Dear Abby’s Epic Fail

WTFSo egregious was this “Dear Abby” column that over 500 readers contacted me to ask me to write about it.  I think it’s a helpful example of everything that is wrong with the way that we talk about weight, health, self-esteem, and body image. Here are the original letter and answer, then I’ll break them down bit by bit:

DEAR ABBY: I’m a 24-year-old plus-sized woman (60 or 70 pounds overweight), but very comfortable in my own skin. When swimming in public, I wear a one-piece bathing suit because it doesn’t attract a lot of attention. When I’m home, I have a bikini top and shorts I prefer to wear. This is because I don’t like being covered up like it was in the 1950s, and I feel good when my curves are properly accentuated.

When I go back to see my family and swim, I wear a bikini top and black shorts. Recently, my mother said, “When the family comes over, you can’t wear that. It makes people uncomfortable.”

I was shocked, and we had a huge argument. Most of my cousins are fine with my attire, as are my aunts. Only Mom has a problem with it. I asked if she’d feel the same about a large man swimming without a T-shirt. She said it’s different for women.

Am I wrong for wanting to be comfortable in my childhood home? Mom should be proud to have a daughter who accepts herself as she is. Who is wrong here? — OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO

DEAR OFFENDED DAUGHTER: You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else’s home, that person’s wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home.

While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.

Let’s break this down, bit by horrible, offensive, inappropriate, bad advice, bit:

You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else’s home, that person’s wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home.

If this had been the whole reply, my response would have been “ok.” I would personally think long and hard about spending time with someone who would body shame me, lie about the way other’s feel about my body to try to back up her own bigotry, and tell me what I’m allowed to wear when with my own family, but that’s just me and it’s ok for Abby and I to disagree on this.

While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity.

It’s only interesting if you think that what a doctor thinks about someone’s health should impact what they are allowed to wear. Can you imagine if someone wrote in because their mom has forbidden them to wear yellow clothing and Abby’s response was “It would be interesting to know if you have any health problems.”  Her statement above is exactly that ridiculous, and the only reason it may not seem that ridiculous is because rampant prejudice against fat people has created a world where the question “How do I deal with a body shaming and a gender double-standard” is answered with “what assumptions does your doctor make about your health based on your body size?”

Look, if someone thinks that they can tell how healthy someone else is by their body size, then they are mistaken.  But even if they were right, if they suggest that people who aren’t healthy shouldn’t be allowed to be comfortable in their own skin or wear clothing that they like, then they are being a horrible person.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect that Abby would do any research to make sure that she’s not harming people with her advice concern trolling, but if she did she would find studies have linked the stress of shame and stigma like this to the same diseases to which obesity has been linked, and found that women who are concerned about their weight have more physical and mental illness than women who are fine about their size, regardless of their size.  So Abby could have harmed the health not only of the woman to who she gave terrible advice, but to every fat person who reads the drivel she wrote and buys into it. But of course, it’s for their own good.

I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.

Notice that Abby has gone from wondering about what the woman’s physician thinks to just assuming that she knows her health, and her behaviors around her health (since she knows both that she has a “weight problem” and that she’s “complacent”.)   If I were a psychic doctor I probably wouldn’t spend my time being an advice columnist but that’s just me.  Or maybe Abby isn’t so much a psychic doctor as a bigot who is happy to visit her stereotypes and prejudices upon anyone who will listen.

I’m also wondering if she advises children who are being bullied to blame themselves and  give the bullies whatever they want in the hopes that the bullies will stop beating them up. The problem here belongs to the mother and her issues with fat bodies.  It’s not the daughter’s fault but it becomes her problem when her mother decides to enforce her issues on her daughter via a dress code.  The daughter gets to choose how to deal with this, but let’s put the problem where it belongs – on the mom’s issues, not the daughter’s body.  I hope it goes without saying that the idea that she should have to change her body to deserve her mother’s pride is abhorrent.

Abby is perpetuating the idea, the absolutely horrifying idea, that the best thing for fat people’s health is to never ever be happy with ourselves, never be comfortable in our skin, always hide our bodies, live in constant shame, have low self-esteem and poor body image, have strangers make constant assumptions about our health and habits, be constantly stigmatized, stereotyped and bullied, never have even a moment of peace unless and until we become thin. And what about the fact that being thin will probably never happen for most fat people?  Well then, according to the Dear Abby’s of the world, we should live a joyless life subjected to constant bullying, stigma, stereotypes and oppression, hiding our bodies in shame as penance for having a body that isn’t socially acceptable.

Fat people are not the problem. Fat people in bikinis are not the problem. Fat prejudice is the problem.  People who think that public health means making fat people’s health the public’s business are the problem.  People who advise fat people to internalize the shame, stigma, and bullying they (shouldn’t have to) experience are the problem.  Dear Abby is the problem.  And that’s true whether you think fat people are healthy or not.

Activism Opportunities

Write to Dear Abby (I’m thinking “Dear Abby, I can’t stop being a victim-blaming weight bigot – can you help?)

Leave a comment here

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Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 10:00 am  Comments (74)  

74 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I read Abby’s response and I was horrified by it. Her high-handed attitude is so out of line for someone in her position. The word ‘interesting’ really got me – as though she thought she should have some sort of interest in what this woman’s doctor had to say about her health, and ‘proud’ as though the woman’s mother could only be proud of a thin daughter. The response was disgusting. I noticed there were several replies that took Abby down a peg – hopefully there will be a lot more.

    • I was one of the people replying (on the uexpress site) and called her out for her concern trolling. I sarcastically suggested the daughter would be so much better off if only she learned to hate her body, starve herself and obsess about food and weight 24/7 on her way to a full blown eating disorder.

      Then I suggested perhaps it was time for DA to retire as she is clearly fat phobic and a bigot.

      • I’ve noticed before that Abby definitely has some pretty old-fashioned ideas about being fat, dieting, and health, but this is definitely the most egregious she’s been. Between that sorry advice and the second half of the column where she advises a woman to stay with her abuser cuz she “owes” him, ol’ Abs had lost me as a reader.

        • Yeah, I am as enthusiastic a fat advocate you’ll find, but it’s kind of awful that that other response isn’t also getting the attention and outcry it rightfully deserves.

          The column is just not the same as when her mother wrote it—as the comment before me noted, Pauline Philips retired from writing it some years ago and her daughter has been in charge of it for the last….maybe 15 years?

      • “Dear Abby” is a brand. The person who created it, Pauline Phillps, is dead. Her daughter now owns the legal right to the name and writes the column.

        I’ve read Dear Abby for years and before Pauline died I distinctly remember that she always took bigots to task and told people they had a right to live, just not a right to offend.

        I think the real Dear Abby would be horrified by this column. I think her daughter has no concept of what was really in the heart that created the column that so many people came to love.

        • THIS. I was a longtime reader of the old Abby. This response is nothing like it.

  2. I was a Dear Abby fan while Pauline Phillips was still actually writing the column. “MYOB” was a standard reply back in the day. Daughter Jeanne is so blinkered with prejudice and so hateful to fat people I refuse to use her mother’s moniker, and have addressed my complaints to “Dear Jeanne”. So ugly.

    • YES! This.

  3. Wow. What a horrible and pat response. “Lose weight–it shows you care about your body, and others will grant their approval.”

    Yikes.

  4. It would appear I need to set up a Yahoo account for the privilege of posting to Dear Abby. Since I will likely never want to visit that site again I’m not going to bother with that. But I think I will have to comment and link to it elsewhere. What do people think of this as my comment:

    Dear Abby. I really enjoy wearing knee-length shorts in the Summer but at a recent family gathering I was told by an aunt that she would prefer if I wore sundresses instead as they are more “feminine”. My question is, how concerned should I be about my doctor’s opinion on this? Do you think blood tests might be a good idea?

    Dear Abby, my neighbour’s teenage daughters sometimes wear clothes that make me feel like a dirty old man. How can I flip this around to try and make this somehow connected to their health instead of my own issues? They aren’t fat, so that easy route is out, but one of them does have a few tiny stretch-marks. Do you think that I could claim those as a health issue while simultaneously invoking a sense of shame at an imperfect body in these girls so they cover up more?

    Dear Abby, every time I call my doctor up for fashion advice she complains that it’s “not her job” and that I’m “wasting her time”. So my question to you is – jorts? Appropriate for someone with depression?

    • Dear Bunny,

      I think I love you, especially for reply #3. I’m still seeing red, but I’m also laughing now.

    • Love this!!

    • Lmao. Do more!

      • I may be secretly hoping that wittier people than I do! We could make it a twitter thing! @dearabby # erm… #something witty I cannot think of on the fly…

    • Oh, DA so needs to see this reply. Simply brilliant.

    • I can’t stop laughing!

    • #3 is the best!

  5. Er. I may get in trouble. However, if you see a reply signed Skeptic come through, that mentions Big Fat Lies and calls Abby Mk. II on her misogynistic bullshit, that’s me. I was pretty pissed off, so I don’t actually remember what I wrote, but I know I referenced Patrick Nagel’s death at one point, and I likened fat shaming to saying big breasts makes you stupid, or that a lesbian just can’t get a man.

    In any case, it was pretty pointed, and Mk. II may want to stab me through the eyes if she reads it. I doubt she likes being called a hypocrite.

  6. Until the medical establishment changes its standards, this kind of response will continue. Unfortunately.

    I got almost the same comment from a salesman at a gym who was giving me a tour and then the pitch to join. He asked what my fitness goals were, and I said to feel better, build strength, etc., and he said, “What about losing weight?” and I said, “I’m not interested in losing weight.” And he said (giving me a skeptical look), “What does your doctor say?” I said, “A doctor has never told me to lose weight” (true at that time — though recently my doctor did say my BMI was too high; my weight, however, has not changed in years — and I told her I had no intention of trying to lose weight since I’d been stable for so long and felt fine, and she admitted it’s better to be stable*). End of that interview! And I’ll never join that gym, either. Better to save my money and exercise on my own. But it’s despicable that they are fat shaming people as a sales tactic.

    * FWIW, I’m about 40 pounds over “normal” per BMI. My other numbers are good, especially for my age (56).

  7. My letter:
    Dear Jeanne,
    Shame on you for making assumptions about OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO’s health based solely on her weight. How dare you assume she is “complacent” about her health.
    Your remarks to this lady show your ignorance with regard to health and body size. People come in a multitude of sizes. Our society’s current obsession with weight and obesity are based on faulty use of science and the diet industry. Are you aware that the metric we use to discern weight categories was never intended for use as a measurement of health? Did you know that using this methodology individuals like Tom Cruise, Duwayne Johnson and the majority of each NFL team are “Obese?” They epitomise fitness. Yes, even the Offensive Linemen. Please, these men go through rigorous training and scrutiny from medical professionals.
    A heavy person can be healthy. They can also be quite ill–same as a thin person. And if this letter really was about health (it wasn’t, it was about body shame) why did you chose to use a shameful tone with her? If you were an expert about health, you would know that people who are ashamed of their bodies tend to treat them poorly (why would you care for something that you have been told to hate? Why would you care for it?). You would also know that illnesses that have been correlated with heavy weight have also been correlated with stress. Do you not think that the stress of being shamed by one’s own mother and a public figure could then cause one ill health? You would also know that it is far healthier to just be heavy than to yo-yo diet in an attempt at being thin. Additionally you would know that the most common outcome of dieting is weight re-gain and gaining more than the starting weight. And this is not due to “complacency” we primarily have our own genetic make up to blame for this. Our bodies fight weight loss as if the body is being starved due to famine.
    So please, when someone comes to you with a question about how to deal with their mother who is a size bigot, don’t tell that person to lose weight to win the love of their parent. That’s like telling a kid bullied on the playground for his/her lunch money to just give the money to the bullies when they approach so they don’t beat him/her.
    Disgusted in DC

    • “Our bodies fight weight loss as if the body is being starved due to famine.”

      I’m entirely of the mindset that adipose tissue has been ignored in the research world, thus lending tacit approval to the assumption that it does nothing but store energy. Either energy is more critical than anyone seems to assume, or fat plays a role in the body greater than anyone’s thus far imagined. Its involvement in the endocrine and immune systems is at least partially documented, and we know it multiplies under insulin resistance. Who’s to say it doesn’t act as a critical mediator in multiple systems, which is why the body devours its muscle and shuts off its biological reason for existing (the reproductive system) before touching more than a small allotment of stored fat?

      • I would love to see adipose tissue get it’s due in research! It could easily play more roles in our body other than just as an energy store, precisely for the reasons you stated. But the bulk of research I have seen thus far does point to it being used to store energy. And it is a relatively widely touted truth whether it be wholely the truth or just in part. My point in using it in my letter was to maybe give Jeanne a kick in the head, remind her of some research that in my mind discounts the validity of altering one’s body through starvation (dieting) while she fat shames her readers.

        I have read claims that the reason our bodies break down muscle first is due to muscle being easier to break down–but I am not a scientist and I do not have links to current studies that back these points up immediately available. I also don’t remember these studies hitting on the finer points you mention about adipose tissue and it’s role in the endocrine and immune systems, so they probably are not sufficient to be used in such a discussion.

        All my research is on my home computer, I’m at work… I want to defend my use of the sentence while at the same time showing you that I am very open to the points you bring up. I feel as if I am failing miserably.

        I thank you for the interesting discussion and I am sure we would all like to hear if more research evolves on this topic. The human body is very interesting. Why it does what it does when… amazing!

        • Actually, there is an enormous body of research on the molecular biology of fat cells. Incredibly complex and well documented. And hey, the more we know, the sooner we can invent some drug to wipe out all the fatso’s. (Yes, that seems to be the primary aim of all the research into these amazing cells and all they do. Sigh.)

          • That is a totally scary thought, that the only reason to study something is to find ways to wipe it out.

            Seems to be the opposite of cholesterol: they thought it was a killer, so they put all these drugs out to destroy it, and now we have all these diseases occurring that are a result of lowering the chol, and we now understand better how it’s involved in brain connections, development, reproduction, etc.

            Science is way messed up.

          • Of course it’s all about wiping out fatsos *head-desk*😦

          • You’re fucking kidding me. That’s like performing neurological research to get rid of schizos and spazzes. (I’ve known quite a few people with different types of schizophrenia and different degrees of cerebral palsy, and my great uncle died of Parkinson’s, so just typing that nauseated me.) I have some idea now who funded the research. Goddamn diet industry. May their finances die out and their lawyers all quit.

        • On muscles first: Michelle said on a post a few years ago concerning a question just like yours, that muscles go first because it’s easier to convert protein into sugar, than fat. But when body fat is used as a source of energy, toxic by-products appear that aren’t really that good for you.

          She didn’t elaborate beyond that, but maybe you could ask her. fatnutritionist.com

    • I love, love, love your response. Please actually send that to Dear Abby.

      • I did… that was my cut/paste. 🙂

  8. I read the discussion on Yahoo yesterday. I wasn’t even a tiny bit surprised how many people jumped on Abby’s fat-shaming bandwagon.

    What I *was* pleasantly surprised about was how many posters were telling the fat-shamers to shut their pieholes and get over themselves. That part was downright heartwarming.

    • The world is changing, a little piece at a time. The fat-shame has ramped up to such a point that it has become self-parody, and I think some people are finally getting tired of it.

  9. Dear Abby.Less,

    Your… advice, for lack of a better (read: ‘printable in a family newspaper’) word to OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO has me seriously offended in San Francisco.

    OFFENDED DAUGHTER did not write to you for medical advice, and the medical advice you interpolated into your answer is based entirely on your assumptions on how she lives based on her body size. Further, the advice you gave her for her actual question was shaming, cruel, and simply loaded with your personal prejudices concerning body size.

    But let’s equate OFFENDED’s query with the sort of advice you might give someone who actually does have a medical condition and imagine what sort of a reply you might have given. Say a cancer patient in chemotherapy asked you what to do when her mother insists she wear a wig so as not to offend the family. Say the mother told her that her family was disgusted with her bald head, but the daughter discovered in conversation with those people that they had no such feelings.

    Or say a mother told her daughter to cover up her burn scars in front of the family, or wear her glass eye even when it becomes uncomfortable simply so others (read pretty much only the mother) won’t be offended.

    Would you then go on to shame the writer and demand they do something to change their bodies? Or would you suggest laying down some boundaries with mom? Or maybe having a frank talk with mom about how she lied?

    Fat is not proof of illness nor of unworthiness. And even if it were inherently unhealthy (which it actually isn’t), every single longterm study of dieting shows the same results: roughly 95% of dieters – even in highly controlled circumstances – gain back every pound they lost within five years. Something in the range of two-thirds gain more weight than they lost. And the only longterm study of the health effects of weight loss was ended early and reported no positive correlation between weight loss and health.

    But there are two things every fat person has experienced that do correlate strongly with poor health: yoyo dieting (which, as it turns out, is virtually all weight-loss dieting) and social stigma.

    So your health advice to OFFENDED was basically to do something that will negatively impact her health and it was delivered in a format designed to negatively impact her health.

    But please keep in mind, all she asked about was how to deal with the fact her mother was lying to her and shaming her about wearing a bikini when she goes swimming with the family.

    There are times when you should resist the temptation to answer questions you were not asked. This was one of them.

    STEAMED IN SAN FRANCISCO

    • LOVE IT!

    • Dead on, Twistie. I read the letter aloud to my husband yesterday, and the first thing he said was that Abby really needed to just stop talking after the first paragraph. I didn’t totally agree with the how-to-handle-her-mother part of the advice, but it was much preferable to continuing on to ask a question that had never been asked and calling the poor girl unhealthy and delusional.

    • Amen!

    • *applause*

  10. The letter writer didn’t even say she wasn’t trying to lose weight. (Not that she should be trying to lose weight.) But all she said was, “I’m comfortable in my own skin.” And Dear Abby responds with, “It would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity”? It would be interesting to know how Dear Abby would have responded if she’d assumed the letter writer was being a “good fatty” instead of making the assumptions that she chose to go with. Are good fatties allowed to show their stomachs? Or is that something only thin and therefore healthy, so assumeth Abby the psychic doctor, may wear?

    • I had that same thought… for all we know she IS dieting, she’s just loving her body as it currently is right now during the process. But most people wouldn’t even consider that possibility because how could anyone possibly love their body that way, first off, and secondly, if you’re dieting you must hate your body (because isn’t that what the diet industry counts on, after all?).

    • In my experiences, if you were *ever* fat, you’re not allowed to wear bikinis, etc. A friend of mine once lost over 100 pounds, decided to put on a bikini, went to the beach. One of the guys in our group started commenting about how “she probably would look so different” if she had never been fat in the first place. I was horrified! Sadly, his thinking isn’t that unusual. Apparently there are even studies out showing that currently-thin people are subject to greater bias if it ever comes out that they were overweight.

      So, my guess is Abby probably would have pulled the, “Your stretch marks and excess skin from your past obesity means you shouldn’t wear a bikini.”

      • No lie, I was once talking to a co-worker at an old job about Why He’s Single (this was after he decided to explain to me, completely out of the blue, that if a hypothetical woman he was dating lost her hair to chemo he’d have to break up with her).

        And he pointed to a shopper who, not-that-it-should-matter but it clearly did to him, was probably around a UK size 12 so a US 8. “See, like her. She’s cute, yeah, but you can tell she used to be bigger, so that’s probably the smallest she can get”.

        I… tried but failed to explain to him how women might be less horrified by him if he pursued them based on how they look now, rather than based on whether he thinks he can change them to match his preferences later. Which, to be fair, is probably a blessing to all the women who hopefully will continue to flee from him.

  11. Dear Abby,

    I am a fat woman who lives in a world full of hatred and contempt for fat people. This is a challenging, frustrating and ridiculous way to live. No one should have to deal with the onslaught of constant prejudice that fat people do, but alas, there it is… all over, all the time. I personally have gotten a pretty thick skin over 34 years of being bullied about my weight, whether from “concerned” family members or strangers or friends or even doctors. But I shouldn’t have to have had “gotten used to it.”

    Regardless of whether or not a fat person is actively attempting to manipulate his or her body into being smaller by feeding it less fuel than it needs to exist at its current size (aka dieting), it’s the body he or she currently exists in right now. I won’t even get into how the research, if one bothers to actually read it, clearly indicates that long term, significant weight loss is only possible for a minuscule minority, and that most people will not only regain any lost weight, but more than was lost in the first place. I won’t address the fact that no one knows anything about a person’s health just from looking at the size of his or her body (except what that person’s body size is), or how there are unhealthy thin people and healthy fat people. No, I want your advice on how to handle prejudice.

    What do you recommend fat people do when confronted with nasty biases, rude family members and presumptuous and judgmental columnists?

    Oh, yes. If it’s not clear, I am referring to your recent advice to OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO. What would suggest one say to someone who thinks that it is okay to suggest a mother is right to not be proud of her daughter because she chooses to love her body as it exist, right now, in this minute?

    ~Offended Reader In Colorado

    • *applause*

    • That was awesome.

  12. The idea that what a doctor says about one’s health should dictate what one wears reminds me of a lot of photos I’ve seen recently getting press of people posting photos in bikinis (women) or shirtless (men) with colostomy bags, saying why should they be ashamed of it. Why shouldn’t someone with health problems also wear a bikini if they want to?
    Even if fat isn’t healthy, wtf does health have to do with what one wears? I don’t think the topic of me dressing comfortably has ever really come up with any of my doctors, though I suspect they would be cool with it. I think the most fashion advice I’ve gotten from doctors was my neurologist recommending I get polarized sunglasses (migraines).

  13. The other half of that column is Fauxbby telling a woman she should stay with an abuser because he fiscally supported her through college and she “owes” him. Gross. I’ve read satirical Ed Anger articles with more class.

  14. Ugh. Miss Abby, let me sing to you the song of my people:

    • Ooooh! I like this! It has a nice beat.

  15. Reblogged this on SonWorshiper and commented:
    I’ve had several friends and co-workers over the years who would probably nod in affirmation while reading Abby’s response, and rail in frustration at Ragen’s post here. After all, body fat is one of the few socially acceptable ways we can outwardly judge a person at a glance. We keep limiting all the other options, so ignorant people need *somewhere* to channel their disappointment at the existence of those they deem unfit or unacceptable.

  16. BJ… LOL and loving your “tribute song” to Dear Abby….

  17. The real Abby must be spinning in her grave…how did what used to be a column that tended towards polite feminism go so very wrong?

    • Not necessarily. She was always fond of using the phrase “killing yourself with a knife and fork” to describe the behavior of fat people she’d never met.

  18. I hope you will send this and whatever else you may have to say, to Abby.
    She needs to learn this and get some factual based evidence, as you say.
    Maybe. ….? It might open up her world and if it did, she could pass it on.
    Thank you for all your activism and what you do. You have created your own niche , must need, for yourself.
    I have learned so much about what I have believed, been taught to believe, about myself and how I best myself up with it and can turn that outward and project that on others.

  19. Oh my – this “reply” (it was not even an answer to the question) is really telling more about the writer of the reply than about the question she was supposed to deal with.
    My reply to “Abby” would go like.
    Dear Abby,
    it seems you should contact your ophthalmologist for a date – and pretty quick, as you thouroughly misread the person’s question to you.

    She asked if it is ok that her mother judges her by her outward appearance.The answer is:

    Dear Offended,
    Do not go to a place where you are not wanted to feel good.
    Abuse knows no excuse.
    Conceil your contempt for her behaviour by doing what others do to you: Sell it as concern.
    Tell her something along the line: “Look, Mom, you are so unhappy when you see me being overweight so I decided to make you happy! I will spare you this sight that grieves you so much. I will stay away so you can be happier without me while I can be happier elsewhere.”

    Not that your mother will understand, I am afraid. But if you act accordingly, she at least has a chance to think and see how much she hurt you. If she does not understand – you should wonder if she is really worth putting up with just to revisit your childhood home.
    Not all parents deserve respect. Abusive ones don’t.

    Thumb up for wearing things you feel good in! You know, we cannot chose family, but we can chose our friends.

    Yours sincerely
    Fran

  20. I cannot believe what I just read. This is insane!!! Thank you for putting it out there. Holy crap.

  21. Dear Jeanne,

    Upon hearing about your letter to the couple who had issues with a gay couple living in their neighborhood and how you responded to it, I thought, “Wow, an open-minded lady. I’m glad she feels that way.” I was thrilled that you did not take the side of the couple who made it a personal issue that their neighbors were gay.

    However, upon reading one of your most recent questions – that from OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO – I am really disappointed in you. How could you be so open-minded towards one situation and be so hateful in another? The woman’s weight is not your concern. You are not her doctor. You do not know what her personal habits are – there are many overweight and obese people who are active, and who do exercise, regardless of whether they are trying to lose weight or not. Even then, it’s their body, and their personal choice, so who are you to judge?

    The issue here was not the woman’s weight. The issue was her mother being judgmental and out-of-line with her, presumably with regards to her body.

    You imply that she should not be happy with the skin she’s in – as if she should hate herself healthy. You cannot hate yourself healthy. It’s not going to help anyone get any healthier if they are forever hating the body they are in. Women in this day and age are made to feel that they aren’t good enough, and that their bodies have to fit certain specifications to be considered acceptable. Considering that most women don’t fit these specifications, there’s a lot of psychological damage that goes with this. Most women grow up and spend their entire lives hating themselves because of their looks and their bodies – how on earth is this beneficial? Hating yourself is not motivating in any way – it’s crippling yourself, and the stress caused by hating yourself is as unhealthy as not exercising is.

    You do not know that she does not exercise or eat healthily – you only assume you do because she says that she is overweight. She said nothing about her eating or exercise habits, but then you start shaming her for being fat. Shame on you for being so hateful and contributing to the stigma that sickens our society! And how dare you tell her that she’s only worthy of her mother’s love and pride if she is thin? Shame on you!

  22. The condescending tone and blatant fat-phobia in “Abby’s” response is horrendous and sickening. It’s like the disgust she feels toward fat people just oozed out of every word. She seams to be almost calling her a liar; notice she didn’t word it “You’re comfortable in your own skin, but…”, wording it, instead like: “While you SAY you are comfortable in your own skin…” -as if she’s making the statement that she can’t believe a fat person could possibly be comfortable in their own skin. Then my jaw literally dropped when I read “it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity”. Her condescension and disdain toward fat people really just pops off the page, it’s almost as if she could be saying “it would be interesting to know what a judge would think of your habit of stealing”, having that same “shame on you for what you’re doing, you may feel good about it but don’t you know how WRONG it is!?” tone to it.

    The last part about her mother being more proud of her if she was less “complacent” and did something about her “weight problem” was just just repugnant.

    The scary thing is that “Dear Abby” has over 100 MILLION readers – this, to me, is heartbreaking – knowing that so many people are going to read that disgusting response and buy into it.

    I was SO PROUD of “OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO”, who, against all odds, somehow managed to be a fat person in our fat-phobic diet culture who is comfortable in their own skin and who knows that what her mother is doing is wrong. Reading her letter I was like a breath of fresh air, but then reading the “advice”/response was like getting that air knocked out of you with a punch in the stomach.

    It’s hard to believe that fat hatred has reached this level of “normalcy” as to be declared so openly and proudly on “Dear Abby” and is now playing a part in the bullying of and stigmatizing of every fat person who reads it, being a huge kick in the face toward those struggling with dealing with weight bigotry and fat-phobia, as well as giving fuel to every weight bigot who reads it and gives them more validation to treat fat people like garbage. Thanks so much “Dear Abby”! ….

  23. I wrote a reply under J.Lopez. I was alerted to this by someone who was distressed because it triggered her to memories of parent to child bullying based on weight when she was growing up. The last thing we need is for more girls to be given more proof that they are unworthy of being themselves, no matter what their size.

  24. My letter to Abby:
    Dear Abby,

    The other day ou answered a letter from Offended Daughter in Chicago. You answered this:

    “While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.”

    Let me try to explain all the ways that answer is wrong.

    Her question was about whether she was wrong to be offended that her mother asked her to wear something else than a bikini in the house. What exactly does a physician have to do with that? When someone is comfortable in their own skin, there is no weight problem. Why are you suddenly referring to a weight problem? To health? When we’re talking about attire and a mother commenting on it?

    When someone’s mother tells her to please cover herself up, and that person is an adult, why are you siding with the mother? Aren’t adult women allowed to wear what they feel comfortable with, especially around the house? Is this mother’s comment somehow not insulting because the person we are talking about is fat? Do you think fat people should be shamed and hidden, Abby?

    Complacent? Where did you even get that from? What part of this letter reveals any complacency at all? Oh wait, are you assuming that all fat people are lazy and let themselves go?

    I am seriously wondering what you would have answered if the daughter from chicago had never mentioned her body size and had said that her mother didn’t want her to wear a bikini because it’s slutty and revealing. Would you have talked about health and complacency then? Or would you perhaps have mentioned that the mother needs to reexamine her issues with her daughter’s body? Maybe you need to reexamine your issues with fat people, Abby.

    • Awesome!

  25. One day when I entered the subway, I heard an older woman say loudly to her husband next to her: “I think, overweight people should pay more for health insurance!” while giving me a disgusted look. (it happened in Germany, and we have to pay a percentage of the salary for general health insurance, not regarding personal health, age or gender). At that time I didn’t know what to say, but I often thought about it since.
    As far as I know, the biggest costs are caused by dementia/alzheimers/similar diseases, followed by mental illnesses. Now if I think of my personal history and my mental illness (chronic depression and anxieties), one of the main reasons for my mental illness is bullying, stigma and learning to hate my own body from a very young age. Even the therapist I consulted for more than 100 hours some years ago made me think and feel, that something is wrong with my body as it is and wanted me to visit a group for eating disorders. I am convinced that many (if not almost all) fat people experience similar things and have mental issues because of bullying and shaming and stigma. So is it wrong to say: Society makes fat people sick and causes costs by shaming and bullying which is then again blamed on fat people causing more shame causing more mental issues causing more costs? To me it seems like a downward spiral, and I am so sick of it. When I read the original “Dear Abby”-post here, my jaw dropped. Is she f***ing serious? Why do people think it is ok to bully and shame other groups of people making them sick? Why do they think other peoples’ weight is their business?

    • Holy crap, you were fat shamed by your therapist??? What the heck?
      That is just horrible. It’s bad enough from family and random strangers… I’m appalled and so sorry that happened to you.

      • I wasn’t really aware of this at that time… she never actually and blatantly told me I should lose weight. But between the lines she constantly made me feel that something is wrong with my body. She wanted me to keep a “food diary” so I would notice when and why I ate too much (it was out of the question for her that I ate TOO MUCH, I think), but I refused to do so. One time, I was wearing a knee-lenght skirt and overknees, she even asked me why I was dressing “so sexy” and wanted to convince me that I was regarding her as some kind of competition… today I am really pissed by many things she had said, but back then I was just broken and needed someone to help me.
        To think about the fact, that people write to “Dear Abby” because they really need some good advice and get shamed and bullied instead makes me furious!

    • 1. This is a recent development in both my temper and my self-esteem, but I would have been temped to glance at her, look back at my book, and say, “I think nosy dickstains should have to pay more, because they’re the group most likely to get their asses kicked.” Please note, I no longer take shit or give fucks about that stuff.

      2. Your old therapist needs to go back to school. By that, I mean kindergarten, where we all learned to play nice with each other. I completely understand where you’re coming from there. I went from nothing but naturally stocky bone and muscle to fat after I had mono, in second grade. Long story short, starting in sixth grade, after four years of regular suicide attempts got discovered (hint: don’t try to kill yourself at Catholic school), and I spent the next four or five years in psychiatric hell, being starved and told I was the reason I was fat. Please note, one reason I kept trying to ring down the curtain was because of all the fat jokes from my peers and disdain from adults–never mind my mother. Yeah. Therapists and other psych “professionals” who repeat behavior that made you want to die, constantly, are the crazy ones.

      3. Abby Mk. II needs to be fired. Out of a cannon.

    • I can’t speak for the country, but in Alberta, Canada, the Blue Cross health insurance doesn’t cover much. I was declined from the regular plans, and told to get to the “Health Plus” because of my weight. It covers less for glasses, dental, and as of 4 yrs ago, no drugs (it was replaced by chiro and physio). So already fat is discriminated against in Alberta.

      And even the time limitations are crap: I can only get 1 dental appt./yr, and 1 eye appt or pair of glasses every 2 yrs. Even then it only covers $150 of the eye stuff, while the glasses and appt. together cost $800.

      • I thought Canada had single-payer, publicly funded health care for everyone???? Is this a supplemental insurance policy you’re talking about, Mich, or am I just flat-out wrong about health care in Canada?

        • Health care is controlled by the provinces. In Alberta it is free as of a few years ago, but before that it was about $50/month. If you didn’t make enough for their minimum standards of living, you could get it free, but you had to fill out a form every 3 months, and list all your income and expenses to show you were below the poverty line. Ditto if you weren’t that poor (forms), but it was subsidized so you only paid a part. If you’re under 23 and attended uni., it’s on your parents plan, but as soon as you turn 23 (even if in uni and living at home) you have to pay your own way.

          That’s diff. now as I said, it’s free. But that is the basic stuff, clinic visits, hospital, a 4 bed hospital room. It doesn’t cover drugs, dental, or ambulance. I’ve never had a co-pay for a doctor visit, so the American system often confused me when I started on these sites.

          Everyone gets the Alberta Health Care, you get assigned a number at birth. This is the universe of “just another number”. If you go to hospital, make sure to have your card, otherwise you don’t get care, and you have to fill out so many forms and questions. Also, some medicentres have tickets, like you get at a deli, so you have to wait for your ticket to be called, then you tell the nurse what the problem is, then you wait again for the room. I went to one, and the event took 3.5 hrs. All for a 3 min consultation.

          The Blue Cross is extra. There are other insurances you could get: Manulife, Clarica, dept. stores. I went with the Blue Cross because that’s what we had at the time, and you deal with them directly. It’s pretty basic, not much covered. The AB Health used to cover chiro, but they tossed it a few yrs ago, saying it wasn’t “real” medicine.

          As for the publicly funded, I think that was the pre-free days, but then taxes might also contribute. I don’t know what the breakdown is. Last year on the news though, they were saying they might bring back the fee, since the system was going bankrupt.

          I can’t speak to the other provinces cost, but I hear Saskatchewan (the home of medicare) is the most expensive. And I don’t think they’re free.

          • Thanks, Mich, that helps clarify. It’s considerably more complicated than I’d realized, but it still sounds AWFULLY damn good to an American!!

            I have what counts, in the US, as excellent insurance through my employer, for which I have to pay only $70/mo–my employer pays the rest of the $614/mo. premium. BUT:

            — I have to pay a $350/deductible before the insurance kicks in at all.

            — Until I’ve paid either $2,700 or $4,350/year “out of pocket” (the difference depends on whether I use doctors who are “in network” or “out of network”), the insurance covers only 80 of costs and I’m responsible for the rest.

            — I have to pay a $20 “co-payment” to see a doctor. That never goes away, even when I’ve met my “out of pocket” expenses.

            — I have to pay a co-payment for prescriptions. It varies from one medication to another. My cheapest is $2.63 a month, my most expensive is $45/month. Since I have to take a total of seven medications, I’m spending about $110/month on medications. That, too, never goes away even when I’ve met the “out-of-pocket” expenses.

            — My vision coverage pays about 1/4 of the expense of my contact lenses. I get one dentist visit per year.

            All of this adds up, even in a good year when I don’t have many doctors’ visits. Still, I’m very grateful to have it. I’m even more grateful for the Affordable Care Act, since it means that if I lose my job or if I retire early because of my congestive heart failure, I will be able to buy coverage on my own. Before the ACA, I lived in dread of becoming too ill to work but not ill enough to qualify for social security disability. If that had happened, I would just have been out of luck, because before “Obamacare” no insurance company would have accepted someone with pre-existing congestive heart failure. (I’d be eligible for Medicare at age 65, but that’s still several years away.) Now, they would HAVE to insure me and can’t charge me more for the pre-existing condition. The gain in peace of mind that gives me is indescribable.

            • I’m still in the fog about deductibles and out-of-pocket, but I think I have a better idea. I keep thinking “the day I cancel my health insurance, will be the day I need it”, so I keep it on, even though I pay more into it than get covered. The reason they discontinued drugs on my particular plan was it was re-imbursement: meaning you paid 100%, saved your receipts and then mailed them, and receive 70% back as a check. Which I did! Other plans are automatic billing, meaning the pharm/eye-place/dentist take it off the bill there. It was nice when I got my last pair of glasses, to have that taken off, it meant I’d put less on the credit card.

              Most probably thought collecting the receipts and filling out a form, and “hope for the best” was a pain, when you can have “this other plan” that takes it off at the till. At one point I did have that, which was about $25/month, that allowed for a 2-room hospital, and 80% automatic billing drugs, but I was making less than $200/month at that point. So I had to cancel. The “Health Plus” plan that I’m on allows for a semi-private (2 beds) or a private room (1 bed), which is nice. It also covers dental surgery/bridges/crowns, and has an accidental death payout. I don’t think it would cover murders, natural causes, or anything else.

              Your Obamacare sounds like it might be better than ours, concerning the pre-existing conditions. I know that my plan had a physical questionaire on it, and on tv there are all these ads for insurance over 60/50/40 that have no questionaire, and guaranteed coverage, even with pre-existing. Seems like most of our plans automatically exclude pre-existing, and there have been many docus on tv about people who got swindled, thinking they were covered, and then getting a letter saying, “sorry! pay up now!”

              I think the standard here is that it’s expected that you have 2 plans, to combine coverage. For glasses that would mean I get $300 covered, and only have to pay $500, but still, that’s a lot. My dental bills have been increasing by about $30-40/yr, even while doing the exact same procedures. Last yr I paid about $450, and got back $270. About 5 yrs ago I was paying $260 for the dentist. That’s a huge spike. And this is just the normal annual x-rays, cleaning, flouride, checkup.

              I guess the rule of thumb if you only have the AB Health Care (the basics) is don’t ever get sick (no drugs), don’t get cavities or smash your teeth, and don’t go blind. One of our friends had to go the Mayo clinic because the doctors here were stumped and the waiting list was several months, but she needed treatment NOW. There’s alot of that too, going to the US: no wait times, better service.

              Sorry about the essay length.

              • That’s really interesting about going to the US for “no wait times” — I guess it depends on where you go. I live in a small town, the nearest rheumatologist is a 100-mile roundtrip away, and when I needed an appointment NOW (for an attack of gout caused by one of my heart medications!!!) I was told that there was a SIX-MONTH wait to see the rheumatologist for new patients. I could (and did) see a Physician’s Assistant, but even that was a 4-week wait and I just had to suck it up in the meantime.

  26. I want to think I saw something somewhere that was saying that we were ignoring the second question, the one that dealt with abuse. So, being someone who’s been abused, I thought I’d address that, too. 🙂 Here it is:

    Dear Jeanne,

    This is regarding a question asked by BITTER IN NAIROBI. There is so much wrong with what you told her.

    If someone is being abused, they do not owe their abuser anything. They owe themselves self respect and the strength to get out of such a situation. They, too, have the right to pursue happiness. BITTER stated that the kids loved him and that she didn’t want to hurt them. I understand this, but that doesn’t mean she’s obligated to stick with an abusive husband, nor does it mean that she “owes” him anything. Besides, how do you know that he won’t become abusive to the kids someday? The best thing is for her to get out of that situation, if she fears staying in it. No one deserves to live in fear, and the person who thinks they “owe” that to them is a sick-minded individual indeed.

    You said this:

    “If you truly want to forgive your husband for the physical and emotional abuse you suffered in the early years of your marriage, a place to start would be to talk with your spiritual adviser.”

    Okay, let’s talk forgiveness. First off, you assume that she has a spiritual adviser. Some people aren’t religious, and some may follow a spirituality in which they don’t have an adviser. She might not even have that. But aside from assuming that she has one, here’s the main issue I wanted to address:

    Forgiveness does not equal trust.

    There’s a lot of stress put on people to forgive – and it’s true, forgiveness can help you to heal. But it seems like a lot of people assume that if you forgive someone, that you automatically trust them all over again, as if nothing happened. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t hold that person responsible for what they did, and if the case is severe (like cases of abuse are), the person being forgiven needs to prove to that person that they’re serious and that they won’t be abusive ever again. Even then, in the rare case than an abuser truly realizes that they messed up – that doesn’t mean that the victim is required to stay in that relationship.

    I think this concern is more about the safety of the woman and her children than it is about whether she owes her abuser anything. She is not obligated to stay, and it really disturbs me that you would recommend that she does stay.

  27. I’m going to say something downright ugly here. I would dearly love to see Jeanne Phillips forced to give up Dear Abby over this (or some other hateful thing she says, I’m not greedy), and have to go get a real job. Watching her have to drain animals’ infected glands with her manicured nails is my fantasy, but really any job Mike Rowe had a hard time doing would be just fine 🙂

    • Who is Mike Rowe?

      • TV host of a show called “Dirty Jobs”. He interviews people like sewer workers and animal handlers, and goes to their workplaces to try to do what they do.


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