Changing the conversation

Y’all, I just spent an hour or so talking about workout routines, weight, and the ridiculousness of pants sizing with two other women, and not one of us lapsed for an instant into self-loathing or even self-judgment. (The other two are quite thin, but as all our thin readers know, that hardly lets you off the hook normally.) The phrase “I have no idea what I weigh” was used. All three of us agreed that we would be fine with pants labeled according to waist size, if some kind of non-insane sizing standard could not be agreed upon, but we acknowledged that most women’s fear of being labeled an unacceptable size would keep that from ever happening. The two of us who are regular gymgoers discussed machines and joked about trying to do pullups, and we all talked about our feelings regarding socializing during a workout (we object). Not on the agenda: diet talk, plans for weight loss, or self-recrimination about wearing the wrong size or weighing too much or being shaped wrong or not working out enough.

Now, I realize that I have some unusually sane friends. But even though it’s the exception rather than the rule, I still think we should celebrate small victories like this. Every time a bunch of women can get excited about clothes or exercise without hating themselves or each other, an angel seriously gets its wings, you guys. Slowly but relentlessly, we — all of us — are changing the psychological landscape available to women, clearing out space for us to think and talk about more important things than our big asses and our tiny salads. Even when we’re not getting together to plot out the fourth wave of feminism, something as simple as enthusing about our exercise habits instead of lamenting or judging or comparing or bragging about them is HUGE. And I feel like it’s gotta be self-propagating. The more conversations like this happen, the more this conversational space is opened up as a viable locus for discourse, and the more people can move in from the fringes.

My challenge to you today: push the boundaries of the conversations about food, diet, and exercise that women are allowed to have. It’s great to talk about other stuff, and that’s an act of rebellion in and of itself — because of course, our obsession with taking up less space is supposed to take up all our time, and weaken our ability to do anything else. But I’m giddy about the radical possibilities of talking about these minefield issues without submitting to self-loathing or oneupsmanship. Target your sanest friends, and have a public conversation about tasty food and how tasty it is, or exercise and how fun it is, or comfortable clothes and how cute they can be. Who knows? The idea just might catch on.

85 thoughts on “Changing the conversation

  1. Oh please, no. I swear I’ve tried. The sheer anger it produces in people is amazing. Thin or fat, male or female, it’s always the same.

    I start the conversation with something completely innocent like “I enjoyed swimming today” or “I want this new coat from H&M BiB”. Then they reply something about weight loss or dieting, to which I politely answer that weight loss or dieting aren’t foremost on my mind at the moment, and after five minutes of further discussion I invariably find them shouting “you can’t sit on your ass all day stuffing your face with donuts and still expect people to find you attractive!” or something similar.

    So, sorry, today’s challenge is not for me. People are insane.

  2. Thanks, fillyjonk. This is a great challenge for me this week. I am leaving today to spend the week with my family – my Mom and aunts are total body haters…constantly on diets (one had WLS), constantly putting fat down. I told my Mom on the phone yesterday that I got this great blue dress from Macy’s – a wrap dress that accentuates, rather than hides, my apple shape. Her reply was that “those dresses are so cute, but they look awful on my big ass”. If she had been here, I would’ve given her the “fat eye stare”.

  3. Yeah, Em, I suppose it only works if you know some people you can count on to be sane. Maybe some Shapelings in your area will volunteer to help out?

    Flash mob!

  4. This comment doesn’t relate directly to the topic at hand, but I still want to post it: Thank you.

    Thank you for maintaining this site.

    Thank you for exposing me to other fat acceptance blogs that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

    Thank you for being part of the process of making things better for all of us.

    Thank you.

  5. I’ve had two conversations this week along that line.

    1) Talking with one female and two male co-workers about something related to food and exercise. One asks me a question about what ‘bad’ foods I eat and I tell them I don’t believe in villainizing food. In my view, food is fuel and I eat what my body craves or needs. The look on the female’s face was pure utter and total shock and horror. What do you mean you don’t have a list of bad foods? she asked. I just don’t, I told her. Just like I don’t consider things to be guilty pleasures or vices. They’re pleasurable plain and simple. No need to feel guilty about it. If I want a cupcake, I go eat one. If I want a salad, I eat one.

    2) I was discussing plus-sized workout gear with a friend of mine who owns a bike shop. I told him that if he carried it, people would flock to his store. He loves the idea and wants to carry it but he carried it once before and it sat on the shelves for almost a year. His wife, who is also a friend of mine, stepped in and said, “remember you’re in the south. Not only do most women around here not want to sweat, those that need the plus-sized gear would be too embarrassed to look or ask for the larger size. It’s absolutely ridiculous and I wish to all hell they would ask so they would buy it and use it and have fun, but it’s true.”

  6. Maybe some Shapelings in your area will volunteer to help out?

    We need Shapeling Affiliate Groups, only with a better acronym. How about it? Anyone here from the Denver area?

  7. I don’t have to deal with talk about dieting much. In my social circle people certainly do diet, but it’s considered to be sort of an indecent subject, like talking about cancer was in the ’50’s. However, I’ve noticed that they still do expect to be congratulated and admired when they’ve lost weight. I refuse to do so. And they can’t initiate the subject because it would seem vain. So there’s always a feeling of unease in the air because I am not playing by what is generally considered to be a rule of proper social engagement.

    Recently I was visiting with an acquaintance who’d lost some weight since the last time I saw her. Right as we were about to part, I made the mistake of giving her an in by saying, “Those are nice jeans, what kind are they?” She lit up and crowed, “They’re nice because they’re a size 12 instead of a size 16!” The best I could muster was a wan “oh?” which I could tell she was not sure how to take, when she was expecting accolades. Unfortunately there is no way to get across, without launching into a big discussion which we did not have time for, why I responded in that way. It’s sort of uncharted social territory, she didn’t have any context in which to interpret it. Was I jealous? Rudely not paying attention? Thinking she was still too fat for me to feel admiration was warranted? You see the problem.

  8. I feel like in that situation I would have been like “er, no, they’re nice because they look good on you” (or whatever). I tend to no-sell this stuff. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right way to go either, though.

  9. Just curious, but did your friend with the bike shop put the plus-size gear out along with the non-plus-size stuff, side by side? Or did people have to come up to the counter and ask for “the plus-size padded shorts” or whatever?

    (I ask because you’d think it would be a little thing, but people are self-conscious about asking who wouldn’t mind just checking out the sizes available on the regular shelves. A lot of stores treat plus sizes as some kind of special need or separate category instead of just, you know, more sizes of the same item. Even something like shelving them in the “shorts” section instead of gathering all the plus stuff and putting it in a “plus sizes” section of the store makes a difference, I think.)

    Also: why oh why are people so proud of disordered thoughts about eating and food? Eating as occasion for self-discipline instead of enjoyment, perpetual diets, food seen solely as a bundle of “good” and “bad” nutrients, obligatory self-punishment for eating “too much” at a meal, and all the rest of it. A “bad foods list”, indeed. And she was shocked that you didn’t have one too.

    If we lived in a sane society grumble growl snarl yadda yadda….

  10. I started doing this as much as I could a couple months ago and it’s difficult at times, but fun. I have a friend at work who is also very into running and we talk about the class she’s taking and how I’m cross-training with kickboxing over the winter and maybe we’ll run that race and my god she is going to kick my butt because she just ran 4 miles in like 32 minutes last week. I don’t think we once mentioned how many calories we burn and I love it that way.

    I was talking with another friend who lost a bit of weight recently through dietary changes and wants to work out. She’s concerned about her thigh muscles getting too big to fit into pants that fit her otherwise. Every time she mentioned exercise as weight loss, I countered with “pilates helped your back injuries before, and I know you think it’s fun” or “core strength makes me stand up straighter and be slightly less klutzy.”

    I think it’s a bit easier for people who are well known as into fitness to get away with this. It doesn’t seem as much like beating someone down as being excited about a healthier way of looking at things.

    I do find I get a lot more resistance when I refuse to play “confession of culinary sins” priest with people. It’s so easy to say grant people forgiveness for eating “bad” foods or “too big” portions and so hard to deal with the resistance when you tell them they don’t need permission and no foods are bad. Though I guess I’m still struggling with that myself a bit, whereas anytime I get the exercise for weight loss mentality creeping in, I use my newfound kickboxing skills to beat it away.

    As far as tasty foods go, there’s these two middle-aged women who sit near me at work. They talk all day long, mostly about three things. One third of the time, it’s about foods they’ve eaten and liked and disliked and how tasty their favorites are. Another third of the time is how they need to lose weight. Sometimes the cognitive dissonance hurts (and as recently as a couple weeks ago, this was doing some serious triggering still). The other third of the time they talk about death and people they know who have died. Which is not on-topic at all; it just seemed to bear mentioning.

  11. I’m lucky- there’s some diet talk among my co-workers, but not among the ones I talk to most frequently, and one is actually quite size-positive and likes that I have anti-dieting size-acceptance posters up in my cubicle.

    I also have a close girlfriend I hang out with a few times a month, and she’s GREAT for having conversations about food that don’t devolve into good food/bad food convos, and we can also talk about fitness goals without a focus on weight-loss or body hatred.

    Like I said, I’m really lucky. I do, however, also engineer my environment so I’m not exposed to a bunch of fat-hating diet-obsessed folks, either.

  12. Hmmm, all my friends now have babies/small children, so they take a break from talking about how much weight they need to lose only to discuss their kids, their kids’ eating habits, their kids’ sleeping habits, where their kids might go to school, etc etc. It does also seem to make them even more obsessive about losing weight, probably because they’re into that competitive mothers set now.

    I don’t mean to be unkind, but I’m getting kind of lonely – ALL of my friends are either child- or weight-obsessed or both and I’m BORED! Positive, thoughtful conversations about food and/or weight and/or exercise would be great, but so would some conversations that have *nothing* to do with food or weight loss or babies.

  13. im lucky in that i very very rarely engage in diet talk with other people. I never have done, not since i was an ignorant teenager. And i can safetly say my life is better off without it!

  14. Wow . . . I think this is a great idea but I honestly have no idea how to get there. It’s as if the challenge were to speak Urdu for a day, I’m incapable. That makes me sad. But I am glad to have somewhere to come and read about how it could be.

  15. Right now I have ONE meatspace girlfriend in my town. ONE. I sniffed her out very carefully to make sure she wasn’t going to go on and on about Diet Crap and Fat Talk before letting my guard down. It makes me sad beyond measure that I have to do this, because I simply cannot tolerate that bullshit any longer. I guess I should insert Paul’s “I hate that BS” macro here. And I wish like fucking hell I lived in (or near) Chicago, or at least where any of you were. (If you’re reading this and you’re anywhere near PDX, please send up a smoke signal!)

  16. Meowser, I lived in the PNW (Seattle and Eugene) before I moved to Chicago, and I really miss it — I’m there with you in spirit! ;-)

  17. Meowser- after I am done with my Master’s here, I plan on pursuing a Doctorate at University of Portland. If you are still there, I will look you up.

    I am looking for Desert Rats- Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff and parts in between- if it is 2 1/2 hours or less from Phoenix, at some point I am there.

    And on the subject of the post. I made a huge victory recently. My mother came home after a doctor’s appointment about her arthritis and told me she was told to lose 100 lbs.

    We had a wonderful talk (and that is not usual) about fat acceptance and HAES. She does have some poor eating habits, so I talked with her about baby steps into changing those so that she feels better. She agreed not to make weight loss a goal. I agreed to go with her next time and tell off the doctor. She is going to try to find a better replacement for her soda habit, but to not feel guilty. She also promised to try to eat more than once a day.

    Now, since we both still struggle with this issues and the whole good food bad food thing, it won’t happen overnight.

    But still, life is good :)

  18. Krista,

    That’s awesome. I really do find these conversations an excuse, when I am strong enough to take it, to talk about Health at Every Size and how fitness and balanced eating based on healthy (which is WAY different from low-calorie) foods are good things, but the focus on weight is not. For something that should be so obvious, it comes off as rather revolutionary.

    But then again, we live in a society which thinks that our bodies should mold their nutritional needs to some mathematical one-size-fits-all-of-that-size formula. No wonder people think they should change their size to fit their pants.

  19. Fantastic, Krista! I will look forward to meeting you. And that’s great that you are advocating for your mom in that way. She was told to lose 100 pounds, and she only eats once a day as it is? How is she supposed to do that, with voodoo?

  20. She was told to lose 100 pounds, and she only eats once a day as it is? How is she supposed to do that, with voodoo?

    This made me LOL.

    Meowser, I always thought PDX was a pretty size-friendly city… there must be others out there. But no question it’s a real slog to go out and look for female friends who aren’t going to drag you down with diet talk. Which is why it warms my cockles to see Shapelings sharing their coordinates. Maybe we’ll end up with all kinds of affiliate branches!

    Krista, congrats on broaching the subject sensitively with your mom, and I’m so glad she seems responsive. Because yeah, telling a middle-aged woman who eats once a day o lose 100 lbs — as though arthritis comes from fat! — is just absurd.

  21. FWIW, my therapist believes making new friends is hard for nearly everyone who moves here. I have lived here 2-1/2 years, and the fact that I’ve been a telecommuter most of the time probably doesn’t help, nor does the fact that when I did go to an office I didn’t meet anyone I had much in common with, nor does it help that I’m evidently an “aspie” and thus have a hard time reading body language, faces, etc. It should tell you something that I met my boyfriend, my XH, and at least one other long-term BF from personals ads. Hmmm…

  22. And yeah, FWIW, it is fairly size-friendly here in that we have Fat Girl Speaks and you can walk around as a fat chick and not get rocks thrown at you. It’s probably better than most places. But people here are still diet-mad, for the large part.

  23. Meowser, I’m right with you there with the ONE friend thing. Hell, if she hadn’t lived next door to me when I moved here, I probably wouldn’t even have that ONE friend.

    She boggles my brain sometimes, though. Almost every conversation I have this woman revolves around food at some point or another. More than once, she’ll ask me “what are you making for [dinner]?” and then five minutes later she’ll ask me again!

    But she’s not diet-obsessed, thank god. She’s recently started trying to lose weight, and she has brought it up every now and again, but it’s not ALL the time. To be honest, I can deal with it when it’s every once in a while. I do wish, though, that she’d let me tell her more about why I’ve decided never to diet again. Every time I try, she interrupts me with something and I never get a chance to finish what I was saying (yeah, she can be a bit thoughtless at times). But I’d bet she’d learn a thing or two if she’d let me get a word in edgewise!

  24. This is a great way to start extending the body-acceptance philosophy outside of our own selves!

    I refuse to engage in diet and weight loss talk with other people. Often if others start talking about it, the most I will give is a lukewarm, “Mm.” And if they don’t know this about me already (most of my friends/family do, because I’m very clear about it), I’ll tell them that I don’t pursue weight loss, so I don’t really have anything to contribute to the conversation.

    I did the “Mm” thing with my best friend for months after she started complaining about putting on weight. I tried to be supportive, emphasizing that there was nothing wrong with gaining weight, but she didn’t seem to want that at the time, so I just continued my usual chatter about my own personal body positivity, and about how diets will actually mess you up worse. Now, finally, two years later, it seems that she has finally started to accept her weight gain and buy clothes for her new size.

    On the other hand, in “coming out” to the world over the last six months as a musician (rock/blues), I’ve been hanging out with more men than women lately, and it seems like most of them (the ones I know, anyway) never talk about diet and weight loss…which is a huge relief! We usually spend the bulk of our time talking about music-related stuff….plus they all seem to love and praise my cooking, as well as my musical skilz ;), and they’re not afraid to eat every morsel that’s put in front of them – sometimes even licking the plate afterwards! (Okay, it’s really only the young men who do that last one.)

  25. Pingback: The “No Diet Talk” Rule in Meatspace « fat fu

  26. Meowser, I’m about 2 hours north of you in WA.
    I do the Mm thing.
    But not that often, as I send out a very strong “no dieting talk” vibe. I also tend to just walk away when the dieting talk starts. Most of my good friends just don’t talk about weight, dieting, etc. with me. Anyone who has known me for more than a year tends to know where I stand on dieting/weight loss talk. My sisters usually don’t discuss the subject with me, but when they do, I usually can tell them when they’ve crossed the line. I don’t know if people are afraid of me, or what.
    The people I work with are the only ones I have to endure this sort of talk with. Many of them consider it bad form to talk about dieting in “mixed company” and others assume I must be trying to lose weight, because, duh, I’m fat. Sometimes I say boneheaded things about weight (they just slip out) but this happens mostly because I’m one of the few fat people in my area of work (amazingly, since there are supposedly so many of us fat people but relatively few of us in Public Health). I just can’t stand it when people just assume that everyone should want to be thin. It’s sad and humorous when I can’t take the “we must reduce obesity in our state talk” and sometimes my inner editor goes on a break and I say things like, “Well, I guess I should just move out of state. That would help with prevalence.”
    That’s my M.O., I suppose. To take the absurdities to their logical extremes and respond in a very personal matter. Some people think it’s funny, others think I must be nuts. It’s a risky strategy, but at this point, I’m not sure I can help it. It does cause people to think carefully when they talk about weight in my presence.

  27. Sniper, I’m in Aurora!

    And Krista, I’ll come visit you next time I go to see my family in PHX.

    And luckily, my one real-life friend managed to grow up without a body-image problem, and has since managed to shake off the beginnings of one she acquired in her 20s. We talk about fun things, like forensic science and autopsies. (What? She’s a forensic chemist!) But my mother – well, we’ve had to agree to disagree on diet talk. At least she was amenable to that.

  28. I’ll work on this with the food holiday coming up this week. I’ll really make an effort.

    Yesterday I went out to brunch with a girlfriend (Meowser, Hi! I’m in SE Portland! *waves*) and we both got full sized breakfast meals at a place with a sign that says “A waist is a terrible thing to mind” and the only thing we mentioned was how tasty the food was. Not a single word of calories, or saving up, or repentance or anything…. so that was nice.

  29. One other thing…
    Last month, I decided to participate in this timed swim event (1 mile) at my Y. When I was practicing (training, I suppose) swimming a mile, I would take a long break in the middle of the day and would run into people as I was leaving or returning, and they pretty much all had the same response when I said I was going swimming, and it was, “oh, how fun!”
    This aggravated me to no end. When they ran into people who were going for a run, or a long walk, I’m pretty sure they didn’t say, “oh, how fun!” yet my “workout” or goal was no less serious. One poor co-worker and friend was about the 10th person to say that to me and I went off a little bit and said in an exasperated tone: “why do you say that? Would you say the same thing if I said I was going for a run?” And because she is a great and thoughtful person, she really thought about the question, and gave me a genuine response, and apparently still wants to be friends with me. When people would find out that I swam a mile, they were generally impressed. I’m not saying that swimming ISN’T fun, but that isn’t the only reason why I’m doing it.
    Rant over.

  30. I’ve got a different perspective on “oh, how fun,” I guess — I like to see people acknowledging that exercise is fun, even if it’s many other things as well. It’s the people who say “oh, good for you” who bug me.

  31. Lately, I’ve been just getting up and walking away when the diet talk or body bashing conversations start. (It’s interesting…. I never noticed how many conversations with the women I know centered around those things until I discovered fat acceptance.) I’ve tried to do the conversation changing thing with my mom, but I usually just get the shock horror expression. I’d like to do it with my friends, but it’s just… it’s so radical, you know? I just don’t have the confidence.

  32. I feel pretty lucky compared to some of you. My friends and co-workers aren’t particularly diet-obsessed. I wonder if it’s because I work in science, and it’s a) male-dominated, b) international. Of course, one of the worst offenders way back when was an older guy who used to comment on everyone’s food very negatively. Back in the 90s,after several exasperating conversations, I said sharply, “What are you, the food police?” and to this day he has never bugged me again. We may not always be able to find people sympathetic to our position, but we can definitely get other people to stop bugging us with this crap. Yay for being assertive and clear boundaries.

  33. Sniper, I’m in Aurora!

    Hi! Is there a way we can get in touch without posting our email addresses out where trolls can get them?

  34. One of my sisters has always struggled with her self-image. She had WLS in 2001, and eventually figured out that losing weight wasn’t going to fix any of her problems. We’ve had long conversations about fat acceptance and self-image, and she would alternate between getting it and berating herself for having gained weight back/not exercising, etc. etc.

    She’s now seeing a therapist and I was overjoyed to find out her therapist is a fat acceptance advocate, is all about HAES…it was an absolutely fantastic moment to discover my sister is in the hands of someone who won’t be suggesting diets and condoning/encouraging self-hatred in the name of “feeling better about herself”.

  35. fj, at first when people commented on how fun it was to go swimming, I would agree. And that’s what I love about it, for me, it really is a fun way to get my heart pumping, and I find it very meditative, and I feel great when I’m done. That’s why I do it. But it isn’t JUST fun. I have a work colleague who goes running at lunch, and that seemed to command a really different response. I guess I was feeling guilty taking time when I might have been working for “fun” where I know that my colleague’s running was regarded as serious. So that’s what I think I was responding to. I’m hopelessly neurotic, though, as I’m sure everyone here has figured out. Maybe not entirely hopelessly, I hope.

  36. Sounds like it would depend a lot on the work environment… although now that you mention it, even though my work environment is almost comically laid-back, if my coworkers were constantly saying “oh how fun” when I slipped out to the gym, I might start worrying that they were judging my work ethic. Probably not about exercise so much as it is about taking time off of work for something else you consider important.

  37. Now, if I could spend an hour at lunch in a “bounce house” rated for my weight with a few of my good friends and our kids, with absolutely no talk about dieting or how many calories were being burned, now THAT would definitely deserve an “oh, how fun!” response from my coworkers.

  38. Yeah, sort of like if you took a vacation and your coworkers said “oh, how fun” when you told them about it, it would be fine, but if you were going for work or family reasons, you might feel a little defensive.

    The bounce house idea is great… I think that could save the American workforce.

  39. I agreed to go with her next time and tell off the doctor. She is going to try to find a better replacement for her soda habit, but to not feel guilty. She also promised to try to eat more than once a day.

    It’s hard to get enough protein if you’re only eating once a day. The funny thing is, if she eats more often and makes an effort to get more protein, that by itself might cause weight loss. If your body isn’t getting what it needs it will try to make do with what it has, even if that means turning your muscle tissue into more fat tissue.

  40. Um, None Given, muscle is muscle and fat is fat. There’s no magic way of eating that changes one’s body.

    However for the vast majority of people, eating only once a day is not a Good Idea. Forget weight or fat or muscle, just for energy to live one’s life.

    Wellroundedtype2, I get that it’s frustrating to be felt like you’re not taken as seriously for your workout as someone is for running. But I think it comes from the feelings people associate with swimming vs running. Swimming reminds me of being a kid and hanging out in the pool with my grandmother, brother, and cousins, on hot summer days. Running always used to remind me of being the slowest kid in gym class, dealing with asthma and stomach cramps as I staggered to be the last one to finish. I know I’ve changed my attitude over the years (running = kind of exhilirating and swimming = pain in butt to do in the city), but there are different connotations to the two activities. Personally, I find swimming a mile during your lunch break really impressive.

  41. Thanks, Entangled, yeah, swimming did bring up happy memories and thoughts for most people when I would mention it. I didn’t swim a mile each time during my midday break (it took me about 2 hours or so to get to the pool, change, swim, shower, change back and drive back), but the couple of times I did a whole mile and went back to work, I felt pretty impressed with myself. Given, I’m a very slow swimmer.
    I have been away from it since I’m recovering from some minor surgery, but I can’t wait to get back. If my life and schedule permit, I might try the master’s swim group. Alternating with other stuff, like strength training. I do feel best when I’m getting plenty of movement — and walking isn’t enough for me.
    fj, I will have to look into the whole bounce house thing. Liability issues notwithstanding, it would be a great way to let out stress and have fun exercise as part of the workday – were I not living in a place where it rains 8 out of 10 days (which I think is an unsafe combination with the electricity required for the inflation of the bounce-thingy).

  42. I had a situation come up recently where I tried to do just that. But in my nervousness about commenting on the situation, my intended snak just came out all wrong.

    Was with friends Friday night. We all brought our own meals. One woman commented that the woman across the table from her had *obviously* brought the most healthful meal.

    I tried to say something like “we love you but that doesn’t make you a better person” and it was taken as vitriol. I tried again (the conversation diverged into who was being the “best”, where best = least calories) to comment something like “who cares, I bet your meal tastes delicious” but it too was viewed with disdain.

    ACK!

    I have trouble with this particular group of friends and the food/diet talk.

    Anyone have suggestions for bringing this up sensitively? Short of launching into a speech about FA, I don’t know what to do.

  43. My freshmen year of college, I was undeniably the largest of all my “new-found-friends.” Sitting in the hallway at 2am on some random Wednesday, we were all bitching, as 18 year olds will do, about our weight. At 5 foot 4 and weighing in at nearly 200 pounds, I too did my chorus of “I’m so fat! I need to lose weight!” It was then, when my 5 foot 8inch, 110 pound friend (who literally 2 minutes before was bitching about her own “bulging stomach”) turned and said “What are you talking about? You’re gorgeous!” that I really realized how destructive a cycle we were caught in. If she found her tall, thin frame to be repulsive, how could she possibly believe that I looked gorgeous?

    In all our talk, we weren’t just putting down ourselves, but each other too! And the saddest part was that we didn’t even know it. I brought it up with my friends, who all balked (though good-naturedly), of course, at the thought that we were essentially insulting each other. We retired to our rooms for the night. The next morning, the friend who had inadvertently prompted my light-bulb moment knocked on my door and apologized to me. She told me that she’d been thinking about it almost all night and that I was right. We needed to appreciate ourselves in order to appreciate each other better.

    We vowed to do our best to restrict such talk from our conversations and to do our best to better value ourselves. To this day, she’s the best, most life-affirming friend I have. And I don’t know that I’d make it through some days without her!

  44. I’m 58. I’m 5’7″ and 220 lbs. Two years ago I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic based on blood sugar. I made two simple changes. I started exercising three times a week which I’d never done before. And I cut out white sugar. I refused to count calories, to go hungry.
    When I was 35, after 20 years of yo-yo dieting, I said, “Never again. Dieting has made me fat. I’m done.” And I still refuse.
    So, I went from soda to water and started working out. And I lost 30 pounds which still left me fat but it did bring my blood sugar under control. But I never counted calories and I ate what and when I wanted.
    My problem is that everyone has been congratulating me on my weight loss. I have people telling me that I am their inspiration, asking me how I did it. I don’t want to be an inspiration. I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I just didn’t want to have to inject myself with insulin. Now I am the locus for diet talk. And I am too damn polite to tell them to leave me alone. *sigh*

  45. I used to suffer the diet conversations a lot, especially at work. I ended up despised at some workplaces simply because I wasn’t buying into it. I’m fortunate that I now have a lovely colleague who’s a large lady and would not dream of dieting. (She’s been fed up enough of having to restrict her eating, on and off for the past few years, because of a wheat allergy that makes her diverticulitis flare up. Sometimes she’s OK with wheat, and those times she’s so deeply grateful that she can eat normally that she’s not about to voluntarily go on a diet!)

    She does have a friend from another department who’s taller, thinner and more or less perpetually on (and off…and on again….) Weight Watchers. That can get slightly tedious, when she drops by for a chat and I pass the office and she’s rattling on about ‘points’. I think my friend just nods, smiles and ignores it these days.

    The big problem I have as far as unwanted weight conversations is in the family. My mother thinks she and my dad were the way the ‘default’ couple should be – big guy, tiny woman. Well, I’m fat, and my husband (while he’s put a bit on since he met me) is one of life’s natural skinny people, and she hates this. When she first met him she thought he was a ‘weakling’ even though he shifts crates all day. So typical conversations draw attention to how thin he is, then to how fat I am, with the suggestion that if you could take a bit off me and put it on him, we’d be OK. I haven’t found a strategy to deal with this other than ignore it.

    She’s in her 70s, and had some health problems recently that resulted in her – and she was already very thin – losing a lot of weight in a very short time. Now, just being thin normally is one thing, but this struck everyone concerned, including her doctor, as possibly being a sign of an underlying problem. But anytime anyone mentioned it, she’d get indignant and actually boast that she weighed the same as on her wedding day (over 50 years ago!). She has such a mindset of thin=good, fat=bad, that she souldn’t grasp that losing weight quickly at her age for no apparent reason might be a sign of something wrong. And if I were present, she could handily deflect the conversation onto ‘Well, you’re too fat – look at your thighs, they’re massive’.

    (I’m happy to say that there was no underlying problem and she’s now regained some of the weight she lost. Hasn’t stopped her being rude though. Darn.)

  46. Alyce said:

    Was with friends Friday night. We all brought our own meals. One woman commented that the woman across the table from her had *obviously* brought the most healthful meal.

    Anyone have suggestions for bringing this up sensitively? Short of launching into a speech about FA, I don’t know what to do.

    I would just say something about how it’s not a competition. Maybe make some sort of joke about how eating is only a contest for those 80 hot dog eating types.

    I’m usually the one people say that to, and *I’m* the one who’s offended by it. My usual tact is to say that being obsessed with eggplant and mushrooms and not liking dairy does not mean I win. It just means no one will order pizza with me.

  47. Beth, I totally hear you. Unfortunately, there is almost no way to avoid being “congratulated” for unintended weight loss, even when you’re being totally honest. I don’t think people have any concept of how annoying and intrusive that kind of conversation is. I have had that conversation many times recently. Usually it goes like this:

    Friend: Sweet Machine! Did you lose a whole bunch of weight???

    SM: Yes.

    F: You look amazing! You look so fantastic!

    SM: Actually, I’ve been ill with an intestinal disorder. I lost weight because I spent the whole summer on the can.

    F: Oh! Well, I’m sorry you’re sick, but you look really sexy now!

    I’ve heard stories about cancer patients being “congratulated.” The upshot: people aren’t going to stop saying things to you unless you’re brutally honest (and probably not even then). But I think you can take a no-diet-talk stand by answering those people with complete honesty: it’s not rude to say “Actually, I’m not on a diet, and I didn’t intend to lose any weight. Please don’t think of me as an inspiration for intentional weight loss.” If you know your coworker a little better, you could say, “Look, I just stopped drinking soda — I don’t have a miracle diet!” but I’d be a little worried that then it would get around the office that not drinking soda is a miracle diet!

    Good luck either way, but remember — it’s not YOU that’s being impolite, it’s THEM for discussing your body as though it’s public property.

  48. Thanks for this post. I try to adhere to not condoning/participating in diet talk anyway, but this will reaffirm that stance and keep it in the front of my mind.

    I have a very good friend who is generally food-positive and relatively sane, but she lost weight on a diet a few years ago and sometimes actually seems unhappier with herself now (not that that will surprise anyone here). When I wear a wrap dress she tells me she loves it and she wishes she could wear stuff like that but she’s too flat chested. I say “wear whatever you think is cute, it will look great.” She tells me she wishes she had my arms and I tell her that hers look great. I say I went to the gym and she beats herself up for not working out regularly, and I tell her she’s busy (she works full-time and goes to school and she and her husband keep a beautiful, orderly home and regularly make healthy home-cooked meals) and where would she find the time, so maybe not working out is nothing to get concerned about right now. Sometimes I get sick of addressing these subjects all the time but this post reminds me that it is important to hold the line on these issues because the dialogue among women in society as a whole really is changing (slowly but surely), and I want to help that process along, not be part of dragging us backward.

  49. Sniper, I have an address I don’t mind giving out here, and then I can answer you from my real one.

    Try bacons dot mom at hotmail dot com. I look forward to hearing from you!

  50. I’ve heard stories about cancer patients being “congratulated.” The upshot: people aren’t going to stop saying things to you unless you’re brutally honest (and probably not even then).

    Boy, ain’t that true. I keep having to buy new skirts because my body Will Not Stop Shrinking, and all I hear is “wow, you look great!” Um, I can’t eat, sleep, or walk to my car without a cane, and I LOOK GREAT?? I’ll leave a beautifully bony corpse, I guess.

    /black humor

    Seriously, though, I need to find a way to get through to my mother on this one. She was wonderful for my entire childhood as far as never obsessing over food or weight herself and certainly not obsessing over my food or weight. But lately, it seems like every other conversation we have is about how nothing she does is causing her to lose weight. (Never mind that no one else has even *noticed* this twenty pounds she claims to have gained; she’s obsessed with it.)

    I think it’s past time I say what I’ve been thinking: “Mom, apart from your weight-loss obsession, is there a single thing that you would change about your diet or exercise time just to make yourself feel better? Then do that. I want you to live as long as you possibly can, and I do not give a shit what your bathroom scale says.”

  51. Dani, I was wondering how your Mystery Shrinking Ailment was going… not well, I guess. :/

    Well, my docs are pretty sure it’s not cancer. (Probably should have made that clear instead of scaring everyone, huh?) They also suspect it’s inflammatory, and therefore not fibromyalgia (yay!). They’re currently throwing around scary words like “immunosuppressants,” which make me happy not at all because I’m trying to find a decent job and there’s just no good way to phrase the question “how likely am I to be coughed on?” in an interview.

    And I’m so asking for that book for Christmas.

  52. Crap… the sorts of things that require immunosuppressants tend to be hard to treat. “Not cancer” is always good news, though.

    I think you phrase it as “how much contact would I have with clients” or something. Because yeah, you don’t want people to decide against hiring you because you’re an insurance risk.

  53. I didn’t realize how heavily I engaged in the bad foods/bad body image/bad whatever conversations until I started reading these blogs. I knew my thinking was disordered, but I had no idea how much of these shit I spread around other people.

    I’ve gotten much better about not bringing up fascinating topics like “what I ate today,” but have a harder time disengaging from conversations that other people start.

    I used to help coordinate a WW-at-work series where I work, so I know a lot of people from there. I quit WW a few months ago. I’ve been running and biking quite a bit (because I like it) and trying not to focus so much on the food part. As a result, I’ve toned up more. I haven’t lost weight, but my clothes fit better. I’ve gotten a lot of comments from my old WW buddies about looking good, and how I’m “doing it.” I’ve been relatively honest with people, just telling them that I’m not doing anything other than the exercise that I enjoy and that I’m not dieting anymore or doing WW anymore because it makes me feel like crap. Responses have ranged from happiness to disbelief to hairy eyeballs.

    Really grateful that these sites exisit.

  54. Quite the opposite, in fact… I can’t stop thinking about The Shrinking of Treehorn when I watch Big Lebowski. I loved that book when i was 7 or 8. Matter of fact I loved everything Gorey-related when I was that age.

  55. OH Sweet Machine, I too have a digestive disorder, one that prevents me from eating gluten. I have dropped some weight because of it, and I too spend quite a bit of time on the throne. I want to deck people who say I am looking “great” these days.

    No brownies, cake or sourdough bread for me. People who don’t know this about me are always impressed by my “good choices” when eating out. Screw that, the salad without croutons is the only thing I can order. I would eat a big plate of pasta with garlic bread in a second if I could.

  56. That whole, “Oh you’ve lost weight, you look great” thing drives me crazy too! Especially when it’s followed by, “Keep doing whatever you’re doing!”

    Yeah, actually? I almost died from a kidney infection and was hospitalized, heavily drugged, operated on (three times), and then bedridden for two months. Forgive me if I don’t want to keep doing that in order to “please” your effing eyes. Grrrr.

  57. I recently went shopping with two friends who are both size 4/6 and both devastated at how “fat” they’re getting. We were at Nordstrom and I invited them both into the dressing room with me. They were shocked. One of them later said to the other that I have a better body image at a Nordstrom 2X than they do at a Nordstrom 4. She also told me that they have a rule at the school where she works. “The smallest person at the table is not allowed to bitch about her size. My friend is the smallest person at that table.

    The other one puts on eyeliner before going to bed because she can’t stand to wake up and see herself without it.

    Dani, I’m really sorry that you’re ill. I hope that it’s diagnosed soon and is easily treatable.

  58. I recently went shopping with two friends who are both size 4/6 and both devastated at how “fat” they’re getting.

    Yeah, that’s like my sister and her best friend. My sister is up from a size 4 to a size 6 and has a tiny belly pooch. Her friend is up from a size 6 to an size 8 and doesn’t have perfect barbie arms or washboard abs. And so all they do is complain about how horribly, disgustingly, FAT they are and how much they want to lose weight. And it’s like… hello, size 14 woman right here! If you’re fat, what the hell am I? It used to really upset me… now I just laugh and say: “Oh, well, being fat isn’t the end of the world” or some such. But do women not realise, that when they are putting themselves down for being fat, they’re implicitly putting down everyone who is fatter than them?

  59. I’m relatively new to the Fat Acceptance movement, so I’d like to know if anyone has any suggestions?

    I am happy with my appearance, but have recently found that just climbing the stairs in my house leaves me as winded as if I tried to run a couple miles. My 10 minute walk from parking lot to the my office makes my legs ache and also makes me winded. I feel constantly exhausted. My eating habits are pretty bad and I don’t excersize much. I want to start excersizing and eating better – just so that I’ll feel better and be more in-shape so that I can climb stairs! I know that I’ll probably end up losing some weight in the process, and I don’t want people to think that I’m getting fit just to squeeze into a smaller dress size. Is it possible to make people believe that I genuinely just want to feel healthier? Or will their focus always be on my waistline?

  60. Their focus will probably be on your waistline, but I would just keep repeating that fitness is your goal, not weight loss. They may eventually get the idea and drop it, or they may not. I just tell everyone that my weight is not open for discussion, period. Not whether I’ve gained and not whether I’ve lost, no discussion, and I walk away if they start in on it. Took me a while to be able to do that, but it is so worth it.

  61. LuckyLiz, you do have the option of not telling people what you’re doing unless you believe they can be trusted not to lapse into ZOMG How Much Weight Have You Lost. In fact, I’d highly recommend it. Especially since, given that you are seriously out of condition, you need to start sloooowly and we fatasses are always being exhorted to “go faster” than we’re ready for.

  62. “Is it possible to make people believe that I genuinely just want to feel healthier? Or will their focus always be on my waistline?”

    This is Just.

    My.

    $0.02.

    The less you give a crap about what people are going to say, and the more you focus on how you feel, the easier it is to tune out whatever they say.

    Because it doesn’t matter if you’re freaking Charlize Theron or Halle Berry or Nicole Kidman or OPRAH, someone is going to say something, and it doesn’t matter what good things you’ve done for yourself, it’s probably going to be something you don’t want to hear.

    (It took me a really long time, an ED, and recovery from an ED, to wrap my head all the way around that.)

    (And please see your good doc first; the way you describe how you’re feeling, you can never be sure if you have underlying symptoms, and what they might indicate.

    And if you think your doc might say something nasty, bring your iPod with mic and if they make a comment that’s not relevant to the reasons you’re there — e.g., your checkup prior to beginning your workout program — wave it at them and say pleasantly, “Would you like to try that again?”

    Then get a new doc.)

  63. LuckyLiz, your story about your freshman year at college was fabulous! Thanks for sharing it!
    If you haven’t been to see a heath care provider in a while, you may want to do so just to get checked out — and then start with something you enjoy (dancing, walking, yoga), go slow, as you feel like you are able, add a little more, and all the while listen to your body.

    I hear all of y’all when it comes to the not knowing how to respond when someone is ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN I have lost weight and wants to know what I’ve been doing. Lately, when I’m feeling patient (unlike when someone dares to tell me that my workout might be fun) I use it as an opportunity to say, “nope, no weight loss.” or “I’ve been exercising.” Or, depending on who is asking and their own relationship to me and to weight, “yes, I weigh less than I did last year but that’s because I changed my medication since I’m not nursing or pregnant anymore and I can take oral meds for diabetes again.”
    It’s so amazing how much people project onto everyone else. That’s what it’s about, most of the time.
    I hear really disturbing things that people say to a colleague of mine who is trying to gain weight (she is naturally very slim, doesn’t have a huge appetite and is active, and has to struggle to keep her weight up and is actually worried about it.) I heard someone say to her when she was having a mid-morning snack how good it was to snack because it “keeps your metabolism up.” The person who said this is one of the nicest people I know, too. She had no idea that maintaining weight was a struggle for our colleague. So it goes both ways.
    Bottom line, we can’t control what other people think. We can choose to correct their beliefs if they express them, and we decide it’s worth it.
    We have the power to redefine beauty. To identify it, name it, claim it, and be very clear that beauty comes in all sizes and has to do with far more than what is generally displayed in the pages of fashion magazines. Beauty exists in the beholding, and we have the power to behold ourselves and others as beautiful.

  64. Glad you appreciated my freshmen college story. I remind myself of that anytime I am tempted to fall into that nasty little circle. :*)

    Thanks for your suggestions! I think politely telling people to just zip it will probably be the way I’ll take it. And Meowser and littlem, you’re right. It’ll probably be a while before anyone can see a difference to comment on anyway, and I really shouldn’t care what they have to say. I just want to go into it knowing that, at some point, I’ll probably hear something and I want to nip any focus on my waistline in the bud because this is just for the sake of my health, which is so much more important than the size of my hips.

    And I appreciate the concern! I have seen my doctor already regarding a “gentle” entry to excersize and good nutrition as opposed to “OMG Carbs are evil!!!” She’s wonderful and no little twig herself. (Though I almost wish she weren’t because I’d love to try that thinly veiled iPod blackmail threat!)

  65. Dani, I really hope you get a clear diagnosis and a path to recovery soon. Our shapely thoughts are with you!

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  67. “Good luck either way, but remember — it’s not YOU that’s being impolite, it’s THEM for discussing your body as though it’s public property.”

    Thank you so much for this one. It brought tears to my eyes, believe it or not. I’m so tired of my body being public property and the topic of everyone’s conversation. And they think they’re being nice. And they are expressing their own fears and their own lack of body acceptance and I get that. But it’s my body.
    So thank you.

  68. I’m late to this party (which is awesome), but two things…

    1) Dani, more wishes for a speedy, accurate, non-scary diagnosis and (gentle) hugs from me. Please keep us updated.

    2) I’m gonna think about the best way to help Shapelings get in touch with each other. Any thoughts?

  69. Becky: “But do women not realise, that when they are putting themselves down for being fat, they’re implicitly putting down everyone who is fatter than them?”

    Actually I never thought about that. It’s such a personal thing for me. A weight that feels intolerable to me is beautiful on someone else. Thank you for pointing that out, Becky. I do so great at making myself feel bad, I hate to think I’m spreading it to others.

  70. KH, maybe you could have an auxiliary organization similar to Drinking Liberally, only you could call it Eating Shapelingly, or something like that! DL meets on the first and third Thursday of the month in the towns in which it exists, and whoever wants to come, comes.

  71. Thanks, everyone. :)

    I’ll put my mind to the “getting Shapelings together” problem, ’cause I’m low on non-diet-obsessed friends myself at the moment. The Facebook group would be a good start, if only because it lists locations – but not everyone’s on it, I’m sure.

  72. Meowser- that is a good idea. For those brave to lead it (I am one of those sort) it can be a way to find FA folks who don’t even know they are FA yet by listing it in the community events sections of papers and the like. We could be the alternative to diet support groups :)

  73. Dani, the only problem for me re: Facebook is that I can’t maintain my pseudonymity there. I mean, not that if I actually met Shapelings I’d be like “CALL ME SWEET MACHINE WOMAN OF MYSTERY” or anything! But Fillyjonk and I have professional concerns about blogging under our real names, so it’s just a teeny bit tricky for Facebook purposes.

  74. SM – I realized that last night when I got yet another warning (from the ABA, this time, via magazine) about making sure my real-name Google returns were squeaky-clean if I was in the employment market. Which I am.

    Back to the cyber-drawing board.

  75. I’m really late to this party, but something struck me, so here goes.

    LuckyLiz, you mentioned being constantly tired. For me, lethargy was part of eating poorly — I was 23, 150 lbs. and I had those same symptoms — car to office left me achy/winded. In addition to gradually adding more physical activity to your day (however you do it) you might pay attention to what you eat and how you feel afterwards. When I’m getting tired/lethargic, it’s usually because I need some better source of energy than I’ve been giving myself — I didn’t have enough fuel. A handful of nuts or trail mix usually did wonders. Making sure I stay hydrated is big too. Listen to what your body is telling you, and act on the cues you get when you can.

    Not saying this is what is happening to you, but it is my experience, and may be of use.

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