The experience of being body shamed is harrowing to say the least, but experiencing it in a place of worship, where messages of love and acceptance are supposed to prevail, was especially devastating for a young woman from Swansboro, North Carolina named Jenna. The 19-year-old took to Twitter on June 30 to share a video she took of a sickening interaction she had with a member of her church's leadership team named Bonnie Sue Bihary in a church restroom. Bihary was berating the teen for wearing shorts.
In the clip, Bihary tells Jenna that another "chubby" girl is wearing a dress that comes to her knees, so that's obviously what the 19-year-old should do, as well. She proceeds to tell Jenna that she's "too fat" to wear shorts and cannot sing with the church band while wearing them. Jenna pleads with Bihary to leave her alone, but she continues to give her a hard time. The disturbing interaction ends with Jenna following Bihary out into the hallway and the teen sobbing as she's told by a male church-goer that she should go back into the bathroom.
This women followed me into the bathroom and attacked me calling me fat and that I couldn’t wear jean shorts because I was too fat pic.twitter.com/xse8lKfQdo
— Jenna (@roo_jenna) June 30, 2019
In her Twitter thread, Jenna expressed gratitude that this interaction didn't occur when she had been thinking about taking her own life. "If she would have said that to me two years ago when I was in therapy for suicide… I honestly don’t think I would be here today… I suffer with depression, anxiety, and ADD, and I can be very impulsive but what she did was straight up rude," she wrote.
She also added that she was "shocked and upset that this happened at church. I should feel accepted and loved, and now I don’t want to go back to that church."
Since Jenna's story went viral, the church has responded to the incident with the lead pastor of the Swansboro United Methodist Church, G. Kevin Baker, sending out a letter of support for the teen.
In part, the letter reads: "It has come to our attention that great harm has been done in an incident that occurred this past Sunday where a faithful and very gifted young lady and worship leader was body shaming for her appearance. We are shocked and saddened by this act. The Church is supposed to be a place of safety, love and acceptance."
The lead pastor sent this out to people (since some of you found the church, also please don’t be a bully back nothing will be solved from that… an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind) pic.twitter.com/r875AP33ak
— Jenna (@roo_jenna) July 2, 2019
At the same time, as Bihary became the target of the internet's wrath, Jenna added a video to the thread, pleading with followers to meet the woman's actions with love over hate.
Thankfully, the pastor told the teen that Bihary won’t be working in any sort of committee or in any leadership role at the church ever again. And Jenna has received tons of loving, supportive messages on social media, including one from actress Jameela Jamil.
As Jamil put it, Jenna's heartbreaking experience illustrates "the daily harassment people receive over their size. Even at the hands of people old enough to know better. Even in sacred places. Even in their own doctor’s practices. Our hypernormalization of policing and ridiculing fat bodies is what leads to this brazen bullying."
Cheers to this brave teen for calling this "brazen bullying" out, standing up for herself, and supporting so many others in the process.
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