So, my biggest barrier in this journey, I feel, is not being able to find a local community of people who are even slightly body positive. All of my friends are very much in the diet mentality, so all of my support is online. Diet talk is 90 percent of their interactions it feels, and when I’ve spoken about how I don’t want to talk diets I am hit with a lot of “health concern” talk. The problem with all of this is that I can’t find friends who aren’t diet obsessed where I live. And I need adult human interaction! Every person I meet is obsessed with weight loss. What do I dooooo? 🙁
Dear friend in need of friends,
I understand your dilemma! And I can relate.
Like many people, I grew up in a town where everyone I knew was pretty normcore. Babies, suburbs, diets. The Holy Trinity, right? This isn’t to say they weren’t good people, but as I came of age I realized that lifestyle just wasn’t for me. I wanted feminism, weirdos who make incendiary art, the pomposity of cosmopolitan life and coffee, like actually good fucking coffee. And I too hit this moment of “where do I go from here?”
So here are my suggestions:
1. Say it loud & proud: “I want to be inspired and supported by my friends, and I deserve that, goddamit!”
It took a looooong time to actually feel like I deserved to be inspired and supported by my friends. Women are not taught to take care of ourselves emotionally. I had to develop boundary-setting and standard-setting skills in adulthood. Some of that skill building started by simply saying to myself: “This is what I want. This is what I deserve.” Once I did, I was able to begin turning away “unqualified candidates” — toxic people, liars, energy vampires, chronic back-handed-compliment-givers and people who were super invested in maintaining worldviews that I felt actively harmed people.
As my beliefs became more and more entrenched in body liberation, I began to notice other shifts: for the first time I felt like I had the right to be inspired by my friends, I felt like I had the right to have my boundaries respected and I felt entitled to engagement that was deeper than all that calorie talk. In short I started to see myself as a dynamic person with desires, right and needs — no small feat as a fat girl of color in a sexist, racist and fatphobic world.
For me, the relationships that weren’t going to grow with me fell away (we both lost interest), the friendships that had potential for growth did in fact grow and I made new friendships with people of substance and integrity who wanted freedom too.
Yes, it took intention and work.
2. Invest resources in building & strengthening the relationships you want.
I remember my first attempt at making like-minded lady friends when I was a new transplant to San Francisco. I posted an ad on Craigslist that was essentially entitled, “be my lady friend. please.” I called a meeting of the group, which I decided to name FBBEB (Fun Bitches Bitching, Eating and Being) at my house. I served tea and asked everyone to bring something that was important to them for show and tell. Four FBs came and I stayed friends with one for several years. Throughout my life now, I follow up with every person I am interested in befriending. Some of them have the space in their life for me and some of them don’t. And that’s OK.
Several years ago, for example, I met a woman I was SUPER drawn to at a plus size clothing swap. I talked to her for almost an hour as we sat and sorted our clothes on a big comfy sofa. I thought we really connected so I asked for her contact info. I reached out to her, but her communication was non-committal. Instead of being hurt I was like, “Oh, she’s got other things going on in her life.” So I stopped trying and figured she’d get in touch if she was ready to be my friend. Three years later she emailed me. We went to dinner and she explained that she’d been putting every ounce of her energy into her husband’s depression and that she didn’t have the capacity for new friends before. She had made a conscious decision to stop doing that and created the capacity for lady friends.
So I’m a big fan of investing some time and energy into building friendships. That might look like looking for a conference, class, reading, gallery opening or book club to attend (even just one is good!) and saying hello to people who you’re drawn to.
That might look like asking the people you already know online if they’re open to hopping on Skype or the phone with you so you can have some face time. I have remote friendships and we send letters and packages to each other.
Be prepared for some of your endeavors to go the way you want and others not to. People are busy and sometimes shy about starting new friendships, so do the work and think of this as a garden. Some seeds will flourish, but most seeds won’t or will take longer than you expected/wanted.
3. Recognize that online relationships are important and valuable.
I totally understand the desire to have IRL contact with people. Having lunch with someone, hugging them: those things are wonderful, but I want to caution against diminishing the value of a meaningful friendship, even if it’s happening primarily online. Many, many people find that social media is their primary source of visibility and support and I want to highlight that that’s OK. In fact, it’s pretty awesome.
4. Do friendship arts & crafts.
Finally, a lot of being a woman under patriarchy (and diet culture) is making shit work for you and sometimes that means doing arts & crafts with your life. So I recommend at least for now you work it out so the friendships you have access to give you some of the things you need and you get the rest from the internet or wherever you can for now. It’s about learning how to set the boundaries by using authentic language with friends, seeing the limitations of the relationship but mutually benefiting from the parts that DO work for BOTH of you and then excusing yourself when the stuff that doesn’t work pops up.
This might look like, for example, opting into movie dates with your current friends but opting out of the dinner after the movie where they always talk about calories and allotting that time to body-positive friends online.
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.