I’ve lived my entire life in a fat body, and one thing I can say with complete confidence is this: A lot of people have strong opinions about it. Society is fatphobic AF.
Mercifully, in today’s world, I can find a multitude of size-affirming, warm, open places to do the things I need to do. The internet has cozy spaces carved out for bodies like mine. I can find doctors and therapists committed to treating my actual issues without making it all about weight. The plus-size clothes industry could still use a little work, but at least I can find what I need a lot of the time now.
Even though we have made some progress, outside of spaces that are designed specifically for fat people, living as a fat person can be emotionally difficult. Fatness is one area where people still feel very free to judge, shame and “help.” It’s not uncommon for me to hear comments, both in person and online, about how lazy I am, how ugly I look and how easy it would be to “fix” this “problem.”
And don’t get me started about family gatherings. Some unenlightened members of the older generations have been known to say the rudest of all the fatphobic shit about fat or changing bodies.
Fatphobia isn’t always saying mean shit. It’s also creating an environment where the understanding is that fatness is inherently bad, wrong and unhealthy, and everyone should be actively working to become thin or maintain their thinness. Even when people don’t mean to be outright rude, our culture’s obsession with diet and weight can lead to some uncomfortable situations. Anyone else have MLM weight loss reps at the Christmas dinner table? OBNOXIOUS.
Gratefully, I was born with a level of sass and boldness that allows me to shut that shit down.
I don’t care who you are. I’ll take a well-intentioned comment here and there (and I’ll ignore a lot of internet bullshit), but if you come at me on a day when I’ve had enough?
Prepare for an earful. I will take down your fatphobic comment and your freaking audacity.
Fortunately for society (but unfortunately for people on the receiving end of fatphobic bullshit), not everyone is a loudmouth like me. If you were born with a gentler personality, or if confronting someone head-on about your body sounds about as desirable as an unanesthetized root canal, that’s okay! You can still shut down hurtful conversations, even if you don’t have easy access to your inner bitch like I do. Here are some suggestions.
1. Gather up all your extra sass, and let it loose.
This is my favorite method of confronting fatphobic bullshit. You don’t have to take people’s thoughtless or cruel comments just because you are generally soft-spoken or mild. You’re allowed to get fed up. The next time someone says something about your body that hurts or makes you angry, feel free to throw all that gentleness out the window. If you want to let your frustration loose, do it! Be as direct as you want to be. The person discussing your body isn’t afraid to be rude. You don’t have to be afraid to shut that shit down.
2. Confront the person’s fatphobic comment politely.
As much as I enjoy a good diet culture takedown declaration, even I know that there are times when a feisty speech just isn’t happening. Maybe the person I need to shut down is in a position of power and I need to maintain the balance for self-preservation. It could be that I need to be tactful to maintain a relationship. Sometimes my level of vulnerability that day is just too high, and I don’t have any fight in me. That doesn’t mean I have to lay down and take comments that frustrate and hurt me, and neither do you.
In times like that, just be clear and succinct. You might choose to thank the person for their concern, but you don’t have to. It’s okay to simply say, “My weight and my body are personal topics I’d prefer not to discuss with you today or moving forward. If I want to talk about it, I will bring it up. Otherwise, please assume that this topic is off-limits.”
3. Keep it short and sweet.
“I’d rather not discuss this,” is a complete sentence. It isn’t open to interpretation. It isn’t rude. You can say it to a stranger, a rude uncle, your best friend or your mama. You can type it on social media, send it in an email, and even have it written in your medical chart for situations not related to body size.
4. Change the subject without acknowledging their comment.
This is especially handy in work situations. Sometimes trapped in the same office with the offender five days a week. Especially at the beginning of the year, diets, body size, calories and weight loss plans dominate the conversation. When you are in a fat body, people assume you are miserable in your body and interested in their diet.
Just be ready with a subject change. “Have you watched the new reboot of ‘Name That Tune?’” It might feel random, but nothing is more bizarre than talking about someone’s body without their consent.
5. Walk away.
Literally look at the person, turn around and walk away. You owe exactly zero words worth of explanation to anyone about the size, shape or weight of your body. If you’re just over it, walk away. Leave the table, leave the room, leave the building if you have to.
If the interaction is via text or online, ignore the message completely. Pretend it never happened. Nobody has a right to one moment of your time if they can’t respect something as important as your right to live peacefully in your body.
6. Ask them to repeat their comment or pretend you don’t understand.
With family especially, the fatphobia can be subtle. If you think someone is trying to get away with some quiet fatphobic bullshit, it’s time to get devilish. Put on your most innocent face and ask them to repeat and explain their comment. Make sure you do it in front of everyone. “Aunt Hilda, you said I looked healthier last time I saw you. I’m confused. I’m not unwell. What do you mean by ‘healthier’?”
Make them explain in plain terms that they were making a comment about your size. If they have the guts to say it, they should have the guts to say it clearly. Let them feel ashamed of themselves for being trash people.
7. Enlist an ally.
For events when you can anticipate some nonsense is likely to go down, go in with backup. For family events, call your coolest cousin and ask them to have your back. Make sure your partner is ready to rescue you if they see you cornered by a “health coach” at a party.
If some bullshit happens online, copy the link and send it to your most outspoken friend. Ask her to help your respond or just let her loose on the idiot who thought it was a good idea to insult you. There is no reason you have to be your only defense.
Fatphobic bullshit can take on many forms from the most subtle whisper to outright cruelty. If you’re lucky, you won’t encounter the ugliest stuff. But even the more quiet, even well-intentioned comments about your weight and size can eventually wear you down. It’s uncomfortable to feel like you constantly owe people an explanation about your body just because they demand it. It’s a good idea to remember that you don’t own anyone anything when it comes to your body. No matter how you choose to respond, you’re doing the right thing. You have every right to choose to live in peace without entertaining outside opinions about your body.