My friend Ember has an interesting project going on about body positive and diverse representations of deities of beauty (Freya, Aphrodite, etc.), which has poked at some of my brains to write here about how we represent deities in general. In my workshops that I give about the language we use to describe the body and health (which you can find here), one of the things I ask of participants is to think about how deity is represented in their traditions. If you look at a lot of the deity specific art, the vast majority of what you find is western standards of beauty and race. Most of what’s depicted are thin, white, model-looking (cis-normative) men and women who look like something out of Heavy Metal magazine. Heck, I’ve even seen a Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower magazines with a hunky looking Jesuses on their covers!
It’s difficult for us to picture deity in our own minds in other diverse forms unless they are particularly described as such. The Dagda, who is one of my patron deities, is a deity that loves His food and is described in stories as fat. He comes to me that way, too, and is quite fond of my own big belly and loud bodily noises (which can make for some interesting times). He doesn’t really care that He’s a big fat God and working with Him has been helping me to accept my own big fat body. One way to put it is that I’m learning, through His example, that a big fat body doesn’t lack power or will, which is what fat people are told from the time they are born. With my past experiences with disordered eating and other body shaming experiences, it can be hard for me to see the beauty of my body as He sees it. For me, it’s been a slow dance in my mind of body acceptance overcoming body hatred.
Another way that deity imagery has come up was when my wife and I created the following short film:
I distinctly remember bringing up the question about whether people would accept a fat Hecate, to which my wife replied with something to the extent of: “Who says Hecate can’t be fat?” I really didn’t think about it again until recently when I put together my website and re-watched the video. There’s still a part of my mind that tries to reconcile what I’ve been indoctrinated with in regards to body image and with what Hecate, Herself, has even told me about how She is portrayed. Usually what I see in my head is what you get when you Google “Hecate,” and while some of the images are intriguing, the vast majority just don’t look like me.
There’s so much intersectionality in this, too. For example, when most people think of “God” in the general sense, especially in the west, the majority of folks will think of an old white man in the sky. When people think about Jesus, he’s the white-washed bearded dude, not someone of middle eastern descent. Many of the Saints in the Catholic tradition are depicted as thin, androgynous, and somewhat non-human and otherworldly. While much of this art is, indeed, beautiful, I think it’s time we added more to the collection of sacred images than more of the same, making me really glad to see the results of projects like Ember’s.
Because, I think, when we don’t see deities like ourselves, it can sometimes be harder to find deity within.