How to Not Ruin the Holidays for Your Fat Friends and Family

WTFI spend a lot of time helping fat people deal with the bullshit fat shaming that comes our way daily, and that often escalates at the holidays (whether we celebrate them or not.)  I try to be clear that these things are not our fault, even though they become our problem and that the problem isn’t fat people, it’s fat shaming. So today I wanted to take a second to talk directly to fat shamers, accidental fat shamers, and potential fat shamers – however well meaning they may be – about how they can stop the problem before it even starts at the holidays, and all year long!

Don’t give a weight loss or “health” gift

Don’t give a gym membership, diet club membership, “healthy meal” delivery etc. unless the person has very specifically asked for it.  Including and especially if you’re only assuming that they don’t already do or have these things because of your stereotypes about fat people, or as a passive-aggressive hint that you think they may “need” the gift.  Instead, if you want to give a gift, consider choosing something based on the person’s actual likes and interests rather than stereotypes and fat shame. Or maybe a nice gift certificate.

Don’t be the food police

Don’t monitor, comment on, or concern yourself in any way with fat people’s (or any sized people’s) food choices at parties, holiday dinners or, hey, ever.  If we need the food police, we’ll call Pie-1-1. If you feel like you might have to deal with the Family and Friends Food Police, here are some tips.  If you want some ideas to help when you see this kind of food shaming, check here.

Don’t give a fat shaming card

Way too many fat people get cards with some version of  “We love you and we want you to lose weight because we want you to be around a long time.” If you honestly can’t figure out why “Happy Holidays! Please don’t die of fat because mourning you would be a major bummer for us” isn’t an appropriate message for a holiday card, then please just take my word for it this is a bad idea. The person to whom you deliver this little Hallmark moment may be able to defend themselves in court successfully with “Your Honor, he needed a killin'” This happened to my partner a couple years ago and we chose to cut ties with the relatives completely, about which it seems they are upset. Bad behavior can have undesired consequences for everyone, don’t put your fat friends and family in this position.

Don’t engage in diet talk or negative body talk

This suggestion isn’t just for fat guests, but also for guests who may be dealing with eating disorders, or guests who are interested in conversation that isn’t boring as hell. Find something else to talk about than why you are or are not eating what you are or are not eating.  Skip the 5 minutes soliloquy on what you feel you have to do to punish yourself for eating pie, and ask somebody at the party to tell you about themselves instead, or go watch TV, or play on your phone, whatever.

Don’t comment on body size changes

Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like knowing that your relatives are monitoring your body. You might think it’s a compliment to ask if someone has lost weight but that question is super loaded – perhaps they’ve lost weight because of illness, grief, medication, an eating disorder, or something else unwanted or unintentional. Perhaps they are uncomfortable with having their body size made into a topic for discussion (maybe because it’s hella inappropriate…) Perhaps they haven’t lost weight and, however well-intentioned you may be, they take it as backhanded or passive-aggressive. (Or perhaps you intended it to be backhanded or passive-aggressive in which case you’re being an ass,  won’t you please be a dear and knock it the hell off.)  If you want some suggestions for wading through the tricky world of weight loss compliments (like what to do when someone tells you’ve they’ve lost weight and then looks at you expectantly), you’ll find that here.

Don’t stage some kind of weight loss intervention

This should be a big pile of obvious in an obvious box, but every year some asshat who wants to be thought of as “brave” writes an article about how the holidays are the perfect time to fat shame your relatives “for their own good.” First of all, people’s weight and health (two different things) aren’t your business unless they ask you to make them your business. Even if you don’t believe that, the holidays are definitely not the time to do this.  And if you feel that you have to do this at the holidays because it’s the only time you see that person, then consider how relevant you really are in their lives and whether you have any business doing this at all.  Then don’t. Just don’t. Do Not. Don’t. Trust me when I tell you, you are not The Fat Person Whisperer.

If y’all can think of others please feel free to leave them in the comments!

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Published in: on December 17, 2015 at 11:22 am  Comments (25)  

25 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great post!

    My two cents would be, don’t buy a loved one clothes or other wearable items as a gift. You may not be correct with the size and whether you went too high or too low, at best it shows you don’t know them as well as you thought, and at worst, it could be taken as a suggestion, an insult, or an insulting suggestion. And that’s before you get into questions of style, not to mention ethical appropriateness. Woe betide the well meaning present giver who buys a vegan or a person of certain faith traditions pigskin shoes. This is a great time to get them a gift certificate and let them do the choosing.

    • Heck, even if you check an item of clothing to find out a size, you could trip over the fact that a different cut or manufacturer in the same size won’t fit.

    • 40+ years ago my boss gave me a sweater from Roaman’s for Christmas and I was terribly offended because not only was it the wrong size and style, but it came from “that fat ladies shop”! I DID take it as an insult and receiving no gift would have been preferable.

      My mother used Christmas to express her disappointment in my size with ill-fitting, unflattering clothes-gifts – and to reward my sisters’ weight losses with whole new wardrobes. That stung, too.

      Bear in mind that even a gift certificate from the wrong store can be emotionally “loaded”. Personally, I like money. One size truly fits all.

      • My parents for several years running gave gift certificates from stores that we think they had the best available credit line at, and more than once we looked at the certificates and thought, “We never shop there.” We appreciated the thought and the gift, but at the same time, it just wasn’t our kind of store.

        At that time, most of the stores would give cash in change if the purchase was less than the certificate amount. We’d buy a pair of socks or something, and take the balance someplace we liked to shop. More than once I bought something cheap from the department store, and went shopping at the hobby shop with the balance.

    • Excellent point.

      If you really want to give someone clothing (for instance, if you know they need a winter coat, or some such item), then spoil the surprise and ask them for their size information, and style preferences, and be sure to give them the receipt, in case they need to change it for a different size, because different manufacturers, or even different styles by the same manufacturer, can affect size. It may be better to simply ask for measurements, if they are confident enough to not feel like those numbers are loaded.

      But better than that – make a date to go shopping with them!

      The best part about this would be that they get to choose everything (including the store, because some people won’t shop at certain stores, because reasons which are valid to them), and enjoy the pleasure of your company, at the same time. Set a price range, or just say “I’ll contribute X amount to your purchase,” and have fun with it!

      If you can’t get together for a shopping trip, then I highly recommend sticking with accessories that don’t have size issues, such as scarves or cool belt buckles (if you’ve seen them wear belts), or purses (If you’ve seen them use a purse), or stuff like that.

      • Some of my friends love nerdy T-Shirts, and I’m good at finding them, so I find ways to sneakily apply a tape measure to their favorite items of clothing…

        ***

        An anecdote about not talking about size, which I still remember because it made me extraodinrily happy:

        I met a friend I had not seen in ages, and I had significantly changed shape since then. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Wow, you’ve changed!” I thought, “oh, not *that* again”, and he got an “aha!” face and said, “You cut your hair!”

        Which I had done, actually, and I am very happy with the result. I don’t know if maybe he barely made his saving throw vs. foot-in-mouth disease when he saw my expression — but even if so, he *made* it.

        • Awesome!

          Oh, there are some cool T-shirts I discovered just the other day. I can’t remember the link, but if you’re interested, you can probably find them with a search engine.

          These shirts have pictures of scenes or characters or the like from works of literature, and all the shaping is done with the real text.

          So, for example, the shirt for Pride and Prejudice has a sillouette of a woman in Regency dress, with the words (in small print, so they fit about 40,000 words on the shirt) “It is a fact universally acknowledged,” somewhere at the top right shoulder, and going on down from there. I had to pinch myself to stop me from buying it, since it’s just not in the budget right now. The Anne of Green Gables shirt was adorable, too, with red braids hanging down in the front.

          I think I have one, maybe two, plain T-shirts in a bag, somewhere. All my favorites have STUFF on them. If someone gave me a T-shirt that had cool stuff on it, I wouldn’t even be offended if they got the size wrong. I’d just be happy to see that stuff on the shirt. Well, unless it was offensive stuff. Then I’d think, “Don’t these people know my character, at all?” But give me a funny shirt, and I’m happy.

  2. I remember many years ago when my nephew and niece gave their mother the Richard Simmons “Deal a Meal” set for Christmas. It didn’t go over very well.

    Come to think of it, by that time they weren’t on very good terms with their mother anyway (long story that is better left untold), so it might have been a purposeful passive insult.

    I think the best rule of thumb is, leave out any and all agendas during the Holiday gatherings, whether they’re political, religious (haranguing someone to try and convert them at the family gathering is a pretty good recipe for stress and disharmony, too), social (“Why aren’t you married yet?” or “When are you going to have kids?”), health, etc. and just purpose to enjoy each others’ company. Regardless of what we think about a person’s condition, we have no guarantee they will be around for next year’s gathering, and it would certainly be a shame to ruin this year’s with contentious meddling.

    For that matter, we have no guarantee that WE will be around for next year’s gathering, either, regardless of how much we might think our choices improve our chances in that regard.

    • “For that matter, we have no guarantee that WE will be around for next year’s gathering, either, regardless of how much we might think our choices improve our chances in that regard.”

      For a long time, the only time my extended family got together was at funerals. That’s how it is when the younger generation joins the military.

      Anyway, whenever we had a funeral, we also used it as a family reunion, and we were always very aware that any one of us could be the “cause” of the next family reunion. It puts people on their good behavior, I think.

      And if you’re celebrating a religious holiday, shouldn’t you honor that sacred day by being on your best behavior, anyway?

      • You’d certainly think so!

  3. “And if you feel that you have to do this at the holidays because it’s the only time you see that person, than consider how relevant you really are in their lives and whether you have any business doing this at all.”

    Thank you for this. Not so much me, but for my daughter who get ambushed by people she sees hardly ever. (Not that I can advise her, either, since I’m just the mom of a teenager and therefore completely clueless about life, the universe and everything :~)

    • Ah, she won’t admit that you know it, if you tell her outright, but if you let her catch you at it, stuff sinks in. You’d be surprised just how much teens hear while they are sitting in the back seat of the car, arms folded and rooooolllling their eyes at the dumb adults chatting in the front seat.

      Good luck shielding her from the busy-bodies.

  4. Really cool comments. Kind of amazing that people engage in such rude behavior. I dance burlesque, and for me that has been so refreshing-to see ALL body types honored and accepted in a positive way. If our culture was that open and accepting we’d be living in a much better world, I promise you that! Let’s all live with love, it’s better that way!!🙂

  5. You forgot my personal favorite, encouraging everyone to eat more, THEN talk about weight loss.

    When I was a teen, my mom used to tell me how much thinner she was at my age. Years later, when I was telling a therapist what I knew about how my mom grew up, she pointed out it sounded like my mom may not have always had enough to eat (she may not have).

    • “encouraging everyone to eat more, THEN talk about weight loss.”

      OMG! THIS!!!!

      “What do you mean, you won’t try my dessert? It’s my specialty, and I spent HOURS making it just for this occasion!”

      “Well, I’ve already eaten my fill…”

      “YOU HAVE TO EAT IT! I MAAAAADE IIIIIT!”

      “Fine. I’ll eat it. Hmmmm, very good. Maybe I have the recipe?”

      “Are you kidding? I can’t let you make that for yourself at home! Do you have any idea how many calories are in this thing? It’s like fifty pounds on a plate! Speaking of which, you may not have noticed it, yourself, but I just HAVE to tell you, you’re fat, and you need to lose weight. Have you tried cutting out all sweets and desserts? Or eating just enough to feel satisfied, and then stopping? You really should just stop when you have eaten your fill.”

      Ugh.

  6. “Don’t comment on body size changes”

    YES THANK YOU. And don’t assume that talking about things like exercise or cooking is an invitation to comment on someone’s body size. There’s this weird risk in mentioning me taking up running to someone, because a significant amount of the time it results in them either asking if I’ve lost weight, telling me that I’ve lost weight, or commenting on how “bad” they are for not exercising.

    I have a hobby. It’s a hobby that has health benefits for me, yes, but that’s really between me and my doctor and mostly I want to talk about how it’s fun and it feels awesome to finally enjoy physical activity after years of miserable gym class. If you happen to actually be interested in taking it up I will happily babble at you encouragingly, just like I will about knitting or what new shows I’ve been watching on Netflix. Otherwise, I am talking about a hobby, and then might ask you what you are into these days, and am not giving commentary on either of our health.

  7. Just use holidays to embrace your loved ones not “fix” them (fat or whatever they are). Otherwise you are a sociopath and need to stay the fuck away from them

  8. On the gym membership:

    In my opinion, there are two ways to give a person a gym memberships without it being absolutely loaded.

    1 – IF, and ONLY IF, your loved-one has expressed an interest in joining a gym, get them a short membership (like 1 month), so that they can try it out without the pressure of a full-fledged, you-paid-how-much-for-it membership (because they’ll feel obligated to get your money’s worth and probably feel guilty about it, anyway). If you’re generous enough for the whole year, give them an option to renew or to choose something else, entirely. Alternately, give them one-month memberships to several different gyms, so they can try a variety of places, and see what they like best. The multiple-choice option is good if you don’t live nearby, and you won’t be going with them, so it doesn’t matter (to you) which one they choose.

    Also, be careful about which gym you do, because some are fat-friendly, and some are not. Make sure you check it out, first, and establish that Thin Privilege (or for that matter, Athletic Privilege) is not a thing at that gym. Facilities where they do a lot of physical therapy are often a good bet for this. You can call them, and ask about their policies, and maybe give them a few hypothetical situations and ask how the staff would respond. Or, if you can go there, yourself, and see what sort of variety of size and ability are visible in the patrons, and how they interact with each other, that’s the best option.

    2 – Give them a gift of membership at a “health spa.” Yeah, this is a fancy name for a gym, right? They have exercise machines and classes and all that jazz. But if it comes with a sauna and hot tub, and yummy smoothie bar, then it’s a fun place to hang out, even without the exercise. For people who live in an apartment, or rent their home, they have no way of installing their own sauna or hot tub, and even home-owners may view spa membership as more affordable and/or convenient.

    Take them to the health spa as a visitor, for a “pampering date,” where you both enjoy relaxing in the spa facilities. Don’t even let them bring work-out gear. Just a swimsuit and a smile.

    While there, the person will naturally see all the exercise stuff, as well. If the person likes it, they’ll probably ask about membership. That is your cue to say, “Oh, wait until after Christmas.” Sure, it spoils the surprise, but you’ll get a far better reaction.

    Either way – never ask them about their work-outs! If they bring it up themselves, feel free to enthuse with them, but do not ever bring it up, yourself. “How about that sauna?” on the other hand, is a fair question.

    And yes, if I could afford it, I would totally join a gym, just to soak in the hot tub several times a week. And I might very well work out a bit, while I was there. Nowadays, though, I’d feel no guilt if I didn’t do anything but soak and sauna.

    Both of these options put the giftee’s wants and desires foremost, and put no pressure on that person to exercise, let alone lose weight. In the first place, the person has already expressed a desire for a gym membership (and it may be for physical therapy, or just because they enjoy lifting weights, or even swimming year-round), yet the short-term nature of it means there’s no pressure if they decide it’s not their cup of tea, after all. In the second place, it’s about the pampering, not the work-out, although the work-out is an option they may choose for themselves. It’s about giving them something they would value, not about trying to “fix” them.

  9. Pie-1-1…hehehe. Or perhaps the folks at ConstructiveComments’r’us🙂 Wonderful holiday “minefield” post!

  10. I have a very close relative who in the past has made it known she thinks I need to lose weight (“for your health”, uh-huh), and then constantly pushes food at me (“I made your favorite brownies!”). Fortunately, I think some comments I’ve made must have done the trick because she doesn’t openly state her disapproval of my weight anymore, and still makes the brownies. Win-win.

  11. This doesn’t have to do with anyone talking about weight loss, more about allergies/intolerances/whatever you want to call something doesn’t going to the emergency room, but still makes someone feel ill.

    In my family a couple of us know we are gluten intolerant, a couple of know we are dairy intolerant, and one is also egg intolerant.

    Last Thanksgiving, instead of just making all the food gluten/dairy/egg free, we ended up with dishes that either had all three, or some were missing one problem ingredient, but not necessarily another.

    I can live with gluten, but I can’t do dairy anymore. I would rather avoid the gluten too.

    So after a meal that had two versions of gravy/mashed potatoes/stuffing, I went home and started thinking, “Why the hell don’t we just make one set of dishes that are clear of all the problem ingredients?” Everyone knows certain people can’t eat certain things (and if they don’t, it just shows how bad my family is at connecting) and the entire meal (apart from pies) was made in one kitchen. It would be different if it were a friend’s potluck party (one of which I attended recently) and not everyone knew everyone well enough to know who could/couldn’t eat what.

    After awhile, it started bothering me, as though those of us with certain intolerances were being given separate dishes as though to emphasize we were ‘special’ instead of just including everyone. My sister made her own gluten-free stuffing and I brought my own pumpkin pie, which I made sure everyone could eat, including the brother who can no longer tolerate eggs.

    Maybe I am reading too much into it, since I have huge issues with my family in general. It’s not like we CAN’T afford to make as many versions of dishes as any one could wish. I just personally found it irritating to try to keep track of what was in which dish.

    Anyway, Ragen, sorry to go off topic, but this was bugging me, and as I will be heading over for Christmas, if the weather cooperates, it has been on my mind a bit.

    • I hear you on the allergies. My dad’s been allergic to tomatoes since a kid, and I’ve developed gluten and lactose intolerance (they may have been present in childhood, but no one thought to look). For potluck meals (where we don’t know the other people) we’ve usually had to make the same dish that was tomato-less, to ensure that my dad could eat at least one thing. That was a broccoli dish with cream of mushroom soup, cheezwiz, with an almond and breadcrumb topping. Needless to say I can’t eat that anymore (and tomatoes do bother me, except for small amounts of ketchup), so it’s really hard to figure out something.

      Eating out is a chore now, since we have to get 3 pizzas, or skip the burgers/pancakes joint.

      • It is a pain, especially since lactose and wheat are in pretty much EVERYTHING.

        • Yes, I was shocked to see that “wheat starch” and “modified milk ingredients” are in sandwich meat.

          • I just noticed my cold medicine has lactose.


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