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Dear Virgie: My Fat Friend Won’t Talk About Fatness
I have a friend who is fat but doesn’t identify as fat. She gets visibly weirded out whenever I talk about my fat politics. She has never outright said anything fatphobic, but she definitely hasn’t ever done or said anything fat-positive. She has never done anything awful but I am losing my patience with the awkwardness. Am I being unfair to her?
Oh, I know all about this game.
I recently had a somewhat extended professional situation where I had to be around someone like this. I was definitely frustrated and also a little confused, because she had enough access to language and radical politics that fat liberation was not a stretch for her ideologically. It hurts when you want to feel resonance with someone (especially when it comes to acute marginalization that you know you both are experiencing) and they’re not in a place where they can show up for you.
I don’t know if your friend has rad politics in general and this is a glaring hole in her political practice, or if she is a little less politicized and this would be a big deal for her. We really don’t know what people have been through. And sometimes the refusal to adopt liberation is about privilege, and sometimes it’s because of other stuff — like trauma.
Unfortunately, fatphobia is the cultural norm, and internalized fatphobia can sometimes manifest very deeply in fat people — because we have been taught to hate ourselves and take on the blame for fatphobia. On the other hand, it is so stressful to pretend you’re not fat! The size-blind thing doesn’t serve anyone.
Either way, the truth is that when it comes to my advice, what matters is how you’re feeling about her behavior, not the reasoning behind it. I think I can safely say that her refusal to express resonance is a sign that she is not ready to go there with you. And, yeah, her inability or unwillingness may be coming from a fucked-up place. Or not. It is not your job to get her to a different place (it sounds like you have been generous in your willingness to talk about this stuff with her). It is your job to protect your feelings and decide how invested you are in this relationship.
My recommendation depends on how invested you are. If you are not super interested in deepening your friendship, I recommend that you practice detaching compassionately and setting internal boundaries. That can look a number of different ways:
It can look like you deciding you will not be sharing conversations with her around feels, politics and observations relating explicitly to Fat Life. Nor will you be open to caretaking her awkwardness should y’all traverse that bridge while spending time together.
It can look like you being strategic about how much time you spend with her. This might mean spending less time together if you feel like you don’t want to cherry pick what topics you will and won’t discuss. Or spending more time together in groups rather than one on one.
If you are invested in deepening the relationship, I recommend transparency and frank communication about what’s going on. The next time you see each other, tell her what’s bothering you and be open to hearing what’s going on with her. It’s possible you have been making her gears turn and she has been waiting to unleash her new-found feminism. Maybe she’s not down or ready, then you can re-assess afterwards and possibly implement some of the aforementioned boundary and detachment recommendations.
Whatever you decide to do, feel no guilt about doing what you need to do. It’s OK if you’re not interested in bringing this person into your inner circle. Likewise, it’s also OK if you’re ready to get deep and real with her. Only you can decide.
I hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help those who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight.