Avoid Holiday Weight Shame

Reader Kathryn sent me an article called, and I am not kidding,  “Tell Loved Ones They are Overweight This Christmas”.  I will not be linking to it because I have no desire to increase traffic and there is no opportunity to comment. I will say that should my loved ones take this advice the follow up article will be “I Told my Loved one She Is Overweight and She Told Me to Sit Down, Shut Up and Mind My Own Damn Business.”

The article says that in a poll of more than 2,000 people, 42% of 18 to 24-year-olds would not tell a loved one they should lose weight because of a fear they would hurt the other person’s feelings.

According to the article, this suggests that ” too many people shy away from the issue”.  According to me this proves that 42% of 18-24 year olds have common decency and/or realize that it is impossible for a fat person in our culture to not know that society has a negative opinion about our size.  Stated another way, 58% of 18-24 year olds did not eat their bowl of No Shit Sherlock Flakes on the day that the poll was taken.

According to their so-called expert (who works for an organization that appears to make money pretending that they successfully treat obesity), “if someone close to you has a large waistline then as long as you do it sensitively, discussing it with them now could help them avoid critical health risks later down the line and could even save their life.”

No, it won’t.  Discussing it with them will do nothing for their health but may very well ruin their holiday and your relationship, so there’s no need to put on your “Concern Troll Man” tights and cape and self-righteously pretend that you are the super hero who saves fat people from ourselves.

We decide how other people treat us, either by setting boundaries or by not setting them.  I respect however you decide to allow people to treat you.  You are, as always, the boss of your underpants.

But let me suggest that you don’t have to put up with holiday weight shame. You don’t have to put up with body snarking, body stigma, or concern trolling. You don’t have to allow a running commentary on your body, health, or food choices from anyone.   You don’t have to accept treatment you don’t like because people are your family, friends, or because they “mean well”.  And you don’t have to internalize other people’s bullshit, you don’t have to buy into the thin=better paradigm or be preached to by people who do.

We are not the first group of people who have been treated like second class citizens in a wave of public hysteria.  But no group of people has ever risen above this by buying into the mistaken belief that they are inferior.  Loving your body is an act of sheer courage and revolution in this culture. Instead of another article about how to avoid holiday weight gain, here’s what I would like to see all over Facebook, and hear on the radio, television and at gatherings all over the world this holiday season:

My body is not a representation of my failures, sins, or mistakes. My body is not a sign that I am in poor health, or that I am not physically fit. My body is not up for public discussion, debate or judgment. My body is not a signal that I need your help or input to make decisions about my health or life.  My body is the constant companion that helps me do every single thing that I do every second of every day and it deserves respect and admiration. If you are incapable of appreciating my body that is your deficiency, not mine, and I do not care. Nor am I interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter so, if you want to be around me, you are 100% responsible for doing whatever it takes to keep those thoughts to yourself. If you are incapable of doing that I will leave and spend my time with people who can treat me appropriately.  Please pass the green beans.

As always I think that preparation is the best friend of the fatty. If you suspect that you may be the victim of holiday weight shame then be prepared.  Here are some suggestions:

Know what your boundaries are and decide on consequences that you can live with.  Don’t threaten things that you won’t follow through on.  So try something like “My body is fine, your behavior is inappropriate. If there is one more comment about my weight, I am leaving.”  The common thread among my friends who have done this is that they’ve only had to do it once and then their bodies were respected, and they all report feeling incredibly empowered.  Contrast that with saying “if you say one more thing I’m never speaking to you again” but then not following through.  Now you feel like a failure, and you’ve taught people that your boundaries aren’t real and that your consequences are idle.

Consider talking with members of your family who have been repeat offenders prior to the holiday.  Or send out a holiday newsletter e-mail explaining your commitment to Health at Every Size and that comments about your weight are not welcome.  Remind yourself (as often as necessary) that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you – their concern trolling behavior is inappropriate.  Have a HAES buddy you can call for sanity checks. Be brave, be strong, and  teach people how to treat you appropriately.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on December 22, 2011 at 7:36 am  Comments (60)  

60 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. When did people forget actual good manners? I would no more tell someone they were fat then tell them their favourite skirt doesn’t suit them.

    • Right??? I just can’t even.

  2. I thought that entire story was shocking and disgusting, I was encouraged so many people apparently hat the basic decency to love their family for who they are, not what they perceive their problems to be. Yours comments, as always, are both thoughtful and no-nonsense. Thank you!

  3. Ragen this is a brilliant post. I really hate that “someone has to tell her he/she’s fat” idea – as you correctly point out, it’s not like people are not told that *all the time*! I also agree that using shame, belittlement, insults etc is useless – how is making someone hate him or herself going to help them?

  4. “Tell Loved Ones They are Overweight This Christmas”

    Seriously?? What is that going to accomplish, besides probably making them feel bad and ruining the perfectly good time they were having before you opened your stupid mouth?

    As you pointed out, it’s not like overweight people don’t know they’re overweight. It’s like the people who say to me, “OMG, you’re soooo short!”. I’m tempted to look down at myself and then back at them in horror and reply “OMG, I was six feet tall this morning! WHAT HAPPENED???”,

    • Haha, this reminds me of a friend who told me once, that she does not feel, like she’s a short person, despite being short.

      It’s the same with me kind of. I know, I’m fat. I don’t need people to remind me that I’m fat, but my body feels slender to me.

      • “Haha, this reminds me of a friend who told me once, that she does not feel, like she’s a short person, despite being short.”

        I know I’m short, but I really don’t spend time thinking about it. It just amazes me that people will still *tell* me I’m short, like I couldn’t possibly already know!

  5. It’s like they think hearing it from a loved one is going to make them “see the light.” This article not only implies that people have the right to tell their family they are overweight and should “get on doing something about it” but it implies that there is a responsibility to do so. Not only are people able to tell a loved one they are fat, but they SHOULD. Ugh. I have never, ever commented on a friend or family member gaining weight or felt it was my right to do so, let alone my responsibility to do so. I don’t understand the nerve.

    • I don’t understand how anyone has the nerve to comment on anything regarding anyone else’s body! The only compliment I don’t mind is “you look great!” because it’s not specific to my body AND I’ve struggled with bipolar disorder and I looked miserable for many years. Typically when someone says “you look great!” they mean “you look happy!”, because I finally am. :)

      My cousin just had a baby and word is that she’s down to pre-pregnancy weight. I’d hate to be her this Christmas. I’m sure she’ll get more comments about how thin she is than how cute her daughter is. Ugh.

  6. YOU ROCK !!!!! ..Love your passion – and how brilliantly you articulate what I am thinking…LOVE IT…Enjoy reading your posts… Peaceful warm blessings for the Christmas Season..,,,Kindly Domenica

  7. Fear that you will “hurt their feelings”? How about a fear that you will insult their intelligence?

    Because really, someone telling me I’m fat is pretty much equivalent to telling me I’m stupid. Like I breeze through life blissfully unaware of my own dimensions, as if I don’t notice things like, oh, most clothing stores not selling stuff in my size and looking vaguely horrified if I even ask them if something comes in a size 22. Or the fact that most chairs with arms bruise my thighs if I can fit into them at all. Or the fact that nobody wants to sit next to me on the bus unless their hip measurement is well under 30 inches, and it’s not because I smell, because I don’t.

    I can’t even imagine the kind of thought process that would lead someone to say, “You’re really overweight, have you thought about diet and exercise?” It has to go something like, “Oh, she must not know how ginormously hideous she is! And she’s never even heard about diet and exercise, or she wouldn’t be that way! Somebody must tell her! I will save her life!” I mean, seriously?

    The ONLY time I can imagine bringing up someone’s weight is if you are VERY close to them and there has been a dramatic change in either direction in a very short period of time without any concomitant change in diet, exercise, or medication use, as that could signal illness of some kind. Even then, it should be a lot more about, “Are you okay?” rather than, “You look like dogdoo.”

    • THANK YOU ! Brilliant post…..it is SO GOOD….Kindly Domenica.. SO clearly and intelligently expressed.

  8. I’ve been spreading your articles to FB, pinterest, newspapers and forums for some time. Its about time I said hello and thank you for articulating so well the frustration of above average women.

    • Hi! Thank you so much for passing my work along, it really is the highest compliment someone can give me.

      ~Ragen

  9. Yeah… So I may have copy-pasted that bit you wished you could seen on Facebook to my Facebook.

    >.>

    • I did the same and linked to this.

  10. “Tell loved one’s they are overweight at Christmas”!!?? Seriously!! It’s amazing how weight prejudice is still so open and acceptable in our culture. Excellent response to the article – thank you very much for writing it. I wish I had the courage to tell my Father off when he told me I needed to lose weight….on my wedding day, half an hour before the ceremony. Didn’t see that coming – nice dad – thanks for the great memory. Keep up the great work Ragen!

    • That’s awful!
      When my parents cut into me about my weight (I’m an inbetweenie size 14-ish US) I just tell them “You know, not everyone has as low of an opinion of me as you do.” It always stops them in their tracks because they know it’s true. I wish I had thought to say it growing up but I didn’t have the self-esteem yet.

      Didn’t your dad notice you were getting uh…married? So obviously your hubby liked/likes the way you look. Just because he’s an idiot and a shallow bigot doesn’t mean everyone is.

      • GREAT comeback to your parents, Clara! I’m the same size and I get it from my mom aaaaallll the time.

  11. my mother is awesome at never talking about my weight any more.
    instead, she talks constantly about everyone else’s weight, and their diets and their surgeries and how they look and how many pounds they have gained or lost and what dress size they are.
    if she meets my friends, the first words out of her mouth are weight-related: you look great, you’ve lost weight!
    it is NONSTOP.
    and i know it is all obliquely directed at me.
    i have no idea how to deal with this.

    • I tend to treat passive aggression with confusion and a request for clarification. For example: Are you aware that you talk a lot about other people’s weight? Why is that?

      or

      When you are with me I would prefer that you not talk about people’s weight. I think it’s rude and it makes me uncomfortable.

      or

      I don’t appreciate all of the weight and body stigma talk. If we’re going to spend time together then we’ll need to think of something else to talk about.

      What do you think?

      ~Ragen

    • Wow, that’s some serious passive-aggressive BS right there. Your mom kind of sucks.

      Sorry. I just had to say it.

      • I don’t know if you can say her mom sucks. My mom does the same thing and it’s not because she sucks it’s because she’s doing her damnedest not to talk about MY weight. I give her credit for trying.

        The feeling of knowing she’s actually talking about me does suck. But she loves me enough to not say it directly about me.

  12. FLUFFY DOGGIE!!!!!!! IT’S SO FLUFFY!!!!!

    Sorry, I was distracted by the staggeringly cute dog in the photo. Yes, another awesome post. I’m in the perhaps enviable position of not having any family visiting for the holidays. My immediate family also has never commented on my body. They’re just happy to see me. I’m a lucky gal. :)

    • Ha, the picture makes me miss my childhood dog that totally looked like that!

    • I just flashed back on the little girl winning the unicorn in “Despicable Me”. *best 4-year-old-Ozzy-voice* “IT’S SO FLUFFFFYYYYYY!!!”

  13. Oh My Goodness!!!
    What a way to cause strife and ruin a perfectly good holiday. Let’s all jump on each other and mention what we think is wrong with their appearance. My grandmother always took the opportunity to tell me I should be more like my younger cousin. She is just so cute. Did I mention I’m 7 inches taller and very curvy…and her delicate appearance is a result of a heroin addiction? Thanx grandma, thin at any cost, just isn’t my style.
    Thank you Ragen, for sharing yourself and being who you are.

    • My grandmother did that to me, too, re: my cousin. I should be more like her. Nevermind that my cousin’s mother is tall and wispy and my mother is short and build like “a brick shit-house”, as she (mother) says (and in the most endearing way possible, always with a big smile). Just because my dad and my cousin’s dad are bothers doesn’t mean that I have to be built like her. And my grandmother stopped telling me to be thin like my cousin after my cousin put on a bunch of beer weight in England one year.

  14. Ragen, you completely rock! I SO need voices like yours in my head, to replace all the self-loathing crap that is so automatic. I especially love this and need to internalize it: “My body is the constant companion that helps me do every single thing that I do every second of every day and it deserves respect and admiration. If you are incapable of appreciating my body that is your deficiency, not mine, and I do not care. ”

    However, besides that, you always make me laugh out loud, which I love.

  15. Ragen, I’m really hoping you’ll write us a sample holiday newsletter to send to family and friends. Actually, I think I’d like three samples: Sample A, the sensitive and serious “please respect me” version, Sample B, the slightly more snide and humorous “I’ve had just about enough of this crap” version, and Sample C, the full-blown satiric performance complete with No-Shit Sherlock flakes.

    pretty please? It’s Christmas after all.

    Wishing you and all the lovely readers here a wonderful and empowering holiday. Hugs all around!

    • Chris,

      Your wish is my command:

      Version A

      Hi Family and Friends,

      Just wanted to catch everyone on what’s happening in my life this year and then I have a quick request.

      Lots has happened this year (enter some stuff that’s happened). Also, I’ve decided to practice Health at Every Size, which means that I am focused on healthy habits rather than weight loss.This is the happiest and healthiest that I’ve ever felt. In the past there have been some well-intentioned comments from various families and friends about my weight. This year I request that you respect my Health at Every Size practice which includes refraining from talking about my weight, health or food choices. That will allow me to really enjoy the holiday and all of you! If you are interested in learning more about Health at Every Size, I recommend that you read Linda Bacon’s book “Heath at Every Size – The Surprising Truth About Your Weight”

      Version B

      Hi Family and Friends,

      Before we get together for the holidays I wanted to make everyone aware of something. In the past there has been a tendency for people to make comments about my health, weight, and food choices. I wanted to assure you that I practice Health at Every Size and that I am very confident with my choices, weight, and health and I am in no way looking for input about those. This holiday season, in order for me to be able to be at family gatherings, it is important that you not that you refrain from making comments about my health and weight. I know that you are well-intentioned but I need you to trust me that this is what is best for me.

      Version C

      Dear Family and friends,

      I am writing this e-mail as a last ditch effort to avoid no longer spending the holidays with you. I have asked repeatedly that everyone refrain from comments about my weight, but the behavior has continued. [Or: I am through suffering through holidays with family and friends who feel that my weight, health, and food choices are an appropriate topic of discussion.] I am very confident about my decisions regarding my health, weight, and food intake and I am absolutely not interested in anyone else’s input on this matter. You are my family and I love you but I cannot spend time with you unless you can respect my choices. This is not up for discussion or argument. If a comment is made about my weight, health, or food choices, I will simply leave and spend the holidays with people who can respect my choices.

      Does that work?

      ~Ragen

  16. Bravo! I will try to follow your advice, starting NOW.

  17. “Too many people shy away from the issue”? Too many people shy away from the ISSUE?! You mean I’m NOT reminded from everywhere I turn that my body is fat and is therefore WRONG? Oh, how I wish this were true and that more people would get busy shying away from the issue! Please! Shy away!

    Also, that dog wins the day. :-)

  18. Thanks so much Ragen for these timely comments at this time of year, I think it can be a particularly difficult time in the face of all this excessive/overeating that many participate in, but us larger people are then made to feel guilty for eating anything! In the UK currently there is an obsession with celebrities, especially women and their size/weight and this is worse, if that’s possible at this time of year. I have been concerned/agitated that a number of high profile/well known female actresses have lost quite a lot of weight this year and have “told their stories etc” in magazines and newspaper supplements. needless to say they are being hailed as superheros and that naturally they “look so much better” being thinner and the undercurrent is that people were “concerned for their health”, which I personally don’t believe. I know that one of them dieted by using one of those awful meal replacement drinks type of diet, so what happens when she more than likely will put the weight back on, if not in the next few months, within a year or two? Why do these, usually, sensible women feel they need more publicity and speak to these magazines? all very depressing, but must try not to get drawn in, easier said than done!

    Marion, UK

  19. I really needed this post right now, thank you. Just this week I finally told a woman in my yoga class to shut up and stop commenting on my body (in front of the whole class, mind you!) before every single class. The hilarious part is that she got totally offended and upset when I told her to stop and start minding her own business.

    • What the hell? I can almost understand family members commenting, but where does a complete stranger get the balls to do that – let alone more than once, let alone in front of others!?

      • I have attracted my share of complete strangers with boundary issues. In fact, my first response to the article was “Where are these people who feel “too timid” about Confronting Teh Fatties, and how expensive would it be for me to move there?” I had a woman hand me a pair of religious tracts–no kidding–one called “Little Tips To Lose A Lot Of Weight”, tucked inside another one called “Surviving Traumatic Experiences” (I almost said, “Like THIS one?”). I am currently working on my own little tract titled “My Health And Minding Your Own Business” 8)

    • I have been known to respond in yoga studios (in studios I no longer attend because of the pervasiveness of the comments), “Um, hello? Have you not SEEN images of the Buddha? And Ganesha? Is. An. Elephant. Can we stop pretending that some bodies are less divine — less valuable — than others?”

      Admittedly, it did not go over well where I was. But that is one of many reasons I am no longer there.

  20. This may be my first visit to your blog, but I’m pretty sure I love you.

    Excellent post, excellent outlook, excellent excellence.

    • Hi Juls,

      Welcome to the blog, I’m so glad that you like it and I’m a big fan of blog reader love declarations :)

      I’ll look forward to “seeing” you around!

      ~Ragen

  21. I sort of like Cyrano’s approach to some random fool who tried to insult his nose–Cyrano rattles off a long list of better, funnier, widely-diverse insults the meddler COULD
    have said, had he any wit. Back in a while, I got an idea…8)

  22. And then perhaps they could go on to bring to peoples’ attention such earth-shattering gems of knowledge as what color eyes I have and whether I’m wearing pants or a skirt! Hey! Maybe they could tell me how to spell my own name!

    After all, if I don’t know that I don’t wear a size 4, I clearly don’t know any other basic information about myself.

    Oh, and I have to say that No Shit Sherlock Flakes is now my favorite breakfast cereal.

    • “Oh, and I have to say that No Shit Sherlock Flakes is now my favorite breakfast cereal.”

      Yeah, but you’d better not eat too much of it or the Or the Body Police will send out the Food Cops to bitch at you! :p

  23. Brilliant post again. It always floors me when articles like this are published. Really? REALLY?

    Just reinforces the importance of setting clear boundaries with family members and then following through on them. Worked for me.

    Remember the profit motives of those pushing this kind of tripe. Bottom line, they hope that increasing fat policing will bring them more business.

  24. I have the best family in the whole world.

    Last year, my sister bought me a christmas card that read “BIG CHRISTMAS WISHES” on the front with lovely christmas paraphernalia etc and inside she’d written. “I saw this and thought of you. I hope it makes you feel strong and beautiful because you deserve to.”

    She gets it! I almost burst into tears.

  25. The closest analogy would be if you have a relative who smokes, and when they light up you say “I wish you’d quit, that’s bad for your health.” What you may be trying to do is encourage them to do what they know is healthier, and that’s what relatives are doing when they encourage us not to eat that slice of pie. But just like us, the smoker knows they smoke, they may have tried to quit, and you are just making them feel bad.Right?

    • Exactly – there’s no-one in our society who hasn’t already been exposed to a bazillion anti-smoking messages.

      But at least the smoker (usually) only gets attacked when they actually light up…

    • Except that most fat people don’t eat any more than “healthy weight” people. Weight is not a behavior, whereas smoking is.

    • And you can quit smoking. You can’t quit eating.

  26. My ‘No Shit Sherlock’ flakes come best served after a girl with smaller breasts looks at me and goes ‘OMG your boobs are gigantic!’ my reaction is normally ‘No shit? I just thought a had a shelf attached to catch crumbs when I feast’. It gets old to hear.

  27. thank you, ragen….those are perfect things to say.
    i have not been able to respond so far for fear of going barkingly insane and foaming at the jaws, which then just makes me fat AND crazy!
    but i shall trot out your first suggestion with charming sincerity and throw the ball firmly into her court.

    last weekend, it was my husband’s turn…..we had hordes of his family here and spent four days cooking and entertaining.
    fortunately, i missed his father saying, no cream in your coffee for you, fella, you are putting on weight!
    he told me afterwards, because he knows how my family dishes it out and he was feeling even more solidarity than usual.

    i don’t think either of us are going to take it any more.
    we are active, healthy people, with physical jobs, who carry a bit of fat.
    i’ve been the same weight for 25 years.
    i have achieved all kinds of good things in my life and i KNOW my family would trade everything i have ever done for my thinness instead.
    i really do wonder wtf is going on inside their heads.
    whatever it is, i am done listening to it.

    ragen, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your wonderful blog.
    you have really helped me this year. you have articulated and clarified so many things that i have been wondering about for decades.

    • Hi Patster,

      Thank you so much for all of your kind words, I’m really glad that I have the opportunity to support you! I’m sorry that you and your husband have had to deal with family inappropriateness and I’m glad that you are finding a path that works for you, and clearly seeing where other people are focusing on the wrong things!

      ~Ragen

  28. The horrible thing is, shit like this does sometimes “work” – and by “work”, I mean “succeeds in so completely traumatizing the victim that he/she sacrifices their own health to please others.” If you can read them without being triggered (and you haven’t had a good facepalm for awhile), check out the “I did it!” weight-loss stories in the fitness magazines. Almost all of the women were spurred to dieting by some sort of public humiliation, just like this creep is recommending.

  29. Ah the weight loss propaganda machine is spewing it’s poison again. How dare they? But they do! Recently in the Metro – Edmonton edition there was FULL PAGE ad touting the miracle surgery of the SlimBand. The ad used the whole guilt trip of how fat people are a burden on the health care system, waste company time for sick days off and the general crap the propaganda machine spews. I was reading this in the company lunch room – outraged, I asked the ladies who were having lunch with me if they had seen this. I stated I could not believe the odacity of the ad. Why would any one disfigure thier body with an un-necessary and possibly dangerous surgery? Some of the lunching ladies were quite surprised and dismayed about this. (As am I) This opened up a dialog of weight loss success and failures. Some ladies did nothing more than STOP exercising as much as they did. Most admitted that age, hormones and illness were the cause and effect of gains and losses. So to you – SlimBand – you should be Travel Agents. Your guilt trips are phenomenal!

  30. Shaming a loved about his or her weight ist not an issue in my family any longer since i told my mother that i don’t appreciate such comments. She took it very well.
    Ever since my reply to someone pointing out that i’m overweight or fat is “thank you for noticing! You look great, too”

    It seems to me that the “war on obesity “ ist much more intense in the US than in germany.

  31. My SO and I had a fight about this after being told sub-par medicine (i.e. diagnosis of fat and treatment of weight loss sans any diagnostic technique) was to be expected because an obese person who is sick, in pain, or dead has nothing to blame but their obesity. Nothing can persuade them otherwise, alas. I came here for something more positive as I question my relationship. Thanks for continuing to show I’m not an exception, crazy, or killing myself by fatness.

  32. My grandmother if fond of saying “That’ll help you keep what you got.” if she sees you eating something “fattening.”

    On the surface it sounds encouraging and body positive but, no… just no. Because if she were really body positive, she wouldn’t say anything at all.

    • It could be positive if you said it about yourself with a wink when someone criticized your choices.
      “Are you going to eat that?”
      “It’ll help me keep what I got ;)”

  33. Howdy! Thank you for this blog post which I’ve saved all week. You’ve been at my side, so I’ve been ready for any problems.

    Thank you. This time you weren’t needed, but it was so nice knowing there are people like you out there.


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