The other day at my sons’ sports practice, I struck up a conversation with a mom about how she controls her child’s ADHD. I told her I didn’t want to medicate because when we did, my sons stopped eating, and they’re very small to begin with, so we quit. She started talking about her daughter’s friend, who’s medicated for ADHD, and how the friend doesn’t want to eat so she gives the daughter all her snacks at school. “And of course they’re filled with all that dye and processed crap,” she said. “And I told her she’s going to blow up like a balloon if she keeps eating her snacks and her friend’s too.”
My jaw almost hit the ground. The child in question is around seven years old. She was telling me, as if it were normal, that she was fat shaming a child.
I’d like to say I took her to the curb. I didn’t. I stood silent, appalled, at a loss of what to say, and let her keep talking.
Call me ridiculous, but I don’t think anyone has the right to comment on anyone else’s body. EVER. So what do we do when people break out the casual fat shaming?
This is nothing new. I hear it from people all the time. A close relative constantly laments her own weight — in front of my kids. She says how fat she is, that she needs to lose weight, that some foods are “bad” and some are “good.” I love her. I know she hates her body. I know she wants someone to complain to about it, and I’m that person. She was taught to think this way and doesn’t see anything wrong with it. It’s not malicious; it’s sad. She hates her body and everything about it. But when she starts fat shaming herself, she’s spewing venom into the world — at me, and at anyone else who happens to be nearby, including my kids.
I don’t want my kids to ever, ever hear a woman talk about her self-worth as a function of her body size. I don’t care who that woman is.
I hear women, in hushed tones, worry about their daughter’s thighs. About their tummies. About their hips, about their chipmunk cheeks. I hear them fat shaming their own kids, and worrying about what will happen if they “stay that way.” I hear these same women fat shaming themselves when we sit at the pool and they bitch about their baby bellies, about their cellulite, about how they don’t look the same as they did pre-baby.
I never, ever have the guts to speak up. It scares me. I know, in theory, what I should when I hear fat shaming. I should speak the fuck up.
I should speak the fuck up because when I wore a bigger size, people treated me a hell of a lot differently than they do now that I wear a smaller size. They looked through me instead of at me when I was bigger. They didn’t smile at me so much. Men especially ignored me. Now they hand me carts at Target and open doors for me. People are overall nicer now. Back then, people didn’t notice me. This is the lived experience of being fat in America to today: to be unworthy of notice, no matter how cute or attractive you are. So when people start fat shaming, I know firsthand how much it hurts.
So I need to get it together and start responding to fat shaming.
I need to ask myself why I’m scared to respond. When it comes to the woman fat shaming her daughter, we were alone, and I’m no good at confrontation. In the case of my relative, I’m frightened because I don’t want to hurt her or lose her approval. When other moms start in on their daughters or themselves, I don’t want to lose friends.
I need to confront those fears head-on and deal with it. What do I stand to lose? In the case of the woman at sports practice, I lose the chumminess of a woman who sits in the stands with me. If I lose mom friends… well, do I really want to be friends with shallow moms who worry about their daughters’ cellulite? And when I reassure them that they look fine, that all bodies are beautiful bodies, do I want to be friends with someone who snaps at me? (They won’t. They’ll probably thank me).
I need to use real words that show how damaging fat shaming can be. I need to be radical about it. The best way to do that is to tell a story. “You know, I used to hate my body, and it made me feel …” or “My mom talked a lot about being fat when I was a kid, and it led to …” I can say things like, “In our house, we try to talk about bodies as things we use, not things to look at, because …” or I can say, “You know, when I weighed more, people treated me like … and when people talk about being fat that way, it feeds into that mindset.”
This isn’t about me; it’s about all of us.
We all need to get together and do the hard work to stop fat shaming. Yeah, I’m scared to confront it. But so are you. So is everyone else. If we’re not confronting it, we’re perpetrating it, or we’re perpetrating the diet culture that allows it to flourish.
We’ve got to shut it down.
I’m going to work hard for it from now on. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be ugly, and it’s going to lead to some confrontation. But I owe it to myself. I owe it to my friends. I owe it to the women whom I sat next to on an airplane once, who told me, in tears, that she might spill over the seat and touch me, and was that okay?
She shouldn’t have to apologize for taking up space in this world. Fuck that noise.
If you aren’t fat, or you never have been, think of the fat person you love the most.
When people engage in fat shaming, they’re talking about that person. No, they really are. They’re talking about you, or about that person you love so much. You or your spouse or your mother or your aunt or your child. Or that lovely woman on the airplane.
For their sake, let’s get together and shut it down.