Burn the Underpants: What happens when those you love don’t understand fat acceptance?

A lot of us have come into conflict with others close to us who just don’t understand the fat acceptance and body positivity movements. Some of our loved ones openly disagree with the concepts involved. These conflicts can be damaging not only to our relationships with these people, but damaging to our psyche.

Ragen Chastain has spoke frequently about the “Underpants Rule”:

The Underpants Rule is simple: everyone is the boss of their own underpants so you get to choose for you and other people get to choose from them and it’s not your job to tell other people what to do. To illustrate, if you’re considering saying something that starts with

  • People should
  • Everyone ought to
  • What people need to do
  • We should all
  • Nobody should
  • You shouldn’t
  • blah blah things that have to do with underpants that aren’t yours blah blah

then there is a 99.9% chance that you are about to break The Underpants Rule.

This makes a lot of logical sense. We don’t want others to tell us how to live our lives, that we are doing the wrong thing, making wrong choices about our bodies. But then, by the same logic, it is not our place to tell others that they are living their lives wrong. This puts us into an uncomfortable position, one resigned to not actively engaging with those who disagree.

I don’t subscribe to the Underpants Rule, because I see the fat acceptance movement fundamentally as a civil rights issue, and as such I see the sort of passive resistance the Underpants Rule requires only promoting the visibility of the issue to a small degree. It does not actively challenge the damaging viewpoints and actions of others.

Chances are, there are many people, people close to you, who don’t agree with the fat acceptance movement. The Underpants Rule tells us to leave them and their beliefs alone. Let them change their own underpants over time. Unfortunately, some people have some awful, stinky underpants — underpants that are nearly impossible to be around. What if you love someone with horrible, shit-stained underpants who also hate your underpants?

There are two choices: stick around the stinky underpants and not acknowledge them, forever exposed to their aroma, or go find others with less offensive skivvies. Essentially, what is most important to us? Our objective (commitment to the movement), our self-respect (maintaining one’s feelings of self worth), or our relationship with the other person?

Because of the intimate nature of this issue, many people keep a lot of their emotions and struggles to themselves. It’s pain we all carry so as to not push our views and decisions on others. The Fat Word would like to offer an opportunity to share your stories of frustration, rejection, conflict, and pain, without fear of reprisal or hurting the feelings of others. Please take the time to fill out the form below. Write as much or as little as you’d like. We’ll be collecting submissions for a week or so, and then compiling the responses to feature them in a future article.

4 thoughts on “Burn the Underpants: What happens when those you love don’t understand fat acceptance?

  1. Hi Shiloh,
    Thanks so much for writing this. If I understand you correct I am totally in agreement with what you are saying. The sentence that immediately proceeds the one you quoted is “The only “exception” to this for me is about Civil Rights because they are not to be voted on or conferred, they just are, therefore everybody needs to respect everybody else’s civil rights.” To me the underpants rule is about respecting the choices of other people that affect them (so if someone chooses to diet, I’m going to respect their decision). It never ever means that we have to accept poor treatment from anyone, or that we should accept any infringements on our civil rights ever. I really appreciate you writing this, I think it will definitely help people to understand the limitations of the Underpants Rule 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks a lot for reading and replying, Ragen. I really appreciate your feedback.

      What do you think about situations where someone close to you disagrees with fat acceptance? Do you cut them out of your life? Avoid the issue? Try to convince them? I would love to hear your perspective.


      • In general, if someone says that they are against Fat Acceptance I don’t keep them in my life because they are opposing my civil rights. As a queer woman I see a parallel between this and people who say “I am your friend, I just don’t believe in queer rights.” I think being my friend and opposing my civil rights are mutually exclusive.

        If someone doesn’t think that it’s ok to be queer they can take a pass on being in a queer relationships, and if they think that being fat is bad they can take whatever steps they want with their own body but neither of those beliefs should ever affect my life or my rights. (Incidentally that’s where the underpants rule comes in for me – they are allowed to diet or not marry a same gender partner or whatever and it’s not my job to tell them what they have to do, but that doesn’t mean that they get to infringe on my rights or be in my life but treating me poorly.) Depending on who the person is I might try some education (of the – whatever you want to do with your body is cool, but it’s not ok to oppose fat acceptance for anyone else, this is a civil rights issues – variety, i often find that being “against fat acceptance” is based on a gross misunderstanding of what FA actually means and is) but they need to step up to the learning curve quickly in order to stay in my life.


        Liked by 1 person

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