m all about giving the facts of the situation, but many doctors are quick to make assumptions and talk to us as if we are stupid and uninformed. In fact, when I was pregnant with my son, he almost died because the doctor assumed I had gained a lot of weight because of my diet and not because of pre-eclampsia. He wouldn’t listen to me. I’ve been laughed at and ridiculed by several doctors, and I’m not even considered grossly over weight. So it’s not that us fat people feel like doctors are bullying us if they want to discuss losing weight and we get our feelings hurt by hearing the truth, it’s their attitude and the way they approach it that is so degrading.

    1. Topher grace says:

      This happened to my wife as well. The doctor just assumed the problem was her weight and didn’t listen to her and she almost died when she gave birth. Doctors need to avoid shaming overweight people and listen to them not just assume the answer is to lose weight.

  6. Noel says:

    Trevin, I enjoy reading your thoughts and often find them very helpful and clarifying.

    This post, however, I found a little troubling. Are you saying there is a body type that is godly and a body type that is ungodly? I speak as a person who has never struggled with weight and, even after birthing 11 children, I still look pretty good by worldly standards. So no sour grapes here. Are you saying that there is a baseline of righteous weight and a point where we cross into sinful weight? Are you saying that if I am 5’8″ tall, I will have a righteous weight of 140 lbs and a sinful weight of 160 lbs?

    Your main authority for your position in this article is medical evidence. And while medicine is helpful and an area where man has taken much good dominion, medicine can, at best, only offer good secondary/supporting evidence for issues of spiritual concern. In other words, one can argue the harms of homosexuality from a medical standpoint. But what makes homosexuality a sin is that God, not medicine, says it is. Dissimilarly, God does not speak that crisply on weight issues.

    Your position appears to be scripturally untenable and, therefore, unconvincing. But I would be willing to concede your point if you can argue persuasively from the Word. :)
    Thanks in advance.

  7. “No weight is better than any other weight when it comes to beauty either. No physical form should be considered more beautiful than another. Neither fatness nor thinness is objectively desirable.”

    That’s a lie. Why lie to people? There are objective standards of beauty. Exceptions make bad rules. That’s not fat-shaming, that’s the truth. I’m not saying to pick on heavy people, but affirming them to make yourself more popular is not loving.

  8. This would get you fired at Google.

  9. buddyglass says:

    “What does it mean to be healthy? What does it mean to be beautiful? Are these not social constructs, too?”

    Healthy? No, not a social construct. Beautiful? Almost certain to have a biological basis, but also largely a social construct, especially as it relates to “fatness” or “thinness”.

    First, health. “Healthy” is going to look different for different people given genetics plays a huge part in weight. Also worth noting is that being overweight doesn’t really start to negatively impact health outcomes until you get to the “obese” point. There are modest effects for people who are only “overweight”. There’s also the matter of being “overweight” correlating with poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle; one wonders to what extent these things are causing the negative health outcomes and not being overweight per se.

    Now, beauty. Research has shown there’s a specific waist-to-hip ratio that men find most attractive in women. This is true across many different cultures. What’s not constant across cultures is how much weight men find optimally attractive on a woman. Some cultures prefer women heavier; some thinner. This also changes over time within a given culture. Today, Marilyn Monroe would be considered overweight. So, yes, beauty is, to some degree, a social construct.

    Other things are more universal.

    1. Jacob says:

      Don’t forget that there’s a specific shoulder-to-waist ratio that women find most attractive in men and both men and women alike are attracted to people who have symmetrical faces.

  10. Liz says:

    As someone who has struggled with weight for most of my life, I actually find this slightly offensive. And I’m not usually sensitive about these things. I may not at all fall into the category of fat you’re describing (though you never defined it, so my 30-pounds-more-than-I-want feel included).

    My doctor just recently told me that my goal weight wasn’t realistic for me given my genetics and medical background and he encouraged me to be content with where I am because I’m healthy (and shooting for less weight loss if I wanted) even though I feel like I’m too fat. And societal beauty standards would definitely agree with that. I don’t look like the magazines. And I struggle with body image sometimes because of it. And that was hard to hear from my doctor because I’ve been working hard for months to lose the weight and it’s a painfully slow process (think a few pounds a month).

    Now I’m not saying you’re completely wrong here, and I think I understand your point that we’re losing Biblical absolutes (no arguments there), but I would encourage you to rethink the tone and presentation of the article as I don’t really appreciate the assumption that because of my weight (which apparently does have something to do with genetics) I have given up all godly standards/absolutes.

  11. Jenny says:

    I appreciate Noel’s articulate, thoughtful, and kind response. I also appreciate the responses of other commenters like Topher, Liz, and Gracie. As a believer and a therapist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, I am heavyhearted and frustrated by what I just read.

    As Liz’s comment stated, I take no issue with the argument that Biblical absolutes are challenged and undermined daily. However, the suggestion of this article that SUBjective beauty standards can prove that one’s weight is OBjectively harmful is ill-founded. Determining one’s ideal body weight requires consideration of a variety of factors, such as family history/genetics, one’s developmental trajectory across his or her childhood/adolescence, one’s activity level, and one’s age/height. I know several respected physicians who treat eating disorder clients on a daily basis who would concur, and they treat the full spectrum of disorders, including Binge Eating Disorder. So these are not physicians who stay silent when weight increases and poses an objective threat to one’s health. However, when that does occur, health metrics are presented as rationale for weight reduction – and are presented in a respectful, collaborative, compassionate manner. But if health metrics are optimal, then one’s weight is not a medical problem, even if it falls outside of societal beauty standards. And sadly, for every one of my clients who has had a positive experience with their physician about their weight, I have dozens more who have had quite the opposite.

    I can track with the argument that weight CAN be linked with health, but it does not *always* correlate, as this article seems to imply (i.e., a person in my life who carefully manages her nutritional intake, is active, and has an optimal BMI still requires medication to manage her cholesterol due to her genetic makeup, while many others fall above the ideal body range but fall withIN the normal range for glucose levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and the aforementioned cholesterol). I think Noel’s point is excellent – at what point is someone’s weight considered godly or ungodly? To suggest there is such a distinction made by God is untrue. And to suggest – if someone fights against beauty ideals that harm one’s ability to respect the body, be a good steward of it, and recognize the beautiful work of a Creator in the physical being, regardless of size – that they are hacking away at the authority of Biblical absolutes is, frankly, insensitive, condescending, and just plain mean.

    I read the entire article, hoping for the moment when the author wrote something akin to, “Though one’s health can be threatened by one’s weight, one’s worth cannot. People are not ‘less than’ because of their weight. A person’s worth is stable and unchanging because each one is created in the image of God. What God creates has worth, even in its imperfect form. Health and weight are not one-and-the-same, just like temptation and sin are not. But those seeking secure worth can find it in the servant-hearted life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, who does not love, or regard as beautiful, what the world does.” I was disappointed that no such drop of mercy or kindness was offered. Instead, this article seems to defend the notion that people who are overweight or obese are “objectively” unattractive, and it goes a step further to suggest that their commitment to the absolute truths of the Gospel is in question as well if they try to reject the harmful beauty ideals of a human society. It makes me wonder, if we are to be in the world but not of it, how does agreeing with the body ideals of an appearance-obsessed culture help us do that?

    So, I leave this comment feeling saddened as I think about the potential negative impact of this article and the positions herein. Please, sir, be mindful of your tone. Remember that audiences of various types and with various struggles read your words. Fight for Biblical truth – absolutely do – while being careful not to claim beauty is a Biblically-defined construct. Give more thought to whether health and weight are truly interchangeable ideas.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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