Monday, November 19, 2012

10 Steps to a Fat Shame Free Thanksgiving

[Content note: fat shame, body/food policing]

Hello, hello. As you probably know, Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the US. The good news is that it's a time to enjoy seeing friends and family and be reflective about all the wonderful things you have in your life. The bad news is that it's riddled with myths, it kicks off the most consumerist time of the year, and it involves a whole lot o' fat shaming and food policing.

It can be really hard for those of us who are fat positive and body accepting to get through this time. If you need a little help, check out this guide to surviving the holidays in a fat shaming environment. And for the fat shamers themselves, here are 10 quick and easy steps to being a good person at your turkey day this week (and any other time, really.)

1) Don't make any comments about anyone's body. Bodies are THE most personal thing and it is very much not your responsibility to talk about anyone else's, especially in negative terms. But I even advise that you don't make positive body comments either. Unfortunately our world has made many people, especially women, ultra sensitive about their bodies and even a seemingly positive comment can draw unwanted attention. And a "positive" comment phrased like "Oh wow! Have you lost weight?" contributes to our culture of fatphobia. (Time and time again thin bodies are held up as the ideal while fat bodies are pathologized.) Additionally, even positive comments about someone's body can feed into eating disorders, and you never know who might be struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food.

2) Don't make any comments about your own body. Even though you are in charge of your own body, making comments about it can still send damaging messages to others. For example, when girls hear their mothers say something like, "Ugh, I feel so fat in these jeans." their minds automatically go to, "Do I look fat?" and fat shame is affirmed.

3) Learn about concern trolling. It's an impulse to say, "But I really CARE about this person and I'm really concerned about his/her weight/health!" especially when the person in question is a family member. Kath at Fat Heffalump has a lot of great reading about why this is a problematic stance and how to differentiate it from genuine concern. While you're at it, read Ragen Chastain's whole blog to learn that thin =/= healthy.

4) Don't make comments about anyone's food consumption. This goes right along with concern trolling. Food policing are comments include things like, "Are you really sure you should be eating that? It has so many calories!" or "Do you really need seconds?" or "Maybe you should put that second roll back." All of these comments operate under the guise of "I'm just helping you make healthy choices!" but they are in actuality intended to shame the recipient into eating less and feeling horrible about their food choices. These comments are deeply rooted in fatphobia and they can also contribute to disordered eating practices. For children, instead of really learning how to eat until they are full and stop, the lesson becomes that some items are badbadbad and some are good and feelings of shame/guilt/secret pleasure become associated with the "bad" items.

5) Resist the urge to keep track of anyone's food consumption. This can be a very difficult task for someone who has their own issues with eating (spoken from experience) or people who are fatphobic. It can be very tempting to notice when other people get seconds and then get a sick sense of satisfaction thinking, "At least I didn't eat THAT much!" or "What a disgusting pig." Or, alternately, "How the hell does she eat so much and stay slim!?" or "No wonder she's so small; she eats like a bird." (all depending on the size of the person in question.) Trust me, when you have these thoughts, it reflects on YOU and not the eater. There's no sense in keeping a mental ledger of who eats the most because at the end of the day, it's none of your damn business and it just doesn't matter.

6) Don't acknowledge changes in anyone's body. At the holidays, we typically see people we haven't seen in a while, so it is natural to notice differences in people's appearance. But it helps nothing (and I mean NOTHING) to verbalize this. Just keep the thoughts to yourselves. If you want to tell someone they look beautiful or happy, then go for it. But do not draw attention to their bodies specifically.

7) Reserve judgment. The snapshot of someone's diet and behavior that you gather from spending a holiday together is clearly not the full picture of their lifestyle. So don't judge them based off of limited interactions around the table. And remember, it's not your business anyway.

8) Speak out against fatphobic and body shaming comments. It can be really hard to be a body accepting person in an environment where you don't know if you are safe (which is the majority of the places we enter.) So if someone makes a fatphobic or body shaming comment, and you feel comfortable speaking up against it, do so. This will help set the stage for a "body hate free zone." Shutting down fat shame is particularly helpful from the host, who tends to set the stage for the tone of an event. It can be as simple as a lighthearted, "Oh, we don't talk like that here."

9) Apologize and respect boundaries. If you mess up and make a comment that someone is uncomfortable with (like about their eating or body) just apologize. It's so incredibly simple. Don't try to justify...just apologize. And understand that if someone sets boundaries with you (ie "What's on my plate isn't up for discussion.") that's a sign that you are out of line. If your aim is to be a good, respectful person in a general kind of way, you must respect those boundaries. Again...their eating and bodies are none of your business. (Have I said that enough?)

10) Seriously...just don't talk about anyone's body. Yes, that gets repeated, because it's that important. If you follow that rule, always, then they rest are unnecessary, really.

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