**This article contains spoilers for the season 2 finale of This Is Us.**
Kate Pearson got the big, beautiful wedding in the Season 2 finale of This Is Us. It is the first time that I have seen a woman my size get a traditional wedding on the screen. Beautiful dress. An on-trend venue. All of the bells and whistles… for a fat bride.
Yet, while Kate Pearson got so many aspects of the traditional big wedding—the beaming family, the happy husband, the photographer taking gorgeous artsy photos, dancing, and a toast—Kate didn’t get a cake. I re-watched the episode and didn’t even see it in any of the side shots. There is no mention of it. We don’t get to see Kate celebrate her marriage by cutting a slice of elegant cake befitting her wedding celebration. We don’t get to see the newly married fat couple shove cake in each other’s faces, as I’m sure Toby would have loved to do.The church has far too often failed to critique the way our culture shames the bodies of those outside the ideal and given theological weight to claims that some bodies are more godly than others.
Even from our first introduction to This Is Us, we’ve known that Kate Pearson likes cake. The first time we see her on screen in the trailer—that played over and over and pulled America’s heartstrings and convinced us to tune in on Tuesday nights—Kate Pearson is standing in front of an open refrigerator staring at her 36th birthday cake. On the outside of the plastic cake container is a sticky note that reads, “Do not dare to eat this cake before your party, Kate. Love, Kate.” She takes that sticky note off to reveal another underneath it: “Seriously, what is wrong with you?” Kate scowls in frustration at the barriers she created to prevent herself from consuming the cake before the party. Presumably, the entire cake is at risk. In Kate’s next scene in the trailer, she is about to weigh herself and has taken off her clothes, trying to rid herself of as much weight as possible. We watch her pause and remove her earrings before stepping on the scale. Next scene in the trailer: she is begging her brother Kevin, “Tell me to wake the hell up. Tell me to lose the damn weight.” Flash to her throwing food in a garbage can. Kate’s final scenes in the trailer show her meeting Toby, but even then, her body size is a central feature to her story. Toby asks, “Do you want to be fat friends?” and Kate replies, “I can’t fall for a fat man right now.”
Everything we learn about Kate in that two and a half minutes centers around the idea that she is fat and unhappy about it.
In two seasons we journey with Kate Pearson from one day of celebration, a feast day, to another. From her 36th birthday to her wedding. One event includes the traditional cake; in the other, it is conspicuously absent. In the two years between those events, Kate remains fat.
Something has changed. We learned to love Kate.
When Kate was a fat stranger, the only concept of her as a person the viewer understood was one in which she had a love-hate relationship with food. She was a fat caricature. Her entire story, her entire identity, revolved around food and her relationship with it. After two seasons though, the viewers know her. We know she is not consumed by a singular focus on food. So, as we enter into the life of Kate Pearson, we want to forget all the negative stereotypes we have about fat people when we see Kate. We certainly don’t want to deal with our biases and our prejudices on her wedding day. We want to tell ourselves we are enlightened; we want to call her beautiful; and we want to relish the joy of love. But there’s one thing we can’t seem to embrace: Our collective cultural brains don’t know how to celebrate a fat bride eating cake. “Shouldn’t she have skipped that?” we would ask, words forming from somewhere deep within. So, the producers leave that part out. They erase some of her joy, some of her wedding day to make her celebration more palatable to an audience that doesn’t want to, or know how to, celebrate a fat woman eating cake. We don’t have space at our table for fat people to join the feast.
Kate is a TV character of course. But fat people exist in large number. We take up space on airplanes and in restaurants. We sit next to you on the church pew and stand in line behind you at the grocery store. And we join you for family holidays, for dinners with friends, and for celebrations of birth and marriage. Every time a fat person walks into a social situation that involves food, we are often navigating our own internal battles with eating and shame, and we are also navigating the way the people around us may respond to our bodies—especially if they see us consuming food that is viewed as unhealthy.
This dance of shame contributes to the breakdown of community. We see it in our families. I’ve heard countless stories about the ways well-meaning parents teach their children body shame by policing the food on their plates and making family mealtimes a thing to dread. (We saw that in Kate Pearson’s story, her mother giving her grapefruit for breakfast as a child instead of cereal like her brothers.) I’ve felt it in my own life, sometimes it finding it easier to eat my meal on the run, in the car by myself, rather than to eat around others. And this dance of shame and the distance it creates between people does not stop once we are inside the church doors. The church has far too often failed to critique the way our culture shames the bodies of those outside the ideal and has instead found ways to give theological weight to claims that some bodies are more godly than others.
Yet, God ordained feast days. For every single person, regardless of size. The way that the American church has endorsed the body shame of our culture has meant that fat people (or even people afraid of being fat) have been left out of full inclusion in community, out of the body of Christ, when it comes to feasting. Fat people are often ashamed to join in on the feast. We bypass the dessert table at the church potluck. We turn down the ice cream when we go to the beach with our family. And we say, “No, thank you,” to the cake at birthdays and weddings. We do this for a variety of reasons, but at the root of many of them is the fear that we will be judged and shamed over our body and food choices. If we can say no to the cake, we can avoid the sideways glances from others and preserve some of the joy we want in celebrating that day.
So often the argument we hear for why fat people can’t indulge is that we’ve already indulged too much. Jesus says just the opposite. Jesus’ first miracle affirms abundance. He turns water into the good wine after the guests had already been celebrating for hours. This is not too much. This is celebration and joy and lavishness. God’s heart is to welcome all people into full inclusion of the body of Christ—including fat people, even and especially during times of feasting. He welcomes all, and he offers abundance to all.
God does warn his people about over-consumption that hurts our neighbors (gluttony) but the sin there is how we hurt our neighbor, not the consumption of food. The people of Sodom were “overfed and unconcerned for the poor (Ezekiel 16:49). The story of Sodom in Genesis 19 goes into more detail of all the ways the people of Sodom were unconcerned for the people around them. They treated others like commodities: to be used according to whatever whim of desire occurred to them. The townspeople demanded the guests for their selfish whims; Lot offered up his daughters as if they were worth nothing more than a bargaining chip. The clarification about their sin by Ezekiel tells us that the story in Genesis 19 was not an isolated instance; it was evidence that the people of Sodom indulged every desire no matter the consequences to people around them. Those with food feasted while others starved. This should not be.
That is not what is happening when fat people just want to eat cake at a celebration. That is not gluttony. Community celebrations are part of our God-given identity, a sign of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Over and over God says that it is good to feast. There is something about the way we gather together and break bread together that knits us together as a community. Something about the way sharing a literal table and talking and laughing around food has the power to establish a bond between people. The early church broke bread together. The first deacons came about because one group of people were not getting their share of the food. God cares a whole lot about people being able to eat together—both food for survival and food for celebration.
When we exclude people from participating in community feasts because of a culture of body shame, we break community, we oppress the marginalized, we are inhospitable, and we grieve the heart of God who desires that all find welcome at the table.
This is why we must make room for others to participate in the celebration. No one should be motivated or forced by shame to miss out on the celebration of life’s great joys.