Awkward Conversations

Ah the joy of awkward conversations,  inspired by some awesome reader questions…

Now, what happens when we are involved with people making choices based on poor information?  Should I be up in a dieter’s biz trying to inform them that they don’t need to shrink their body to have worth?

I have been there and I understand where you’re coming from.  The first thing that I would suggest is checking your assumptions.  Does the fact that you believe that it’s “poor information” mean that other people should believe that?  While it can be really difficult to watch a friend make choices that we wouldn’t make, I think that the first step in having our choices respected is to respect the choices of others.

When I’m struggling with keeping my opinions to myself it sometimes helps me to remember that if I tell someone that I know better than them what they should be doing with their body – then I’m doing the exact same thing that I complain about people doing to me.   People who tell me that I need to lose weight are typically well intentioned and think that I’m working from poor information.  And I want them to keep that to themselves so I do the same.

How about a FA blogger who proudly proclaims their weight loss in the name of health, and hopes to diet their body out of plus-sized clothing soon?  Is it appropriate then?

I feel your pain on this one.  I know so many people (myself included) who went down a bad road of dieting using the justification that it was “for health reasons“.  But I have to remember that my experience is not everyone’s experience and I can’t extrapolate it to everyone else.

Although it can feel like a major blow when this happens publicly (especially if it comes off as a publicity stunt I’m looking at you Jess Weiner) all we can do is move on with our own lives.  The goal of my activism is to give people options and access and then let them make their own choices, not to tell them how to live.

How do you deal with people who tell you about their weight loss and how happy they are?

When people tell me how excited they are about their weight loss it’s tricky because I know that there is an extremely high chance that they will gain the weight back.  I don’t want to say something like “you look so great now!” because I fear that it makes it sound like I thought that they looked bad before, and it’s doubly awkward if they end up looking that way again.  So I usually say “I’m glad that you are reaching your goals, congratulations. Of course – you’ve always looking beautiful to me” or something along those lines.

Living this way isn’t easy for me.  I love to debate – it’s interesting to me, it appeals to my fighting nature, I’m a stats and research nerd.  I come by it genetically, I remember nights sitting around the table with grandparents, aunts, uncles, arguing about all the things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company – that was family bonding time for us.

I think that debate is an important part of HAES and FA movements, but when it comes to living my life I’ve found it’s more effective to be a walking option than a walking argument.  Doing things like Talking about the Health at Every Size (r) option whenever people are talking about diets.  When people are body snarking, you can talk about how much you love and appreciate your body.  Work it into the conversation and it will become an invitation for people to talk to you about it.  Just like I don’t think that people hate themselves healthy, I also don’t think that you can argue them into loving themselves.  I find that often when people want to fight with me about the validity of the HAES option, the entire thing is diffused because they want me to argue that my choices are better than theirs, but the only thing I’m arguing for is that we both have the right to make the choices that we think are best for us.  So if you choose dieting and I choose HAES then that’s ok, because you are the boss of your underpants and I am the boss of mine.

I try very hard to avoid doing to others the exact things I don’t want done to me.  That includes

  • Not confusing my experiences with other people’s experience
  • Offering options and respecting other people’s choices
  • Never making assumptions based on body size
  • Not snarking bodies of any shape or size
  • Not offering unsolicited advice

I’m certainly not perfect and I have my off days but in the end I think that the best way to gain respect is not just talking our truth but living it as well.

Published in: on September 24, 2011 at 10:22 am  Comments (12)  

12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Where is the line of keeping your body opinions to yourself and concern about a loved one’s health? I mean so many people look at fat people and interfere out of a so-called concern for our health. My boyfriend has lost so much weight that I’m truly concerned for him – he has a pathological fear of becoming fat. When I’ve talked to him about HAES it literally scares him, he’s outright said that if he tried eating like that, he’d never stop. He’s also said that he eats horrible tasting food so that he won’t be tempted to overeat. He’s gaunt, depressed and tired all the time. I don’t know what I have the right to say, if anything. He doesn’t have a GP so I can’t pester him to see a doctor for a general health checkup.

    • Hi Sarah,

      The line on this is really difficult and depends on the person and on your relationship so I can’t give blanket advice. It sounds like your boyfriend is going through some really difficult stuff and it’s awesome that you are there to support him. You might consider calling a local eating disorder support group for help, or look at NEDA http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ They have a lot of information.

      I’m sorry that you are going through this. Good luck!

      ~Ragen

  2. Yeah…when it comes to the issue of “someone being excited about their weight loss”, I just say, “Congratulations on reaching your goals, I’m happy for you”. When it comes to people telling me about how awesome their diet is, I just smile and nod and tune out for a little bit, because I can’t think of things to say. I know it’s BS, and at least within polite company, that’s enough for me.

  3. just say let me know how its going in 5 years…

  4. You are ignoring that FA doesn’t cause people to suffer and die. WLS, plastic surgery, diet pills, and eating disorders DO. I cannot accept the suffering of women for misogynist beauty ideals. Do you think that foot binding was a perfectly acceptable choice, too? It is clear that breaking one’s bones to fit into tiny shoes is damaging and hurt women specifically for being women. I do not mind saying so, and saying so doesn’t show any contempt for the women who did it, it shows contempt for the culture that expected them to.

    • I don’t think I’m ignoring those things, I think that I look at them differently. First, I feel that foot binding and dieting are very different things. binding was done predominantly to young girls. I am absolutely against putting kids on diets. But I think that adults get to make their own choices, including suffering to try to conform to the beauty ideal, and I think it’s wrong for me to tell them that I know better than they do how they should behave with their own bodies, or to try to force them to accept my interpretation that the beauty ideals are misogynistic. Plenty of people argue that fat acceptance kills people, I’ve been accused of killing people by writing this blog. I disagree with that so I keep on writing. That being said, to each his own. I totally respect your choice to do whatever you think is right.

      ~Ragen

  5. “…when it comes to living my life I’ve found it’s more effective to be a walking option than a walking argument.” This is one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard or read. Thank you, Ragen, for your continued voice of reason, strength and wisdom. I also appreciate your suggestions for handling talk about diets and weight loss, and speaking to others about HAES. I have begun doing so lately, in small ways, and am pleased that I have been able to start putting this out into the world!

  6. Thanks, Ragen, for explaining your answers to my question in a little more detail. :) These are things that I always find frustrating.

    I get that you say “I’ve found it’s more effective to be a walking option than a walking argument”– that makes great sense. However, in my case livin la vida HAES has led to noticeable weight loss so I’m always fighting to make my body say what I want it to say, instead of people reacting “Oh I need to take up running too! Look at you!” So I feel pressure to explain that it’s not about what my body looks like, but what it can DO.

  7. I rarely find myself in that kind of conversation, but when I do I try to kind of side-step and deflect it onto a topic I’d rather talk about: “Oh, that’s great — and how are you feeling? Stronger and more confident? That’s awesome!”

  8. I believe in SA, not necessarily FA. And I believe in nonjudgmental acceptance and appreciation for how others govern their lives and their bodies.

    But acknowledging that there’s a difference between being fat and being overweight seems, to me, an important distinction. Because there are people who are fat because that’s how their bodies SHOULD look and be. And there are others whose bodies carry more weight than they were created or designed to carry and it can be just as unhealthy as a fat person trying to lose weight for the sake of losing weight.

    That’s why I don’t question a person’s reasons for losing weight — even if they say they’re doing it for health reasons. Because for all I know, losing weight WOULD be healthier — FOR THEM. For all I know, they have disordered eating or a disordered relationship with food and losing weight is part of their recovery process. For all I know, they simply know their weight is the result of unhealthy living and losing weight may simply be a side effect of the adoption of a healthier lifestyle.

    So… no. I don’t think people are necessarily obligated to simply not say anything if or when someone says she wants to lose weight. Reassuring her that she’s beautiful no matter what her size, and encouraging shared healthy lifestyle choices notwithstanding the number on the scale, isn’t out of line. But it’s still a fine line to walk.

    • Thank you for the comment. I would caution against using body size as a diagnosis or making an assumption about what size a body “should” be or what we think someone’s body was “meant” to do. Also, I don’t know how you would make a distinction between being fat and being overweight – I think that the term overweight is a complete misnomer… over what weight? I think it’s also important to remember that weight loss is statistically an unreliable and mostly short term side effect of behaviors, so when we talk about health I think it makes much more sense to focus on healthy behaviors than body size.

      For the record, I never said that people were obligated to do anything. I personally believe that it’s fine for someone to believe that weight loss will make them healthier, but we need to be careful about how we understand the process and how we view bodies.

      I do find it deeply problematic to be for size acceptance but not fat acceptance – I could be misunderstanding but it sounds like you are willing to be accepting of sizes that you deem appropriate which is not my understanding of the movement at all.

      ~Ragen

      • I prefer SA because I think that there is a danger in the FA movement to be AGAINST skinny-ness; and while I understand the motivation to “go against the grain,” if the point of the FA movement is that people should accept fat by rejecting skinny, then you just trade one cause of victimization for another. Acceptance of ALL sizes should mean just that — accepting all body types, period, end of discussion.

        When I say “overweight,” I mean people who, if they adopt reasonable healthy options — active lifestyle, eating when hungry and stopping when full, eating a wide variety of foods, not keeping a list of “not allowed” foods — would be some other weight. In other words, people with a seriously disordered and unhealthy life and food relationship that compels them to eat and to behave in ways that are bad for them. I think we can all agree that that’s just as bad and unhealthy a relationship with one’s nutrition and one’s body as the dieting yo-yo is. In other words, health at EVERY size *does* sometimes mean weight loss, for those people whose excess weight actually *is* a symptom of unhealthy lifestyle or food dysphoria. Which obviously doesn’t include the whole of fat individuals but may include at least a few.

        If someone has a problem with her relationship with food, or her relationship with eating, and says, “I want to get healthy by fixing my relationship with food, the evidence of which may or may not be weight loss, more proactive lifestyle and overall better mental and physical health,” then I think that’s a perfectly rational and healthy reason to lose weight. Just like a better relationship with food for an anorexic, resulting in weight GAIN, would also be a positive move. No one with more than two brain cells to rub together would say that it’s bad for an anorexic to want to gain weight as a result of achieving better overall health.


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