After thirty years in fat activism and ten years in the rabbinate, I was ready: ready to start being much more vocal about confronting weight stigma when it shows up in our Jewish lives and yearning to share my joy in reading Jewish tradition through a fat-liberatory lens. Part of this readiness was definitely born out of new parenthood and my deep desire to use the fullness of my voice to create strongholds of Jewish body justice in my children’s lifetime, if not my own. So, I founded Fat Torah and got down to the work of writing, mentoring, and teaching—in synagogues and Hillels and through Fat Torah’s own growing community.
I quickly found that when I teach about smashing the idolatry of fatphobia and creating communities where all bodies belong, I am often asked this question in some form:
Can I support fat liberation and still want to lose weight?
Here’s my answer: My dear sweet person, there is not a single desire that you are not allowed to have. This is actually one of my favorite things about Judaism: the acknowledgement that we go astray, we sin, not at the level of desire—but at the level of action. It is completely natural to want things—like permanent weight loss—that are unlikely to come to fruition or to want two things that are incompatible with one another, because our wanting itself is beyond our control. As Paul Simon sings: “The open palm of desire wants everything, it wants everything, it wants soil as soft as summer and the strength to push like spring.” Our desires are just like a seedling pushing through the soil. It doesn’t know where it’s going. It has no morals one way or the other. It only wants.
You are allowed to want to lose weight for purely aesthetic reasons or because someone (let’s face it, nearly everyone) keeps telling you it will be good for your health. You are allowed to want weight loss because you’re dealing with body dysmorphia and hope that weight loss will help you feel more at home in your own skin. Those who suffer from illnesses that they believe are worsened by being fat are allowed to want relief from their suffering. And, God knows, you are allowed to want to lose weight—as most of us fat people have wanted at one point or another—because fatphobia sucks and who wouldn’t want to assimilate into thinness if it were an actual choice?
People living under the scourge of weight stigma, much less weight stigma plus intersecting systemic oppressions such as racism, misogyny, transphobia, and/or ableism, are allowed to want out of being associated with others who are similarly oppressed, even if it means throwing the rest of us under the bus. You are allowed to want to lose weight without knowing why. And you are allowed to know exactly why and not have to explain or defend yourself to anyone. Your body is yours as much as my body is mine. As a fat woman who gets endless unwanted “input” about my body, I say this plainly: you do not deserve to have anyone tell you what to want for your body any more than I do.
But. And this is, indeed, a very big “but.” Honoring our own desires and wants does not mean fulfilling all of them. We can, thank God, choose which of our seedling desires to water and which to “thin out.” This is not the place to expound on facts based on decades of research showing that diets don’t work and that sustained weight loss is impossible for the vast majority of people. However, I certainly hope you make informed choices about how to act on your desires. I also hope you are aware of the resources—evidence-based Health at Every Size dieticians, eating disorders specialists, and doctors—that are available to you if you decide to take a weight-neutral approach to physical, mental, and societal well-being.
I also hope you ask yourself what the relationship is between your desire to lose weight and systemic fatphobia. It’s this bias that leads to unequal pay for fat people, doctors’ prejudice against their fat patients, and even fat students receiving lower grades for the same work than their thin peers. Since the personal is political, ask yourself: Should my individual choices around this issue be reflective of my moral ideals and, if so, how?
Maybe it’s never occurred to you to think twice about casually, yet constantly, wanting to lose weight. Or maybe you’re well-versed in fat acceptance and wrestling with this desire nonetheless. Either way, I certainly want you to be thoughtful about how you speak about your desire. In Jewish tradition, we know that speech can be used powerfully both to harm and to heal. Praising weight loss as a goal often reinforces real harms; this is especially true when you are speaking from a position of authority—as a teacher, a doctor, a clergy person, or a parent speaking to (or in earshot of) your children.
Whatever choices you make about how to act on your desire to lose weight, please know that your desire itself is completely normal in a society that puts so much emphasis on weight loss as a cure-all—not to mention a diet industry that deeply wants you to contribute to its $72 billion business.
And even if you manage to free yourself of this desire in the moment, it is not clear to me that the desire to lose weight is ever entirely escapable. As a large fat woman who gave up on intentional weight loss as a sixteen-year-old–having been dieting since I was seven–I still occasionally have a voice inside that wishes my body was smaller. I regard this as the kind of “strange thoughts” that Hasidic masters warn us about—thoughts that may seem dangerous or sinful but that can be lifted up and traced back to their roots in the desires of God Godself.
If the desire to lose weight arises after a particularly stigmatizing doctor’s visit, I acknowledge the thought and say to myself, “I want all people to live in a world free of weight stigma where we can be sure that our size does not determine whether we get competent healthcare.” Or when I was single and I found myself thinking that I would surely be able to find a partner if I were thinner, I would say to myself, “I do wish that everyone could be valued for who they are and easily matched with people who love them inside and out.”
So here’s my own desire for you: may you feel your wanting fully, may you be empowered to make the choice that is best for your own sweet self, and may you join us in using the heat of our desires to reshape this world into one where all bodies belong.
Founder and president of Fat Torah, Rabbi Minna Bromberg, PhD is passionate about bringing her three decades of experience in fat activism to teaching, writing, and joyous change-making at the nexus of Judaism and body liberation; her forthcoming book is Belonging for Every Body: a Fat Torah guide to building inclusive spiritual community. Minna lives in Jerusalem with her husband and two children.