This week I received this email from a lovely reader, who has granted me the permission to address it publicly.
I am writing you for a bit of advice. I have this friend who is sweet and nice and so many ways, but like so many others she speaks carelessly when making comments about people who are “overweight”. When I bring Â to some friends attention attention when they bother me, Â they often scoff as if I am being sensitive for no good reason, or acting as if I misunderstood them because they couldn’t possibly talking about me, and I am not the same as those other people because I am pretty..blah blah blah… Calling someoneÂ sensitiveÂ in this type of situation is just as inappropriate as calling someone insensitive when responding to a racial slur… An attempt to take away their power to feel and have an opinion, and I always get upset and sometimes back down, which isn’t like me at all.
I have written before about how to determine if a friendship is toxic and how to fire a bad friend, but I wanted to address this question on the site because this is an issue that feels larger to me than whether or not someone deserves your energy and time.
Namely, how do we begin to address the insidious nature of sizeism and weight stigma in our daily lives?
When we, as a society, permit ourselves to villainize an overweight faction of the population, labeling them lazy and fat and worthless, or viewing them as a problem to be fixed, we are limiting ourselves. Yes, there are many unhealthy overweight people. There are many unhealthy underweight people.
There are many unhealthyÂ people. Period.
There are many people who are caught up in some facet of trying to achieve the thin ideal, and who are dying trying to become something that they aren’t.
However, it is still politically correct to make jokes and comments about people who are overweight.
It is quite interesting how many people who would never dare to make fun of someone based on their race, ethnicity, disability, difference, or even sexual identity, but they merrily laugh along when someone dons a fat suit or scold their daughter/sister/innocent stranger on the street about their body mass index.
Now, I’ll hop partially off my soapbox to talk with you about the ways in which you can combat weight stigma and sizeism in your daily life.
- You’ve got to stand up for yourself.I know it’s scary. I know that standing up for yourself can feel like shining a huge spotlight on your body, but, you impact the world when you tell others, out loud, that they are offending you.
- These conversations can be uncomfortable. I recommend that you watch this TEDtalk with Jay Smooth about how to talk about racism, which points out the difference between saying “You’re a racist” and “that thing that you just said was racist.” I find this tactic HUGELY useful when talking about sizeism and weight stigma.
- Surround yourself with a supportive community – online or in real life. Find yourself some people who like you just the way you are, and watch how much more comfortable you are able to become in your skin. That comfort level will ripple out and touch all of your relationships. When you speak calmly and with careful intent, you deliver your most powerful message.
- Get media literate. Come up with a few blatant examples that have felt particularly offensive to you, and use them to remind you why it is that you care about this topic.
Try to remember that, for the most part, people are acting out of their own insecurities and body neuroses when they are making statements such at these. That isn’t an excuse, but we can choose to have compassion for them regardless. In a world where everyone wants to say something about your body, it can be difficult not to pick this habit up. Take to reminding them of the reasons why what they are saying is hurtful, and how you would prefer if they didn’t say things like that around you.
At the end of the day, feel free to employ this tactic: Ask for what you need, get what you get, and decide if that’s enough. Repeat twice, and if you aren’t getting what you need out of a situation, determine whether or not it is worth your time or energy to keep trying.
How do you experience weight stigma and sizeism in your daily life? What do you do about it?