Dear thin people: Why does my body make you so uncomfortable?

Reposted from my personal blog, Kitchen Stitching, with modifications.

A lot of what I’m about to say is going to be difficult to hear. It’s so difficult to hear that perhaps (especially if you’re a thin person) you’ll instantly search for reasons that it’s not true, which we’re all guilty of at some point. We want to believe we’re kind, compassionate, generally good people who don’t hurt others. We want to believe that our good intentions can never make us wrong. We like to believe that to show someone we care about them in our own way is the same as truly respecting them. And to be told otherwise is really uncomfortable.

But the reality is that life is uncomfortable. It’s messy. If the goal is never to be uncomfortable, that’s a pretty tall order, if not outright impossible. We try to control our surroundings, so that they’re cozy and familiar, but the reality is that comfort is not the same as happiness. Consider this: lots of people hate their jobs, but stay in them. Why? It’s a lot more comfortable than the scary world of having to quit your job and find a new one. It’s also more comfortable than not being able to pay your bills–but it still doesn’t mean you’re happy about it.

This is going to suck. It’s going to be uncomfortable. But I invite you to open yourself up, experience my perspective as best you can, and allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Thank you for reading.

Dear thin people:

Generally, I quite like you. And it pains me to have to do this. But the reality is that there are some things I need to say to you, because probably without even knowing it, you’re doing hurtful things. And even though I do my best to remain calm and keep smiling, it’s really starting to piss me off.

I know you mean well. Really, I do. I know that when you tell me how to live my life, you say it because you believe that my life will be better for it. But the thing is: you don’t own me. You don’t get to decide for me what I do, especially with my body. And you don’t get to decide for me how I think of myself. And most importantly, you definitely don’t get to tell me what my history, psychology or habits are based on one look at my body. I know myself a hundred times better than my closest friend, and if you’re a stranger, I know myself at least 100,000 times better. To suggest otherwise is condescending and oppressive.

Here are a few things I’d really appreciate you not doing. And if the idea of systematically disrespecting me (and other fat people) seems uncool to you, please just listen.

1. Please stop believing everything you’re told about fat people.

A lot of people have bought into what the media says about fat people. The assumption is that we’re inactive, overeating gluttons that don’t take care of our bodies. By contrast, the assumption is that every thin person is a saintly manifestation of all things that society deems a healthy lifestyle choice. You see this in so many films, TV shows, news stories, and even in the narratives that people tell you in medical forums. Even doctors take one look at me and think they know everything. I went into a walk-in clinic and the doctor instantly suggested I should be tested for my cholesterol. (I’m vegan. Where, exactly, am I getting high cholesterol from—all that eggplant? And even if I wasn’t vegan, that’s no excuse to judge people because you’re uncomfortable with the way their bodies look.)

People (even my closest friends) tell me all the time that I need to go for a walk, or I shouldn’t be eating this, that or the other. It presupposes that I’m totally clueless, that being fat is a bad thing, and I’m too ridiculous to realize (like you clearly do) that just eating less and exercising will fix all my problems. Go figure!

Assumptions like these are unfair. Just because stereotypes exist, it doesn’t mean we need to uphold them. Just because there are people out there whose lifestyle choices may correlate with the way their bodies look, it doesn’t mean that every fat person can be painted with that brush and it’s your place to do so. If you think it’s any of your business in the first place, check out point 2 (below), because–spoiler alert!–it’s just not.

For the record: I don’t have a driver’s license (meaning I walk and bike a ton), I watch very little TV, and I eat a broad variety of nutrient-packed (vegan) food 95% of the time, which are all qualities that people tend to associate with healthy living (whatever that actually  means). Number one, that I have to explicitly explain this for you to even consider the possibility that I’m leading an OK life is indicative of a problem. And number two, that you think you should be able to decide what is and isn’t a healthy lifestyle for someone else’s body is a pretty good example of pure asshattery. I shouldn’t have to prove that “I’m one of the good fat girls” for you to accept that I’m, uh…human, and worthy of respect simply by virtue of that fact.

2. My weight and size are none of your business.

Imagine I am an overweight person who, by your standards, is lazy and has horrifically unhealthy eating habits. Who cares? What gives anyone but me the right to decide how I need to live? Who decided what a “healthy lifestyle” is in the first place? (Doctors, who are human, just like us, and also susceptible to preconceptions about fat people?)

As a thin person, you may not be constantly judged for the way you look, but some thin people definitely have been. Have you ever seen someone tell a thin person that they’re so thin they look unhealthy? “Good God, woman, eat something!” Sound familiar? It doesn’t happen as often as it happens that fat people are told they’d better watch their weight, but anytime you’re saying someone’s body isn’t what it should be, you’re assuming that you’re entitled to decide for them what their body is meant to look like. Maybe they’re thin and maybe they’re fat. But maybe they love their body just as it is. What business is it of yours?

People get all up in arms about how fat people are the freeloaders of society. “Why do I have to pay so many taxes for health care just so that fat people can overload the system with their health problems?” Sure, except even when doctors have found correlations between fatness and disease, often it’s the disease that causes fatness, not the other way around. Also, we don’t get to choose what our taxes are spent on, including the taxes that go towards healthcare. I pay for all sorts of things (healthcare-wise) that don’t represent me, like treatments for people who get sick/injured because they smoke, drink alcohol or drive a car, or people who are born with chronic health conditions that need lifelong treatments to manage them. You don’t see me throwing a tantrum about it, because we don’t get to choose the way our bodies are born, nor the circumstances our bodies get born into. Also, it’s not socially acceptable to approach an alcoholic, grab the beer out of his or her hand, smash it on the ground and proclaim, “You’re costing me tax money and need to change your lifestyle!” When I see this happening as often as people telling me I need to go for a jog or else they’re paying too much for my health care, then maybe we can talk.

3. Stop suggesting that I’m inconveniencing you or being ungrateful just because you can’t understand my reality.

The world is not built for me. It just isn’t. And so please, for the love of god, stop pretending that you know what it’s like to be me. Because you don’t. Period.

Here’s a real-life example. My friend says to me, “Let’s go clothes shopping at the Salvation Army!” I’ve been to the Salvation Army, and even leaving aside their gross anti-queer statements, their selection of clothes for people my size really sucks. She doesn’t understand this, nor does she really seem to want to. So I tell my friend, “You know, I’ll go with you, but I don’t think I want to shop for myself.”

She’s upset because she thinks I lack self-esteem. “Why don’t you look around for clothes for yourself? They have lots of bigger clothing! It’ll be fun!” When I say that I know I won’t enjoy it (because it’s unpleasant to be so vividly reminded of one’s marginalization), she says, “But everyone struggles to find something in thrift stores! It happens to me all the time!” Now my problems are the same as hers, apparently, and I just lack the willpower to let her have a good time. I’ve ruined the poor thing’s day.

So, like…I have needs that simply aren’t met by the store you proposed. I also don’t feel the need to police your choices, and have offered to go with you anyway, you  may have noticed. Why are you giving me a hard time? If you suggested we go see a movie that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy, I really doubt you’d give me such a hard time for declining.

This kind of thing happens all the time. The most common one is a man offering me a seat on the bus. It’s usually a seat that is too crowded for anyone bigger than a size 4. When I decline, knowing my backside will not comfortably fit in the space, he asks again. When I decline again, he rolls his eyes or gives me a dirty look, like I’m horrifically ungrateful for turning down his offer. It makes me want to reach into my purse and pull out a tampon, offer it to him, and then glare angrily at him when he declines it like an ungrateful asshole.

It is not your right to get mad at me for not doing what you want me to do. You don’t understand my life, my values and my needs the way that I do, so how can you decide for me what I need to do?

4. Stop being afraid of my fat and projecting your insecurities onto me.

My body is not a source of shame for me, so it’d be nice if you didn’t consider “fat” a dirty word. I’m fat, not full-figured or big-boned. The word for what I am is fat. If you don’t hate fat people, why is it such a scary word for you to say? What are you so afraid of, if fat is an adjective rather than an insult?

When I look at my body, I see something beautiful, not something that needs to be hidden under clothes that “aren’t too tight for my body type” or have “slimming” vertical stripes. I will wear what makes me feel good, and if that’s skin-tight, hot pink leggings, so be it. (I do feel awfully good in my skin-tight, hot pink leggings, in case you were wondering.) If I feel like wearing a bikini, I will (thank you very much). And it’s not your place to be grossed out, or suggest that you’re embarrassed for me because everyone’s staring. Because guess what? I’m not embarrassed. My definition of self-love doesn’t mean hiding or being ashamed of my body; it means celebrating it. Stop displacing your own discomfort onto me.

It’s not your place to bring up my body at all, as long as I’m feeling good about it. It’s none of your business, and all it does is tell me that your insecurity is more important than my happiness, which it isn’t.

I love my fat body. Deal with it.

Sincerely,
Lia

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About Lia

Lia is a fat-positive social justice activist who's got a particular penchant for tough gender issues. She's a passionate vegan cook, dabbling crafter and avid gardener, and spends as much time as she can with good people in cafés, talking body and gender politics.

2 comments on “Dear thin people: Why does my body make you so uncomfortable?

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