“Be vulnerable. Be honest. Be open and show your heart. That's the best way of telling your heart that the tigers are no longer in the grass.”
Many years ago, I spent a week visiting a musician friend of mine in Brooklyn. Alex and I had started a recording project together before he and his family moved away from San Francisco, so I took vacation time and flew cross-country to wrap things up. While his wife went to her job and his then-five-year-old son was at school, we’d lay down missing percussion tracks, listen carefully to the vocals, and finalize the last details before mixing started. He and I always wind up laughing hysterically together, so the week also reminded me of why he’s among my very favorite people.
On one of my last nights, all four of us ate dinner together. The food was delicious and the conversation lively. I felt again how much I’d missed them. Then out of the blue, the five-year old turned to me and said matter-of-factly, “You’re fat.”
There was an astonished silence. His parents quickly admonished him to apologize. Time slowed down.
In the brief space between his statement and my reply, I remembered everything I’d endured around my weight. Peers at school who would moo at me in the hallways or tell me I had my own gravitational field. People who acted insulted at the notion that I might have a crush on them. The constant diets my mom imposed. Doctors who could see nothing else about me. Internalized self-hatred that led me, among other things, to refuse graham crackers in kindergarten because they had too many calories.
This little boy’s words touched old, tender wounds. But this time, I took a breath and decided to try something different.
“That’s right,” I said. “I am fat. Just like your dad is tall, and you’re short, and your mom has red hair. Isn’t it cool how bodies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes?” Alex and his wife immediately picked up on what I was doing and chimed in with other examples.
By reclaiming the word “fat” as an adjective rather than an accusation, I didn’t just teach a kindergartner about the beautiful variations among human bodies. I reminded myself that my tender places are a source of strength—and that the tigers are no longer in the grass.
Spirit of Compassion, help us draw strength from all that we are. Give us new language with which to claim our wholeness, a new litany of joy built out of words that wounded. Journey with us as we strive to open our hearts wider until we hold everyone with compassion—including ourselves. Amen and blessed be.