Naked Fat Bodies: A Mental Exercise For Dani Mathers

This story about professionally beautiful Playboy model Dani Mathers fascinates me.

I’m glad there was a huge outrage about her violation of someone’s privacy. She broke the rules of the club and also broke the unwritten decency code of social media. It is always interesting to see how those “best practices” get tested and established over just such violations as this.

We all have cameras now, and we record and photograph each other as strangers all the time. That’s normative. That cat is out of the bag, but this wasn’t a cat, it was a pterodactyl attack.

But I want to talk not about social media, but about the premise of most of the articles written about this story, which is that fat people who are naked or scantily clad in public live in terror of being judged.

No, we don’t.

I’m a fat woman who wears a two-piece bathing suit, strips down at the health club with no hesitation, and changes backstage in dressing rooms among fit, young dancers without thinking a thing of my body shape and size.  Anyone who is judging me is judging themselves far more harshly, so I chalk it up to human nature and wish everyone well in their struggle. When you’re writing an article about fat bullying, please do not assume that all fat people have internalized fat phobia.

Dani, you’re a mess, honey.

You’ve got the body beautiful thing down. Now please work on your spirit, which is already badly warped.

I think I read that you’re a model, which must mean that you’re spending your time in an appearance-obsessed population where a slightly rounded stomach or bit of butt jiggle can mean the difference between paying the rent that month or racking up the credit card debt.

I get it, but you need to liberate yourself from the Playboy bunny cage. Get out more. Spend time with a variety of humans of differing body types, abilities, fitness levels and ages. You will undoubtedly discover that your “#goals” are petty concerns to many of them. You need some perspective.

I personally would have felt less disturbed by what you did if you had simply violated the other woman’s privacy and written something critical about her weight. But you wrote, “You can’t unsee this,” which gives me the chills.  “You can’t unsee this” is a total erasure of a person, a complete dehumanization, and equates an ordinary naked body with a horrible grotesquerie that might scar someone for life upon beholding it.  No one says, “You can’t unsee this” about an image that is less than utterly shocking or disgusting. You can offer pathetic apologies all you want, but we all know what that phrase means.

You need to work out your mind, girl. I feel obliged to inform you that that’s all you’re going to have to support you when your body isn’t young and fit or suffers ill health at any point along the way.

Here’s a mental exercise you can do while you’re at the gym or anywhere else. As you notice people around you, focus on them and really see them. They are a collection of fascinating individuals.  Try to imagine them as a tiny baby, then a toddler, then an elementary school age kid, and so on up the life path to elder years, and then end of life, and then death. Remember that you, too, will die, and that none of you knows how, where or when. Let humility touch your heart. As you breathe in and out, breathe in, “I am grateful to be alive in this moment.” As you breathe out, think, “I wish everybody around me the wellness that they, too, seek by being here.”

I hope that helps.  I hope it helps Dani and anyone who suffers from similar spiritual screwiness. For everyone else, let’s continue to challenge and dismantle the irrational belief that slim people are in any way morally superior to fat people.








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What A[n Imaginary Friend] We Have In Jesus

[I wrote this for a recent Unitarian Unviersalist Christian Fellowship online newsletter. – VW]

One of the most ridiculous accusations sneered at Christians is that we are so intellectually and emotionally weak as to need an “imaginary friend” in God or Jesus.  I have heard this expressed by dedicated atheists and even Unitarian Universalist Humanists and I must admit it always makes me think rather less well of the person making the accusation. I want to say in Sophie Tucker tones, “What’s it TO YA if someone has an imaginary friend?” I had one myself when I was a little girl.  Her name was NANCY DOG and I would draw pictures of her with freckles and whiskers and pigtails that looked strangely like beagle ears. I palled around with Nancy Dog, my invisible hybrid canine-human companion, for awhile until I lost interest in her, but she was a nice companion for a season in my life when I was often left out of neighborhood kid and cousin playtimes because I whined a lot and wasn’t yet able to tie my own shoelaces.

I can tie my own shoelaces now.

If someone’s God-concept includes a sense of the divine Almighty as a friend, that seems pretty benign to me, unless God is the kind of friend who encourages you to go ahead and have that affair with your hot co-worker because you only live once, or the kind of friend who seems addicted to crisis and never texts you back because they’re OMG SO BUSY CAN’T TALK BUT I NEED TO BORROW $200 JUST FOR THE WEEK CAN I DROP BY LATR WAIT NO JUST PAYPAL LOVE YOU XOXOXOXOXOXO

There is a quote often attributed to Emerson that reminds us that a person will worship something, have no doubt of that. Whether or not Uncle Waldo actually wrote this, I believe it. As a corollary to this idea, I am also pretty sure that everyone has invisible friends but are often not aware that they do. I have known people with some nasty and abusive invisible friends, so what is the harm, really, of settling God in there as a loving, supportive presence to counteract some of the toxic voices within? Not everyone can afford years of therapy or a retreat at Kripalu or the Omega Institute to develop worthy imaginary friends of the soul.

As for the “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” crowd, I  personally find it a wonderful thing to have a friend in common with millions of people across the world and down throughout thousands of years of history. Sure, lots of those people were hateful, power-crazed sadists and miscreants, but I’m afraid the evidence is in that evil and viciousness is a consequence of human nature, not of heartfelt devotion to the most troublesome Jew to come out of Nazareth.

Jesus is actually a demanding friend, too, in case the scoffers don’t know. He is not all hugs and approval and pithy one-liners. He is actually confrontational and insistent about why you’re not doing more, and he is way worse about money than your moocher friend. Just because Jesus’ friends mostly ignore his advice doesn’t make him the bad friend in the equation.

As for “imaginary,” I don’t see it as a pejorative. My father died when I was seventeen and I often recall him to my memory; does that make me weak and irrational? When the anti-imaginary critics see a large, extended family having dinner and telling stories about Grandma Who Passed, do they snicker at them for wasting their time in such flights of fancy? I am sorry for anti-imagination people. What a cruel and dull worldview that is.

What is going on when people are gathered in the memory of their imaginary friend Jesus or in the memory of their (now alive only in imagination) Grandma? Something very similar, actually. Grandma loved those people, and because she loved them, they belong to her  — and through their connection to her they belong in some way to each other.

It’s the same thing with Mr. Jesus. He is not a religious Tinkerbell we resurrect by clapping hard enough when her light goes out at the matinee of “Peter Pan.” He was a person who, as the story has come down to us, extended love, compassion and care to all of us and promised to be around in spirit for anyone who wanted or needed him to be. “I am definitely with you always, until the end of time,” is a very cool and generous offer Jesus made, and a lot of us are taking him up on it.  He also said that if even a few people who love him want to hang out together and wish he could be there, he would be there.

Relationships are not subject to scientific equations, nor are our weird inner lives. Love is the magic that makes it possible. If you kiss your child goodbye before going on a business trip and tell her that you’ll be with her no matter how far away you are, love is the magic that will make that true for your kid. If you both have wi-fi connection and a computer or phone, you can FaceTime or Skype to be together in real time. For Christians, Scripture and memory are the technology that connect us with Jesus in real time.

In Hebrews 11:1, it says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” On the days when all that I can see fills me with dismay and hopelessness, I am grateful for the love, memory and tradition that connects me to Jesus and to the community of his other friends and followers. There is  nothing imaginary about that.

Photo Jul 14

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How Much Are We Morally Obligated To Pay Attention And Feel?

The religious question that consumes me lately is “How much am I morally obligated to know about the suffering and injustice in the world and what do the wisdom teachers say about how to FEEL about it?”

Christian religious practice helps some.

I know that I am obligated to do what Jesus did as best I can: feed people, really see them in their hurting, forgive, live in community, then get crucified and die a terrible, agonizing death, only to make a spectacular appearance a few days later, impress everybody to the point of changing history forever, and then peace out to heaven.

Got it. No, I really do. I got it. It’s pretty clear.  I also know that I am supposed to pray, because Jesus taught that and also he was Jewish so that reminds me, I am also informed in this question by Jewish religion, which I sort of inherited from my paternal line (Mom is a shiksa, so I’m not legit in the tribe).

Jewish wisdom says to be smart and be good and to love G-d and do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Almighty. Jewish wisdom also informs me that humans have an intimate relationship with the One G-d and that that power cares about us, and we have to care about each other. Feeling is part of that; evidence of our humanity and, I presume, a divine aspect of it.

Which raises the question: if we were created in the image of God, is the capacity to feel a part of that? Certainly the G-d of the Hebrew Scriptures is an emotional being!

The dramatic G-d of Western tradition (“He” gets less demonstrably emotional by the time Jesus comes on the scene) orients me toward a passionate response to life, but I am still at a loss as to how much evil and suffering I can or should try to know about, understand and respond to emotionally as a moral being (this may be because I am becoming more deeply Unitarian Universalist, a religious tradition that emphasizes the profound and inescapable interdependence of all creation and all peoples).

I will tell you what I do.

I first focus on my community. That’s my job and my calling and my responsibility and that is clear. Not easy, but clear. The clarity of it, and the limited scope of it, is a joy to my soul even when the pain is deep among us. I know that that person and that other person and those other people are in my spiritual care.  I know their names and their faces. When terrible things happen to them I can sit with them in person and offer my body, mind and heart to them for whatever they are are worth. When they die, I perform the rituals and utter the official prayers on behalf of the Church that express the inestimable value that their life has had, no matter how seemingly insignificant to history or posterity.

I focus on my extended community. I walk through it, I learn it, I listen for what’s going on in it, I participate. My prayers for community have names attached to them and sometimes faces. I know how I am connected in the web of these relationships.

I have studied and learned systems : family systems, historical institutional systems, legal systems, legislative systems, educational systems, systems of power, sociological systems. I feel somewhat clear about how I am called to pray about and work with suffering that arises from injustice, evil and immorality that is built into systems. My anger and rage and sadness can be translated into work, and the work helps direct the intensity of emotion.

But as technology makes it possible for me to be aware of the specifics of suffering in places I will never see and barely previously knew existed, including in the suffocating recesses of the sick human psyche of the guy down the street, I do not know how much I am morally and spiritually obligated to feel.

This is not a life coaching question or a therapy question. Please do not offer therapeutic responses: I am not interested in them. I am not interested in Brene Brown or Anne Lamott or the self-help book response. I am seeking wisdom from the world’s greatest teachers and saints that can speak to this uniquely information-dense time in history.

In my opinion, it is not an adequate response to simply say, “Take a news break.” I think that’s good advice, to be sure, but it does not address the moral urgency of this century’s spiritual crisis, which is that any individual with a computer and wi-fi has a front row seat to the savage character of the human species, often provided with validating video footage.

One can turn off the computer.

One can follow and pray through it, as I do, in the faith that there is a dimension beyond this one within which the focused energy of one person may somehow matter to the experience of another. At any rate, I cannot not do it. If I was bleeding out my life in a bombed out hospital somewhere, it would bring me comfort to know that someone, somewhere, truly gave a shit.

This is why I am so grateful for monasteries, full of people whose life work it is to pray or chant on behalf of all of us.

Perhaps feeling in and of itself is just a series of survival responses and not of any moral significance at all. Certainly Buddhist wisdom would point in this direction. I have scheduled a July retreat with a Buddhist spiritual director in order to explore this possibility and to do healing work. I am both drawn to, and anxious about, the way Buddhist wisdom about suffering and non-attachment may challenge or even just plain clash with the “feeling” God of my experience and understanding.

Every time I think about me having to do healing work, I remember the girls chained to radiators in Ohio or the doctors collecting body parts in Syria or the mother of four going to her third job on the bus in the July heat and I want to sink down in mortification. When I want to rejoice over my vacation time, I think of child laborers in diamond mines and am silent. This is not just the guilt of a privileged liberal. This is the moral confusion of a religious human being who knows that she will never understand why suffering is so inequitably distributed (yes, I know about history and colonialism and greed and exploitation – that’s not the kind of analysis I’m interested in) and wants to be guided by holy wisdom in the appropriate response to it.








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