Dear Virgie: Thin Women Use Fat Women to Make Themselves Feel Better? Help!
Can you talk about thin women who have fat friends to make themselves feel better? I have suffered those kinds of friendships for years (talk about low self-esteem I didn’t know I had!).
Oh man, girl. I hate to even hear that this is happening to you. You don’t have to put up with this shit.
Fatphobia teaches us that fat people (fat women in particular) have less capacity for emotional pain; this is called dehumanization.
Fatphobia teaches us that fat women are temporary: our bodies are constructed as perpetually about to be un-fat, rendering our fat bodies as temporary and therefore less valuable.
Fatphobia teaches us that fat women’s bodies are not beautiful, which is a total lie. Fat bodies are not only beautiful, but inherently valuable and worthy of respect and care.
And then add to that mix the fact that internalized sexism has hijacked our goddamn minds – convincing us that other women are our enemies and we must compete with them for weird patriarchy prizes — and you’ve got the supremely horrific behavior you’re describing.
So, here’s what I think:
- You deserve better. I promise.
Let’s start with the realization that this behavior is completely not OK. Like, it’s emotional violence.
A person who dehumanizes you or is unable to recognize the totality of your humanity is not someone you want to be in a relationship with.
A person who is primarily invested in you because of what you can do for them is not someone you want to be in a relationship with.
A person who uses you to make themselves “feel better” is not a friend. I repeat: a thin woman who uses a fat woman to make herself feel better is not enacting friendship; she is enacting bigotry and emotional violence.
- Trust your gut.
If you suspect it’s happening, then it probably is. We humans are capable of picking up on people’s intentions and energy. Call it intuition or call it subconscious data processing, whatever works for you. The point is, there are sometimes subtle (and not-so-subtle) signs that you are in a toxic relationship.
One of the things that’s hard for people who have been marginalized and taught by the culture that they are inferior (e.g., fat women, people of color, trans folks) is that we are consistently told we are paranoid and are accused of making stuff up. This is called gaslighting. Gaslighting happens when our ability to decipher reality from fiction is called into question.
Girl, patriarchy gaslights us everyday.
The point is: sometimes it’s harder for fat women to trust our gut because we’re told that our gut is wrong and that our gut is the source of our shame (literally and metaphorically).
I say: take back the gut.
Your body is giving you A TON of data all the time – about your environment and about the people around you. Practice listening to it.
- You have the right to end toxic relationships immediately
I know it might sound harshypoo, but a toxic relationship is most likely not going to turn into a nourishing one. And even if it has the potential to become a nourishing one, you are not responsible for making it that way. The toxic person, not the target of the toxicity, bears the burden of change.
If someone you’re close to has been dehumanizing you, you owe them LITERALLY NOTHING, GIRL.
- If you’re not ready to end the friendship right now, that’s ok, but make a plan
OK … OK. Just in case you’re not ready to ghost your BFF or whatevs, I strongly suggest that you make a plan and stick to it. The plan I would suggest is this:
- Immediately cut the amount of time you spend with this person in half. Half the texts, half the face time, half the brunchypoos.
- Set boundaries ASAP. If you’re not comfortable just telling this person how you’re feeling super used by them, then start refusing to engage in the behaviors that make you feel this way. Just. Say. No. If she “won’t take no for an answer,” just say you need to go to another thing or refuse to respond to her text.
- Set a deadline. I suggest three months. That gives you time to assess how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling better now that you’ve cut back friend time and set firmer boundaries, then cut friend time in half again (such that after the three-month point you will be spending one-quarter of time you’d spent with her at the beginning of this process).
I hope this helps!
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.