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  • Minna Bromberg

Free Your Passover from Fatphobia!

You've heard of the four cups of wine, the four children, the four questions? How about "Four Ways to Free Your Passover from Fatphobia?!?"


At Fat Torah, we believe in confronting weight stigma wherever it shows up and deploying Jewish tradition for the liberation of all bodies. We'd love to hear your thoughts on other ways to make your Passover even more liberatory as we relive the mythic journey from Narrowness (mitzrayim) to Freedom. And now, without further ado....


1. Unleaven your weight stigma. Too often, as a fat woman, I have cringed through people making chametz (leavened foods, like bread) analogous with fatness and claiming that our aim in not eating chametz during Pesach is essentially an effort to refrain from things that make us "bloated.” Sometimes they are "kind enough" to make it clear that they are talking about the fatness of egos and not bodies, but that doesn't really help. When your spiritual analogies reinforce stigma, it's time to find different analogies. We want our holidays to be spiritually meaningful, and so we make our own meaning out of practices which might otherwise be hard to “make sense of.” But we need to beware of bringing not only our modern sensibilities, but our modern prejudices and our modern oppressive systems into our analogizing. As Rabbi Lauren Tuchman put it (when she and I had a chance to talk about living in marginalized bodies), "Stop using my body as your metaphor." Fat people are not here to serve as a metaphor for chametz.


2. Let my people sit. As fat people, we need and deserve seating that accommodates us. Especially at a seder—when we are meant to be reclining and enjoying the (sometimes quite long) experience—making sure your guests in larger bodies can sit comfortably is an important part of being welcoming. Be mindful of whether the chair you offer can hold someone's weight. Some fat folks need chairs without arms or with arms that accommodate their size. And by all means, seat people in such a way that they can easily get into and out of their seat, as well as to the restroom. This is about hachnasat orchim (the value of hospitality). It's about making the space accessible. It's about acknowledging and combatting structural aspects of weight stigma. It's about seeing the genuine needs of the people in your space. When people accommodate my needs, I feel seen. When they pretend I don't have any such needs, I feel unseen. Humans are not only all worthy of respect and dignity, they are worthy of being seen as exactly who they are, including their unique needs. Ma rabu ma'asecha (How manifold are Your works!): honoring size diversity is another way of honoring the awesomeness of the diversity of creation. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l writes "the unity of the Creator is expressed in the diversity of creation." Don't make your seder "one size fits all."


3. Stop the idolatry of healthism. Originally coined by Robert Crawfod in his 1980 article “Healthism and the Medicalization of Everyday Life,” the term healthism refers to “elevating health to a super value, a metaphor for all that is good in life.” In doing so, we also turn “health” itself into a moral obligation and often fail to see societal determinants of health. Instead “healthism reinforces the privatization of the struggle for generalized well-being.” What this means theologically is that we essentially turn health into an idol to be worshipped. Humans have a tendency toward being worshipful and our tradition’s concerns about us “turning aside” and worshipping other gods feels well placed. In our day, we have clearly fallen prey to this kind of idolatry, subscribing to diet culture’s assumptions that we can control our bodies and our health through what (and how much) we eat. When healthism is overlaid on pre-existing weight stigma, we have a recipe for oppressing fat people as well as policing the bodies of those who are not fat but fear what they may become. Not only is this illusion that our health is in our control not supported by science, it is spiritually damaging. Any time we worship that which is not Infinite, we cut ourselves off a little bit more from being fully alive. And the more we moralize about our bodies and what we eat, the less time and energy we have to concern ourselves with actual moral issues. As Carol Munter said nearly 30 years ago, “Imagine the power that would be unleashed if women stopped body shaping and started world shaping.” This is especially important at Passover, when we acknowledge our people’s bravery in being willing to move from the comfortable, controlled environment of enslavement and into the unknown. It is understandable that we wish we could control our health if only we ate the right amounts of “good foods” and refrained from eating “bad foods.” Luckily our tradition, and especially Passover, offers us wondrous examples of how we might instead face our understandable fears and walk free.


4. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Releasing ourselves from healthism, diet culture, and fatphobia, we can then be truly free to enjoy seder. Watching my baby latch on to my breast, there is no doubt in my mind that we are built to be unabashed in our desires and to take pleasure in our bodies and in feeding ourselves. While releasing our judgments around eating and our false assumptions about fat people is important in ending weight stigma and increasing the life chances of people in larger bodies, you can be sure that this practice will be liberating for people of all sizes. Fatphobia impacts the self-judgment of anyone who is in the midst of or recovering from an eating disorder as well as the many more people (and especially women) who have disordered relationships with food and their bodies (even if they don’t meet the clinical criteria for an eating disorder). This Passover may we truly eat and be deeply satisfied and lift up blessings of gratitude for the freedom that is our birthright.


Wishing you and yours a sweet Pesach!

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