Fat is not a four letter word.
Some of you may be familiar with our recent anonymous poll asking one question:
Describe an experience or conflict where someone close to you didn’t support/understand the fat acceptance/body positivity movement.
The purpose? Create an outlet for those who have complicated relationships with other people who do not support or understand the fat acceptance movement. It is difficult to work on building positive self-image and fighting prejudice when surrounded by people who reject these notions. We weren’t sure what sort of responses we’d receive, or how many. Maybe people wouldn’t be interested in telling their stories. Maybe there wouldn’t be many stories to tell.
Oh, how we were wrong. We here at The Fat Word have stumbled upon something we like to call “The Acceptance Gap”:
When personal and familial duties coexist with a lack of understanding and acceptance of who someone is as a person. This results in someone putting up with being judged, derided, or demeaned in the name of keeping the peace and maintaining the relationship.
We have compiled vignettes submitted by readers. These are all genuine; nothing has been added except formatting.
Immediate family often have the biggest impact on how we act, what we do, and how we see the world. They are the initial shaping forces as we grow and mature, and more often that not we maintain strong relationships with these people. Oftentimes, our close family members just don’t “get it” when it comes to fat acceptance and body positivity because it feels counter to the ideals the “health” and body shame industrial complexes push so hard for. These are tales of expectations not met, of disappointment, and judgement.
A brainwashing grandma:
At home I teach my children, a 7-year-old gender creative child and an 8-year-old daughter, about body positivity and fat acceptance. My graduate studies are in this area. Yet, after a weekend with grandma, my daughter came home telling me how many ‘points’ were in all the foods I was eating, and it broke my heart.
A mom who knows God wants you to be thin:
I love my mom dearly. I really wouldn’t exchange for another one. That said, she does not have a very open mind. Religiously she believes that all negative things, emotions (she has a way longer list than I do on the subject), are something that the Devil and his allies whisper to you, and you accept what was whispered as your truth. This is how she copes with most things in life. Especially when it comes to her own actions, or lack there of. She is fat as well as I am. Her whole side of the family is. Yet when it comes to accepting and loving our bodies as they are, it takes her to a place I do not want to go. Even though her belief system says she is to love herself, she cannot get past the devil’s whispers. As in she believes her fat is because she accepted something whispered to her as truth that really isn’t and that is why she is fat. She believes she (and everyone else too) would be healthy, disease free, without the help of any kind of medical assistance if they didn’t believe the devil’s whispered lies. To her fat is unhealthy because God did not intend for us to be fat.
Aunts who praise weight loss over health or activity:
I often talk about HAES and have been shamed for being humorless at family gatherings when I pointed out fat-shaming and said it wasn’t funny. I’ve invited my aunt to my belly dance performances several times over the years and she often declines or says she’ll come and then no call, no show. So I’ll share photos or video of the performance with my family afterward, and the most praise she ever sent me was, “I like you covered up and it creates a prettier line with the soft sleeves etc…. Just a plug from Aunt [L] for conservatism in dress!:) Love you pumpkin” I’ve been practicing belly dance since 2006 and am very passionate about performance. That comment wrecked my headspace for nearly a week. More than a year later I told my family that I’d placed 3rd in my age group at a 10k race, something I never expected to accomplish, and she said, “Congratulations! You look great! One of the perks of regular running and exercise.” Seriously?! For one, when have I ever not looked great? I’ve been running regularly for over four YEARS. And two, I’m here talking about my ATHLETIC achievement. My appearance and weight haven’t changed by any significant factor and are not at all within the realm of my fitness goals. Though I understand that she’s trying to be complimentary and it’s the sort of thing that she wishes she could achieve or be told, it really hurts that all she sees is the size of my belly.
A mom who runs the gamut from subtle psychological abuse, to criticism, to denial:
My mum was really hard on me growing up for being fat. Constantly comparing me to my thin friend (who frankly had basically the same lifestyle as me, I should know, I hung out with them), getting angry at me when my clothes wouldn’t fit. Putting me on diets and making me go to the gym etc. For years I took it, and actively hated my own body as well. Discovering fat acceptance was incredibly freeing for me, but before long I began to see the utter injustice in the way my mother was treating me.
I started to confront her about it. It lead to some pretty big arguments before I moved out, but even in the most civil of times it was the same thing. I’d come at her with all sorts of facts and figures I’d learned (as if we need scientific proof that people should be treated decently…) and her response would essentially be “yeah but fat”.
The last time I was properly willing to have a conversation about it was a few months ago. My confidence was higher than it had ever been so I was able to really talk and not let her shut me down. I came up with plenty of points she couldn’t directly argue against, which is always a little victory.
In the end, she changed tactics, suggesting that I was overreacting to everything, that none of this is really that big a deal, or doesn’t exist all together. In the end, I just rattled off down the phone a long list of very recent instances of the ways fat people have been seriously harmed or even killed by doctors working off of stereotypes instead of responsible medicine. I capped it off with “I’m passionate about this because this is my life. This isn’t just because people say nasty things to me on the street sometimes. If attitudes towards fat people don’t change, I could be killed because of it in the future.” Will that get through to her? Or will she still think the obvious answer is I lose weight? I may never know. I’m in no rush to talk.
Having to carry mom’s baggage:
My mother has always supported me in other things: my work, my hobbies, my activities. But this body love/HAES adventure? This my mother does not understand. She is big herself. She has slimmed down, ballooned back up again and again through all the different diets and propaganda (like Sensa, Atkins, South Beach, The Rice Diet, etc).
She has tried to get me to participate with her, I refuse. But every time I take a step forward (healthy eating, starting to walk, etc.) something like a diet creeps in and suddenly she is portioning MY food, telling ME what to eat to lose weight. I have stayed at a steady 274 for the last 3 yrs regardless of what I do, regardless of her portioning and pushing me.
My boyfriend thinks I am beautiful, and wants me to eat healthy and take my time losing weight because he knows if he pushes I will push back. My mother does not understand this concept. I am independent, I am stubborn, and I rebel against people telling me what to do- especially involving my health. Back to my mother, when I introduced her to the thought of HAES (Healthy at Every Size)- she asked if they had an eating plan. I was ill prepared for this reaction: No mom. It’s not a diet. It’s a way of life- it’s your own plan and you get to love your body for how it is, if there are weight loss results from getting healthy then great, but it is about body love, not body hate until you get into that size 8 (which is what we equate to non-plus size).
Her answer: Oh, no plan. It’s not for me. As if all the other plans she had been on had worked… After that discussion, I am getting no help. No support for this way of life. Simply because she doesn’t understand how I don’t want to push myself to lose weight. That I don’t feel like I look like a mountain of flesh in my head anymore. I have tried again, and again- not pushing, just explaining what was going on in the groups I am in, or with certain articles I’ve found. She shows no interest- there is no diet, no plan, it’s a no go. It drives me insane to have her, the one person that has supported me in everything else, not support me in this- this wonderful change in my life.
So many of these conflicts crop up in relationships between mothers and their female offspring. The “ideal” human body is simply not a feasible reality for most women. Does it come from a place of competition? Of wanting the best for one’s child? It seems like weight-loss talk as a pastime is an ever-increasing phenomenon. My own mother talks about dieting; close friends do as well. It’s so normalized — it’s water cooler talk. Flippant dismissal and rejection of my body and what it looks like is EVERYWHERE.
Family members are supposed to love you the most. They are supposed to defend you and never let anyone pick on you. But somehow, nonstop diet talk is considered okay. It’s accepted. It’s encouraged. If it has infected the deepest inner circle of familial safety, then what do we do? Cut and run? Or tough it out, with a little part of us knowing that it might not ever get better?
Stay tuned for the next article on The Acceptance Gap: Friends.