I’m in need of some thoughtful advice. How do I deal when friends express insecurities that feel directly hurtful to me?
I have a great group of friends who are generally loving and supportive. I am the only fat person in this group (I don’t use fat in a derogatory manner). On occasion a thin friend will make a comment about fear of weight gain or having a “muffin top” or correlate weight and health or say “I shouldn’t eat this because…”. I find these comments really hard to hear 1) because they mirror a lot of my own negative self talk and 2) because it starts to sound as if their worst body nightmare is just my body reality.
I’m doing my own work on loving my body and taking ownership of my feelings about my weight. But I too talk about when I’m feeling less than great about my physical appearance. Maybe I’m creating some kind of social cue that complaining about weight and body size is okay in general? I wouldn’t assume that a friend who discusses an ongoing frustration with acne is giving an invitation for me to complain about a zit I get once a month.
I understand that beauty culture sucks and makes many of us of feel like we’re majorly flawed no matter how we look. I’m not interested in shaming my friends about their very real insecurities, and I realize that it is likely not their intent to make me feel bad. I just wish their comments didn’t make me feel like they look at me as some kind of cautionary tale.
Is there a way to address the hurt I feel while still honoring that we all feel insecure sometimes? Or is this just something I need to work on internally?
Feeling Fat and Flustered!
Dear Feeling Fat and Flustered,
If you want to change the way bodies get talked about in your circle of friends, there are a few things you can do:
Stop the negative self-talk about body & weight related issues yourself. This is a “be the change you want to see” moment. You can’t tell your friend not to hate her body at you while you still get to hate yours at her. This takes time, and a lot of practice, and then more time, and a lot of forgiving yourself for not being perfect and then beginning again, but it is life-changing once you make it your habit.
When you feel up to it, tell your friends what you are doing and why. “Friends, I’m really trying to break the cycle of saying mean things about my body and talking about weight, diets, weight loss, etc. Would you try this out with me, at least when we hang out together?” Or be even more blunt. “You probably don’t realize it, and I know that everyone has their own body image issues, but when you talk about how being fat is your worst fear, it hits me in a strange and really hurtful way, like, turning into me is your worst fear. Could you maybe…not? with that?”
Try to get everyone to keep their eyes on their own plate and stop with the food policing.
When you don’t feel up to it, remind yourself “They are so far up their own asses they can’t even see mine.”
There are certain people who like to talk about diets, thinness, weight obsession, etc. AT YOU, as a way to police you. You know who they are because they aren’t exactly subtle about it. That brand of concern-trolling is visible from space.
But it’s a sad fact that most times when women talk about their bodies this way they are inside their own heads and their own warped mirrors, they are either so self-conscious that they are not aware of how it is affecting you, or they are participating in a certain kind of call and response. A typical exchange:
“I’m sooooooo fat.”
“No you’re not, don’t say that!”
“Ugh, but look at this muffin top!”
“Pshaw. Did you see my armpit fat?”
“Shut up, you’re beautiful.”
“No, you are!”
“OMG, did you see what Amy was wearing?”
“It made her look sooooo fat. She is sooo fat.”
I’m no anthropologist, but to me this translates roughly as:
“I’m humbling myself by declaring I have flaws to show that I am one of you.”
“I have noticed and received your message. Don’t worry, you’re one of us! And I am one of you, too!”
“Yes, we are us! We are a team!”
“But Amy is not on our team.”
“No she isn’t.”
“Let us conclude this grooming ritual as a sign of our bond.”
Sometimes it’s an exchange where everyone goes around the table and identifies something they don’t like about themselves. It both enforces beauty/body/grooming standards and teaches you that you have to say something you hate about yourself or be perceived as stuck up/an outsider. For example (video contains exaggerated comedy violence, incl. mimicking suicide, among other offensive things, so if that’s not for you keep scrolling):
It’s not harmless, because the choice of body shame as the bonding/humbling mechanism is not harmless, because we live in a society that hates and fears fatness and fat people. It’s not harmless because it is perceived as normal to talk about yourself this way, when it is in fact REALLY FUCKING WEIRD. It’s not harmless, because teaching women to devalue themselves and be unable to accept compliments is not harmless. It’s not harmless, for example, if someone you know is looking at a fat person and says “I’d die before I let myself get like that” and the person looks like you (or better yet is much thinner than you) and you think “Does my friend think I should die?” and this is why this shit really and seriously Must. Be. Stopped. But, in news you can use, a lot of this IS highly ritualized and not based in reality, as in, “Amy” doesn’t have to actually even be fat to be coded that way in this dialogue, and even if you are demonstrably fat you will be told “What? You’re not fat!” if the people want to convey that they like you. This stuff is 99.99% not about you, or, it is about you, because it’s hurting you, but the people doing it aren’t seeing it, like the way we can’t see the air we breathe. They are so far up their own asses that they can’t see yours. So remind yourself “It’s not about me it’s not about me it’s not about me,” take a deep breath, and refuse to participate.
Because one tactic to shut down the concern trolls, the people with no self-awareness, and the call-and-response team is to give the shame statement zero attention. Respond with a non-sequitur. For best success, make that non-sequitur a compliment, but one that doesn’t relate to body hatred, like so.
“I’m soooo fat.”
“I love your nail color- do you remember the name of it?”
“Look at my muffin top.”
“Cool shoes. Are they comfortable?”
“LOOK AT IT”
“Your hair looks very pretty today, I like that style on you.”
Depending on their self-awareness level, the other person will get that something is off but not necessarily what. You can actually refuse to participate in the call and response. I recommend this tactic for people you aren’t particularly close to, people you don’t see that often, people where the “Hey, could we chill with the body hate talk it makes me feel yucky” is too much engagement for your energy level and emotional investment right then, people who really are enmeshed with their own problems. If you don’t give people attention for talking about themselves this way, and you give them a viable subject change out, it may take a few tries but most of them WILL get it at least enough to stop it for the rest of that particular conversation. And if they ask you why you seem to be ignoring their negative body talk, they are giving you an opening to say “Actually, it really weird me out when people I think are beautiful talk about themselves that way. I never know what to say.”
I dunno. I know what you mean by not wanting to be told that you shouldn’t feel a certain way about your body, or that your friends aren’t allowed to feel the way they do about theirs, and I don’t want to pretend that I’m somehow above it all. My close female friends and I have found a very happy medium where diet-talk and body shaming related to weight is not done, but some degree of “OMG I am not feeling or looking my best today” is allowed. The rules are different from the standard call-and-response, in that if someone says “I have a giant zit right on the bridge of my nose where my glasses sit, and it seems to be growing 8 new friends” and another person says “Good news everyone my nipple hairs are finally ready to braid into that friendship bracelet!” and another says “Thanks to that kale salad at lunch I think my farts could reanimate the dead and then make them want to die again” no one contradicts them or tells them they shouldn’t feel that way. No one says that bridge-of-nose zits or nipple hairs or farts are even Not Okay things to have. No one says “it’s not that bad” or “well “I think you’re pretty” because the culture of that friend group is that we are all a baseline of gorgeous and awesome, but sometimes our bodies rebel in disgusting and fascinating ways. It’s one of the things I like about Samantha Irby’s writing, at Bitches Gotta Eat. She has Crohn’s disease. She wore a diaper to a speed-dating event, and Readers, she pooped in it. It is not all body-love over there all the time, but it is honest about how it feels sometimes to be wearing a meatsack that is not cooperating with you.
So, good for you for working on loving yourself. This is not easy to navigate, so be nice to yourself, be nice to your friends, change the subject A LOT, give yourself a lot of time and chances to figure out what works for you.
Some of the resources that helped me build a better body image and gave me strength in an unfriendly-to-fat-people world:
- Fat Body Politics
- Gabifresh for pretties
- Shapely Prose archive and Kate’s book co-written by Marianne Kirby, Lessons from The Fat-o-sphere
- se smith‘s, Marianne & Lesley‘s posts at XO Jane
- Hanne Blank, esp. Big Big Love
- Health At Every Size
- The Fat Nutritionist
- The Fatsronauts series at Shakesville
- Fat Ladies in Spaaaaaaaace
I’ll admit, I was heavy into reading this stuff 3-5 years ago and as time has passed (and I got more ok with myself) I haven’t kept up with it that fiercely, so give us your recs, readers!
Also, please review the site policies about commenting if it’s been a while. This is a no diet-talk, no mention of specific-weights, no body-shaming, no weight-loss evangelism zone.
173 thoughts on “#588: Can we please stop body shaming ourselves and each other as a form of female bonding?”
LW, you sound like a really kind person because you have not yet lost your shit and screamed at them, which I think would be a perfectly reasonable response to what they are saying!
This isn’t towards LW so much as The Captain’s discussion of female bonding and sociological norms–
I am still working on getting out of the habit of assuming that food-shaming and body-shaming are all-purpose small talk with other women. Like, when I am uncomfortable and trying to be The Most Normal Person Around, I tend to say things like, I shouldn’t eat this, or I’ll have to work extra hard at the gym, or all that guilt-and-penance kind of stuff. And the thing is, I don’t even believe it. It’s not an accurate reflection of how I feel about my body or the food I put in it, it’s me trying to fit in. I’ve been called on it, and was actually really grateful because then it was like, oh I can fit in without faking it yay!
I guess what I’m saying is, there might be more allies in a conversation than are immediately obvious?
Also, many many shout outs for Fat Ladies in Spaaaaaace!
I’m certain that a lot of people say this stuff and not mean it. I remember once at a family gathering, there were six women in the room, plus a cherub-chubby little girl of about four or five. The youngest of us was around 25, the oldest 85.
We had chocolate cake – a big cake which would have fed twice as many people. But as each woman was offered a slice, she asked for a slice slightly smaller than the slice the previous woman had received, always with a comment of “I shouldn’t really.” or “DIet starts tomorrow.”
I was the last to be offered and felt so annoyed – and concerned about the influence on this little girl – I asked for a slice so large I had to force myself to finish it. But I am certain that nobody in that room was actually starting a diet or heading straight to the gym because of the effing cake or had any intention to.
I really hate the bonding through feminine modesty stuff. Fat/ diet talk is one of the worst because it makes many of us deeply miserable and a few of us seriously ill. But, despite hating it, really loathing it and committing occasional acts of explicit rebellion, I still find it slipping out.
Last year when I was getting married, I got so used to people responding to every time I refused an extra helping or ate a salad with, “Aiming to fit into that dress, are you?” or “Slimming down for the big day, are we?” that eventually, someone offered me some cake, I was full up but felt guilty as they’d made it, and thus I said, “I’d love to, but I need to fit into my wedding dress.”
So yeah, you’re right.
Does anyone ever really deliberately buy a too-small wedding dress and then diet until their wedding day so they can fit into it? Does that ever even happen?!
If you can imagine it, someone’s done it.
I’m sure some do, and many more just want to fit into as small a wedding dress as possible.
There’s also the fact that for many women, their wedding dress is the only tailored-to-fit-exactly garment they will ever own, and many wedding dress styles have a very closely fitted bodice. Depending on where you get your gown and how far in advance of your wedding you buy it, there can be a considerable time delay between your initial fittings and your final fittings right before the wedding. I can almost understand someone being concerned about gaining weight in the interim, because alterations ain’t cheap. (Still doesn’t excuse the diet talk and body shaming, though.)
That’s actually wierdly common (I don’t get it either). I have friends who’ve been shamed by the wedding-dress-salespeople for daring to ask for a dress in their current size.
Not to small, necessarily, but the only bride I’ve been an MOH to picked a dress with sleeves because she was having self conscious body hate about her arms. I’ve heard the engaged woman in my office stressing about the same thing, so apparently that’s the latest part we should find wanting?
Sigh. No matter what you weigh, how tall or strong or trim you are, there’s always a new thing the culture will tell you is wanting and should be controlled.
It happens. I don’t know many people who have had very conventional straight weddings, but I have known two people who ordered a dress a size smaller because they were going to lose weight. One did, but one just couldn’t get thin enough. Her dress had an expensive all-over beaded bodice and the only option was to remove all the beads, let it out slightly, then replace all the beads on the bodice. She was already slim and a very beautiful lady at that. It was very time-consuming and stressful, and of course she felt humiliated. It would have been quite funny but for the last point.
My husband and I made my dress, finishing it in the weeks up to the wedding so fitting was a complete non-issue, thus making my remark even sillier.
I know at least 4 brides who have done this, with varying results. I didn’t, but nearly everyone I spoke to brought it up –
Person: “Are you planning to get in shape for the wedding?”
Me: “I’m already a shape.”
Person: ::confused head tilt while I try to figure out how to tell you that you need to lose weight to get married without saying that because I know I’m not supposed to say it even though we’re *all* thinking it about you, but wait no I can’t figure it out, I’ll just walk away now::
It was the most awkward and hilarious of the pre-wedding conversations.
“Person: “Are you planning to get in shape for the wedding?”
Me: “I’m already a shape.””
I love that riposte 😉
“Why, do you think I should try for ‘icosahedron’?”
“Ugh, weddings are so frustrum.”
Not only that, but when I was shopping for my dress, the salesperson actually brought it up on her own – she clearly stated her assumption that I would be losing weight for the wedding and thus the dress would fit just right, or something to that effect.
I bought my dress elsewhere (and it’s flattering as hell right off the rack).
I actually had to gain weight for my wedding. Even though I’m, like, the lardarse to end all lardarses.
…so one of my friends had designed and made the most GORGEOUS silk dress with underskirts and corset, and then I got food poisoning and went to hospital and lost, like, four inches on my hips and two on my bust and it didn’t fit me properly anymore. So in order to fit into my dress, I had to regain weight fast! I had bridesmaids following me around forcing me to eat pie. It was a good two weeks 🙂
When you say “I had bridesmaids following me around” I imagined a bevy of gals in froo-froo bridesmaids dresses tottering around after you, all holding pieces of pie. The Pie Brigade!
They did a plot like like that on How I Met Your Mother. Allyson Hannigan supposedly lost several pounds due to the stress of wedding planning and didn’t have the money to pay to alter the dress. So there’s all these scenes of Robin pushing her to eat. It was…weird.
This is halfway between a suggestion and a question: have people gotten good results by redirecting to a non-self-critical concept within the large area of exercise or food?
For example, if someone says “Eating that means I’m going to have to spend more time at the gym,” I’d be tempted to say “I really like lifting weights. What kind of exercise do you do?” If someone says a negative “I should eat more salads,” redirect to “What’s your favorite kind of salad?” or “I’m so glad my local farmer’s market has started for the season, there’s nothing like fresh local produce.”
It’s not a blatant “I don’t want to talk about that”/”stop criticizing,” and has a chance of leading into conversations I would actually be happy to have. Obviously, the first one doesn’t work if you don’t like exercise or tend to self-criticism about not having time for it, and asking someone’s favorite kind of salad doesn’t work if you hate salad. But it feels like a potentially less-controversial “food is not the enemy” than explicitly saying “there’s nothing to be ashamed of about eating a piece of candy unless you stole it from a baby.”
I love this, you are reframing the conversation in a good say before a shame spiral can start, and taking the moral/value judgment out of it.
That’s such a good idea!
This can still work even if you’re not in to those things. Like if you’re not a lover-of-all-thing-salad you can say, “You know, salad doesn’t do it for me, but I made this awesome the other night” or if you’re not a gym/exercise person you can counter with, “I love my morning walk to the bus stop/with the dog/doing yoga/stretches/playing outside with kids/pets” etc. Exercise doesn’t have to be “Exercise” – it can just be movement of some description. And really, most people enjoy moving their body at some point (unless PAIN etc in which case, 😥 and jedi hugs).
Argh! It removed my funny tag 😦
And even though I’ve got PAIN (but happily, not PAIN!!!) I’m working on my stamina, so when someone sees the combination of my fat & my fitbit and starts a conversation that sounds like it’s going to lead into a weight-loss direction, I can bust out a nigh-infinite box of redirection with not-fat-related information about my personal stamina-training endeavor and how I use the tool. Including the PAIN!! when I overstep (heh) my limits and how I’m basically unable to use my body on the following day, which I point out every time someone tries the “well why don’t you just PUSH IT” suggestion. (Because I know where my envelope is, and I can push it gently enough to not get the PAIN!! while still seeing year-over-year results, and pushing it hard makes me regress when the PAIN!! kicks in.) And for me, happily, as my stamina increases, the PAIN decreases. (Though I know this is not universal, and I will point that out when people try to generalize at me.)
You are BRILLIANT!
I really like this! It also forces people to make a choice between being REALLY INVESTED in the body shaming discussion and trying to force conversation back to it, or enjoy the new, less manky, conversation topic. Handy for That One Friend who tries to turn every conversation about everything into bodyshame round 27, without having to overtly say “yes I know you hate you thighs but can we maybe talk about something else now?” out loud.
I do stuff like this and it usually seems to go over well. It’s worked very well for me because I’m both a bit of a foodie and a bit of a gym rat so I’m genuinely super happy to be like TELL ME MORE ABOUT PROTEIN SHAKES.
I’ve also found that humor helps–like, I would totally say “There’s nothing to be ashamed of about eating candy unless you stole it from a baby”; what I wouldn’t say is “Don’t feel guilty about eating candy.” It kind of keeps everything light and flippant and allows you to not engage the shame spiral while still being friendly and social and bonding. Humor is a great form of bonding! (Just as long as you’re not making fun of the people you’re trying to bond with, obviously.)
Yes, this is the important take-away, “Food is not the enemy.”
Timely in this neck of the woods, as we’re trying to support a direly *under*weight friend. A vicious case of anorexia, complete with moments of hating on fat (and several voices reminding her that fat actually has a function in the healthy operation of our bodies), double standards (“But, Mel – you’re not fat!!” “Then neither are you; let’s talk about why these harsher standards for yourself.”) and “compensating” every time a good meal has been eaten… and enjoyed “too much”.
I’m fearing I’ve gotten on the soap-box of derailment, but I am feeling a certain resonance with the letter-writer’s problem; I’ve stopped completely with that “bonding” via commenting on food-denial. This topic isn’t about control, and certainly not about virtue. It’s about enforcing deprivation.
Thanks for the reframings – they’ll help me also, coping with the more common fat shaming I have to hear while our friend’s life hangs in the balance.
This is terrific. I think it does work. I say this because now that I think about it, I have observed this tactic in action. I and many women I know practice martial arts, so we do talk about exercise unrelated to weight. At the same time, some of us fall into the body shaming trap. So I have observed people shifting a conversation from “I need to train more [because I’m fat]” to “oh! Are you testing for a new rank?” on a number of occasions.
Yes! I kind of love muay thai because weight is just a number – everyone wants to/”should” lose weight, but there are awesome fat fighters and it’s generally very body positive. It probably wouldn’t be for everyone, because there is a lot of discussion of weight/”I’m so fat”, but I like it because fat is seen as a thing everyone has and it’s very matter of fact. Of course, I’m at a club with far more men than women, and have been to a more “girly” gym, where I bet it’s rather different (only took my kid siblings there so didn’t deal with that).
I sometimes worry about crossing that line unintentionally with my non-sporty friends. I’m not unhappy with my body in terms of appearance, but I am pushing myself to be better at certain physical activities. Do you have any tips for making that distinction clear in conversation?
I love this strategy and I am going to start using it. I actually love talking about farmer’s markets and good strategies for weightlifting…
I love the subject change script. Love it! I speak as the skinnier friend – and I read this thinking ‘oh god, did I do this? Do I do this even now?’ And I am going to keep this in mind and try never to do this again (although I do like the idea of a safe space like the Captain has where you get to complain about specifics without policing and reinforcing unhelpful tropes). But the reason I love the subject change is that as a slimmer (but by no means perfect, naturally – beauty culture means none of us are) person I was actively excluded from conversations – ‘you couldn’t possibly understand, you have a great figure! Not like meeeee! I’m sooooo faaaaat!’ Which left me with nowhere to go (I did develop a slight tendency to anorexia for a while – anything to get back in the conversation with an actual body problem! This is how sucky this behaviour is!!!) and nothing to say. All my friends were smart, funny, gorgeous and amazing – so it was easy to try the redirect with an alternative compliment… But fat shaming is a hard thing to break. LW, I applaud you for trying. I hope your friends one day understand what an amazing thing you’re doing for yourself and for them in trying to change the conversation. I’m so glad you wrote in, and I’m so grateful for the captain’s response.
I can relate to this a lot – and wish I had had these strategies then! I had a friend that would go shopping with me and try on the exact same dress/clothing article as me, and then say, “Oh, of COURSE it looks wonderful on YOU, because you’re so skinny!” and then go on a tirade about how fat she was. I would mostly just go silent because I didn’t know what to say. There was no point in telling her she wasn’t fat when she’d still believe it about herself anyway. It’s a hard spot to be in, and I love the idea of the subject changes that don’t give the negativity the power it wants.
Mostly I encounter this in the workplace or work-related functions. It is SO FRUSTRATING. Especially frustrating because my team often travels together in various configurations and thus we have to negotiate things like meal stops.
I also, regularly in my former faith community and occasionally in my current one, encounter the “We Are SOOOOOO Enlightened!” variant of this crap, all about people trying to outdo each others’ organic free-range locavore vegan everything. Sometimes I point them to the Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater, over here: http://www.nwedible.com/2012/08/tragedy-healthy-eater.html
(There is someone in my workplace, not in my immediate department but on the same floor, that this article could’ve been written about. I cringe every time I have to listen to her doing that, but remembering the article makes it easier to cope with.)
“…“We Are SOOOOOO Enlightened!” variant of this crap, all about people trying to outdo each others’ organic free-range locavore vegan everything.”
YES YES YES YES YES I live in a part of the US where this occurs a lot, and it’s actually one of the reasons I’m about to move.
I usually try the blank affect/redirect approach with friends who do this to me. I agree it would be more awesome/a better long-term strategy to speak up about it more frankly, but I haven’t really been able to work up the courage to do that yet. 🙂 Maybe this will inspire me next time it comes up!
Ohhhhh glory, I could have written this. Hating my body has reaped me nothing but depression and dysmorphia (surprise!), and so thanks to several of the sites the Captain cites, I began the ongoing process of weaning myself off the self-trash-talk (of the “ugh I’m so fat” variety; I still reserve the right to fret about whether my hair is pulling a Bran from Game of Thrones thing on a particular day!) about seven or eight years ago. With most of my friends, it hasn’t been an issue at all. In one particular subset, though, it’s super-bad. So, so fat; can’t eat that, too fattening; I gained a pound last week so I must punish myself!; etc. etc. etc. Mostly I just go with the Do Not Engage tactic, but once I couldn’t take it anymore: two women, both significantly smaller than me, were engaging in the Ritual (and as the Captain says, that’s a big part of what was going on), and finally I just said something to the effect of, “if you’re fat, y’all must think I’m a monster.” In response, I got a discussion of how it’s okay ’cause I’m still of childbearing age, and look at those great baby-making hips and everyone involved in the conversation was childfree so it was really, really weird. It did, however, drive home the point that the talk was not something I should take personally. Doesn’t really make it any easier, of course, but here we are.
So, LW, mad empathy coming from my direction, and jedi hugs if you want ’em!
I was on the other end of this experience when I was a teenager; my best friend was fat, but of course, I didn’t think about her like that and when she called me up on fat talk about myself, I gave her some crap about how it was different for her because she was really pretty and her weight suited her (both of which I considered to be true, but it wasn’t at all helpful). But although I made excuses like your friends, I didn’t forget it and, especially having sometimes been the biggest women in the room myself, that was the beginning of my conscientious attempts not to do this.
So although your friends didn’t concede the silliness of what they were saying, (some) people remember accidentally insulting a valued friend and they may think a bit more about what they’re saying in the future. Or they might not. But there is cause to hope the awkward wasn’t entirely wasted.
Dances With Fat, Ragen Chastain’s blog, is one of my current favorite resources for body positivity as a fat woman, and encouragement to stand up for myself, too.
Seconded! I love her blog.
OMG! Ragen is the bomb. I love love love her blog. She has a ton of great resources, and she writes in a voice that really speaks to me. Several of her regular commenters are pretty awesome too. On a recent blog post, someone commented, “I come for Ragen’s posts and stay for Twistie’s comments.” I couldn’t agree more.
Agreed on this. Particularly in terms of self-advocacy, she is pretty awesome at offering a variety of strategies for different people and situations.
I love the recent story of her yelling at a pastor that grabbed her and started trying to heal her from the demon of obesity!
While she was doing her marathon training! WTF priorities????
Yes. She does a run/walk combination, and she has to walk past their church on her route. One day when a group of church members was gathered on the sidewalk, the preacher PUT HIS HANDS ON HER and started to pray for “this girl” to be “healed” of her obesity, because “she works so hard, Lord.” I shit you not.
Ragen said she preferred the guys who threw eggs at her while she was training for the last one.
I went through a similar thing of actively trying to get myself in a more positive space with my body, and then trying to reshape the kind of conversations I was having with my friends to cut out some of the body shaming and negativity. I started with posting articles/blog posts that I was reading to Facebook, and usually I’d quote a bit that I thought was really relevant, or put some comment about my feelings towards the article on there. It was just a really easy way to show people where my head was at and what kind of stuff was influencing me. You could even post this Captain Awkward article, with a comment like “There’s a really interesting analysis of how body shaming talk is a way of establishing in-group/out-group identity. I’m going to start trying to make sure my complaints about myself aren’t possibly hurting someone else”.
I also started complimenting my friends when I saw them. Just first interaction when we caught up “Hey, how are you? And are those new glasses?” or commenting on something I’d seen them do through social networking, like asking them about an event they attended etc. Kind of little ways to send the message that “we are more than just our bodies”.
And with closer friends, we’ve also had some very direct talks about our body feelings and how we see each other. I had a gym buddy when I was at uni, and I saw us both as big girls, but she had way more stamina with me and I was mainly keeping up with her out of sheer stubbornness, and one day when I asked her why she was so invested in losing weight she told me how much she weighed and said “basically, you’re my goal weight”. Which was a really weird moment for me because… I was fat? And lumpy? My body would never be any goal! But we had a conversation and I admitted that I wished I was as strong as her, or even as happy to be active as her, and I think that put us both in a better place. I think we get conditioned with very narrow ideas of what people can like about us, and if we’re fat we’re coached to see list getting shorter. We don’t expect people to like our figures, but holy shit some people do! We don’t expect people to admire our bodies because we’re told that our bodies are shitty and wrong, but every item to admire is there there! I can still be strong or fast or have steady hands or quick fingers or a hot body or a cute belly button (even if it’s hidden by a roll of fat). So with close friends, if the moment arises, I think having those conversations can be really great and positive and helpful. But I also have some friends I haven’t had those conversations with because they’re still in the space where if I give them a compliment they respond with a list of things they hate about themselves. I guess we’re all in different places with our bodies (and with how much we can handle of other people’s negative body talk).
Ugh, body shaming. As someone who has survived an eating disorder, there’s nothing worse than hearing people who are healthy and strong talk about how “fat” and “ugly” they are. It can stir up that dormant voice from its slumber somewhere at the back of my mind and make it start whispering horrible things in my head.
All of these suggestions are so awesome; thanks everyone!
Does anyone have suggestions on scripts to shut down people who DO target your body? For example, my beautiful girlfriend is about my height but curvy (and I love it), whereas I’m a bit of a stick (no hips, small breasts, quite boyish actually). My problem is that when she talks about how active she was when she was a teenager, she says, “Back when I was small – smaller than you! – I…” in a pointed, smug way every. single. time. It’s like she’s insecure about her own body, and is trying to make herself feel better by rubbing it in that she was once much thinner. It’s really shitty because it triggers my anorexic thought process and is equating “curvy” or “fat” with “worst thing ever.”
I know it’s my job to own my own feelings and know my own mind about weight and body image, but what can I say to let her know that this hurts me because it feels like a veiled insult, and to encourage her to love herself so that these vague insults don’t happen ever?
I have few ideas but a lot of commiseration and empathy. Personally, I tend toward the “blunter is better” approach with people I know at all well: “When you say things like that, it triggers some scary and dangerous body hatred for me. Please stop using me to put yourself down.”
I find that one of the terrible compensations of living in such a messed-up society is that every woman I’ve *ever* met, regardless of her size and current state of mental health, can empathize with a deep and irrational self-hatred. It makes these conversations easier, if you’re willing to be the one to start them. Sigh.
Also, there is nothing you can do to make your girlfriend love herself. I’m really, really sorry. (I learned this the hard way, more than once.) You can, however, refuse to be an enabler of her self-hatred. It’s hard to say, “I wouldn’t let someone else say those things about you, and I’m not willing to listen to you say them about yourself,” and to back that up, but it might end up being easier than trying to fill that empty bowl over and over and over again.
I think this is a “use your words”-time. Tell her what you told us: “When you say things like “back when I was small – smaller than you”, it triggers my anorexic thought processes. Could you please try not to do that?” If she gets upset and says that she doesn’t mean it that way and you should know that she doesn’t, the answer is “I know that you don’t mean it that way, and I understand that you aren’t trying to hurt me. But the fact is, it hurts, so could you please just not do that?”
The only thing I’d add to the awesome ideas above is to think about asking your girlfriend why she does this. The next time she comes out with a “back when I was small–smaller than you!” adventure, maybe just gently interrupt with a “Why do you always feel like you have to compare us like that? Because I’ve been realizing lately that whenever you talk about yourself as a kid, you always, always do.” And then, whatever she responds, let her know how badly it’s troubling you.
Thanks so much everyone! These are all really great suggestions. I’ve been learning how to use my words – finding Captain Awkward has been a huge help! – and I’m not so good at doing it in the moment, but each moment is a moment to get better I guess.
Another Mary: Yeah, I hear you…I just wish so hard that this amazing talented person wouldn’t evaluate her self-worth on something so trivial. For some reason my mind goes, “But if I could just PROVE it like a geometry theorem she’d understand!” but yeah, nope. But that is an awesome suggestion you make about not tolerating self-hating language anymore than I’d be okay with someone else putting her down that way.
On a side note: I just found Health At Any Size and it’s such a remarkable tool in helping my recovery. Although that nasty culturally instituted fat-phobia at the bottom of the ED is trying to resist and talk back to everything I read, I think I’m winning. I’m thinking that I might give the book to Girlfriend and see if that can help her to start loving herself.
It is so hard to stop the shame bonding spiral. I’ve been reading FA stuff for years and years and I still sometimes fall into it, so thanks for the reminder to stay focused on avoiding it.
Anyway here’s a related question. I have a friend who is a similar size to me and we do sports together. We were standing in a swimming pool change room one day talking about hiking shoes, and I mentioned that our (very petite) friend’s advice for just wearing any kind of shoe hiking was great for her but when you’re [my weight] bad shoes lead straight to the return of tendon issues in my feet. And she was shocked at my weight because it was a few kg less than her weight and she knew I was heavier previously and she had been trying really hard to lose weight and having no success. She went into this really intense self hate spiral and said really full on vicious stuff about her own body. This lady had just kicked my butt in the pool, so I took the “your body is awesome you’re so strong and fast” tack, but well, it’s stuck with me because I care about her and I think my response was inadequate.
So, aside from *shutting the fuck up* about weight and diets and such (I try but I also fail apparently), is there a recommended way to steer her towards Fat Acceptance resources? I’ve benefited from it so much, and feel so much better about my body. But I’m not sure how to raise it with her without just kicking off another round of self hate or maybe just angering her with unwanted materials on a really sensitive topic. Alas she isn’t on Facebook much so I can’t just become the non-specific FA link sharer and hope she sees it. Should I just leave it alone?
Ask her if she’d be interested? “Hey Friend – I’ve just been thinking about our conversation the other day, and you know, there are a few blogs about being overweight but not hating yourself that I read that I’ve found really useful and have helped me break some of the self-hatred patterns I used to have. I know some people like that kind of stuff and some people hate it, so I won’t bring it up again, but if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, give me a shout and I’ll send you some links. Big hugs, Me.”
There can be a bit of a tendency for people that really get and love GA to be a bit evangelical about it. I think FA stuff is amazing, and I can totally see why people get evangelical about it, but I’ve also seen horrible arguments where someone’s been “you know what, that stuff is not for me, please drop it” and the FA evangelist has been, “But that is just your internal fat hatred talking! You just aren’t understanding it! You MUST embrace this!” And obviously that’s as disrespectful as any other type of evangelism. So I wouldn’t try and steer her to it without her explicit interest, but I think that right after you’ve had a conversation specifically about both of your weights is a good time to raise it once, see if she’s interested, and if she’s not, that’s her decision.
Also, the conversation you describe sounds really upsetting, so jedi hugs to you! It’s horrible hearing a friend be so vicious about themselves like that. Do remember that regardless of how she feels about FA stuff, it is totally OK to ask a friend not to talk about themselves like that about around you.
Heh – yes I should probably just ask. It’s amazing how many things boil down to “use your words”.
It was a bit startling how vicious and intense she was about it, but I’m more freaked out because I feel like I kicked it off and also didn’t know how to help. I don’t need her to not say stuff like that around me (I can cope with it), I just really want to help her not feel so bad about herself.
Blergh. Stupid body shaming culture. It really really hurts some people.
A few other resources that I have found helpful:
-I really like looking through the fatshion tag (and other fat-related tags, such as fatspo, fat positive, etc) on Tumblr. It’s a great way to see a wide (no pun intended!) variety of fat bodies of varying shapes and sizes. Scrolling through fat body after fat body just makes fat bodies feel so *normal.* And there’s such a large volume of pictures that whatever your shape, you’ll probably find at least a few people who are shaped similarly.
-I also follow a ton of fatshion blogs. A bunch of them are listed in my blogroll here, although I haven’t updated it in a while:
-Virgie Tovar’s anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love, and Fashion
-Becoming involved in my local fat-positive community (which may or may not be an option for you depending on where you live)
-Watching videos of fat women dancing and doing other awesome athletic stuff. There’s a great Tumblr, Fat Can Dance, that has both pictures and videos of fat people dancing. I also recommend Whitney Way Thore, the “Fat Girl Dancing,” whose videos you can find on YouTube. And Amber Riley’s clips from Dancing With the Stars…
I love the Adipositivity site, which is NSFW naked photos of fat women and men and they are very, very beautiful indeed. It helps me detox from the dominant media image of what “beauty” is. It’s just a very grounding and centering series of photos for me to look at and admire.
Linky (NSFW!): http://adipositivity.com
One more resource I forgot: this video! I’ve seriously watched it more times than I can count.
(P.S., CA, could you close the italics tag in my previous comment? Not sure what happened, but it seems to be open. Thanks!)
Which reminds me, I also forgot to mention following Tess Munster on Facebook. She’s the first plus size model I came across who actually wears plus sizes rather than size 8/10/12, and seeing her being all glammed-up–just like the models in magazines, except IN MY SIZE!–made such a difference to me. I still love coming across her pictures in my newsfeed.
This is so close to an email I actually have sitting in my drafts that I was making to send to Captain Awkward! How exciting that my question has been answered without needing to actually send it in haha. Thank you Captain and LW!
I have this. SO much.
I *am* fat in anyone’s definition of the word. There is no definition of the word fat that I do not fit. But most of the time, I really like my body and I have worked extremely hard to get to the point where I can say that. I feel like it is a great thing that I can celebrate my body and really, if someone doesn’t like my shape – well it doesn’t matter, because I do! (Obviously, I do care when people are actually insulting though… it’s always sad-making when people seem to think you are the epitome of gross.)
And yet even though I never ever talk negatively about myself or even discuss my weight or diet, people still feel the need to project these things onto me that feel in danger of bringing all the work I’ve done down. They still say, oh but you’re NOT FAT FAT :O, or oh, you would be so much HAPPIER if you lost weight. I’m SOOOO fat, says the person 5 sizes smaller than me.
Or sometimes they try and police what I am eating. (which by the way is a really good way to get me to eat as much as I possibly can ¬_¬)
I’ve even had random friends of my parents give me diet books, which I personally find really offensive. Like I’m sorry, who asked you for your opinion?
Sometimes I get, you look so nice in this photo, HAVE YOU LOST WEIGHT?
(People keep asking me if I’ve lost weight and commenting on how good I look and I actually am the heaviest I’ve ever been. Wanna know the secret? I got a fitting bra and decided to wear clothes I loved, ie. whatever the hell I wanted *lol*. That’s not the answer most people are looking for though, they wanna hear all about how I must hate myself and I ate only 3 breadsticks and a grape a day for the greater cause of being slim because I am fat and the less mass I have the prettier and more worthy I become.)
No one seems to consider that mental health and not hating yourself is actually just as important as physical health and not being overweight in such a way that can cause you health problems. Their “we’re concerned because of your health” thing unravels pretty quickly when you point that out. No, you are concerned because you absorbed all the stuff from society that there is an ideal body shape. I think it is good to just go through all your values every now and then and check them in the light of day. Sometimes you will find something you absorbed from media or society and think, oh, bloody hell, that’s really a messed up way of looking at things. If more people did that I think there would be a lot less body negativity.
As a side note:
I *LOVE* Gabi’s blog. Gabifresh’s website honestly helped me see that all you need is confidence in yourself and having fun with your clothes. Once you have those things you can become a kind of unbeatable mountain, where you are saying, look, I am wearing bold and bright and form fitting clothes and I dare you to say anything…
And if people do say anything now, I think, “but why does it matter what they think?” and usually that does help me to feel alright again! Plus, having this outlook on my own body has helped me to see others in a cool new way too. Now instead of comparing myself to others all the time, I look at people and think, wow, that’s their awesome, lived in body that is totally unique and special to them has all the marks and so forth of having lived a life and ISN’T THAT ACTUALLY REALLY COOL? It’s like a story told in the form a human being.
I love every word of this comment, flowerfaerie. So. Awesome. Thank you!
I’d love to refuse those parents’ friends’ books with “Wow, this is really offensive.” *takes no action to takes the book* *goes away after several seconds of silence* But very hard to pull off.
There is a group of women who do competitive dieting in my office. I mean that literally. They–with no encouragement or sponsorship from our employer–formed teams to see which team could lose the most weight. They sit together and talk diet talk all day long and routinely police each other’s food. They recently started a new program to compete to see who could eat the most servings of vegetables in a set period of time. The office manager (ringleader of said group) invited me to join them one day when I was in the break room getting coffee. We had the following exchange:
Me: No thanks. I don’t participate in that kind of activity, since it isn’t healthy for me.
Her: Eating vegetables isn’t healthy?
Me: No, eating vegetables is fine, and I like them very much. Food policing activities put me in a really unhealthy headspace, so I don’t engage in them.
Her: Uh, ok. Well, as long as you’re eating your vegetables.
Me: *blink* *uncomfortable smile* *exit*
I slightly edited your comment to remove what you ate. It’s not germane.
Good for you. And you know? I really, really appreciate comments like this, and I wish people would make them more often. “This kind of behavior makes people with eating disorder problems REALLY REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE because it’s kind of like if you were a recovering alcoholic and you came to work and everyone in the breakroom was doing shots, ALL MONTH LONG, so, like, maybe don’t.” I need officerexia like I need a hole in the head, and the more people speak up about how coercive this is, the less people like me look like we’re hysterical meanies who hate health.
Nth-ing this sentiment. I developed an eating disorder after moving back to the US and in part it was in response to this kind of talk. Semi consciously I felt like “oh, I guess this is what you are supposed to do to be a woman in this culture.” When combined with other psychological stresses what started as dieting got way out of hand. Now when I hear this kind of talk I want to put my hands over my ears and go “lalalala I’m not listening.”
I have a coworker who is on a huge organic raw health foods kick after a health scare, and she has therefore elected herself The Food Police. As in, if she sees me eating something she deems “unhealthy” she feels the need to inform me that it is terrible for me, and if she sees me eating something “healthy” she thinks it is her job to praise me. Both of these things drive me bonkers.
Leading to me bursting out “SHUT UP YOU EAT NOTHING BUT KALE!” one lunchtime when she got on my butt over my meal choice.
I felt mean and I a little bit regret that action but 1. she has toned it down, and 2. she eats nothing but kale.
Also, 3. You just made my night better and are now my personal hero.
You should feel bad. Eating kale is punishment enough for most things short of genocide.
(you should not feel bad and I know some people love it but omg life is too short for greens that bitter)
NEVER IN MY LIFE IVE BEEN SO …
YOU INSULTED my municipal-national-food.
NOW WE MUST DUEL TO THE DEATH…
..eheheh..sorry but sonce a lot og germany thinks we lower sachsons eat cow-food(cale) my pistol/dueling arm gets itchy.
Also kale, the way we eat it here isnt very ‘healthy’ if you apply certain ideas about that. But weeee dont care. Shit is sooooooooooooo tasty I could live in a biiiiiiig bowl of warm cale, lower saxony kind.
(Also its great as a way to fight classism, seen in a nordgerman ballad where an poor frisian fisherman drowns the danish tax-collector(traditionally they had not to pay taxes i think?) While his knights wait outside in a big hot steamin bowl of kale while shouting “lewwer duad üs slaav!(better dead than a slave)
‘pidder lüng, detlev von liliencron’
So you see kale can be…revolutionary…inthis way….
(Also it really tastes good if correctlz prepared(and well if one likes it^^)
Big bowl of warm kale, with chickpeas and tomatoes and onions and curry powder and mmmmmmmmmmmm
My husband and I both laughed out loud at “SHUT UP YOU EAT NOTHING BUT KALE!” Bravo to you, my friend, and /salute!
This is someone who IMO needs an introduction to Ragen’s Underpants Rule. As in, you are the master of your own underpants, and everything in them, and no one else’s.
Also, you are my new hero, too.
I just snerked my juice reading “SHUT UP YOU EAT NOTHING BUT KALE!” Bwahahahaha
That phrase should be on a t-shirt.
Yes, this, a thousand times so. I love my knitting group, I really do, but I’m so tired of the diet talk, talk about “Biggest Loser,” and the like. I’m glad they have a lifestyle that makes them happy/healthy, but it’s too much sometimes. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a person with an eating disorder, either.
Thank you SO MUCH for this post, it’s something I’m going to keep around to send out to friends as a reminder when needed.
Last year I finally decided to get help for what I have just been calling my “weird food issues,” which have been around for 20+ years of my life. In that process I realized that my failed attempt at becoming anorexic as a pretty young child had never really gone away – I was told that even thought it hadn’t been officially diagnosed I had been dealing with an eating disorder. It’s really easy for me to get set off into a food anxiety/body hate spiral, and weight lost/dieting/body-hate talk is one of the biggest things that will do this.
I might not be a woman now, but I grew up as one and I have a lot of female friends, and I feel like I am in still in that competitive body-dissing culture in some areas of my life. And every time it comes up, I try to take up less space and hope no one’s looking at my body or judging what I’m eating. It’s a really toxic environment for me.
I’m hoping that as time goes on and I continue to get better, these sorts of comments and conversations won’t hit me so hard. But in the meantime, yeah, I just want them to stop!
*jedi hugs* I also had a bout of at-least-borderline-but-not-diagnosed anorexia growing up, and didn’t realize that how I ate for most of two decades afterwards was really more of the same, and I still struggle with it. I have a sign I made up, hung just inside my front door that says “this is a no diet talk household” because I got sick of being bombarded by people discussing their diets in my house (we host club meetings), and it’s still hard everywhere else.
Oh, and if anyone wants a copy of that graphic, I can post it in the forums or something.
That’s a great idea for a sign! Maybe the fact that I’ve fallen down on hosting/don’t have a huge social circle in my current city is a plus, here, but I would definitely have to institute a similar rule if that started happening. I don’t always feel confident enough to speak up in other contexts.
Jedi hugs to you too, I hope things can steadily get better & easier for you, even when it’s a struggle.
I haven’t even read the letter or the response yet. I just want to high-five the headline. Thank you. Yes. This.
It can be difficult to break with social conventions. I have found though, that when I do I feel better socially, emotionally and mentally. Breaking with these specific rituals has been fantastic in my circle of friends because when no one starts the spiral, the spiral doesn’t happen. Not that I’m a HAES goddess and am perfectly zen about all food or body conversations. In the last few months though in my groups of friends talking about food has veered more towards “this is delicious!” “oh I can’t wait for the first strawberries of summer!” and those sort of happy anticipatory comments. There is also a lot of talk about how food makes us feel but not in the I’m being bad or anything like that, almost every friend I have (including me) has food allergies and sensitivities. So when we talk health it is more like my personal body really hates me when I eat wheat, or another friend might say I found a chocolate bar that doesn’t have any corn and it seems like a safe thing to eat! We update each other on yay thing I can have and hmm thing I can try and boo thing that hates me and wants me to feel sickly. It is nice to have people I can have those conversations with but there is pretty much an iron clad rule of each of our bodies is different and behaves differently, there is no one way of eating. Anyone getting evangelical with their food choices gets shut down pretty quickly with a kind “I am so happy that this is working for you and you are feeling better but you didn’t find the allen wrench of diets, you found something that works for you. Yay that you feel better!”
The advice about redirects is so useful — I have been thinking about this a lot lately, specifically in relation to a friend of mine. We became friends because we have small daughters the same age — we actually met in a moms’ group when they were babies. And I totally used to do this as a ritual bonding thing, like, just a way of grooming and eating fleas (oh, my body, the worst, my self-discipline, the worst, etc.). And it’s a big thing with new moms, like, MY WACK BODY. And some things that can happen *are* kind of wack (oh, pelvic floor. come back). But it gets bound up with a ton of crap.
Anyway, though, I totally did this kind of talk but now that my kid is old enough to understand it I’ve gotten REALLY hyper aware of how poisonous it is. I mean, when she repeats my car swears that is embarrassing but also faintly hilarious (I’m working on that too…). But the idea of her repeating self-hating talk makes my heart shrink into my backbone. But what to do when this friend starts in, especially when I’ve been a “safe space” for that kind of talk before (never pushed back, in fact participated, etc)? I’m going to use all of these ideas. I had thought about taking to her about it explicitly — her kid is a daughter, too, after all! But she has a tendency to criticize herself a lot about everything (body, parenting, and so on) and I feel like, that would actually just undermine her confidence on *another* front. But “hey so what kind of exercises do you like?” or “hey what kind of salad do you find delicious these days?” as re-directs away from body hatred, if nothing else it can short-circuit those conversations if she tries to have them in front of my daughter in future. So grateful again for the cap’n and the awkward army.
I think that trying to change what you talk about with your friend in general could also be the starting point for her to do it less in front of her daughter. Ultimately, you are responsible to you and your child, so start there. And yes, I don’t think it’s necessary to go all confrotational if you think your friend will use it to beat herself up with it. But I could imagine she’ll discover that it’s actually nice to talk about things that are not saying “I’m an awful person” all the time and maybe, hopefully, even implement it at home.
Maybe the person you could be direct towards is your daughter? Depending on how much she understands. You could give her a short talk about how some people do not like their bodies, but you think all bodies are okay and she should not put other people down etc. (possibly helpful in the future, if her play-mate starts repeating her mom’s ideas).
Polychrome — I just want to confirm your instincts that yeah, THIS IS IMPORTANT. Please don’t, if it’s possible, let your daughter be in an environment where it’s normal to hate yourself and criticize everything you do as not good enough.
Thanks for this reinforcement — yeah, totally. I mean my kid is going to get *so* much of that kind of talk out in the world, I don’t want to allow it to cross our doorstep. And this could also mean down the road having to let the friendship go: the friend in question several times has pointed to her own growing-like-a-weed preschooler and said, “if she can keep that figure forever, she’ll be really lucky”! Which, like, wtf? Bad self-talk is one thing, creepy creepy creepy projection is quite another.
Would it be possible to just say, “Holy crap, now that my daughter is old enough to understand and repeat things, I’ve been realizing the things I say and I don’t want to to start saying those things about her self!” Or does that still seem too confrontational?
oh — and — of course it’s not just “self-hating talk”. It’s “hating a lot of people talk”. I don’t want my kid picking that up, either.
The method I have opted for when my friends who are much thinner then I am start to trash talk their bodies: I’ve taken to inviting them to revel in what a freaking babe I am, which they naturally agree on because I *am* a babe, also because it’s rude not to. I then say something along the lines of “Okay, you realize you’re much thinner than I am, right? So, by saying you’re fat, what are you saying about me?/So therefore by our society’s arbitrary standards you are obviously also a mother fucking babe” Which derails from further “but I’m faaat” and/or horrifies them into realizing their negative self talk is also negative about other people.
I wish that out I got the horrified response. Mostly it’s been “but I didn’t mean yoooou!” and “I’m talking about me, not you!” Except no, you are definitely talking about me, the actual fat person sitting right here who you don’t want to look like. There are so many people who can’t seem to make that connection.
I KNOW, RIGHT?!
I will occasionally tolerate this from BFF and from one other close friend, both of whom have histories of full-blown eating disorders that they have mostly recovered from but still sometimes get hit with the dysmorphia. I know with them that it’s 110% their jerkbrain talking and that they literally do not believe what they are saying about ANYONE other than themselves.
With people who are Judgy McJudgerpants about third parties and THEN pop off with “…but I don’t mean you!” I will point out that clearly they DID mean an identical stranger, like me in every way except they know me personally and not this other person.
This is a beautifully timed post for me! Hooray! These opting-out ideas are much better than my usual strategy of “open fish-mouth” + “gloomily/defiantly eat more cake”.
I eat a LOT of desserts and sweets these days, mostly as a coping mechanism for mental health stuff. It’s not the best coping mechanism, but it’s a lot better than what I’ve relied on in the past. So when people do the “oh, I’m SO BAD/wrong/guilty for eating this dessert” around me, it’s…not that helpful. It both triggers my own (comparatively mild but still sucky) body image stuff and then also sends me down the rabbit hole of shame over doing what I need to do to take care of myself. Usually I respond as above. I like the “deliberate non-sequitur” approach better, though.
My sister and I will talk about having “a bad body day” sometimes. It’s like a bad hair day: it’s usually not noticeable to anyone other than you, it’s not that there’s anything actually wrong with you, it’s just that some days, you FEEL like your body isn’t working for you, or fitting you right, or something. This lets us talk about our bodies under the assumption that the problem isn’t actually our bodies, it’s our weird and probably-not-reality-based feelings about them.
bad body day! i totally know what you mean – i’ve never had a name for this but always just mentally referred to it as “none of my clothes feel comfortable and i hate the way i look” day. been having them since i was a kid 😦
Yes! Bad body days! French has a beautifully fitting expression for feeling uncomfortable with yourself: Je ne me sens pas bien dans ma peau. Literally: I don’t feel well in my skin. That really works for me, but I’ve never been able to translate it into another language. Bad body day is perfect.
Yes!! I have done this. When my depression and anxiety is really bad, I can’t cook and my stomach is so nervous that I can’t eat anything but really appetizing stuff, so it’s either lots of sweets or nothing at all. Guess which is healthier!
I’ve been the thinner friend a lot, and I’ve made those noises about “I’m so fat” just because I didn’t have the social graces or the self-confidence to figure out a way out of that particular female bonding ritual, even though I knew damn well I wasn’t fat and also it wouldn’t matter if I were.
I also often had no idea how my fatter friends felt about it–did they want me to participate in the ritual to prove I wasn’t stuck-up? Or would that make them feel bad about themselves, or annoy them? So I second the Captain’s suggestion that, eventually, when you feel up to it, you might want to tell your friends what you’re doing and why. If any of them are in the least socially awkward, which most people are to some degree, they might hugely appreciate a straightforward “no, I am not silently sending you a signal to keep going with the social ritual, I am communicating my dislike of the social ritual, please stop.”
Yeah, like Alienor, I’ve also been the thinner friend a lot. And in my case, I’ve also been the similarly-weighted friend who just can’t manage to call myself fat, even when that seems to be the obvious ritual-bonding protocol. I don’t think I’ve ever hated my body, which feels like a really taboo thing to say. (Also, I do have some triggers from how my mom has been weird and very controlling about food, which can easily get set off by diet-talk or Noticing What Other People Are Eating, which adds to the overall awkward.)
I cannot count the number of times I have been in a group of assorted-sizes, as everybody ritually beats up on themselves, and it comes around to me – and I flail and blurt out a random thing. And with all of the many random things I’ve tried so far, I think I frequently DO come off as the stuck-up one and wind up standing outside The Group at the end of the conversation. And also wondering whether any of my friends have just been hurt (by me or anyone else in the conversation), but really not knowing what any of them might have been looking for or whether there was anything helpful I could have said.
Anyhow. I am reading this thread with interest and taking notes on how to do some more subtle redirects. Since “You know, humans are omnivorous, like raccoons, and pandas have a diet of bamboo!” is really not appropriate in all contexts.
One of my very subtle ones (for when I really don’t want to stick out) is to complain about clothing manufacturers. Like, “oh, I hate looking for shirts because the arms never fit! They must think all women have really skinny arms!” Note how that does NOT mean I hate my big arms – I think they’re great! But I do honestly hate looking for clothes that fit right.
Thanks, that’s a good thought! Come to think of it, I’ve seen my lovely spouse (who sews almost all her own clothes) do a version of this, and it almost always goes over very well. I’ll have to think a little about how I could adapt it for my own rather eccentric clothing situation. (I have basically abandoned all modern ideas of “fitting right” in favor of “fits like a sack and doesn’t set off my sensory issues.”) I hear you about hating to look for clothes – the manufacturers have straaaange ideas about what women are shaped like, indeed.
This happened 14 years ago. I’m still wishing for a do-over.
A friend of mine, “Katherine,” threw a party that included a hot tub in which people were lounging around nekkid. I was about to head for the hot tub, and a mutual friend, “Meg,” declared that she wasn’t going because she was too fat and didn’t want other people to see her.
Meg was roughly the same build as me, and significantly skinnier than Katherine. I felt annoyed on my own behalf and offended on Katherine’s. Katherine was fat — and while I don’t use that word in a derogatory manner, a lot of people do, and Katherine had likely heard her fill of it. I wanted to point out to Meg that she was in effect also telling Katherine that her body wasn’t good enough to show anybody. But I wasn’t sure if Katherine would appreciate me pointing this out, or if I’d just be making the situation worse. In the end, I didn’t do anything.
I probably should have at least mentioned this to Meg later, when we were alone, but relations were already kinda strained between her and me; I didn’t feel like adding to the conflict. To this day, I wonder how I should have handled it in the moment. Saying nothing doesn’t seem like the best solution.
I think “Your loss! I’m going in!” is about the only thing you could have said that would have deflected her comment and made a positive statement on your own behalf. (Assuming you wanted to go in yourself, of course.)
Oof, sorry, that was a response to cinderkeys.
Thanks LW for your great letter. Good on you for being cool in your babeing bod. The Captains advice is, as always, fantastic. I completely second the reading list – Gabifresh is AMAZING and gorgeous, and I love that most of the pretties are online so curvy ladies like moi can rock her looks all the way from Australia :-). I also really love http://frocksandfroufrou.com/ – especially relevant for Aussie fatshion.
FatBodyPolitics and FatSmartPretty are great resources for the more political aspects of body acceptance, and they link to all sorts of other cool info.
I totally get how hard it is to come to accept your body as fat AND fabulous. Made even harder when constantly being bombarded with retouched images and Biggest Loser type TV. Im very happy in my fat body, and I KNOW I am a way better person being comfortable in my skin than when I used to expend so much energy hating on myself, both in my own head and to others.Its exhausting when people undermine something that was so hard won.
A colleague of mine at work (we share a cubicle) who I am, for the most part, very friendly with has suffered severely from eating disorders in the past. Mostly she is well now (i.e. at a weight that allows her to function), but she is completely obsessed with food. Her food policing drives me bananas, and I actually don’t think she is aware that when she complains that her AUS Size 10 pants are tight (they’re not) and grabs her stomach, that it makes me feel shit – like others have said, if she thinks that being able to pinch skin is horrible, what must she think of me??? And then there is the not-compliment ‘I am so jealous of how you dont care what anyone thinks’. Which is a bit mean, but I think she *is* jealous – I eat what I want, and wear what I want.
I want to be kind to her but goodness it is exhausting. I am especially going to use the redirects to ‘Nice shoes/nail polish/jewlwey’ when it starts up.
I would be interested to know, do others think that all this body talk that women do is, quite frankly, a bit…vain? Sometimes I just want to say ‘GET OVER YOURSELF!’
Anyway, good luck LW!
I think vanity is a complicated idea in our society. The idea of vanity is that you’re too interested in how you look, right? But we’re taught from infancy that how we look is the single most important aspect out our existence (maybe second to virginity if you’re from a Bibley area). So vanity just seems like the other hand coming in for a slap. You must absolutely conform to the nearest man’s idea of beauty! You must never pay any attention to your physical appearance! You’re not paying enough attention to your appearance! Stop going on about your appearance, you’re so vain!
That’s very insightful. Is there a name for this?
Like, if slut-shaming is an enforcer for virginity, is vanity-shaming (?needs a better name?) an enforcer for beauty?
LW, I self-identify as fat (because I am!) and I was so happy when I saw you say “I don’t use fat in a derogatory manner.” It sounds like you’re already at a stage it took me a long time to get to: seeing “fat” as an adjective rather than an insult.
With that in mind, I wonder if you might like to try a tactic I’ve had good success with, which I call Just the Facts, Ma’am. This is a deflection / refusal-to-engage-in-the-shaming-dance practice whereby I respond with the truth about my identity / facts about the obstacles I face. Here are two real conversations I’ve had with friends:
Friend: I’m so bad for drinking this much–I’ll get so fat!
Me: Actually, it’s unlikely to affect your weight much. I’m fat regardless of what I consume.
Friend: Oh, but you’re not fat!
Me [as boring and polite as possible]: Yes I am.
Me: What a lovely dress!
Friend: Thanks! It’s from Banana. You should get one, it would look great on you.
Me: Oh, I can’t shop there. They don’t make clothes in my size.
Friend: What? Nooo.
Me: Yup! They only sell up to a [PENGUIN] and I’m a [HONEYBEE].
…etc. This approach isn’t for everyone, because it involves being very vocal about your own body, and not everyone’s work toward self-love includes wanting to do that. I like it because I feel empowered by pointing out to my friends that I exist fatly and make choices based on that mode of living every day.
I also want to second the comment I now can’t find about looking at fat bodies on tumblr–having sex, being athletic, dressed to the nines, lying around naked except for socks. It made me feel SO much better to remember that fat is normal, that bodies like mine exist and can experience and cause joy in all kinds of ways.
Lots of Jedi hugs.
Can I just say that [PENGUIN] and [HONEYBEE] are the best placeholders EVER? I would be proud to wear either of those. Though I lean more towards [PENGUIN] because those are my favorite animals ever.
This is really timely and I am doing to dive head first into all of the links on this page. I have had two new housemates move in in the last fortnight and it turns out they are both anti-fat, body policing types. I haven’t had to deal with that for quite a while (having built wonderful supportive networks, and excellent friendships, however I’m in a new-ish city now). This week has been constant talks of diets, gym workouts and ideal weights. One of the housemates asked us what we weighed (!!) and the other said that if she ever weighed over X amount she would kill herself. Then realising what she’d said, and that I obviously weigh a lot more than that, looked at me and said “oh sorry, I didn’t mean it like that”. They also asked me a bit about my love life (with the subtext being that I’m fat…so did I have a love life?). They were surprised to hear that (!!despite my size!!) 1)I’m actually dating a few different people right now 2)Some of these people are fit/muscular i.e. considered conventionally attractive. I walked away from that conversation feeling really icky. I know I am going to have to address this further as I don’t want to live in a house where these conversations are commonplace. For now though, I have just hid in my room as it’s been really stressful thinking about how to respond. So thanks for this Captain and team. Some good approaches to mull over.
Jesus, that sounds indeed stressfull (and rude). I wish you good luck with making your house a diet stress-free zone.
There’s another bad part too where everyone is obsessed with “eating healthy” (also usually tied into staying/getting thin) and as someone who has chronic conditions… I find it really alienating. I’ve dealt with a LOT of judgement from everyone including doctors. Like once I bought a package of chocolate muffins and my grandma was like “this is why you’re unhealthy” and threw them away. So I’m not into the weird moral judginess of “eating healthy” and especially not how it is assumed that everyone wants to be losing weight.
Throwing it away? How fucking rude is that.
Oh yes, the all day everyday office behaviour: “I can’t eat that! I shouldn’t eat that! Oh you’re being so bad, eating cake! YOU shouldn’t eat that!” To which I invariably reply: “Calories are a good thing when the (nearby nationality, traditionally evoked as a risk of invasion and war although we haven’t had a war where I live for over 300 years)’s are coming!”
This causes dropped chins and laughs that are surprisingly good at cutting the cycle of food policing short.
I have a friend who is very large and also uncomfortable about it (I think her knees are bad). If she starts up the “Oh, I really shouldn’t have this cake. No, really. This cake is very bad to eat” I hope I haven’t been overly rude to tell her that she is welcome to either eat the cake and enjoy it, because it is good cake!, or she can refrain from eating the cake if she doesn’t want to, but enough with the loud repetitive cake-shame! It is spoiling the cake-mood for all of us.
I’ve posted this here before, but it was so genius for me that I’ll share again.
I was given an exercise by my pastor when I was going through some hard times. He asked me, whenever I was on the subway or the bus or waiting in a restaurant for folks, to look around and (in my head!) say something positive about everyone there. EVERYONE. I didn’t (don’t) always succeed, but forcing myself to look at everyone’s bodies in all their diversity and compliment them forced me to look at myself more kindly: body, mind, and spirit.
I also carry that over to my friends, and try to compliment and/or thank them on/for something without self-negative prompting when we hang out. Way better as social grooming, in my opinion.
This is a great idea!
Yay LW for fighting the good fight! GO YOU, YOU ARE MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE BY CRITICALLY EXAMINING BODY IDEALS AND TRYING TO LOVE AND ACCEPT YOUR BODY AS IT IS!!!!!!!!!
And also, loads of sympathies for the struggle you are going through with trying not to participate in body-shaming stuff. My main issue is trying to get across, “I know my fat body is FINE and I don’t need to change it, but I still struggle to feel good about my body.” (I’m at a point now where I don’t actively hate how I look, I just don’t love it, and you know what? That’s progress. Kudos to me.) But that’s a nuance that’s pretty hard to convey in a normal fat-shamey body-hatey conversation — like, “Actually, I don’t think I need to lose weight. I just am not feeling too good about myself today, so my attitude is the problem and not my body.” I think the Captain’s advice is good in that in a lot of environments you don’t get to express ambiguity about loving yourself, because they are not safe spaces. And that really fucking SUCKS, because I think a lot of us need company and support on our journeys to accepting and loving ourselves.
The dominant beauty standard culture co-opts this whole huge part of women’s and feminine-presenting people’s lives (OUR FUCKING BODIES) and demands that it fit into this narrow little script. You can’t exercise because you like doing x activity; you have to exercise because you want to lose weight (unless you are already quite thin, and then you’re supposed to do something genteel and lady-like. Probably yoga.) You can’t choose the exercise you like the best, you have to pick the one that burns the most calories. It’s all very well engineered to completely divorce you from your own body. (I gave up jogging mostly because it triggers all this fat-hate misery in my brain in a way that bicycling, walking, or dancing doesn’t, but try explaining THAT to the status quo: “I would rather be fat that do something that makes me hate myself*.” Ha!)
I think that’s the thing I hate most about these kinds of conversations — the lack of nuance. Like, there’s no allowance for having your own specific and complicated feelings about your body. When I went home last summer, I had a family friend congratulate me on my weight loss, and it just made me feel sad and empty. I had lost weight (a fairly significant amount) because I had been really depressed for eight months, to the point that I had stopped taking care of myself and stopped enjoying basic things (like eating.) When I was losing weight, I mostly felt like I was disappearing. I was aware of “looking better” to most people, but everything FELT WRONG. In that moment, I didn’t want to call my family friend out on it (though I have trained my mom to NEVER COMMENT ON MY WEIGHT! go me!), but I wish I had. As soon as the depression got better, I gained that weight back. And it’s hard to explain that “actually, I feel better at this fat weight than I did at my almost not-fat-weight weight, because it means I’m enjoying having a body again” to someone for whom skinnier ALWAYS means better, if not healthier.
* I am an in-betweenie, and based on previous experience if I wanted to put in 20-40 hours a week to making myself thin-ner, I probably could. I realize that not all people’s bodies will do this at all, and I choose not to, because it fucks with my head and also I have many more interesting places to put those 30 hours a week.
I think your comment is really poignant. You can’t know exactly why someone is losing weight (or not losing weight, or gaining weight) and the idea that skinnier *always* = better can be very destructive. In your case, your weight loss was related to depression, which is not a positive experience. I feel like if you had already been thin, and as a result of said depression lost weight to the point of being skin and bones, the reaction might have been more of concern (although with standards as they are now, I’m not so sure – also, I don’t mean to pick on people who are that skinny, just point out that skinnier doesn’t always mean healthier). A lot of the way you describe your experience, like “felt like I was disappearing” is a very sad and scary sentiment for anyone to be feeling, but society is so fucked up that if you’re fat then the idea is that that is a good thing? Not that this lady knew how you were feeling, but what I’m trying to say is, we’ve got a long way to go.
Glad that you are feeling better and happier with your body as a result!
Oh oh oh some links:
Your mileage may vary (as always), but my favorite fashion blog is probably The Curve and Line. It’s not explicitly a fat-positive space, but the author treats her body (which is quite similar to mine and some of my friends) as normal and okay and deserving of awesome fashion.
I also still keep up with Lesley and Marianne at xoJane (respectively of “Two Whole Cakes” and “The Rotund” fame.) However, I have to say that the comments sections at xoJane are hell on a fucking stick, and I think that’s part of the reason I don’t keep up there the way I did with their respective personal fat-positive blogs. Still, their writing styles are a joy to me.
Oh beans, the xoJane stuff was mentioned in the post. But also look at their blog archives too!
All through my childhood I did that kid thing (which my stepson is also kind of doing at the moment) of taking a stretch and being thin, then chubbing out into my new height, then stretching out thin again, then filling out etc. In one of my chubby phases, at about age 8, I got norovirus. After a couple weeks of being unable to absorb nutrients, I was recovered and back in school. A teaching assistant grabbed me on my first day back and started showering me with praise about how much weight I lost. Even then I was nonplussed, thinking “uh…yeah…I’ve been starving, is that a good thing now?” but treatment like that has always left an impression on me. I know, objectively, that fat =/= bad, unhealthy and thin =/= good, healthy but I also know that people think it does, and that it massively effects how you’re treated, and I can’t shake my tendency to care about that fact.
In my final year of high school (when I was finished getting taller but still growing steadily outwards) a girl turned to me in class and whispered, about the teacher, “oh my god, that dress makes her looks so fat! I didn’t realise how fat she was!” I stared at her for a second and said “Amy, she is less than half the size I am” and she replied, in total shock and earnest, “you’re not fat! You’re *nice!*”
Wow, be a bit more obvious about the underlying thought processes there, love.
This isn’t very relevant, just a vent.
Wow, you were congratulated for losing weight through illness? Words cannot express my….you know…
so this is my face —-> :O
When she was 8!!
I’m currently 22 weeks pregnant, and lost a stone in my first trimester because I was sick and couldn’t eat much or exercise. I’ve only just started to put weight back on, and I’m not quite back up to my “normal” weight just yet, and only just starting to look definitely pregnant. I also think I lost quite a lot of muscle mass during the 3-4 months when I couldn’t really cycle or walk like I normally would, because I don’t think I’ve got “thinner” enough to account for a stone of fat.
I’m usually pretty good at avoiding diet/food-policing talk – I never deliberately engage in it, and I have a pretty effective “vague smile as if I don’t really understand the language you’re speaking” response when people try it as a means of female bonding – but over the last few weeks people have obviously started commenting on my changing body shape. And the praise and congratulations I get for not having put any weight on yet! “Yes, that’s because I WAS PUKING. Or TOO ILL TO EAT. And TOO SICK TO EXERCISE.” Also, there is nothing good about losing muscle mass and strength! That’s going to be bloody hard to get back after the baby is born!
I am lucky that I was healthy and fit enough before I got pregnant that 3-4 months of mainly living on mashed potato and white fish won’t do me or the small any harm, and I also wasn’t sick enough to do either of us any long term damage. But it’s boggling me that people will congratulate a *pregnant woman* on looking slim. I mean, it shouldn’t be a surprise, this stuff is always totally fucked up, but STILL.
Definitely messed up beyond belief
I’m pregnant right now and I get the same thing. The baby is a healthy size but I don’t have a really huge belly, and I haven’t gained much extra weight because I’ve been nauseated throughout the entire damn pregnancy. And yup, people compliment me on how thin I look for a pregnant lady. It’s messed up.
First comment on the girl in class: “you’re not fat! You’re *nice!*” Wow. Wooow. That really sums up a lot of horrible societal tropes, doesn’t it?
Second, “congratulations on contracting a virus so terrible you had to miss a good chunk of school! At least you’re thin, that’s all that matters!”
The UK measures all children at the age of 10 for statistical purposes, and my sister got a letter to take home the next day that said she was a) too fat, and b) too tall. Needless to say, that letter went straight in the compost and my sister has continued growing into her weight.
Too… tall? What, they expect parents to have the child’s legs surgically shortened or something???
We lived in Great Britain when I was 12 and 13 when I was nearly as tall as I am now. A salesperson flat out refused to help my mother, because “Girls her age don’t have size 10 feet.”
My boss is a terrible food policer, and she has no social skills and *will not* stop. She doesn’t perceive hints at all.
She also knows way less about exercise and nutrition than I do.
She has a hard life herself (solo carer for her two elderly & disabled parents, as well as a full time job), so I try not to be actively harsh with her. She is extremely concerned with her own food choices – which is okay if it interests her, I guess, although tedious to listen to – but also an inveterate giver of unwanted advice to others.
But I did one time go into her office in tears and ask her not ever to comment on my own food choices again, due to my history of disordered eating. She still does it…
I think people can have a hard life and still encounter boundaries? I see that it’s hard to set them with her, but I don’t think you are a bad person/will make her life actually worse when you set boundaries about food talk with her. It sounds really difficult though…
When people participate in this kind of talk, they’re looking for validation. But here’s the thing: Your friends can use their words to simply ask for that validation that they are valuable and wonderful! In ways that don’t hurt you and make you feel small and awful! They will not die if they can’t make body-shaming comments in your presence!
Which is to say you deserve to feel comfortable with your friends so in the long run who genuinely cares if they feel a little awkward or resentful the first few times you say “Hey stop” or refuse to respond. Let it be awkward! Let them sit with it and hopefully come to the conclusion that they were doing something bad and need to stop doing it. Do not rush to smooth that over, you are not asking for “too much.” Their feelings are not actually worth more than yours and you never signed on to be the sole carrier and tender of All The Body Feelings for your friend group, did you?
It sounds like a friend group culture change is far, far overdue and it will be awkward and difficult and will involve some discomfort and maybe a few sulky friends’ “But are you telling me I can’t TELL you about my FEELINGS???” (Me: Nope, I’m just telling you you have to deal with them in a way that doesn’t hurt me! Even if that means shutting your mouth around me and writing all your self-hating talk in a journal! Which you can survive, you adult you.)
Once there’s been a precedent, even a crappy one, set, people are extremely slow to change it and may be hostile toward the challenger. But you can handle it! Because you are awesome and you recognize there’s a problem here.
I went through this a few years ago with my social circle when I was trying to change how I thought about my body (best investment of time and effort ever!) and unfortunately it is a process. Especially when you are talking about resetting conversation patterns with people who have been a part of your life for a while. It really helped me that my best friend was also doing the same thing around the same time, and although neither one of us was perfect we were able to support one another and help change the conversation. Maybe it would help if you could talk to one of your closer friends and let them know what is going on, that way you would have some help when you try to change the subject! Anyway, good luck LW! It’s the best when you can just like yourself 90% of the time without any negative body stuff 🙂
Oh I should have put this in my original comment but I really like the blog Girl with Curves. She did this post a few weeks ago that was pretty useful! http://girlwithcurves.com/post/86384916872/body-confidence-tips The first one is to spend more time looking in the mirror… nude 🙂 I hadn’t ever really thought about it before I was reading this post, but I did that a lot when I was teaching myself how to like my body. I would try to consciously look for parts of my body or poses that I liked. It’s silly, but it helped me a lot!
I am a health educator and I am fat. I chose this career because I care about public health and harm reduction.
Most (if not all) of my coworkers are thin. Most (if not all) chose this career because they care about physical activity and nutrition. Which is fine, because someone needs to care about it. But I sure don’t and I’m really fucking tired of it being the constant conversation.
Part of it is my own insecurities. But a large part of it is because body/food-shaming culture is so prevalent in this field. We think we know what is best for everyone to do around health, especially with diet and exercise. So my coworkers are PREACHY as hell about their diet and exercise regimens, and JUDGY as fuck about other people’s choices.
Recently we had a get-together that coincided with my boss’ birthday. Someone sent an email asking if anyone wanted to bring cake, and someone just had to respond with “CAKE?!?!?!?!?! Better be a healthy one!” (I am not exaggerating the amount of ?!s used, it was probably more.)
Another time, my ex coworker (who left the department in part because of the ridiculous food-shaming culture) was heating up a microwave pizza and her supervisor came in and said “Wow! That looks really unhealthy!” Are you fucking kidding me?! That was two years ago and I still can’t get over it.
Health isn’t just diet and exercise, and you’d think HEALTH EDUCATORS would know that. Nope. And my coworkers assume that I must care about nutrition and exercise because I’m a health educator. NOPE. I’d rather talk about disease transmission and health behavior theory, ya know, some of the other important aspects of health.
It’s at the point that I am looking at switching careers.
Oh gosh, that’s so depressing. You are totally right to try and change careers if it’s a poisonous and hostile environment for you, but it’s AWFUL seeing a professional narrow itself down to Only One Type Of Person by being hostile to anyone who doesn’t fit a particular mould. I bet there are lots of people who’d way rather get health advice and information from you than from someone whose primary focus seems to be shaming people for what they eat. 😦
Yeah. The LW’s point about bonding really hit home for me in the context of work and I went off on a rant without relating it back to the OP. I get the sense that there’s this dichotomy in my department of “the enlightened,” aka the educators, and “the ignorant masses”, aka the fat, slobby public, and because I’m not on the diet and exercise train I get super sensitive about perceiving myself being put in the latter category. Obviously the dichotomy is bullshit anyway, but my insecurities combined with near-constant diet and exercise talk make me feel like I’m not part of the in-club because I don’t worry/care/obsess about eating cake and being slightly-less-than-sedentary. It’s bad enough when my friends make comments like the LW’s friends…when it is a part of work culture too it gets really disheartening.
how incredibly rude is it to insult someone else’s food choice? unbelievable.
WTF is “healthy cake” and please Lord may I avoid this for all time.
It saddens me that this horrible, judgmental environment is causing you to consider leaving a job you care about (and what awesome work you do! I hope you find a more healthy and supportive work environment.
I love the re-framing, re-directing the conversation ideas. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it can diffuse a situation and make the conversation far more positive.
I must say that what bothers me most about the body-shaming-as-small-talk convention is that it is generally practiced by women and it reflects the standards against which we are taught to value ourselves: the way we look. So, not only is devaluing ourselves a problematic form of bonding but we use it to reinforce to ourselves and each other the idea that our ultimate value to Society is in our appearance not in what we do.
I’ve been pondering to write to CA with a similar topic, although from the other side. I have two close friends who are overweight, and they sometimes tell me about how they hate their bodies. I’m not overweight (except in my mum’s head), and I’m always a bit stumped for an answer. I don’t want to say “no, you’re not” and risk sounding like some of the above-mentioned “skinny friends” who just brush aside their bigger friends’ concerns. I don’t want to use deflective techniques; I think they are great in more superficial conversations, but in those situations I would feel like I’d be rudely ignoring something they are telling me about themselves.
Do you think that asking “Okay, and now tell me something you love about your body/self” would be weird? Would starting a conversation about society’s fucked-up beauty standards come across as… fake, coming from someone who fits more closely with it?
Both my friends are awesome, awesome people (and beautiful! But I don’t care either way, because awesome is a much more important quality in a friend!), and I would love for them to be able to love their awesome selves more, but I’m somehow lost on how to be helpful in that.
I’d start a conversation with them in the vein of “When you tell me something like [what you mentioned above], how do you want me to respond?” Going from there, you can find a way to talk to them in those moments that is also okay for you (as you probably wouldn’t be okay with saying “I see your point, you must be awful.”).
I think telling a thin person telling a fat person who is struggling with self-hatred to come up with something they love about their body is unlikely to go well.
I tend to use reframings and subject changes. Going deeper than that is rare, and depends a lot on tone and body language, what exactly they said (are they stating facts about themselves, or are they definitely using hateful, shaming language–a word like “fat” might be used either way), how close you are as friends.
With close friends who are directing blatant hatefulness toward themselves and not taking gentle hints or redirects, I try to shift the tone from “casual chatting, we all talk like this sometimes, it’s normal” to “shit is getting real,” by leaning forward, looking friend in the eye, getting really quiet for a second, before I gently say something like:
“Do you hear how hateful you sound toward yourself? You’re my friend. I can’t bear to hear anyone tear you down, even if it’s *you* tearing you down.”
This tends to lead into a serious conversation about where the boundaries are in talking about health or feelings or facts about bodies, versus bringing the self-hate.
When the friend starts dishing out the self-hate again after that conversation, I bring out my serious body language again immediately. I bristle, sit up straight, lean in, look in their eyes, shake my head no, and say “please don’t do this” / “I can’t listen to you talk this way.”
I would be totally down with someone telling me this, exactly.
I would recommend against responses that frame you either as The Therapist (because although it’s wonderful that you love your friends, this is something they have to work out for themselves, and not your responsibility) or as The Arbiter of What’s Okay (because although you should absolutely express your discomfort with what they’re saying, it’s not up to you to set tasks / challenges / interview questions for them).
I’m fat, and one of my very best friends is super duper skinny. Neither of us is 100% comfortable with our bodies, but we can each make each other more comfortable by saying things like:
– “I’m sorry to hear you’re not feeling good about yourself today. I have days like that, too. I love you.”
– “I’ve really been enjoying your fashion lately — you look so happy and pleased with your choices!”
– “I can’t really talk about this right now. Can we talk about how amazing How To Train Your Dragon 2 is going to be, instead?”
Sometimes it helps just to know that each of us suffers from the poisonous, body-shaming culture in which we’re all swimming–solidarity!–and sometimes it helps to deflect the conversation from a negative interaction to a positive one. The most important thing, to my mind, is that my skinny friend relates to me, her fat friend, not as an emotional prop or as a judge, but as a peer. Sympathy that comes from a place of mutual respect and love can carry you a long way.
I hope this helps!
This is so terrific. That is all.
One of my best friends has the best response to any negative self talk. If I say something self depreciating she will just say “Don’t talk about my friend like that.”
I love it because not only is it a good reminder not to say negative things about myself, but it also is a great reminder that she loves me and has my back, because she is awesome. And now I”m going to go text her and tell her that.
i love it!!
I might need to try this. My best friend is trying to lose weight. She often compares herself to others, and will talk badly about her body if she sees herself in a photo/new outfit/etc. I never know what to say, beyond “stop it, you look fine.” I know hearing “you look fine” in that moment of self-doubt helps nothing, and she probably suspects I’m just saying it to end the conversation, which in a self-doubty state could translate to “I think you look bad too but I’m being polite”, which is the last thing I want her to feel (and not true!). I just don’t want to talk like that.
“Don’t talk about my friend like that,” is a sweeter, kinder way of saying “stop it, you look fine.” Thanks!
Ok, I hope she won’t mind, but I’m totally going to steal that for my husband to use on me the next time I get massively convinced I’m useless. (Oh, hai depression….)
I do this all the time when my BF has a bad day at work and starts calling himself “useless” an “idiot” etc etc. I don’t know it really addresses those feelings of failure or what have you from the work day, but it does momentarily at least re-center the conversation.
I started a new job this spring and made a bunch of begin-as-you-mean-to-go-on resolutions, and opting out of this stuff was one of them. I figured that with new relationships there was less to lose.
So the first time my cubemate said, “I’ve got to go to the farmers market and get a bunch of salad stuff because I’ve been eating like a pig,” I said, “I can’t really do diet talk because it’s bad for me. But is the farmers market good here?”
And she didn’t take the easy conversational bait, but she tipped her head to one side and said, “You know what – it isn’t good for me, either.”
So that went way better than I feared.
I am so heartened by hearing about this experience. Thank you for sharing.
I will admit to be ‘that friend’ that has the issue with saying that crap about myself. Captain is right, it’s about me and not my friends. I like, truly hate my physical appearance in deep, deep ways that I haven’t even bothered to address with my therapist. When I say “oh my god I am so fat” in front of a friend that is bigger than me I truly, truly don’t mean ANYTHING about them. So what if they’re larger than I? They look totally fine and are a beautiful creature while I look like a toad beast! Honestly that is what I mean!! (Alternately I could mean: I feel fine about myself today but my pants don’t fit anymore and since I can’t afford new ones I literally cannot eat that cake until my pants fit again, even though I want nothing more than to unhinge my jaw and swallow whole)
So like, it hurts me to think that I hurt a friend with my comments when really I was only discussing my horrible self, but thanks to the blessed souls who put up with me I’m working on it, because I understand now why it’s upsetting and the onus is on me to get my shit together and I must be part of the change in the cultural narrative I wish to see in the world. There’s also a misplaced solidarity element. If a friend who is larger than me comments on something that they don’t like I feel the need to jump in that just because I weigh less than you doesn’t mean I don’t also think that thing is horrible about me and we are united!!! and that creates that downward spiral that leads to projecting all over Amy.
I loved the Captain’s advice. When jerkface me starts talking, I need to be shutdown, because otherwise I’ll just keep on as I am and that’s not cool.
When you say “I’m so fat!” are you actually looking at your body size or are you just using “fat” as a general pejorative for everything you dislike about yourself? I’m wondering if the term “fat” is going through the same lingual misuse as “gay” or “retard” wherein the literal meaning of the word isn’t what it’s being used for, but instead it’s being wielded as a label for all things that the person using it dislikes.
For me personally (obviously can’t speak for all who do this) I use ‘fat’ to literally talk about my weight (and again, I don’t think fat is bad in other people, just me, it’s a serious double standard thing). If I want to criticize something other than my size I get specific.
I have cut the body-shaming out of my end of conversation, and I’ve become very literal in my descriptions of myself without shame or dancing around the bush. It has had the strange effect that people REALLY like to show me their body parts that they’re self-conscious about. I’ve seen so many bellies! So many thighs! People just come at me with it. I don’t know if they’re looking to try to shock me out of my non-shaming or if they’re hoping that I’ll tell them it’s not so bad, or just take it at face value (which is what I do). It’s quite a thing though. Even my boss came at me with her belly out (in a non-lawsuity kind of way)
My girlfriend recently had a talk with me about this. I’ve been working on my fitness and also my self-love, and there are a lot of days when I look in the mirror and say, “Ah, fuck, my stomach is enormous today and I look like putty,” and ask her if she thinks I am bigger today than I was last week. She is of a larger body type than me, and she finally told me that it made her feel really bad when I say those things because if *I* am nitpicking at my body for largeness, it’s basically a cue to her to feel terrible because of her size. We also had the “But you have the right to express your unhappiness with your body” talk, and my conclusion was that I will NOT say those things about my body because the act of looking in the mirror and declaring myself “too fat” while asking her for reassurance is actually just making me feel worse than if I looked in the mirror, noted that I was a bit bloated from drinking 100 beers the night before, and going on with my day in comfortable pants.
This may or may not be germane to the LW, but we’ve also discussed taking bellydancing classes together as a way to work on our body self-images and place ourselves in a more body-positive climate–we have a lot of friends who do that and it’s a really good way to find a social group of women who are very proud of their bodies, their differences, and what they have learned to do with the bodies they have instead of how they look and how they’re trying to make them look. A quote from a friend who does bellydancing competitively: “It’s not about being skinny, because the more body you have, the more sparkly jangly stuff you can put on it.”
I did bellydancing for several years. It’s definitely a dance that suits heavier women… the more you jiggle, the easier it is to do those hip shimmies!
Working in the tattoo industry, I get a front row seat to the self-induced body shaming of many women. “Am I too fat for a sexy tattoo?” “I wanted the tattoo in this spot but I’m going to get it in this other spot because the first spot is too flabby” “I hate my boney self, and I’m afraid that the tattoo will look stupid” “My skin is horrible and I want to cover as much as it as possible.” “I’m so f*cking hairy! I’m so sorry that you have to shave that area before you tattoo me!” (Everyone needs to be shaved before a tattoo is applied. Everyone.) “I want to get this done, but I’m going to deny myself what I want until I’m the idealized version of myself.” “Can you cover these scars/veins/stretchmarks?”
It’s very delicate, because a lot of the time, they have to expose those parts that they dislike about themselves to me: a strange woman. I think that they are just undergoing the sick self-deprecating social ritual as seen in the skit above but it feels as if they are apologizing for existing to me and it’s very uncomfortable.
The flip side of this is that I see a lot of stuff that makes me feel bad about myself as well. Legs where you can’t see the stubble growing just under the skin. Impossibly tight tummies. breasts and butts that sit like shelves, so you’d think that there were support beams holding them up from the inside. Gleaming, hairless, mark-free skin that looks airbrushed.
Those women usually also find something to hate about themselves and apologize as well, which makes me want to throw a bag over my head and hide under a rock.
So it’s all nasty. It’s all a cycle that continually makes us all feel shitty all of the time. It reenforces the practice of constantly evaluating the physical aspects of other people in a judgmental way, and then comparing ourselves to that person to see if we are more or less than them.
My only real defense is to offer compliments on various skills or chosen affects. “I love those boots!” “Your manicure is gorgeous.” “Your job sounds amazing!” “You drew this? You really have talent!” “I’ve always wanted to play an instrument, but I don’t have the dedication. You must have worked really hard to get that good!”
This article seems to be real appropriate
Things You Should Never Say To A Fat Girl
From Cosmo of all places!
“I wouldn’t assume that a friend who discusses an ongoing frustration with acne is giving an invitation for me to complain about a zit I get once a month.”
Somewhat OT but. I’ve had problematic skin for almost 20 years now (YES I’ve seen dermatologists YES I’ve tried this YES that too THANK YOU) and it still fucks with my mind if somebody complains to me about having a zit. ONE zit. So yeah… thank you for not being one of those people.
Gotta throw in a recommendation for Jes at http://www.themilitantbaker.com/. She has received some international attention for her body positive photo projects, *and* she was the driving force behind the first Body Love Conference in Tucson, AZ this year. I attended, it was amazing, can’t wait to see what happens with the next one.
This does not always apply and might not work for everyone, but I have found it helpful to explicitly stress the parts of my body/myself I do like and ask my friends to do the same. Thing is, I’ve had these conversations, but not just about weight, about everything. Don’t like my nose, my eyes are too close to each other/too far apart from each other, straight vs. curly hair, hair colour, legs too short, too tall, etc. etc. etc. (And sure, those might be actual concerns, but just like with weight it’s body-shaming bonding.) When I realised we were doing it, I have, on occasion, said: Okay, and now let’s all mention a part of our body we like. And we did and it was much more positive from there on.
Of course, it was always in a small group of pretty close friends and I felt comfortable saying it, because I knew they would get it and it would work. None of those people had a strong habit of body-policing/shaming others. And they were not conversations about weight only, but the kind that goes on from there to other body parts. But in my experience, the putting-yourself-down for bonding purposes extends to pretty much all characteristics (also intelligence and amount clumsiness and whatnot – why do we do this to ourselves?!), so maybe some version of “let’s say positive things about ourselves” could be applied in most situations like these?
I try to do this on my own as well. It can be really random/unconventional stuff. For example, I’ve recently looked down on my feet and realised that I quite like the skin on them (It looks pretty!). This me making an effort to think positive thoughts (in general and about myself), but the randomness of it means that my jerkbrain does not actually have any material on the topic of skin on feet. Or rather, it would have to come up with material and, whilst I’m sure it would have no difficulty doing so, I find it easier to not let it gather negative material in the first place than to stop it from making those negative comments once it knows what to say (if that makes sense).
And now I’ve thought of why this does not always work: this probably only applies to mild-ish cases of body-shaming (bonding or not bonding).
My favorite funny way to respond is to say, “are you flirting with me right now?!” and bat my eyelashes. This only works with friends, obviously, not very work appropriate, but it’s a fun way to defuse the tension of “I hate myself” and “I hate that you hate yourself.” (I wrote about it here: http://lisafindley.com/2012/05/17/best-body-trick/ )
Thanks for the reminder that’s it’s not all about you. As David Foster Wallace once said, you wouldn’t worry about what people are thinking about you if you realized how little they do.
Great reading list, but I’d love a list of fiction books as well. I liked reading the Flora Segunda novels, since the heroine is casually round, doesn’t hate her body, and wears scrumptious dresses. There is also Fat Girl in a Strange Land, an anthology of awesome fat women kicking butt. (http://crossedgenres.com/titles/fat-girl-in-a-strange-land/) What else is out there?
My Mad Fat Diary is a BBC TV series on YouTube about a teenage girl who’s fat, has a history of mental illness including self-harm, and is awesome.
Please take this for what it’s worth, as I may be the only person with this opinion.
One of the scripts repeated in many forms in this post run along the lines of, “I wouldn’t let someone else talk about you that way, please don’t speak that way about yourself.” Comments along these lines have always bothered me, and I believe it’s because they come across to me a bit like tone policing.
When someone expresses deep, ugly self-hate to me, I prefer to explore and respond based upon my friend’s signals, rather than jumping to an authoritative (though gently, lovingly-expressed) even somewhat adversarial response (as I perceive the above to be).
I would say something like, “Wow Friend, I’m hearing rage, helplessness and even self-hate in those words. I want to support you. Are you looking for reassurance, an outside perspective, or solutions? How can I help? And BTW I believe you are lovable, valuable and beautiful, but I’m not going to invalidate your experience of yourself even though it doesn’t seem accurate to me.”
My perspective might also be coloured by my own personal experience, which is based upon the fact that I have a very objective assessment of my body, coupled with a healthy body image. When I use the word ‘fat’ to describe myself (an objectively accurate assessment), I get a lot of pushback from people who think I’m putting myself down. Their protests (“Don’t say that about yourself!” “You’re beautiful!” “I don’t like to hear you say things like that!” “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!”) come across as very disrespectful to me because they seem patronising, infantilising, and reveal both a mis-conception about my self-image and the speaker’s own prejudice.
I’d be happy to tell all those same people that I have gorgeous skin, a great rack, the best legs of anyone I know, beautiful eyes etc, but they are as uncomfortable with comments like that. 😀
tl;dr I don’t support comments that are hurtful, either to another or to oneself, but I think we owe it to each other to take an inquiring – rather than authoritative – tack when responding to negative comments when they are self-directed.
This is the kind of things I can’t usually say because it sounds like a humblebrag, but I recently lost a ton of weight due to post-partum-anxiety-related Not Eating — like, to the point that one of Husband’s friends quietly asked him, “Hey, can I tell Sparrow she looks really good or does she have cancer or something?” EVERYONE is running around saying “oh, you look fantastic,” “I can’t believe you had a baby,” “how did you lose all that weight,” and so on. It is (1) SO not anyone’s business how/why I lost weight, and (2) probably not incredibly healthy, you guys.
But I don’t want to say “Actually, I don’t look great, I look like I didn’t eat for months, because I didn’t, and only through the magic of antidepressants am I even devouring this cake you see in my hand, and I am consumed with fear that I won’t be able to have another kid because I’m concerned with the long-term consequences of SSRIs during pregnancy. But thanks for thinking I’m skinny, I guess.”
I remember when I noticed the self-deprecation cycle in middle school. It seemed really strange, but I couldn’t say why. And of course, I played along, because you really look like an asshole if you don’t. I think I’m very lucky that I was both clever enough to come up with things to complain about, but also strong enough not to actually believe them.
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