I received this question from reader Jeanine:
I was talking to a good friend of mine about Size Acceptance and she said “I just can’t believe that you could be happy with your body!” Except it sounded more like a judgment than an acknowledgment that she didn’t understand. What could I have said?
This is a weird phenomenon that has certainly happened to me and to my friends who are open about their fat acceptance, and loving their fat bodies. The commentary can take a lot of forms, usually something like “Well, I can’t believe that you are really happy.” or “I could never be happy with my body if I was your size.”
This isn’t something that I find appropriate for someone to share with me regardless, but I have noticed the same thing that Jeanine did – it’s not really said as if they want to share their thoughts about their own body with me. What it can often sound like is “I know better than you how you feel about your body” as if it’s a (cowardly) way of trying to accuse us of lying.
The truth is that we don’t always have a frame of reference that allows us to understand other people’s situations and circumstances. If everyone did have this level of self-awareness, then people dealing with alcoholism, depression, and anorexia wouldn’t have to deal with people telling them to just stop drinking, cheer up, or eat a sandwich.
Sometimes we just don’t “get it,” sometimes we can’t get it. It’s ok not to be able to understand someone else’s experience or situation. But that doesn’t make it ok to disrespect them, or to insist that their experience can only be correctly viewed through our frame of reference. To me the appropriate reaction is to listen to those we don’t understand, consider them the best witness to their experience, and either offer them the support they are requesting or, at the very least, mind our own business without acting as if our inability to understand their situation is an indictment against it, or as if we are a better witness to what they are going through than they are, or that they must not be telling the truth since we can’t imagine it could be true.
So, if you say that you can’t imagine that fat people can be happy and love our bodies i believe you, but it has actually nothing to do with fat people who are happy and love our bodies, so please feel free to believe us (and perhaps acknowledge that you simply don’t have a frame of reference that allows you to understand) or don’t believe us and keep those feelings to yourself.
As far as Jeanine’s question about what she could have said, if someone says to you “Well, I can’t believe that you are really happy with your body.” here are some reply options (feel free to leave your ideas in the comments!)
- Ok. (perhaps with a shoulder shrug, said in a tone to make it clear that it couldn’t possibly make the least bit of difference.)
- You don’t have to understand, but feel free to be happy for me!
Starting a conversation (if that’s what you want to do, you don’t have to)
- I’m happy to try to explain, but if you aren’t able to get it, that’s ok too.
- Why not?
- I can’t understand why you would think it was appropriate to say that, so I guess we’re even.
- I’m not sure why you said that, but I can’t imagine you think it has anything to do with me.
- Really? What a shame.
The bottom line for me is that we live in a truly fatphobic society and so I’m not surprised if people have trouble grasping that there are people who have opted out of that culture of body hate, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ok for other people to try to pull us back into it.
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