In a recent Bustle article, Wear Your Voice contributor Suma Jane Dark writes about the “8 Tough Conversations Your Fat Friends Might not be Having With You.” She addresses well-meaning allies who unintentionally co-opt the fat liberation movement into their lives in ways that erase the experiences of their fat loved ones, rather than echoing and signal-boosting.
Those same allies, who may vary from well-intentioned acquaintances to close family members or partners, say some pretty godawful crap. Us fatties get it, for the most part: You’re unlearning misogyny and fatphobia from a place that doesn’t come from personal experience, so you’re going to screw up. It’s time to unlearn these toxic behaviors that create distance between you and your loved ones — and make you look like a total ass to everyone else.
5 things never to say to your fat loved ones:
1. You’re not fat.
HOLD THE PHONE. Yes, we are fat. Many of us have been fat our entire lives and have endured bullying and discrimination by employers, health providers and other indignities just because we exist in bigger bodies. Furthermore, you are perpetuating the idea that fat = bad, when some of us just prefer it as a descriptor, much like the word “slender” or “lean” may be used for our straight-sized counterparts. By saying “You’re not fat,” you both erase our experience and, in the case of fat activists, burden us with terms that we do not choose for ourselves.
Every time you say this, a cute little fat kitten dies. Okay, maybe not, but stop saying it.
2. You’ve got such a pretty (or handsome) face
If there is anything that makes me want to burn the entire building down with both myself and the offender inside it, it’s this goddamned phrase. While “You’ve got such a pretty face” sounds like a compliment, the subtext of the statement is “… it’s a shame about the rest of your body.”
Growing up feminine in the South, I got to know what a veiled insult looks like, and this truly tops the list. Other oldies but goodies include: “You have such courage to wear that outfit,” or “What an interesting choice!”
All jokes aside, when you say this to someone, you are truly reinforcing that their body is worthless or unattractive, even if you do not actually find their body unattractive. If you want to compliment a person’s face, simply say “I love your smile,” “You have beautiful eyes,” or “You’ve got great skin.” What’s better than all of that? Just tell them that they are beautiful, handsome or gorgeous.
You’re damn right I have a pretty face — and get a load of the rest of me!
3. If you aren’t happy with your body, just lose the weight.
Seriously? Just wave a wand and lose the weight? These kind of comments are ableist and come from a space of total privilege. Some people have put on weight because they’ve developed a mobility issue or disability. Others may be having reactions to psychological medications or experiencing a multitude of glandular and other health issues.
Instead of suggesting that your loved one or friend lose weight, ask them what is really at the core of their unhappiness (if, indeed, they are unhappy). Listen intently and help them come up with a plan. If you are genuinely concerned about a person getting out of their house and simply moving around for their mental and physical health, find out what they really like to do and come up with an accessible plan. With a little bit of research and asking the right questions, you can come up with something that meets them at their comfort level and allows them to access the same things that you do. Love the beach but have a friend who has a bad knee? Suggest a drive to the marina or find a beach with good accessibility options.
4. Don’t talk about your diet (or ask about theirs)
Diet talk is boring at best, and toxic at worst. No one really cares about your diet except for you, and that’s okay. The only people that should be concerned about someone’s diet is the person who is dieting (or has special needs), the person physically purchasing the groceries and cooking, and the health professional who is carefully monitoring the changes within that patient’s body. No one else.
Aside from being boring, you truly have no idea who has an eating disorder (ED) and who does not. Many fat people are in ED-recovery, but their disorders are rarely taken seriously by friends because “at least they are doing something to lose weight.”
Additionally, if you find out that a fat person is a vegan, do not assume that it is for weight-loss purposes. Fat vegans do exist and they’re thriving, despite the bullshit assumptions that they must wade through because of their size.
Thoughtful question that you CAN ask regarding food and diet: “Hey, do you have any dietary restrictions or allergies that you would like me to know about?”
5. Don’t trash your physique in front of your plus size pals
Too many thin or smaller-bodied folks think that it is okay to degrade their bodies with comments like “I’m so fat,” “Ugh, I need to lose 15 pounds,” or “I look disgusting” in front of their fat friends.
It’s not cute. It’s not acceptable. It’s not OK.
When you do this, you create a hostile space. These comments can be received as commentary on our larger bodies — because if our 130-pound friend thinks their body is disgusting and needs to be thinner to be loved, what the hell do they think about ours?
With a little forethought, you can overcome the gross behaviors that you have been taught by a fatphobic society. A few tweaks here and there will make for better, more loving, empathetic and meaningful relationships between you and your fat loved ones.