Shame – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

ShamelessReader Kathryn sent me an article called, and I am not kidding,  “Tell Loved Ones They are Overweight This Christmas”. 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.

To listen to this post as a podcast, click here.

To listen to the two readers who did amazing recordings of my holiday song re-writing the lyrics of O Christmas Tree to be an Ode to Boundary Setting, click here!

We’re over 1,400 signatures and picking up steam, please consider signing the petition to keep kids off The Biggest Loser and reposting it around the web.

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Published in: on December 24, 2012 at 11:21 am  Comments (22)  

22 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hiya can a non southerner say ‘bless your heart’ to a southerner concern troll? Or should I stick with my Brooklyn-ese of ‘up yours’? To be honest I’m not known for my tact but I want to be understood & I figure speaking her language might be less obvious to observers.

    • Bless your heart might work. I’m much snarkier southerner. If say something like, “oh! You think it’s time to comment on my weight again! Bless your heart!” Might work a bit better. Bless your heart usually works better if you state the offense first. Example, “Oh! You wore hot pink hot pants to my wedding! Bless your heart!” Offense then bless. Hope that helps.

      • Thank you that seems to be clear & I hadn’t realised you were supposed to state the behaviour needing correcting first. That is brilliant! Plus actually helping the offender to know where they went wrong. I like it.

      • Thanks for this. As a native New Englander, I also was not aware how to properly use this expression. :-)

  2. Oh wow! Once again, the assumption that I can’t see that my fat self is fat when I look in the mirror. I think my response to someone saying to me, “Cie, you’re overweight,” would be to look at them aghast, pat myself, and say “my Gods, when did that happen? I was a skinny twig just yesterday! Thank you for pointing out this fact, because I honestly hadn’t noticed.”
    Sarcasm may not be the only way, but if you ask me, it’s the best way.

    • I have actually done this one… it was a lot of fun.

      • “I have actually done this one… it was a lot of fun.”

        I’ve done it too, in response to, “You’re so short!”. Cue look of horror: “OMG! I used to be six three… what happened???”

    • I answer this way all the time. I look down and my body, pretend to be surprised, and say, “Ohmigod! You’re RIGHT!” I AM fat! How did I never, ever realize this before? Thank God YOU came along! Susie, did you hear what Emily just told me? I never knew!” and the like. They shut up after that.

  3. Thanks for pointing out the petition! Signed :-). And thanks for the good advice too. I like Cie’s approach.

  4. Ragen, I normally love you, and I think your blog does an enormous amount of good, but I cringe a little during posts like this.

    “You get to decide how people treat you, by setting boundaries,” is great advice….assuming somebody is generally more privileged than not, mostly independent, and living with/surrounded by people who are generally more respectful than not.

    But for some people, attempting to put up boundaries that they know will not be respected can result in physical abuse. Some people are financially dependent on family members who are unsafe to cross. Some people live with abuse and don’t have, or don’t know how to access, resources that would allow them to escape it. Maybe for a lot of people, setting the boundary at “don’t mention my weight,” will result in some clumsy moments and then an “I’m sorry,” but for others, it will mean being beaten and starved.

    Steering away from weight for a moment, other people are marginalized in so many ways–through, race, religion, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability etc.– that for them to attempt to stand up for themselves can result in a community backlash that leaves people dead or injured. Absolutely, they have the option of standing up for themselves and using the backlash to bring light to the issue,;but still, it is up to *them* to weigh whether that’s worth it, and not to others to make sweeping, universal statements about how every individual gets to choose how they are treated by setting up boundaries and walking out of the room if anybody says something not nice.

    To some people, having your boundaries violated doesn’t mean that something unkind was said when you said to be nice, and now you have to leave the room. To some people, it means, for example, that now you have KKK carved on your chest because you dared to leave the Indian reservation to go to the hospital.

    So yeah, I normally love you, but when you talk about boundaries, with little mention that the ability to safely have them is a privilege in itself, it makes me cringe. Please, just have a little more recognition that “You get to decide how people treat you,” comes with a lot of disclaimers, and an assumption that your audience is mostly privileged, mostly safe, and mostly surrounded by people who love them. Not everybody is.

    • Rebecca, You write, “Steering away from weight for a moment…”

      While you have every right to cringe away and feel any way you’d like, I would throw it out there that “steering away” from the OBVIOUS context of this post and then judging it is quite illogical.

      Obviously Ragen was NOT talking about extreme situations such as the ones you STEERED AWAY to point out.

      This blog is about family situations at the holidays when rude comments are made not where serious abuse is enacted. It is assumed, if we don’t STEER AWAY, that the context of the referred to situations are where independent adults are engaging with family over the holidays in situations where they DO have the ability to leave, or stand up for themselves, or set a boundary.

      Ragen writes: “decide on consequences that you can live with.” Logically, this would lead to a conclusion that if you were going to be beaten and starved for leaving the dinner table, you would opt NOT to do that.

      Ragen writes: “You don’t have to accept treatment you don’t like because people are your family, friends, or because they “mean well”.” It is OBVIOUS that she is talking about family and friends who “mean well” – not vicious abusers and communities that retaliate with carving KKK on someone’s chest.

      Ragen goes out of her way to say, “I respect however you decide to allow people to treat you. You are, as always, the boss of your underpants.” If you have ever read Ragen’s blog (which it seems you have), it is hard for me to believe that you would have missed the fact that she is a very compassionate person. How could you even suggest that she wrote this blog as advice for people in abusive situations and that she wouldn’t have compassion for the very DIFFERENT situation that they are in than the people in situations like the ones referred to in this post?

      I am just so very tired of seeing people get onto blogs like Ragen’s and criticize these activists and writers for issues that the commenter had to streeeeeeeeeeeeetch to CREATE.

      I fully support YOU starting a blog or providing resources for people in abusive situations or abusive communities. I think that would be awesome, if it is where your heart leads you. But why is it that Ragen is responsible for counseling people in a situation that she may have NO experience with?? Why is it not sufficient that she speak from her own experience and put things out there for people to CHOOSE from. Take what you want and leave what you don’t – that has always been Ragen’s offering as far as I have read.

      I appreciate that Ragen works her ass off to empower people, encourage the fat pride community, put out information and education, and help people on their journey. I, for one, don’t think she is deserving of ANY criticism for this post. Personally, as a survivor of physical, severe verbal, and emotional abuse, I appreciate her tips and am SURE that they do NO disservice to people in abusive or severe situations.

      • I love Ragen and her work, and I also appreciate being reminded about the experiences of people who may not have the protection and luck that I have had. If we are prompted to widen our circle of vision to include people in those circumstances, who are already feeling isolated and unseen, that is a good thing. I think it comes with the territory of being a respected leader that you will get criticized sometimes so I thank Ragen for publishing respectful critical comments and letting us do the work of trying to see ourselves as part of a larger whole.

      • Of course I am aware that Ragen is an extremely compassionate person, who–as I said–does an enormous amount of real good. That is why I was polite. It’s also why I have commented on this blog before, with nothing but praise and thanks.

        I am not picking on a random statement, here. “You determine how people treat you,” is an oft-repeated mantra of this blog, which is deliberately constructed to be universal in scope, and short and memorable enough to spring to mind in any situation where somebody doesn’t like how they are being treated. That means that the more situations in which it does not apply, the more dangerous it becomes, and there are many situations in which it not only doesn’t apply, it becomes downright victim-blaming.

        And if you think that it is wrong to politely point out when a kind, well-meaning person is inadvertently saying something harmful, I suggest you re-read the original post.

    • Rebecca – I didn’t really think of that until you said it but it makes total sense. The sad but honest to God truth is that a lot of times we DON’T get to decide how people treat us. I would give anything to say goodbye to my job and my horrid fat-shaming boss but I can’t because I need the money and I haven’t found anything else.

      Sometimes it’s not as easy as 1,2,3. Especially in a society like ours.

      • Is it possible to write down the things your horrid fat-shaming boss says and report them to HR? Or to an employment lawyer? At least keep actively looking for another job. You can also learn about workplace bullying from the Workplace Bullying Institute: http://www.workplacebullying.org. You may also be able to find a state employment center that can help you with resume and interviewing skills. I agree it’s not 1.2.3 but it’s better to at least look for ways out than to simply accept abuse as inevitable and suffer.

    • Please re-read the original article. This sentence is very important: “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.”

      Also, this article is pretty clearly about one thing and one thing only: relatives with whom you do not live, who make inappropriate remarks about food and fat when you see them over the holidays. To my understanding, this blog is not, an has never pretended to be, in the business of providing mental health services to people who are being severely physically and/or mentally abused. To take Ragen to task for failing to address those types of issues in this article is really unfair.

      That being said, if you are, or if you know someone who is being physically or mentally abused, please reach out to a professional — a doctor, counselor, local law enforcement, or perhaps Child (or Elder) Protective Services. Please don’t give up on finding a solution.

  5. LOVE IT! I have a new line I’ve started using with my weight OBSESSED mother (hers, mine, Dad’s, sister, random people). The last time she commented about what I was eating, was the last time. I said, “Gee, I don’t remember turning on the fat chick commentary track!” I plan to use it every time, she says something about my size. I hope something like that line might work for someone else.

    • Omg is there an accompanying jingle to introduce it? Like when you have a dream sequence? I love this idea! Hehe ‘bingbingbong fat chick commentary track has been turned on’

      • Bex, you’ve given me a wonderful idea. When confronted with these comments, why not imagine the narrator from “A Christmas Story” talking about the general ridiculousness of the offending relative’s behavior and history? Something like this. “Then there was my Aunt Cora. There were rumors that she once wanted to be a nun. She thought everything that tasted good was sinful, so she couldn’t stand to see anyone enjoy cake, or pie …” and so on. Just listen to the commentary in your own head. Aunt Cora will wonder why you’re looking down at your pie and chortling, but so be it. :-)

    • OutSTANDing. :D I’m stealing it. FOREVER.

  6. My suggestion is to suggest that the concern trolls put their money where their mouths are.

    e.g.:

    “Thank you so much for your concern. There’s something you could do that would really help — do you think you could pay for my gym membership for the year? It’s about a thousand dollars and it would be really helpful if you could cover it.”

    “Also, it’s very expensive to get fresh fruits at this time of year and my nutritionist says it would be very good for my health to have fresh fruit every day. Do you think you could help with that? About 500 dollars ought to do it. Do you happen to have your checkbook handy?”

    That ought to shut them up.

    P.S. I disagree with many of the things on this blog but I do agree that (1) it’s usually counterproductive to tell fat people they are fat; and (2) when people tell fat people they are fat, it’s usually motivated more by a need to feel a smug sense of superiority than out of genuine concern. That’s why (in my opinion) asking for money is a good response. If the person is genuinely concerned, they shouldn’t have a problem ponying up. But my prediction is that 99% of the time they will never express their concern again.

  7. Hi. I just wanted to say thank you for what you do. I hadn’t had a chance to look at your blog in a little while, but I recently had a terrible experience involving extended family and weight shaming. When I got online afterwards, this blog is the first place I went to. This post, in particular, was exactly what I needed.


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