The following is written, specifically, to be a resource for those people living in bigger bodies who feel body-shamed, saddened, attacked, or otherwise hurt by the people who are supposed to love them but continually tell them they “should lose weight.” If you think it will help, please forward this to your personal weight police.
[Gratitude to "Joules" for the blog comment and the tweet that opened my eyes to the fact that some people would read my original post of 3/28 and understand that what I was saying is that ALL fat people are depressed or sad or feel ashamed of their weight. That was not at all my message, my underlying assumption, or anything close to being my belief. Thus, I have made the updates in bold in the hope of achieving more clarity.]
Most people living in bigger bodies have probably experienced a loved one telling them that they are “worried about” their “weight.” Unfortunately, Diet Culture has led most of us to believe that other people’s bodies – particularly how much they weigh -- are our business. Other people’s bodies are NOT our business. Not even a little bit. Nope. No.
But since the fact that other people’s bodies are NOT your business can take some time to sink in after living a lifetime steeped in Diet Culture, I’m going to give you some time with that.
I’m also going to assume that you mean well. There are plenty of malicious assholes in the world who do NOT mean well when they assume that other people’s bodies are their business. There are plenty of mean partners who body shame their own wives and husbands. There are plenty of mean colleagues, classmates, siblings, doctors, yoga and fitness instructors, strangers, etc… who, out of their own deep insecurities and secret self-hate, take their feelings out on others by commenting on those others’ bodies and weight. And, I’m going to assume you are NOT one of those.
I am ALSO going to assume that you are not "worried" about the person you are worried about simply because they live in a bigger body. That is, if your person is perfectly happy and living a fulfilling life, there would be NO reason to worry about them, right? You aren't pulling a perfectly happy and fulfilled person aside and telling them that they should start working on "their weight"? Are you? I'm going to assume you are not. I'm going to assume that not only is the person you are worried about living in a bigger body but they are also feeling upset, depressed or otherwise having a hard time because if you love someone who is fat and happy (AND PLENTY OF US ARE!), you are obviously leaving them the fuck alone and letting them stay that way, right?
Finally, I will furthermore assume that when you tell the person you love that you are “worried about” their “weight” that you genuinely, deeply LOVE them and are truly WORRIED about them. I'm going to assume that you see pain in your loved one's life BEYOND their weight. That is, that they are depressed or having a hard time in their lives AND are also, according to your perception of things, "overweight." So, you are "worried" about them but what you are worried about seems to be a combination of things and the easiest thing for YOU to see is their weight. I’m going to assume that you feel their pain and that this feeling is uncomfortable and difficult for you. Because when people we deeply love are in pain, we want nothing more than to take that pain from them. It is difficult, as humans, to feel that we have no control, that we are helpless that there is nothing we can DO to make anything better. I understand. You see someone you love struggling. You want so much – so so so much – to help them. It hurts to see them in so much pain. And you just want them to not feel that pain. That’s all you want. I know.
When we feel that helpless, that NOT in control, over something that feels so deeply difficult for us, we look for the easiest solution possible. THAT is human – looking for the easiest, most obvious answer, the easiest, most obvious thing to control.
And you – like the rest of us – have been swimming in Diet Culture your entire life. And Diet Culture enters at this moment, smoothly and without you even noticing that it has come into the room, to whisper in your ear: “if they would just lose weight, everything would be okay.”
And, because it is SO much easier to believe this simple, unquestioned-in-Diet-Culture, statement, you believe the whisper with your whole heart. So much so, that you then take it upon yourself to share that whisper with your loved one – maybe turning it into a demand, maybe turning into a scream, maybe an ultimatum. However you deliver this message to your beloved, what you are doing is pouring shame into their heart. On top of the pain they are already feeling, you are doubling, tripling that pain with shame. You are tossing large stones upon an already heavy burden -- the burden of their upset, their depression (which does not exist BECAUSE they are fat but BECAUSE they are HUMAN), the burden of living in a society that -- on top of the human sadness and difficulty they experience -- heaps body-shame, fatphobia and bullshit advice on them around every corner. You are NOT making anything better or easier for them.
But you are making it better for yourself. You have believed the Diet Culture lie that if this beloved person of yours would just lose weight, they would be “all better” because it is a huge weight off of your shoulders, a huge burden taken from YOU. Because it is SO much harder to sit and hold space for someone else’s HUMAN pain, for someone else’s difficulties than to just fix their problem for them. And when someone we love is in a very deep pain – a pain we can’t get to or fix – we CAN’T do anything about it, ALL we can do that is AT ALL helpful is to SIT and HOLD SPACE for their pain. And that is tremendously hard. It is so so so hard. And you are living your own difficult life, and sometimes the time and the space do not always appear to be there.
But, my sweet, worried, LOVING, human: you HAVE TO try. Try better. Try better than simply taking the burden off of yourself and telling your beloved person to just “lose weight.” You know better than that. You know you are not helping. And if you didn’t know it before now, I am trying to tell you as gently as possible: YOU. ARE. NOT. HELPING. You are hurting. You are causing more hurt in your beloved person’s life when you boil down the weight of their pain and suffering to the appearance of their body. STOP.
What you’re really saying when you say, “I’m worried about your weight” is one of the three following things:
1. “I think fat people are worthless and horrible and don’t deserve to live and I don’t want to be associated with people like you.” This is called Fatphobia. This is also called being an asshole – BUT, to be fair, Diet Culture has really done its best to make all of us into this kind of an asshole so if you find that you are THIS kind of an asshole, don’t worry, there’s hope. You are also probably the biggest asshole to yourself. Look into Fat Positivity and Body Liberation. Open your mind and your heart. You can stop being an asshole to yourself. You can stop being an asshole to everyone else.
2. “I don’t want you to die because I love you so much, I can’t imagine living without you.” This is totally fair because of the lies that Diet Culture and mainstream medicine has told you your entire life. THIS is the depth of your love for this person. And again, Diet Culture, has associated fatness with death so deeply in your brain that you live with a real fear that you will lose your beloved. Please look into Health At Every Size. Get the book Health At Every Size. Read it. Read the WHOLE thing. Understand the level to which the association between thinness and health is just a straight and simple lie. You can stop worrying so goddamn much about other people’s bodies which, again, are none of your business in the first place.
3. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE: “I know you are dealing with a pain that is so much deeper and harder to reach than weight loss could ever go, but I can’t handle the depth of your pain and I can’t stand seeing you in so much pain so please just lose weight so we can pretend that everything is okay with you again.” I’ve already explained above a bit about where this comes from and why this is what you really mean. You CAN stop shaming the people you love and REALLY love them. You CAN stop choosing the easy way out and take the harder, MUCH more loving road of sitting with your beloved people’s pain and holding space for the difficulties of their life.
We all have difficult lives. Being human is hard. It is hard AF. I’m not trying to tell you that you’re not doing a great job because every human that is surviving is doing a great job. The more marginalization, trauma and hardships you have experienced, the greater the job you are doing of just continuing to be alive. This is true for you. And it is true for your beloved person. Compassion allows us to see this for ourselves and our loved ones. Compassion does not exist inside statements of shame and hate and fear, however “well-meaning” they are.
You deserve loved ones who will sit and hold space for the most difficult pain in your life. If you have those people, count yourself lucky and blessed. And your loved ones deserve that same abiding compassion, love and care. Can you stop looking for the easy answer and give it to them? I believe you can.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.