If No One Mentions It, It Doesn’t Exist!

The Fat Rant 3 thread is dying down now, so I want to highlight a comment Deborah Lipp just made toward the end of it, and my response.

Deborah:

It’s an awesome video, but I don’t love what she said to the kids. She said (close paraphrase) “I’m fat. People come in all different sizes.” And while the different sizes thing is wonderful to say to kids, “I’m fat” sounds like it was spoken by someone who doesn’t have kids of their own!

Joy is teaching positivity, but she’s forgetting that kids repeat EVERYTHING, and at the least opportune moment. The vast majority of fat people are not okay with being called fat, and a positive person like Joy indicating it’s okay to call people fat is likely to be hurtful to some third party down the line. Because 24 hours later, those two cute kids will walk up to a fat woman and say “Is there a baby in your tummy or are you just fat?” and that woman might be devastated.

Fat is a word that FA people are reclaiming as honest and direct, but we are a small minority, and children can’t make that distinction.

My response:

But the same woman would likely also be devastated by a mere “Is there a baby in your tummy?” And certainly by “Is there a baby in your tummy, or do you just have a big belly/are you just overweight/insert other euphemism here?” Problem one is that children need to learn that commenting on other people’s bodies is rude, period — and that’s not the job of those whose bodies they comment on.

But I hatehatehate that people teach their kids not to call anyone fat or bring up people’s weight specifically — as opposed to just teaching them not to comment on bodies in general. That’s not just because I don’t think fat is a dirty word — it’s because A) that ultimately drives the myth that fat people don’t know they’re fat unless you point it out to them — which leads to people thinking if we’re ever going to solve the “obesity crisis,” we need to shame fat people more, because they’re apparently just not getting it. And B) It’s also what drives our hypothetical non-fat-accepting woman to be devastated by the question in the first place — she, too, has been brought up to believe that someone else acknowledging her fat is a terrible thing. It doesn’t matter how it’s phrased, because the power comes from the idea that there’s nothing more humiliating than someone noticing that you’re fat and saying something about it.

The problem isn’t the word “fat” (any euphemism hurts just as much), it’s the agreement, shared by many thin and fat people alike, that if nobody says anything negative about your fat, we’ll all just pretend it doesn’t exist. Which also leads to people saying, “You’re not fat” to people who clearly are, because too many people just can’t get their heads around the idea that a person can be fat and attractive/kind/smart/well-groomed/accomplished/whatever. Pretending the fat doesn’t exist means denying a huge part of that person’s experience and contributes to making fat people invisible. So I really don’t know what else you could say to a kid that wouldn’t reinforce the notion that being fat is such a terrible thing, we dare not speak of it.

My sister J. often jokes that she’s nervous about people in her real life finding out she hangs around on fat acceptance blogs, because then they’d know she’s fat! Obviously, she’s aware of how ridiculous that is, or she wouldn’t be making the joke — but the joke wouldn’t be funny if there weren’t a nugget of truth at the heart of it. So many of us go through our lives as fat people doing our very best to ignore our bodies entirely, to pretend they’re just not there, because thinking about these shameful vessels we live in is so painful. (Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.) Even if we rip ourselves apart every time we look in a mirror, on some level, we can convince ourselves that no one else sees it, if they don’t comment on it. I mean, fat is such a horrible thing, if other people really knew how fat we were, how could they even stand to be in the same room as us? When people treat us like normal human beings, they must not be seeing it.

We also work to make sure they don’t, I might add. A few years ago, before I’d fully embraced fat acceptance, I was sitting on my porch with one of my oldest friends (who’s thin) and I kept shifting my weight and adjusting my shirt so she couldn’t see my belly rolls. Finally, I did realize how insane I was being and acknowledged it: “Christ, you’ve known me for 15 years, and I’m sitting here driving myself nuts trying to make sure you can’t see my fat gut.” Her: “Was I staring?” Me: “No. I’m just a paranoid idiot.” Her: “‘Cause if you ever catch me staring, it’s probably at your boobs.” Not the response I was expecting, to say the least.

See also: wearing tent-like clothes because we can’t bear to reveal our actual outlines. Wearing all black because it’s “slimming.” Keeping our hair long to hide our fat faces. Stuffing ourselves into Spanx. Dieting and yammering about it constantly, so at least everyone knows we’re not like those pathetic fatties who aren’t even trying to do something about it! When we’re working that hard every day at appearing five pounds thinner, a little less lumpy, and appropriately self-loathing, of course it’s fucking devastating when someone says, “You’re fat.” Cat’s out of the bag. All that effort was for naught. You’re one of them, no matter how hard you tried not to be.

I trust I don’t need to explain why the problem there is not with the word “fat.”

Fat people know we’re fat, and everybody else knows it, too. But somehow, the first part of that sentence is often news to thin people, and the second part is often news to fat people. As absurd as that sounds, it’s the logical (sort of) consequence of being brought up to see acknowledging another person’s fat as taboo. The thin people think we don’t know — how could we, and let ourselves remain fat? — because no one ever says anything about it. And the fat people, on some level, think other people don’t know — how could they, and still like us? — because no one ever says anything about it.

Does this mean the answer is for everybody to start talking about it, and for us to teach kids to point out every fat person they see? No. Unsolicited comments on another person’s body are still rude, period. But imagine if more fatties started acknowledging our fat in non-self-deprecating ways — by, for instance, saying to children who ask if we’re pregnant, “No, I’m just fat. People come in all shapes and sizes.” Or by asking for seats that accommodate our bodies without being ashamed of needing them. Or by telling friends who insist we’re not fat that we are, actually — and what’s wrong with that? Or by wearing clothes that show our figures, going swimming in public, getting sassy pixie cuts that leave our double chins exposed.

Then imagine if other people acknowledged our fat in value-neutral ways — by, for instance, offering us armless chairs, because it occurred to them that those might be more comfortable for us. Smiling at us when we’re trying to decide whether to sit next to them on the subway, to let us know it’s okay if our thighs happen to touch theirs. Suggesting we go shopping together and including Lane Bryant or LeeLee’s Valise or Vive la Femme on the list of shops to hit, instead of “politely” pretending they don’t see that we can’t wear anything in the boutiques they want to visit. Saying, “You’re beautiful, and you rock,” instead of “You’re not fat!”

Wouldn’t life be a hell of a lot more fun that way?

I know you can’t change society overnight, and in the meantime, with the taboo against acknowledging fatness as strong as it is, some people’s feelings will be hurt even by well-meaning kids pointing out their fat. (Let alone nasty little kids who have already learned that it hurts.) But what’s the alternative? Continuing to act like fat is both a dirty word and a fate worse than death, just because so many people believe that?

Shapelings, any ideas for better responses to curious children?

Posted in Fat

127 thoughts on “If No One Mentions It, It Doesn’t Exist!

  1. “So many of us go through our lives as fat people doing our very best to ignore our bodies entirely, to pretend they’re just not there, because thinking about these shameful vessels we live in is so painful. (Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.) ”

    That’s a pretty good description of why I hate exercise. That and that I have never had an aptitude for it, which makes me think it’s a waste of time I could spend doing something I don’t completely suck at.

    Reading these blogs has made me more conscious, but I still can’t get the hang of applying positive stuff to myself.

  2. A few years ago, in one of our after school programs, I was visiting with the youngest group (ages 5 to 7). I found a paper crown and, with some artificial flowers, pretended to have just won the Miss America contest. One of the little girls pointed out that I couldn’t be Miss America because I was fat. I responded that I could be anything I wanted to be. Being fat wasn’t a reason to not go for the crown.

  3. meerkat – It’s odd, isn’t it? I can, and DO, believe all of FA. It works, it’s right, I see beauty in everybody else, but in me? Ha! Mostly what I do, and at times it helps, is to talk the talk, knowing that eventually I’ll believe it for myself. And I do, in ways. It’s so weird. I know that there is nothing wrong with me, yet I still fall into wanting to “look good” for my husband, knowing full well that he adores me as I am. I worry that my kids will be embarrassed about my body when they are old enough to care (though we homeschool and teach them to value people as people, not as bodies, etc.). It’s a vicious, horrible cycle. I am lucky enough to snap out of it from time to time, but it is a CONSTANT struggle. It’s a struggle to NOT say, Well, this would be easier if I were X pounds, So and so looks good, etc. etc. But I know that, in time, I will once again get to a place of contentment… I hope. :-) Just know that you aren’t the only one who is working through this. It’s a difficult thing, admitting that we are beautiful/worthy/okay, in a world that tells us on a daily basis that we aren’t.

  4. I honestly thought it was good. Really. Nasty kids will not have reached 3 years old without already knowing that fat is an insult, and the longer nice kids don’t know that, the better.

  5. Kate, although I love, love, love almost everything you’ve said here, I have to disagree with a few minor points.

    First, the kids weren’t “commenting on other people’s bodies” – these particular kids were asking a question. That’s a huge difference, in my mind. I’m not going to quell that natural curiousity, although I would probably tell my child, “Next time you have a question about why someone looks the way they do, ask me privately instead of asking them.” Second, I don’t agree that it’s necessarily rude to comment on other people’s bodies. Context and intent have to play a role here, I think.

    And lastly, just a general comment that while we all WISH people would bring their children up to be polite and respectful of everyone, but that just isn’t the case. So, while I don’t think the “responsibility” to teach lies with the person whose body they’re questioning, in this case, Joy gave them a nice, respectful perspective on the matter. Better than nothing, especially if nothing is what they’re being taught at home.

  6. I find it very difficult to know how to explain complex issues to kids, I mean who doesn’t? I think it’s more that you don’t know what BS their parents might’ve programmed into their head regarding the obesity epidemic.

    It’s hard to know how to explain to a child who may have been brainwashed either by the school or their parents, that fat = death, that it simply is not true. I suppose saying, “People come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s ok.” is a good way to discuss it. However, that child might go back to their parent who will tell them, she might think it’s ok, but she doesn’t realize the risk she’s putting herself in ect. ect.

    I think that NAAFA’s kids site is a good idea. It’s hard I find to talk to children or be around them these days, because alot of parents are far too overreactional. You even look at their kid the wrong way, and they’ll scream at you. They refuse to realize that they’re putting their child at risk, whenever they want to get into a confrontation with someone.

    God only knows what a parent who belives the obesity hysteria, might do if someone tells their child they don’t need to be worried about being fat. So it’s very difficult to really discuss anything with children, without it being clouded over by their parents prejudices.

    I’m not saying all parents behave this way, but I have had parents throw a all out, stomping feet on the floor, shouting temper tantrum, simply because I didn’t want to sit by their kids because I have Hyperacusis, a sensitivty to sudden loud noises.

    When I say this most people say, “You must hate kids!” or “You’re not a parent, you don’t understand!” If someone can explain how if even asking parents to seat their darlings a few seats down in a resturant, pre-empts a giant hissy-fit, that there’s a way to talk to their kids about fat without them having a meltdown worthy of a troublesome 2 year old, I’d like to hear about it.

  7. This part really hit home for me:
    “We also work to make sure they don’t, I might add. A few years ago, before I’d fully embraced fat acceptance, I was sitting on my porch with one of my oldest friends (who’s thin) and I kept shifting my weight and adjusting my shirt so she couldn’t see my belly rolls. Finally, I did realize how insane I was being and acknowledged it: “Christ, you’ve known me for 15 years, and I’m sitting here driving myself nuts trying to make sure you can’t see my fat gut.” Her: “Was I staring?” Me: “No. I’m just a paranoid idiot.” Her: “‘Cause if you ever catch me staring, it’s probably at your boobs.” Not the response I was expecting, to say the least.”

    Two days ago I was talking to one of my close friends, who is thin, about clothes and she asked me if I buy work attire at Ann Taylor. I said ‘no, I don’t think they have my size.” She responded, ‘Oh no, I know at least two other people who are well-endowed (she meant large breasts) and they both shop there!” In other words, she knew I had a rack of doom, but had apparently never noticed that I’m over a size 14. I responded that I wasn’t just talking about in the boob area and she just said “oh, well you should try shopping there anyway!”.

    So, I think the moral is, the people who love us don’t even notice the things we perceive to be our faults, but they do notice our best parts.

  8. I’m not 100% sure I agree with this.

    On the one hand, I agree with acknowledging and accepting fat bodies. But on the other hand, I’m wary of using that word to describe everyone who is larger than commercially acceptable. Because the truth is that no, not everyone who has a large body is fat and–perhaps more importantly, not everyone who has a small body is not fat.

    This doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with people who are fat, of course. But there’s also nothing wrong with people who are just plain big and not fat.

    I tend to consider myself more of a “size acceptance” activist than a fat acceptance one. While of course I advocate fat acceptance, I’d much rather focus on the, no pun intended, bigger picture, which is that we are all of us expected to come in a very narrow range of body sizes. After all, it’s not just width that limits what chairs many of us can sit in.

    It is of course true that people who are exceptionally tall or short aren’t usually blamed for their moral failure in being so. And men, of course, are allowed to be far larger in general than women. But there’s definitely a heapin’ helpin’ of stigma and discrimination on everyone who falls outside of the insurance tables, whether they do so on the X axis or the Y or both.

    To use myself as an example: I’m fat. No doubt about that. But I’m also just plain big. My dad’s a former linebacker, and I inherited his broad shoulders, barrel chest and propensity for developing large muscles.

    However, I’m also damned short, at barely 5’2″. I look, in other words, an awful lot like a Tolkien dwarf–all massive torso and short, thick legs.

    My fat is certainly part of my overall physicality, and is something that brings a lot of discrimination and nastiness, but even if I had 10% body fat, I would still be short and broad and I would still be discriminated against.

    I know you understand the frustration of people telling you you’re not fat, when others insist you are (and that you’re morally corrupt because of it) but there’s also plenty of frustration in being told one is fat when one isn’t, and is instead just big. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with being fat, but because the insistence upon conflating fat with body size is compounding the overall problem–especially when it comes to the health gestapo.

    One of the reasons I harp on this so much is because I strongly believe that smaller people aren’t getting the healthcare they need. We have been equating small (not just thin, but small) with healthy for so long that there are millions of people who have never purchased a plus size who are nonetheless terribly unhealthy because they’re not getting enough information and education about fitness and nutrition. My mom, for instance (from whom I likely inherited my height) has never been bigger than a size 8. Yet she smoked for 30 years, and thought nothing of it, because as long as she wasn’t “fat,” surely she must be healthy. She also thought nothing of burning her skin to a crisp in the sun, drinking 12 cups of coffee a day and getting boozed up every weekend. As long as she was still small, she was healthy. And her doctors never asked her about anything except the smoking, until she turned 50 and finally had a cholesterol screening, which was twice the healthy limit.

    So, while I understand and support the overall goal of decriminalizing the state of being fat, I also want to stress the current reality that we exist in, which is that not just fat, but body size is being framed in moral and health terms, and that’s screwing over everyone–not just fat people.

  9. In other words, she knew I had a rack of doom, but had apparently never noticed that I’m over a size 14. I responded that I wasn’t just talking about in the boob area and she just said “oh, well you should try shopping there anyway!”.

    I’ve had similar experiences, particularly with male friends who have accepted me as one of the guys and therefore don’t think seriously about my body at all.

    But women definitely do it, too. Well-meaning friends have bought me clothes in a 1x, when I’m at minimum a 3x. Or they drag me into a store and pick out things they think are cute, and don’t realize that the store not only doesn’t have my size, but doesn’t have anything that would fit even one of my thighs. Sometimes I think smaller-size folks who have never lived in the Big World honestly don’t understand how different things are when you’re outside of S/M/L.

    Although I also have had similar experiences with midsize friends, too, who think I can shop at Lane Bryant (um, no.) or who don’t understand that there are some places that I can’t go because I can’t physically fit there (the back seat of someone’s hatchback, for instance.)

    Not that anyone here has done it, but I do have to say that some folks who are on the smaller side of plus piss me off, because they talk about their experiences of “being fat” as if catcalls and a lack of dates is all that we have to go through. They talk about all the cute clothes that finally come in large sizes and don’t realize that even plus-size shops don’t carry things in my size (hint: if your clothing line stops at size 28, you’re still cutting off millions of potential customers.) When you’ve lived several years of your life not even being able to fit in restaurant booths or airplane seats, you start to realize that the “problems” of being a size 20 or so really aren’t problems at all, and you really start to wish that people that size would stfu about how bad they have it. Yes, you’re fat. Yes, that means you have somewhat limited choices in clothing and romantic partners, and you often get the evil eye from your doctor. But at least you can fit on a hospital gurney or a roller coaster, so quitcher whining.

  10. For the last nine months, I’ve been raising my roommate’s neice and nephew with him. The kids are ages 7 and 4; the oldest sort of gets the whole “It’s rude to stare/comment” thing, but the younger one doesn’t. Which has led to him saying things like “The fat girl said she’s full” at a really nice Thanksgiving dinner (about a family friend who, yes, is big, but who was also pregnant at the time). Or to him saying to his uncle “Nanny has a huge butt” or telling me that very same thing (I’m “Nanny” btw). But the best one, I feel, is when he turned to his granddad and said “Grandpa, you have big boobs.”

    In the first instance, my roommate said “That’s impolite, and she has a baby in her tummy.” In the case of Grandpa’s big boobs, Grandpa said “And you’ve got a big mouth, so why don’t you shut it.” And in my case, I said “Yes, I do have a big butt. But you shouldn’t say that kind of stuff to just anyone, because it could hurt their feelings. You should always pay attention to how nice the person is more than what they look like.”

    I feel like my response was the one that would do the most good, but I also find all of those scenarios funny. Kids are blunt; they haven’t learned to filter what they say yet. I’ve had a little kid ask me if I was pregnant, and I said “Nope, I’ve just got an extra jiggly tummy.” But I have a friend who’s been asked that before, and it made her cry.

    I’m new to this whole FA thing, by the way. And I’m not “fat” in the traditional sense of the word, but that’s only because I’m six feet tall. Instead of being called “fat” or “overweight” I tend to be refered to as “a big ol’ girl!” (and yes, it must be written that exact way).

  11. See, the thing about little kids is, they don’t ask to be rude, and it takes them YEARS before they can really internalize “we don’t comment on other people’s bodies.” Let alone “within earshot of that person.” It’s not a realistic expectation that a 3yo or even a 6yo is capable of withholding commentary until later. So you have to expect that parents (and recipients of comments, should they desire) will have to deal with this stuff matter-of-factly in the moment.

    They ask because they’re trying to figure out how the world works. My two-year-old is trying to figure out when a “big round tummy” means a baby and when it just means that’s how that person is shaped — and she checks with me frequently on that count. She also notices (loudly) when our neighbor’s shoes are muddy, and when some people have a lot of hair or no hair at all, and that lady is covered head to toe, and that lady’s shirt doesn’t have straps…et cetera, ad infinitum.

    So we find the “different people are different shapes, sizes (“and colors!” she reminded me today), wear different clothes for different reasons, speak different languages” route works pretty well for now.

  12. “Sometimes I think smaller-size folks who have never lived in the Big World honestly don’t understand how different things are when you’re outside of S/M/L.”

    Not exactly on your point, but last week I was wearing a super-cute, polka dot, 50s style, faux wrap dress, and a random woman on the elevator at work asked me where I got it. I said “Lane Bryant.” She replied “But that’s… I didn’t know they had… um… uh… um”.

    Then we got to my floor and I smiled and said, “Have a great day!”

    I mean, I’m probably on the smaller side for the FA community, but I honestly think that anyone should be able to tell just by looking at me that I don’t fit in “normal” store sizes that stop at a 14. Apparently some thin people think all fat people have to wear are muumuus. But I guess that means if you aren’t wearing a muumuu, they don’t realize you’re fat?

  13. This post resonated with me on several points. The whole mind/body disconnection was my M.O. for most of my life. I was smart and I was funny, and everything below the neck? That didn’t exist, or certainly wasn’t valuable to me. Never mind that my body gets me from A to B, allows me to do the things my mind dreams up, and gives and receives great hugs; as long as I was fat, none of that mattered. Insane, to be sure, but I got bettah.

    I also was one who shopped to camouflage my fat, trying to “pass.” Until recently, I’d stopped wearing a bunch of shirts I loved because they showed off my back rolls, and that would’ve outed me as a fat person. On some level, I felt I owed it to the world to protect them from having to view my fat. Of course, baggy clothes just served to make me look fatter, so what did I gain?

    FA has given me so much to think about, and really highlighted for me some really bizarre notions I’d been living by re: my body and my appearance. I wasn’t fooling anyone into thinking I was thin, and it seems ludicrous to me now that I even tried to carry off the illusion.

    Went to visit the hubby’s 92-year-old auntie last week, and she hasn’t seen us in some years. Both of us are bigger than she remembered, and she could not get over it, commenting at length upon it (guess when you’re young enough or old enough, manners are not required of you). Then his other aunt showed up, and she told her she “didn’t even recognize these 2 fatties.” I let her know I was aware I was fat, and I was okay with it. FA gave that to me–the ability to walk away from that conversation without feeling devastated.

  14. Y’all, it is so hard to be a parent. You go hours or days without an uninterrupted thought. Weeks or sometimes months without an enjoyable grownup conversation that you see through from start to finish. Your friendships with those that don’t have kids cools, because you’re now on such different schedules, and going out is now several times more expensive and inconvenient due to needing a sitter. Meanwhile your other household expenses increase exponentially. If you’re a mom, your social identity shrinks – no matter how you fight it – such that most people think that any subject not related to childrearing need not include you, because your husband, if you have one, will have all the grownup thoughts for the family. (There are couples where I live who met us three times before they remembered that I was the graduate student. They thought my husband was the graduate student. It’s not that they switched our jobs, because they also correctly ascribed his real job to him. But they remembered there was a person in our family getting a Ph.D, and I can’t possibly have any fucking identity other than childrearing, so that means my husband must be getting a Ph.D while holding down this other full-time job, right? And if you’re a single mom, heads explode, from what I hear. Or people vomit self-pity on you.) You are perpetually exhausted. You’re constantly being told by strangers that you’re on the verge of screwing up royally (obese kids cover stories, anyone?). There’s so little social or economic support for parents – or children – but then you encounter this attitude sometimes of, “Fuck YOU! You shouldn’t have HAD THEM if you weren’t able to magically whisk them away from my presence the second they become slightly inconvenient. Oh, and that fuck you? Is directed only at the mom. Dads can’t be expected to make such sacrifices. Anything dads do that is parenting-related is fucking heroic.”

    All that is a long way of saying… I think it would be a great day for fat acceptance and every other kind of acceptance when kids’ uncanny ability to say a blush-inducing, inappropriate thing (loudly!) was handled with the kind of grace that Joy showed in that staged example. What I love is that she neither assigned blame to the parents — “What are these children learning at home? Where are the parents? Why didn’t they teach their kids not to be so inappropriate?” — nor did she start out-and-out indoctrinating them in order to save them from their (ignorant, fat-hatred-teaching, unenlightened, etc.) parents: going beyond the “bodies come in all shapes and sizes” straight to “YOU MIGHT HEAR DIFFERENTLY AT HOME, BUT YOUR PARENTS ARE WRONG!!” I don’t know if I’m explaining myself well… I just LOVE LOVE LOVE that Joy took on some of the responsibility for helping kids be body-positive, without blaming parents for not having kids that were body-positive enough.

    Which is why I think we shouldn’t worry over-much about what hypothetically-embarrassing remark it might lead to. “Do you have a baby in your tummy?” is not a malicious thing, but kids will say uncomfortable things and even malicious things sometimes, and it isn’t the parents’ TOTAL responsibility to counter, in advance, the cesspool of our culture. We could really use some help. (I think it’s funny how some people – no one here, such as I can tell – believe that they should have unfettered license to act like a selfish adolescent for as long as possible, but when KIDS in PUBLIC act ridiculous, are all, “WHERE did they learn that? WHERE are their PARENTS?” Um, psssst… perhaps you’ve noticed the culture of immaturing and entitlement that you, yourself, are helping to create RIGHT AT THIS VERY MINUTE? Yes, wherever did they learn that?)

    On a related point, I think that I’m pushing FA a little too hard with my older son. Yesterday he asked me, “Mommy, thin bodies can be good too, right?” I assured him that ALL kinds of bodies can be good, if they’re doing things that make people happy, including the people whose bodies they are.

  15. I thought Joy’s comment was perfect. There’s only so much you can do in a situation like that, and she covered the main bases – i.e., that different people have different body shapes, and that’s okay. There *are* kids that age who will ridicule fat adults and I would respond differently to them, but these kids were tolerably well-behaved and I don’t think the fact that she used the word “fat” is going to “instantly indoctrinate” them into using that term anyhow. I tell my kids that I’m fat but I also tell them it’s not polite to discuss what other people look like in public.

    Going on other issues, my guess is that if my kids commented on someone being fat and the person was hurt, they’d instantly reassure that person that fat is okay and can be very healthy. But mostly they don’t think about people that way; they aren’t particularly hung up on how people look but are more interested in what they do and what matters to them. I haven’t heard them comment on another person’s appearance since they were toddlers, unless I introduce the subject.

    So many of us go through our lives as fat people doing our very best to ignore our bodies entirely, to pretend they’re just not there, because thinking about these shameful vessels we live in is so painful. (Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.)

    Oh, so true. I’ve dabbled in belly dancing since I was in my teens but never gotten much of anywhere because it feels so good. It feels good, but it also feels profoundly strange, being so aware of my body, that it freaks me out and I feel oddly alienated, like I’m losing touch with reality or something. It’s a pain.

  16. @ASarah: I wanted to thank you for your post. I am someone who neither has kids, nor wants them. I don’t particularly enjoy spending time around most children, and I will admit here that I can be one of those who huffs and puffs about “zomg where are teh parents.” Your post reminded me that there are people who are consciously doing their best to raise kids to be open-minded, kind-hearted members of our society. And those are indeed the people I want to see reproducing: the ones who will teach their kids to accepting of all bodies, races, genders, etc.
    Thanks for the consciousness-raising!
    And more directly related to the original post, I really thought Joy’s response to the little kids was great. I thought it was one of the highlights of the video, actually.

  17. I don’t have a lot of thoughts re: What to say to kids (me and kids don’t get along well), but I do have a lot of thoughts on the whole “Oh yeah, people know what I look like” thing.

    I only started allowing photos to be taken with me in them a few years back when I started traveling and my friends, bless their cotton socks, wanted to know what I was doing with my time. It took me forever to be brave enough to show photos of myself, and then I remembered: These are people who have seen me daily for years. These are people who know what I look like. What, the photo of me laughing and jiggly is gonna shock them? They’ve been with me when I’ve been laughing and jiggling for over a decade now.

    Hence why there are suddenly over 200 photos of myself in my flickr account. (I was really shocked.)

  18. I think it’s two separate issues, which makes it tough. One is that “fat” is not a bad word, so that’s one thing to teach kids. That’s the one that Joy was going for. The other one is that it’s not polite to comment on other people’s appearance, which is a separate lesson entirely. With my sons I’m trying to get across the first idea by challenging them every time fat comes up as a perjorative – why is fat bad? What’s wrong with being fat? I know fat people who are a lot healthier and can run faster than some thin people. The other comes up all the time in lots of ways – that’s not nice to say he’s ugly, it’s not nice to say her clothes look awful, etc., so loudly saying someone is fat or asking them about it is just another in the same category.

  19. I remember about 20 years ago a heterosexual person calling a non-heterosexual person “queer” was a fighting word. Now, t’aint necessarily so. It depends on context.

    I still, as a middle-aged hetero person, have to get used to the idea that saying “queer” is perfectly okay as long as it’s not intended as an insult, because I grew up with the idea of it being a slur. But it just shows you how dramatically the meaning of an identifier can change in a short period of time. And it’s queers themselves who made it change. They didn’t just “give up” and accept that the word wasn’t going to go away, they actively reclaimed it. But I’m sure it didn’t happen overnight that all queers thought it was a great word for everybody to use, either. It took time.

    Maybe, thanks to people like Joy — and Marilyn Wann, and you, Kate, and FJ and SM and maybe even me — in 20 years the word “fat” will be used similarly. Yeah, some assbackwards people will continue to use it as a weapon word, because there will always be people who suck. But I really think we have to, as a group, NOT treat the word like a lump of Kryptonite. I thought the association of “I’m fat — people come in all shapes and sizes” was BRILLIANT. It’s saying, “I’m fat, and that’s not a slur, it’s just what is.” That’s the kind of seed that needs to be planted, lots.

  20. Jackie –

    “If someone can explain how if even asking parents to seat their darlings a few seats down in a resturant, pre-empts a giant hissy-fit, that there’s a way to talk to their kids about fat without them having a meltdown worthy of a troublesome 2 year old, I’d like to hear about it.”

    If saying “Sorry, I have a hearing problem and squeals of delight really hurt me – could you ask that family to move a little further away?” doesn’t work, I think you’re stuck with your party being the one to move. But it’s an issue to be sorted out by staff, I think, rather than directly between patrons.

    As to fat: I reiterate that Joy got it exactly right. I really, really think she did. Also, I got a good look down her cleavage there, so I think she needs to talk to more small children on camera.

    Ailbhe
    (Who suspects Joy of being beautiful on the inside, ok, but hot on the outside, too)

  21. I mean, I’m probably on the smaller side for the FA community, but I honestly think that anyone should be able to tell just by looking at me that I don’t fit in “normal” store sizes that stop at a 14.

    I think most people in our distorted-reality culture honestly don’t understand what sizes most people–including themselves–really are (yay for the BMI project!)

    I remember when I first found out that my ex-girlfriend (of several years ago) was a size 14 and being astonished. “But she’s normal!” my brain cried. “How can she be considered plus size when she doesn’t look the least bit fat or even big?”

    Even now, I sometimes will see someone I think is about my size, and I’ll ask the hubster whether I’m bigger or smaller than she is. And my initial concepts are nearly always wrong–and nearly always on the side of assuming I’m bigger than I am, because I’ve been told, for years and years and years, that being 310 lbs and a size 30 is elephantine, instead of just on the big end of plus. I’m not average–the world isn’t built for someone my size, so that’s pretty obvious–but I’m certainly not nearly as large as I often percieve myself to be.

    (I do this, incidentally, not as a method of judging my relative worth to other people, but to try to better understand the real spatial relationships I have in the world–trying to retrain my brain.)

    Another example: I remember when Mode magazine first came out, there were some complaints about one of the cover models they used. “But! She’s not plus size!” many people wrote in to complain. But she was, as the magazine pointed out, a size 12. Certainly “normal” to most people’s eyes but enormous when considered in the context of what we’ve been brainwashed to believe.

    The disconnect, IMHO, is because what we see around us every day and what we see in media representations is so off. Both because of the physical distortion of flat print and screen images (we tend to see things as broader than they really are when we can’t see them in 3-D) and because we’re taught to idealize the images and not the real world around us.

    When we hear that a given famous model or actor is a certain size, we compare those numbers (which are nearly always false anyway–publicists regularly inflate height and deflate weight) with what we see on screen. Because of that optical illusion, we then associate the size-2, 110-lb actress with someone who, in the real world, would actually be more like a size 6 or 8. So both our perception of the real size of that actress and the real size of people who are a 6 or 8 is then screwed up.

    I’ve been relatively lucky to see a lot of celebrities in person over the years, and it’s helped me get a better idea of how different their on-screen visions are from the reality.

    A perfect example: On screen, Teri Hatcher looks supposedly average size–a bit tall and slender, perhaps, but generally average. In person? Her hips are no wider than a sheet of paper (landscape). When I saw her, she seemed to be a tiny reed of aspen among a forest of oak, elm and beech. Not at all average, in other words.

    Another example: Kathy Bates, whom we’re supposed to believe is enormous, actually only wears a 1x (I saw the tag on one of her costumes.) She and Nathan Lane are about the same size, actually. He’s supposedly just stocky, maybe a bit chubby, but she’s supposed to be vast. And she’s not. She only seems that way because she’s usually surrounded by people who are far smaller than average.

    I’m really interested to see the BMI project take off and get more press, because we honestly need to retrain our perceptions.

  22. This is also a neat project along the same lines, but it looks like he never got much headway on it. It’s a height/weight chart with submitted photos for each height/weight combo, but there are still just about as many blanks as there was a year or so ago.

  23. “perhaps you’ve noticed the culture of immaturing and entitlement that you, yourself, are helping to create RIGHT AT THIS VERY MINUTE?”

    “Immaturing” is good too. There are times when I do really think that our culture is regressing.

    “(Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.”

    Ouch. Ow. D**n. Sneaking around my psyche again, gosh darn you Kate Harding.

    Exercise in this culture is a daunting task when you’re old to it – if you don’t look like the Olympics or the cover of Shape magazine. Heaven forfend that you might attempt to extract bodily pleasure or maximal function from a “less culturally acceptable” body.

    Been pondering this awhile, and I think the more body and mind are integrated, the easier it is to respond to these kids’ questions with some degree of relaxed facility.

    The converse is, of course, also true.

  24. Meowser: While I totally agree with your comment, this:

    And it’s queers themselves who made it change.

    totally made me cringe. I like to say that I’m queer rather than gay – I feel like queer is a more inclusive word, even though I’m 99% into women. But using “queers” as a noun (or gays for that matter), sounds awful to me. I prefer queer people, or gay people – though lesbians somehow sounds okay, go figure.

    This is, of course, one perspective – I’m sure there are other queer people out there who’d disagree. But since this is such an open space for respectful conversation, I wanted to mention how cringe-worth “queers” sounds to me – I am a queer person, or a gay person, and the person is important to me.

    & I certainly hope that fat can undergo the same transformation that queer did!

  25. “The disconnect, IMHO, is because what we see around us every day and what we see in media representations is so off. “

    Please say that again in as many places as you can about ten thousand times.

    Also elves? Norah Jones and Mary J. Blige. These are literally tiny women.

    I would rant on about convex lens camera distortion (and my secret theory that it’s all done to actually make smaller men movie stars bigger – so what ends up happening is that if women want to be on screen they are commanded to shrink so as to keep the cultural notions of masculine/feminine size proportionate ) but I’ve already done that.

    Carry on.

  26. I don’t necessarily think that being detached from one’s body is a bad thing in all cases. I have some chronic pain issues (some size-related, most not) and exercise makes that pain worse, so I don’t exercise. It hurts and it makes me think about my broken-down body and I don’t want to think about that. My body does not define me, so I see no reason to think about it most days.

    There is, of course, also the psychological component to it. Exercise is often thrown at us as a punishment–Fat? You get the rack! You must suffer for your sin of eating something other than lettuce!–so even fat-friendly exercise often brings up that shame and humiliation many of us went through in the P.E. classes and gyms of our youth.

    But there are also still the practical matters, too. Being on my feet for very long hurts like hell, so walking is out. Most gym equipment is only rated up to 250 lbs, so that’s out. There aren’t any pools near me and I hate swimming in a soup of other people’s DNA anyway. Yoga would involve sitting on a hard floor and thus causing pain in my hips and lower back.

    If I had my own pool in my back yard, I’d be out there every day. But no go. So until then, I just try to get in some stretching when I can, and the occasional jaunt around the mall when my joints are feeling up to it and that’s about it.

    Besides. I have better things to do with my time than repetitive, zombie-like movement.

  27. But using “queers” as a noun (or gays for that matter), sounds awful to me. I prefer queer people, or gay people – though lesbians somehow sounds okay, go figure.

    I tend to say “queer folk” or something along those lines.

    I think including the personhood in a label like that makes all the difference. It’s much better, for instance, to say “fat people” instead of “fatties.”

    I tend to not like single-word trait labeling in general, though. It reduces people to that one thing, instead of acknowledging them as a human being who can be thousands of different things all at once.

    That’s part of the reason I’m not terribly fond of identity politics, actually (including FA, to a degree.) I don’t like the idea that other people may reduce me to a single label–even if they’re doing so in the service of good intentions. I understand group organizing for the purposes of political expediency, but I think it’s all too easy for us to get tangled up in a single kind of identity–or even two or three–and neglect the other things that we and other people are.

    This is especially true when it comes to acknowledging the privilege we have (and we all have it, to varying degrees) and the ways in which we may abuse that privilege wrt others. Sure, I may fall into a dozen different oppressed groups, but I’m still white and middle class and speak the dominant language of commerce in my culture. That puts me well ahead of a lot of folks.

    It’s one thing to claim an identity and refuse to be shamed by it–I understand the concept of fat pride and queer pride, etc. But it’s a short trip from there to rigid definitions of who is or isn’t a group member, and whether we should care about people outside our group, and whether the fight for our group’s rights matters more than any other group’s fight, etc.

    We get Balkanized so easily, when all of us who are oppressed for some reason or other should be uniting as one to fight for basic human rights for all.

  28. all I can say is I LOVE YOU SO MUCH for writing this.

    “Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.”

    That really struck a chord with me – I’m really struggling right now to redefine exercise as something we do to be healthy rather than to be skinny. Your blog has been an integral part of that, and of a lot of really positive changes in my life recently.

    So, Kate, thanks.

  29. “I remember when I first found out that my ex-girlfriend (of several years ago) was a size 14 and being astonished. “But she’s normal!” my brain cried. “How can she be considered plus size when she doesn’t look the least bit fat or even big?”

    Even now, I sometimes will see someone I think is about my size, and I’ll ask the hubster whether I’m bigger or smaller than she is. And my initial concepts are nearly always wrong–”

    It’s also that sizing is so inconsistent, I think, and depends on so many factors. I was really shocked to discover that my 5’9″, big-hipped, small-breasted best friend wears the same size as my big-chested, big-bellied, narrow-hipped ,5’4″ self. She’s narrow everywhere I’m wide, so I just always assumed she was much smaller than I am.

  30. Meowser: While I totally agree with your comment, this:

    And it’s queers themselves who made it change.

    totally made me cringe.

    I dig. See, I guess for me it’s different; since I discovered an Aspie identity, I have tended more to say, “I’m an Aspie,” rather than, “I have Asperger syndrome,” since the latter sounds so clinical and, well, psychiatric, and makes pre-clue neurotypical (NT) people say things like, “Aren’t there drugs for that?” (Answer: No.)

    But I do realize it’s different, because the word “Aspie” is relatively new and doesn’t have a history of being used as a weapon word against us. I certainly would prefer to be called “an Aspie” by an NT person than to be called, say, “a complete loser who’ll never amount to anything,” which is what Aspies frequently got called when I was young. And yeah, I’d prefer being called “an Aspie” to being called “a person with Asperger’s,” too.

    But since “queer” does have a history of being used as a weapon, I will defer to those to whom it applies to decide whether it’s a noun or not.

  31. I mean, I’m probably on the smaller side for the FA community, but I honestly think that anyone should be able to tell just by looking at me that I don’t fit in “normal” store sizes that stop at a 14.

    I think most people in our distorted-reality culture honestly don’t understand what sizes most people–including themselves–really are (yay for the BMI project!)

    I am terrible at guessing what size people wear. Even if you told me someone’s height and weight I’d probably get it wrong – especially since those numbers don’t tell you how the weight is distributed. And I think at least part of the reason is that I don’t have a good mental picture of my own size relative to other women. If you asked me to pick out someone with the same proportions as me from a lineup, I’m not sure I could do it.

  32. I’ve recently discovered your blog, and I just wanted to say how much you rock!

    As the mother of a young child, this is something I struggle with. I don’t want my son to grow up thinking fat is bad, or a bad word. I also don’t want him hurting people. It’s hard to negotiate the two. I’m totally with you on hating the “You’re not fat!” thing, but as somebody who is 5’8″ and a size 14/16, I get it quite a bit. My son divides people into small, medium, and big, and I’m medium. In terms of the actual size of people, that’s probably right, but it’s not how our culture views things right now.

    I will occasionally refer to myself as fat around him in a purely descriptive way, but he has decided on his own that “fat” is a word that describes people who are quite a bit larger than I am. That’s probably because we have friends who are much larger than me who describe themselves as fat. I think it’s great that he sees the word as a descriptive one, without making judgments about it, the way he describes people as brown or tan or peach without making judgments. But, I do worry about his unintentionally hurting people.

    We were in the grocery store a couple of months ago and a very large woman passed by, and he said, “She’s fat!” I don’t think he meant to be mean. He was just noticing. But, I hoped she didn’t hear, because it could have hurt her. And, totally selfishly, I hoped she didn’t hear because if she’d turned to see who the mother of this rude child was, I don’t think she would have seen me and thought, “Aha! A fellow fatty who is not ashamed of the word! Rock on!” I think she might have seen a woman about 200 pounds lighter than she, and figured I was teaching my child to associate all the nasty things with “fat” that we usually do. So there was definitely a big element of not wanting to be judged negatively as a parent permeating the whole episode.

    I reminded him that people come in all sizes and that’s okay. It’s nice that we are so many different sizes, just like it’s nice that we come in all different colors. He gets that. That part was easy to explain. The hard part was explaining why we might not want to go around telling people that they are fat. How do we explain that, as you said, “Problem one is that children need to learn that commenting on other people’s bodies is rude, period,” without teaching that it’s because there are certain types of bodies that are considered shameful? I don’t know.

  33. especially since those numbers don’t tell you how the weight is distributed.

    Or of what it’s composed.

    I have really dense bones (many big folk do, actually. Apparently we consume more calcium) and I also, as mentioned above, build muscle quickly. Plus, hi, hauling around 300+ lbs every day is quite a bit of strength training.

    In the last 10 years or so, I know I’ve put on a fair amount of visceral abdominal fat (the deep kind) so that’s made my belly protrude more (as has an enlarged liver, thanks to a medication I’m on), but the layer of subcutaneous fat over the rest of my body really isn’t actually all that thick. I have quite a bit of junk in my trunk, but everywhere else, I can easily feel the muscles and bones underneath that layer. I can even feel my pelvic bones, believe it or not, and when I stretch, I have a few visible ribs under my arms.

    I always like to point out people like Cheryl Haworth. All 300 lbs of her, and the woman is built like a brick.

    The numbers on the scale or the clothing tag not only don’t tell anyone anything about the person in question, but they also don’t say anything about what that person’s body is really like.

    Not, of course, that there is more merit in one’s size being mostly bone and muscle rather than fat, but it really does irritate me that so many assumptions are made based solely on how much space one’s physical being takes up. Physics is more complicated than that, yo.

  34. @Tal – agreed on single-word labeling. I also prefer fat person to fatty, though of course any person is welcome to call herself (or himself, or hirself) whatever she wants. And I like the phrase queer folk just fine.

    @Meowser – and I will defer to your preference for Aspie over “a person with Asperger’s.” Just curious – but how would you feel if something “an Aspie person” was used? That seems to me more idea – i.e., Aspie is a part of you, not just a syndrome you have, but it’s not the defining trait. Then again, I realize not everyone is as irked as I am by the single-word labling (as Tal put it) – case in point, many Shaplings are comfortable with fatty.

  35. How do we explain that, as you said, “Problem one is that children need to learn that commenting on other people’s bodies is rude, period,” without teaching that it’s because there are certain types of bodies that are considered shameful?

    I’m not a parent yet (though we’re trying) and my intention is to emphasize to my kids that what’s between a person’s ears is what makes them who they are. After all, when you’re talking to a person, you’re talking to their mind, not their dismembered body parts. And, I should hope, the same would even be true for sex, too. If you’re humping someone’s detached body parts, you’re doing it wrong. ;)

    Bodies are odd things in that they are both innate and somewhat malleable. They are composed in a way that combines genes, fate and behavior, in proportional order. And because we ultimately have so very little control over the end result, it’s simply not reasonable to consider a given person’s body as being any real part of who they are. We age. We get sick. We get injured. We grow or lose hair. Even the very shape of our faces changes over time as skin loses elasticity and cartilage grows.

    I’m always wary of “celebrating” fat because I don’t think we should be “celebrating” bodies at all, regardless of what size or shape they are. Not that we should be ashamed of our bodies instead, just that… they simply don’t matter, in the long run.

    It is true, of course, that the kinds of life experiences one can have may change depending on one’s body configuration. Those of us facing body-based prejudice will necessarily become different in a way from those who don’t. People who have to navigate the world in a different way than average because of something about their bodies will necessarily have some personality shaping because of that.

    But generally speaking, our bodies are not ourselves. I don’t see a need to think about my fat (or anyone else’s fat) any more than I think about my toenails (or those of anyone else) except as necessary for political reasons.

    I will be the same person–flawed, like all the rest of us–regardless of whether I stay 310 lbs or have an illness that takes me down to half that size. I will be the same person regardless of whether I dance around my living room or cannot do so because I’ve lost a leg in an accident. I will be the same person even if I woke up tomorrow and was blue, like a 5’2″ Smurf.

    And because of that, I just don’t see any reason to hang my identity–thereby inviting others to do so–on my body.

  36. Not that anyone here has done it, but I do have to say that some folks who are on the smaller side of plus piss me off, because they talk about their experiences of “being fat” as if catcalls and a lack of dates is all that we have to go through. They talk about all the cute clothes that finally come in large sizes and don’t realize that even plus-size shops don’t carry things in my size (hint: if your clothing line stops at size 28, you’re still cutting off millions of potential customers.)

    A freaken men. I can barely fit into a 28, which means I’m relegated to Catherine’s, Catherine’s, and…Catherine’s! Now, they’re getting cuter clothing, but they still have problems locating that elusive fabric “cotton” and not sticking sequins on every friggin thing. But what’s most frustrating is that there is only one store that starts near my size and goes UP from there. While everyone else is sharing clothing hints, I’m left out in the cold. It turns out if you’re not small enough for retail companies to find “acceptably fat”, you get relegated to the “extended plus” category. Heaven help you, you’re too fat to shop everywhere, have you tried diet and exercise? *scream*

    And you’re absolutely frigged if you have any restrictions on what you can wear, like needing modest clothing or everything needing to be natural fibers only or machine washable. Or, like me, you need all that and it’s got to clock in under $20.

  37. But generally speaking, our bodies are not ourselves.

    For me, my body is very much a component of myself. As the way I sense the world, and being a sensual person, my body carries in its muscles and scars and movement the history of my activity. And I respect my body as myself as much as I respect my mind or my emotions as myself.

    As to change: yes, my body changes due to age and outside forces. But so does my thinking, and so does my emotive space. Distress happens to all of me: I didn’t choose for gravity to pull my breasts lower any more than I chose for my grandfather to die or my intellectual space to be taken up finding legal help for a few vulnerable people in my community. Age affects all the parts of me: my hair grays, I understand my children and parents differently, my memory becomes a little less reliable. I am less headstrong, but more sure.

    Would I be me if I lost a leg? Of course, but I’d be a different me. Similarly, if one of my children died my emotional space would change, or if I became a … lawyer, my intellectual space would change.

  38. Holy cow, I turn off the computer because of the thunderstorm, and while I’m gone, I become a whole post.

    I actually think if you say “No, I’m not pregnant. People just come in all shapes and sizes,” then there is a lesson about not commenting on people’s bodies in that statement, and you don’t use a word that people might (or might not) find offensive.

    I’m not there yet. I’m getting used to calling myself “fat” without blushing, and in front of other people and stuff, but it hasn’t yet become easy. I embrace that you and Joy and others can do that. It’s cool.

    But I don’t think it’s great to teach kids words that may backfire in another context. I’m not one of those parents who told my kid “Mommy and Daddy like to fuck” (back when we did) when teaching about sexuality. I love fucking and I think it’s a great word to use for penetrative intercourse, but it’s a major backfire word to say to kids and I think it’s a mistake to hand those out. (Hell, I don’t say “fuck” to my kid now, and he’s 18. “Sleeping with” seems fine as a euphemism to use with one’s offspring.)

    (By the way, said 18 year old prefers to be called Aspie.)

    But you’re right, Kate, a person sensitive about having her weight pointed out is not having a good day the minute someone asks her if she’s pregnant, whether or not the “or just fat” is used. And maybe my point (now that I get to rethink, hey what the fuck WAS my point?) was that Joy was handing the kids another label. Handing the kids a label is not so good, isn’t that what you’re saying here:

    t I hatehatehate that people teach their kids not to call anyone fat or bring up people’s weight specifically — as opposed to just teaching them not to comment on bodies in general.

    “People come in all sizes” is kind of saying, hey kid, don’t be commenting on size, there are many and they’re all good (maybe I’d add that: “People come in all sorts of wonderful sizes”). Whereas “I’m fat” is saying “Here’s a word for one particular size that you’re interested in commenting on” without in any way withdrawing permission for the comment.

    Kids can totally learn, from everyone they meet, whether or not they have permission to comment. But they make a LOT of mistakes.

    Thanks for pulling my comment out, this is a great conversation.

    And you’re 100% right;

  39. Hah, I had one of those “what?” moments yesterday. I was performing at a gay pride event (am token straight female in gay marching band; fiance is token straight guy) and the other flute player next to me was wearing Avenue brand chino shorts. I frowned for a couple moments because I so didn’t think she was any bigger than me, and, well, she’d have to be at least 2 sizes bigger in order to shop there.

    Of course, then I looked down at my own rear end and had a, “Huh. I’m smaller than I think!” moment; that’s the second one in like two weeks. Maybe I’m losing my lack of objectiveness about my butt. Wouldn’t that be nice . . .

  40. I wonder what the end of my comment was meant to say?

    I do want to acknowledge that Joy was great with the kids. She didn’t blame the kids or their parents, she was friendly, she spoke to them at eye level (sharing the Rack), and she was friendly. And also that the kids weren’t being insulting or even very rude (albeit socially inappropriate). “Is there a baby” speaks to one of the things that kids are most curious about and it would be hard not to ask at that age.

  41. “A few years ago, before I’d fully embraced fat acceptance, I was sitting on my porch with one of my oldest friends (who’s thin) and I kept shifting my weight and adjusting my shirt so she couldn’t see my belly rolls. Finally, I did realize how insane I was being and acknowledged it: “Christ, you’ve known me for 15 years, and I’m sitting here driving myself nuts trying to make sure you can’t see my fat gut.” Her: “Was I staring?” Me: “No. I’m just a paranoid idiot.” Her: “‘Cause if you ever catch me staring, it’s probably at your boobs.” Not the response I was expecting, to say the least.”

    It was a revelation a few years ago when I gained weight in my belly and started to have a roll, rather than the over-all abundance, that I was doing neither myself nor anyone else any favors by sucking it in and trying to appear less fat when I sat down. They knew I was fat and when I just let go of the fear of actually being relaxed in my body I was struck by just how uncomfortable I’d let this fear make me. Physically uncomfortable, the kind where your legs ache because you’re desperately trying to lounge on the lawn with friends when you should just get a freaking chair. It’s really the ignorance of the non-fat people to the ways in which our bodies work differently (and have different limits) than theirs that this social pact to ignore/deny-the-fat perpetuates. Its all the times I was expected to sit in the back seat of a two-door with two other people. Or when well-meaning relatives continue to buy me farcically small 1X clothing even though I clearly can’t wear them. The first step is definitely to take back the taboo of acknowledging fat; the day my skinny little sister stops cheerfully saying “But YOU’RE not fat!” and instead says “well, I can see how that limits you in this instance… good thing you’re so brilliant/outspoken/brave that you’re not letting it get in your way!”… that’ll be the day I cry tears of joy. But the next step is to get people open to acknowledging and discussing the lived experiences of those of us marginalized in this size-ist society. When they can really go there and think about how uncomfortable you must be in that chair with arms and then actually get up and offer to trade (rather than *politely* ignore your physical body and its discomfort), then we’ll really have got somewhere. Why don’t we write a Back Fat Monologues already? We need to let our big fat asses and thighs and hips and arms and breasts tell their story and put it out there so its not so weird in those individual instances when we have to explain to thin person that no, I really won’t be able to fit in that photo booth with you unless all you want is pics of my gynormous breasts! Anyone in the Portland, OR area interested? Guess we could compose this online too! Yay for ideas!

  42. And because of that, I just don’t see any reason to hang my identity–thereby inviting others to do so–on my body.

    Tal, I totally understand that. I do wonder about the practicality of it, though, simply because, while it’s absolutely true that we should value a person for who they are and not what we look like, we notice what people look like. I guess I see body size as like skin color in that regard. It drives me crazy when people claim to “not see race.” Not judging people based on their skin color? That’s great. But, claiming to not even notice differences in skin color sort of seems to me like somebody is either not paying enough attention to the person they’re talking to, or has internalized the idea that there is something wrong with certain skin colors to the point where they have to pretend that the differences don’t exist.

    I feel like there’s two aspects to it. On the one hand, people are not defined by their bodies. What matters about a person is what they think and say and do, not what they look like. But, on the other hand, people do indeed come in different shapes and sizes, and we’re going to notice that. Kids, especially, are going to notice that. I think we need to have a vocabulary for talking about our bodies and the bodies of others–not because it’s what matters most about a person but because it is part of a person–that can acknowledge the different ways we are shaped (as well as the other physical differences we all have) in an honest and non-judgmental way. When we’re spending more time worrying about what people look like than what they do and what they think, that’s a problem. But, I think we can notice and appreciate the various external packages that the people we meet come in.

    Kids just notice differences so much. My curly hair was a subject of constant fascination to my son for a while. When he took a bath with his best friend and saw she didn’t have a penis, he kept bringing it up for weeks. And when we moved from a mostly-white suburb to a mostly-black city, for a while he’d describe the various skin tones of the people he saw. I guess, for me, that’s where the “celebration” part would come in. For me, personally, I don’t see much reason to celebrate my fatness or curly-hairedness or olive-skinnedness. But, I do think we have reason to celebrate human diversity, and that we should teach children to celebrate and enjoy the ways in which we are all uniquely us, including our physical appearances.

  43. Heh, with all of the comparative size talk, I’m reminded of a post from last year or so. Was it The Rotund? A full-body picture with an invitation to guess weight, and about a hundred people (including me) of wildly different heights and weights all said “You look exactly like me!”

  44. How do we explain that, as you said, “Problem one is that children need to learn that commenting on other people’s bodies is rude, period,” without teaching that it’s because there are certain types of bodies that are considered shameful?

    One of my kids is somewhere on the Autistic spectrum (the rest of us all have Aspie traits but I don’t know that we’d get the diagnosis), and he is mostly oblivious to social pressure, so we often do the “social standards need to be honored even if they’re dumb, because it won’t kill you and makes other people more comfortable” routine.

    In other words, we draw sharp lines between “this is just plain ol’ morally wrong” kind of stuff and stuff that’s very definitely cultural. My mom always taught us that knowing “the proper way” to do things isn’t what matters – it’s making people comfortable. That’s what we focus on. All the kids have their quirks so we can point out, “doing whatever isn’t wrong, but it makes you uncomfortable, right? This is like that – when you do whatever, that makes other people uncomfortable, so we don’t do it.”

    They also have different sets of rules for home or church or visiting Grandma S versus Grandma Pat, etc, so they can get the idea that some things are okay here but not there. They know they can talk about anything at home and also that some things are off limits anywhere else. Kids can understand that concept pretty young, but it can take a good while before they can reliably remember it when it’s pertinent.

  45. Just curious – but how would you feel if something “an Aspie person” was used? That seems to me more idea – i.e., Aspie is a part of you, not just a syndrome you have, but it’s not the defining trait.

    That’s okay, too!

  46. Deborah, I hope it doesn’t seem like I was picking on you! Your comment just made me very thinky.

    I don’t feel picked on, I feel honored. How wonderful to be part of such thoughtful dialogue.

  47. Arwen and Lori, I’m with you — I think my body is a hugely important part of who I am. I inhabit it, yet, but it also constitutes me. I know that not everyone thinks this way, but it informs my self-acceptance in a huge way.

  48. I’m still trying to figure how to get my co-workers to accept that I’m fat and that I’m fine with that and it would be nice if they would also admit that they’re fine with it — I can’t even begin to ponder how to better phrase that sentiment to children.

  49. I guess I see body size as like skin color in that regard. It drives me crazy when people claim to “not see race.” Not judging people based on their skin color? That’s great. But, claiming to not even notice differences in skin color sort of seems to me like somebody is either not paying enough attention to the person they’re talking to, or has internalized the idea that there is something wrong with certain skin colors to the point where they have to pretend that the differences don’t exist.

    I understand this. I understand acknowledging current reality, and I also understand the concept of losing identity of a minority or non-dominant group by assimilation.

    But I must say… In my Utopia, we ARE all just people. We are what we are through our choices and experiences and not merely because of biology.

    I can acknowledge that a given person’s biology may have influenced how he or she has gone through the world. And when it comes to people who have experienced prejudice based on their biology, that’s undoubtedly going to be a major component. One can’t exist as a “bad” race in a racist society and not be affected by it.

    But I also think that too much group identification based on incontrovertible biological facts only sets us back in the overall goal of equality for everyone, because it reinforces the underlying problem, which is separating ourselves into “us” and “them” categories that then allow us to fear and hate people unlike ourselves.

    I can, for instance, acknowledge that Affirmative Action is most definitely a necessity in our culture as is. But I can also hope for–and work toward–a culture in which Affirmative Action is no longer needed because women and people of color are no longer automatically singled out as lesser beings just because of their DNA.

    Humans like to categorize things. It’s leftover evolutionary stuff. We need to sort other beings into friend, foe, mate, predator, prey, etc. And because we’re lazy and live in an infinitely complex culture, we tend to do that sorting on those highly salient traits we see or otherwise experience the instant we meet someone.

    So when we see someone who has a dominant physical trait, we associate that person with the other people we’ve known with that same trait (and by “known,” I also include mediated images and education) and judge accordingly.

    If, for instance, we’ve only had negative experiences with people who wear red baseball caps, and everything we’ve learned in our lives has told us that people with red baseball caps are dangerous, then we’re likely to believe that a given person wearing a red baseball cap is dangerous.

    On a practical level, it is of course necessary for people wearing red baseball caps to organize and work to dispel the myths and gain rights for their group. It’s also necessary to teach our children that there’s nothing wrong with wearing a red baseball cap, and that red baseball caps can be a beautiful thing.

    But ultimately, I believe our goal should be to stop thinking about baseball caps entirely, and stop using them as shorthand for any judgment about other people. Whether positive or negative, a stereotype is still a stereotype, and it still reduces ourselves and other people to disembodied parts, instead of whole human beings.

    We live in a frightening and confusing world, but that doesn’t excuse our id-level habit of refusing to think about other people in the whole context of who they are or might be.

  50. 1). I love this post.

    2). This happened to me! I was over at the house of the kids my sister used to baby-sit for and the younger one said to me, out of the blue, “You have a big tummy!” (I think she’s 4 or 5 years old.) Not meanly, just loudly, because she says everything loudly. My sister (thinner than I am) kind of froze, and I heard myself saying, “You have a small tummy!” back to the little girl. And I was okay. I swear about a year ago I would have gone to the bathroom and sobbed. Seriously, Shapely Prose did this for me. Thank you so much.

  51. And regarding A Sarah’s post, these are two of the best-behaved kids I’ve ever encountered, and their parents are amazing people. I’m actually kind of glad their mom wasn’t around when this happened, because I think she would have felt terrible and compelled to reprimand the kid, when really, the kid hadn’t meant anything bad. I suppose it would be useful if at some point, she learned not to comment on people’s bodies, but it was completely innocent.

  52. i thought joy handled the kids well. she, herself, is comfortable calling herself fat. she should be able to say what she likes about her body. and it is true that people come in all shapes and sizes, which makes it fair game to spell out to someone in this very limited opportunity. you don’t have time to make a speech; acknowledging fat is no different than acknowledging skin color, crutches, prostheses, age, etc.

    i understand the parenting conundrum only from an outsider’s perspective – i’ve nannied a lot of kids, and around age five, many boys get to this point where they really want to get your goat because they want to be funny, and they don’t really understand that going over a line is hurtful.

    even though they don’t get that, though (or rather, they go through a stage where they’re much more focused on improving their little comedy routines than in developing empathy), i personally don’t know of any kids who are unable to tell the difference between a relaxed, comfortable nice person and a dogmatic, ranting unreasonable one. if they meet this nice, open, warm-hearted person on the street who uses the word ‘fat’ to describe herself – and then either take it to their fat-hater parents and get an earful *or* accidentally hurt someone else with the word and get a different reaction later – they’re going to gather that there’s a lot of emotion tied to how people look. which is something they would certainly pick up on sooner or later anyway.

    still, i see most kids gravitate toward the reasonable, self-confident person rather than to the overly self-involved kinds, and weigh that person’s attitude as being more worthy of emulation than other examples. at least, i would (and do). even if we’ve got our fat out of the closet and we’re feeling okay about it, most people find they take *something* about ourselves too personally to be considered healthy. very few really live the Zen master life in this regard. it’s okay, as long as we recognize the problem is with taking it personally, and not what other people say – even when they say things in a manner that is intended to offend us. in that case, it’s even *more* telling of s/he who spews, and not of the target.

  53. Regarding the debate about single words to describe people, I agree with Meowser about “aspie”; I’m much rather be called an aspie than person with Aspergers’ syndrome or Asperger’s disorder. Aspie is a term that has no negative or clinical connotations for me, to me it means different as opposed to disordered or deficient in some way. I’m also queer and I think I do prefer that word used as an adjective rather than a noun but then again I don’t mind the term dyke and that’s almost always used as a noun. I’ve seen lots of people use the term fatty as a noun too and it seems to depend on the context of it . Same with queer, now that I think about it, when people who are queer use it as a noun, it barely registers but when a straight person uses it the same way it might sound negative. If a fat person uses the term fatty I don’t get the sense they mean it in a negative way but if a thin person uses the same word it doesn’t sound right. Just my opinion, but people who belong to a certain group often seem to be able to use words that would sound negative or offensive when used by people who don’t belong to that same group.

  54. Aspie is a term that has no negative or clinical connotations for me, to me it means different as opposed to disordered or deficient in some way.

    “Aspie” is like “gay” in that it’s a term the group chose for themselves; “someone with Asperger’s syndrome” or “queer” are terms outsiders applied to the group, so they originated with a negative connotation. To me, “someone with Asperger’s syndrome” usually means “someone who needs to fit into society”, someone who isn’t right and needs to change, while an Aspie is someone who recognizes that they’re different from most but embraces that difference. I’ve never seen anyone use “Aspie” without a positive spin to it, without that under current of “person who has these specific traits” that are only pertinent in certain situations, while “someone with Asperger’s syndrome” is the term I connect to “putting them in a box and ignoring any other aspects.”

    Although I also agree with misha that “queer” feels different said by a straight person – I wouldn’t use that term although I have gay friends who do. Although now I think on it, I’ve never known anyone my age to do so – it’s my younger friends who are comfortable using that term about themselves. Maybe it’s easier to reclaim a label like that when you haven’t grown up fighting it as much, or maybe it has something to do with self-acceptance. Or maybe my observation on that one is just a reflection of my particular group of friends!

  55. i find “aspie person” kind of weird, but not offensive. my preference is still for aspie, though. friends at other points on the autistic spectrum likewise prefer to be called “autistic” rather than “persons with autism.” an oft-cited explanation is “i wouldn’t want to be called a ‘person with femaleness,'” which i know came from an article somewhere. there are undoubtedly autistic people in the world who prefer person-first nomenclature, but i’ve yet to meet one.

  56. What a brilliant post Kate! And this quote in particular hits home for me:

    “Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.”

    I once told my yoga instructor that she was responsible for re-attaching my head to my body. At some point in my childhood I had completely separated them and started mostly ignoring the parts below my neck. I had been a clumsy child who almost never succeeded at anything physical and though I was always interested in participating in those activities that others seemed to enjoy so much, I usually found the experience disheartening and so I focused completely on living through my mind. I read everything I could find and concentrated on establishing my worth based on my grades and my emotional responses to people. I got really, really nice.

    Luckily a few years ago a friend dragged me to a yoga class and through the help of an amazing teacher, I suddenly started to realize that my body was there for more than just to give my brain a ride. I got strong and developed an awareness of my body that allowed me to move each part separately. The slow nature of the poses allowed me to use my brain to override my clumsiness and suddenly I was succeeding at something physical. It completely changed my life and even allowed me to start being less nice and being more real. I also found that when I was doing regular yoga I could succeed at other physical activities that had previously been out of my reach and I took up salsa dancing and got to have some of the most exhilarating experiences of my life as I spun and shook and whirled around the dance floor. So though I understand Tal’s point, I’m with Arwen and Lori and Sweetmachine in saying I don’t want my body ignored. Getting connected or perhaps re-connected to it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

  57. I have, for sure, been hurt and upset when little kids noticed or commented on my fat. However, I have also always remembered myself doing the same thing when I was very young, and having absolutely no malicious intent behind it.

    My dad is about 5 foot 2, and my mum is just over 5 foot. And both have always been either slim, or at most, twenty pounds ‘overweight’ according to ‘traditional’ rules. So my understanding of adult sizes was probably framed by their relative smallness. I remember very clearly a colleague of my Dad’s visiting the house one day. He was very big – and I know that he must have been genuinely ‘plus’ because after my dad gave him a ride in our car the car seat actually broke under his weight. I remember asking him “why are you so fat?” or it might have been “why are you so big?” but I also remember just being genuinely curious. I thought he was lovely, and funny, and interesting, and I felt absolutely no disgust or negativity towards him or his size, I was just curious as to why he was so fat, having never seen anyone like him before. I can’t remember how old I was, but I must have been under the age of 8 or so. I can’t actually remember what he answered, but he handled it with aplomb. When I got older I looked back and cringed, hoping I hadn’t upset him.

    Even though I was still always incredibly sensitive to kids asking me the same question when I got older, and it did upset me, simply because I didn’t want to be seen as/acknowledge that I was fat, I did always remember that young kids are usually not implying value judgment when they ask the question – even if the question *is* why are you fat, and not are you pregnant, ie they’re not confused as to whether you have a baby in there, so they’re asking, they absolutely know it’s fat. It made it a little easier to deal with when my nieces and nephews inevitably got to the age where they started to make comments. I managed to not take them personally, as hurtful.

    Of course the kids and teenagers who are a bit older, and who know that it’s a mean thing to say, and who delight in flinging insults at you in the street, can make you very wary. Even though I’m much smaller than I once was and would no longer really get such comments in the street, I still flinch when I walk past groups of kids or teenagers, almost expecting them to start hurling insults.

    I liked Joy’s answer to the kids, but I also can see Deborah Lipp’s point about accomplishing the same thing without actually using the word fat. Just saying ‘people come in all shapes and sizes’ is a good lesson which shows them you’re not upset with them and are answering their question honestly.

  58. The thing is, right, that size shouldn’t really be an issue at all, either way. You shouldn’t have to self-identify as fat or not-fat. I see that at the moment it’s necessary for people who are victimised for being fat to stand up and say “I am fat and you have no right to treat me any differently because of it”. But the battle will be won when “fat” is no longer a loaded term at all, and so there will be no well-meaning friends telling fat people that they aren’t really fat and no fat people having to tell their well-meaning friends that actually they are, because it just won’t matter either way.

  59. I will probably screw up the quoting but I agree with this

    [quote] See, the thing about little kids is, they don’t ask to be rude, and it takes them YEARS before they can really internalize “we don’t comment on other people’s bodies.” Let alone “within earshot of that person.” It’s not a realistic expectation that a 3yo or even a 6yo is capable of withholding commentary until later. So you have to expect that parents (and recipients of comments, should they desire) will have to deal with this stuff matter-of-factly in the moment. [/quote]

    I always sigh when I hear/read the “parents should teach their kids” stuff. As if someone can sit down a little kid, tell them once that something is not ok and then BAM – they never do it again. Wow, I had no idea parenting is so gosh darn easy! I must be doing it wrong. Maybe someone without kids can come give me pointers (all said with a grin, k? :) )

    My kids are 9 and 6. At this point, the 9 year old gets not to talk about people’s bodies in front of them. The 6 year old is sort of still getting it. He mostly does, sometimes forgets. When he was 5, 4 or younger then no way. Time and time again I gently told him that people don’t usually like being pointed at or talked about. He wasn’t being mean. He was simply acting his age.

    I’m around other people’s kids a lot. I’ve been asked why my breasts are so big. That one cracked me up (after – I didn’t laugh in the poor kids face). I’ve also been asked why my dh is so big. That one didn’t crack me up because he was there and he’s not so accepting of his body as I am. But still, the girl who asked that wasn’t being mean, she was being six. It wasn’t said with a sneer or to hurt anyone. She was honestly curious because her parents are both thin and most of her family is thin so that is her norm.

    Anyway, I really liked that part where Joy said that to the kids. It maybe is a good point about the word fat, I don’t know, but I loved the part about how people come in different shapes and sizes. And instead of the kids going home and thinking “some fat woman yelled at us” they’re going home and thinking “some fat woman was really friendly and nice and smiled at us”. I like that :)

  60. My sister went through a really interesting phase growing up. She somewhere learned the phrase “No offense” Like, I mean no offense. I think she was probably about 5. (Which would have made me 10 at the time.) And so it was with much joy that she went around saying “No Offense, but that picture sucks.” “No Offense, but I hate you.”

    I finally put my foot down on this phenomenon one day on the way to school when she told me “No Offense Paige, but you’re fat.” I what followed was something like, me screaming “JUST BECAUSE YOU SAY NO OFFENSE DOESN”T MEAN IT”S NOT MEAN SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!!”

    At 5 she knew what she was saying was mean enough that she shouldn’t say it. But her concession to that was to tell me to not get offended when she told me.

    So anyway, I do sometimes think kids say these things to be mean. Especially when they have a clear understanding that fat is bad. (My sister and I definetly did, I went on my first diet at 7.)

    Anyway I guess at this point in my life my response to “You’re fat!” would be, “So? You’re Short! There is nothing wrong with being the way we are.” Fortunately most of the kids in my neighborhood are more concerned with my dog than with me.

  61. @ASarah: I love you for that comment SERIOUSLY :-) So true.. so true

    @Katy: So true too

    But that’s the thing, when it comes to arguments about things kids say: They don’t really know better and also people offended by kids under the age of 7, need to stop and think for a second too because imagine how the parents feel… you’re standing there going “You have got to be kidding me”

    My daughter asks every woman over the age of 14 is they have a baby in their bellies. Because she learned women have babies.. the explanation is cute. But she’s 3… and even explaining to her that’s not ok she kind of gets it she just asks me, very loudly, if any of the ladies are carrying babies in their bellies…

    My daughter also asked me once why a female had smaller breast then me and then asked why some men do and some men don’t… Cuz ya know their kids and they don’t get it yet

    Also about the clothing size thing: 1. It’s not even just a matter of different fits in clothing(Am I the only person that wishes we could just have guys clothing because I’m all for buying the correct waist size and correct inseam….) It’s also a matter of people who are taller are going to weigh more, and look “normal” at larger sizes compared to people who are shorter.

    Like someone who is: 5’0 and a size 16 will look bigger then someone who is say 5’9 and a size 16… Clothing size is relative, trying to compare who is bigger or smaller based on clothing size doesn’t work well at all

    Case in point: My mother is 5’4 I am 5’8 my mother was at 1 point a size 14(she’s yo-yo dieting right now so she’s a size 4 now) and so was I and when I would wear her clothes people would be shocked we’re the same size

    Again don’t put any weight in the tags on the back of your dresses(And also please stop saying people size 12 aren’t plus size, we’re certainly treated that way in society… I don’t think it’s fair because we’re not as fat as someone in a size 24 we don’t get to claim our fat… because I’ll tell you at a size 12 I still have plenty of fat and jiggly bits I’m learning to love too)

  62. This reminds me of the time one of my neices (five years old) put her hands on my belly and said, “Auntie, you’re fat!” I laughed down at her and said, “Yep!” at which point my (thin) sister, leans over and says, “Isn’t it great how we all come in different shapes and sizes?” It was this total family moment of greatness.

    Also, this:

    I’m always wary of “celebrating” fat because I don’t think we should be “celebrating” bodies at all, regardless of what size or shape they are. Not that we should be ashamed of our bodies instead, just that… they simply don’t matter, in the long run.

    I totally disagree. I feel very lucky to have the gift of this body and everything it allows me to do, and I try to express that gratitude every day. As important as my mind and soul and all that is, I really enjoy just being in my skin sometimes. I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to experience my body, and I never want to take that for granted or lose sight of its importance in my life.

  63. My sister J. often jokes that she’s nervous about people in her real life finding out she hangs around on fat acceptance blogs, because then they’d know she’s fat!

    Can I just say, that totally cracked me up. That’s exactly how I am at the moment – loving reading the fat acceptance blogs and learning lots, but too nervous to “out” myself as someone who reads them. The other day I even minimised Shapely Prose quickly in case my boyfriend saw I was reading it (I still don’t know why. In case he realised I was fat? The man I’ve been with for over three years who sees me naked every day?). Oh brother… Apparently even in my own head, it’s a teaspoon at a time…

    My neighbour’s six-year-old daughter once asked her mother when I was out in the garden, “Why is that lady so fat?” I was really thin for me at the time (smallish UK size 12) and very athletic and fit so I was more amused than upset even though it was before I stumbled across FA. I think she was trying out being naughty and testing the boundaries and must have picked up that fat = bad. Her mother was larger than me so I’m not sure how she felt about it – she told her daughter off for being rude and apologised to me. I’m not a parent, but I’ve certainly seen that a lot – kids testing out being rude to adults to see what the reaction is.

    DeborahM – I flinch when walking past groups of teenagers too, no matter what size I am at the time. Strangely I only seem to get comments from them when I’m on my bike – maybe it’s the combination of fat woman plus oh-so-attractive cycle helmet that is irresistible to them… Once I rang the bell to let a group of teenage girls on the cycle path to know I was coming through and one of them said “Let her through – she needs the exercise”. I cycled past the group and then gave them the finger, which resulted in horrified squeals and giggling and someone saying “Respect!”. I’m still not sure whether it was the right thing to do (I’ve never given anyone the finger before, unless it is my sister and we do it all the time as a silly joke), but I knew I couldn’t just cycle past and pretend I didn’t hear it or that I was too ashamed to say anything and it certainly made me feel better to have stuck up for myself in some small way.

    Shinobi – I can’t help laughing at the thought of your sister joyously thinking she could be as rude as she liked if she just put the words “No offense, but” in front of whatever she said until you set her straight. A college tutor of mine once told me that anything you say in front of “but” doesn’t count, and I think he was right about that (particularly if you say “I’m not xxx-ist, but…”).

  64. @Katy: I don’t think it’s obvious at all and I don’t know that it’s helpful to dictate what people ‘should’ base their identities around. For instance, as has been mentioned upthread, if we understand that race is a social construct and not a biological fact, that doesn’t mean that even in a perfect world people won’t be proud of the historically shared culture that comes from being part of a racial or ethnic group. Even when body size comes to be (we hope) a complete non-issue in judgment or prejudice terms, people will still be of different body sizes, and for them that may be an important part of how they view who they are.

  65. Deborah M: On being told you’re fat: My barely-three-year old once told a male guest of mine “You have a lovely fat tummy!”

    He and I initially were taken aback, and responded fairly neutrally (“Yes, I do,”) but she went and stroked it and hugged it and remarked on how lovely it was.

    A few weeks later he thanked me for her comments.

  66. shinobi: “no offense but,” “I’m not being rude, but” and “I don’t mean to be [any adjective] but” all need to be banninated FOREVER. “Hi, this is my get out of being a dickhead free card, let me play it with you.” It’s like drivers who double-park at T-junctions and leave their hazard lights on.

  67. I do think a five-year-old who says “no offense, but I hate you” kind of gets a pass, though. I mean, that shit’s hilarious.

  68. Actually, no, let me rephrase. I don’t think that you and I disagree. All I meant was that it would be nice to come to a point where “fat” was not loaded in the sense that people would not spend ages trying to tell fat people that they weren’t fat, because being fat wouldn’t be a negative thing. I don’t think I said anything about how people “should” frame their own identity but if you took that from what I said then it isn’t what I meant.

  69. Sometimes when she’s being very…. bossy… to put it nicely I’ll say “Hey, No Offense, but you’re being a bitch.” Payback!

  70. Ailbhe – “Hi, this is my get out of being a dickhead free card, let me play it with you.”

    Exactly! Actually, there was a character (played by Arabella Weir) on the Fast Show, this very funny UK sketch show who did this, the No Offense woman:

    Not the best Fast Show character, but I had to share it…

  71. I do think a five-year-old who says “no offense, but I hate you” kind of gets a pass, though. I mean, that shit’s hilarious.

    Wasn’t there a point in a David Sedaris essay when his French teacher, who “practices” English on him, says in perfect English “I hate you. I really, really hate you”?

    (Also, why doesn’t WordPress think I’m logged in when I totally am? Is it Firefox 3?)

  72. “I do think a five-year-old who says “no offense, but I hate you” kind of gets a pass, though. I mean, that shit’s hilarious.”

    I’m a bit cross with whoever they picked it up from.

    My sisters came to visit and my daughter stopped saying “Ascuse me peas” and started saying “Shift.” I was not impressed.

  73. I’ll preface this by saying that I’m still learning to accept my own body (though I’ve come a really long way!! :-D ) and that may be reflected in my comment.

    I think that big about people doing their best to ignore their bodies is very telling. I spent years doing this as well, to my own detriment.

    I have also seen this in other aspects of people’s behaviors. People will often try to deny (hence the term: denial) those things that are so fucking unbelievably horrible to them that they don’t want to believe it is real.

    Now, I’m not saying fat is awful. Fat is part of being human. Fat is straight up beautiful. ;)

    However, when someone perceives it as JUST THAT BAD, then I can see why they’d go into that denial thing…

    And, I wonder if that is what is being picked up on when people think that fat people don’t know that they’re fat and need it to be pointed out to them.

    Because when I first read that bit that people think that fat people don’t know they’re fat… I couldn’t wrap my head around that one. I spent years as anorexic, bulimic and finally COE and I’ve been overweight. I know lots of fat people. I never thought any of them didn’t know they’re fat… they seemed painfully aware of the fact.

    But I certainly have seen a lot of people who were so horrified by their bodies that they preferred to stay in denial about their overweightness or whatever… and did whatever they could to look as thin as possible… like you said… constantly shifting to keep rolls unexposed (I’ve been there…. glad I don’t live there any more ;) ).

    I don’t think there’s any excuse for a person to abuse another person – period. But, I am considering the idea that it might be a loving and protective stance to exude the attitude of “I KNOW WHO I AM. I KNOW WHAT I LOOK LIKE. MOST IMPORTANTLY – I AM AWESOME. I AM BEAUTIFUL. I LOVE MYSELF!!!”

    Hmmm… all interesting stuff… I’ll certainly be chewing on it… thanks for the interesting stuff!

  74. I guess I’m not fat enough to have small children comment on it (or I don’t hang around enough small children), but my young cousin once pointed out that I am covered in zits. (Have been since I was 5, several dermatologists have been of limited help. There is no support group for this. I’m just a hideous freak. Well, I can’t actually bring myself to type the words into Google, so maybe there is a support group.) My relatives directed him to use the word “goosebumps” instead because the truth is far too horrifying for anyone to ever admit. After all, wasn’t it this blog where someone mentioned that while many people are attracted to fat people, people with bad skin are just inherently unattractive? Since I’m not some kind of supergenius who will solve all humanity’s problem, I guess I am just a waste of carbon…

  75. After all, wasn’t it this blog where someone mentioned that while many people are attracted to fat people, people with bad skin are just inherently unattractive?

    Yes, that totally sounds like us. You know those fat activists; they believe in oppressing people for everything except being fat.

    I was going to look up a support group for you, as I have very little doubt that there’s plenty of support for skin issues on the internet. But now I’m too full of WTF to do it.

  76. Well, maybe it was another FA blog. And it was a comment, not a post. But I remember seeing it somewhere in FA. And it’s not like they were saying “let’s oppress people for this” but rather “fat is not an inherently unattractive quality, which btw, these few other things are according to some study or something.”

  77. Anyway, do you think that if I thought fat activists were like that, I would bring it up at all? WTF over here too.

  78. I really can’t imagine that it was any of our commenters, though! At least a regular. At least not a regular who didn’t get immediately smacked down.

    If you see someone saying something like that here, for god’s sake smack them down, though! Because that’s stupid.

  79. Anyway, do you think that if I thought fat activists were like that, I would bring it up at all? WTF over here too.

    Oh, I don’t even know anymore. Sometimes FA goes through a period where everybody gets all grudgey. Sorry if I gave you too little credit! (Though really what I meant was that fat activists, at least here at SP, are exactly not like that — check the “intersectionality” category for starters. The sarcasm got in the way of clarity.)

  80. I guess I should have phrased it so it came out less as “even fat activists reject me” and more as “this seems to be more objectively bad than fatness.” Sorry that I made you feel attacked.

  81. I feel very lucky to have the gift of this body and everything it allows me to do

    That’s nice for you, but for me, my body is anything but a gift.

    I’ll admit it right now: I hate my body. Not because it’s fat, but because it causes me so damned much pain every moment of every day of my life. I don’t feel any compulsion to celebrate something that has made my life a living hell, and frankly? It’s kind of ableist to insist that body love should be a goal for all of us.

    Your body may allow you to dance. Mine doesn’t. Your body may allow you to have pain-free sex. Mine doesn’t. Your body may allow you to wake up from a night’s sleep fully rested and without pain. Mine doesn’t. Your body may allow you to take deep, pain-free breaths. Mine doesn’t.

    Body hatred is not an inherently bad thing any more than hating external forces that cause us pain.

    I don’t see why I should have to love my body in order to fight for the rights and respect of the person occupying it.

  82. Body hatred is not an inherently bad thing any more than hating external forces that cause us pain.

    But body hatred is not what we do around here — which applies equally to the members of this community with disabilities, of whom there are many. I’m truly sorry you’re in so much pain, Tal, but coming to a body acceptance blog and posting over and over about the reasons why you can’t accept your body is awfully close to trolling.

  83. Well, I’m sorry I got defensive, meerkat.

    The support forums all seem to be dumb, so you’re probably best off continuing to hang out here. Just imagine crossing out “fat” and putting in “skin problems.” :) We are (at least in theory, which is why I got defensive — I’d be really angry if someone were really saying that fat is ok but skin problems are inherently ugly!) about making peace with your body regardless of the ways in which it deviates from the beauty ideal. Which, of course, everyone’s does.

  84. Just to contribute a flyby: I vote against ‘queer’ as a noun too. I know Meowser meant absolutely nothing bad by it, but it still made me cringe. I far prefer ‘gay people’. (‘Gays’ as a noun also is not great unless you are gay or very good friends with us, in which case it can be flung about with a joyous sense of irony.)

  85. Idunno, it seems to me that bad skin IS inherently ugly. (At least no one uses it to make sweeping judgments about your overall health?)

    Maybe you weren’t wrong to be defensive, because come to think of it, I really did feel “even FA rejects me” when I saw that comment. But it was one single comment made perhaps thoughtlessly but not maliciously, and I don’t know what the response was. And I still figured FA people would be likely to sympathize if I pointed out the similarity here. (Fat being seen as too horrible to acknowledge.)

  86. It looks like I am getting into the body hatred stuff that Kate JUST reminded us not to do. Can I switch tactics to “it’s not a moral failing to be born ugly”? Or is finding our appearance acceptable a mandatory goal? (Not that I find anyone else’s appearance unacceptable, including people who have similar problems to me but to a greater degree. I am just incapable of doing it with myself.)

  87. “it’s not a moral failing to be born ugly”

    I mean, while that’s true, it’s sort of vacuous, since “ugly” can mean so many different things. Well, no, I guess that makes the statement universally true, so it does have some useful content. But I don’t know if it’s the one I would apply to your specific situation. How about something like “medical and genetic issues that move you further away from the societal beauty ideal don’t make you a bad or ugly person, any more than any other medical or genetic issue”?

    I don’t know if I would say that finding your appearance acceptable was mandatory — I mean, who’s counting? — but it’s a laudable goal, isn’t it? That doesn’t make it any easier to achieve, of course, and I think almost everyone goes through the “it’s okay for other people but I’m really objectively ugly” stage. But in spite of and also because of how difficult it is, I think it’s worthwhile to work towards.

  88. Just to contribute a flyby: I vote against ‘queer’ as a noun too. I know Meowser meant absolutely nothing bad by it, but it still made me cringe. I far prefer ‘gay people’. (’Gays’ as a noun also is not great unless you are gay or very good friends with us, in which case it can be flung about with a joyous sense of irony.)

    Which is fine unless you aren’t exactly gay. If you aren’t bi, or gay, or questioning, but you certainly aren’t straight, there aren’t a lot of words to describe you. I describe myself as queer (and not bi) because how I feel about sexuality both changes continuously, and is not one of those “marketable” categories of sexuality. People think they understand what you mean when you say gay, straight, or bi, but queer means you fall outside what society defines these categories to mean.

    Also, gay is very male normative. Lesbians and non-straight women are very often disappeared by the usage of “gay”, largely because the world is male normative. “Gay” is like “plumber”, it doesn’t immediately call up images of both/all genders.

  89. Tal, I’m so sorry you’re going through all this pain. It sounds like a lot to deal with.

    However, I feel that this is an opportunity for compassion for your poor body in this instance…. not hate.

    It’s not your body’s fault, ya know?

    I sincerely don’t mean to invalidate any of your suffering, hun… just offering a different perspective on it.

  90. Tal, I empathize with your pain. I feel that we are not just our bodies and we are also not disembodied minds. Everything interacts together to make us all who we are right now. I hope you’ll find it in your heart to love your body, flawed it may be and painful to deal with everyday.

    I don’t know if you are into religious practices at all but deep meditation may help with physical pain. If you haven’t tried it, many types of mental exercises are very helpful in dealing with various physical problems. I like Tibetan Buddhism and its practices, it’s very practical. Some practitioners have specific practices to control body temp, endurance, and feelings of pain.

  91. Idunno, it seems to me that bad skin IS inherently ugly. (At least no one uses it to make sweeping judgments about your overall health?)

    No, they just assume you eat fried food and chocolate all the time and never wash your face. At least, that’s what I heard constantly in 7th grade, along with comments about how “fat” I was. And even just a few years ago, when I had some serious jawline acne (which, it turned out, was primarily hormonal — I’d just gone off the pill), a terribly helpful Kiehl’s employee sold me some facewash and said, “Don’t forget your neck!” Thanks, dude. NEVER OCCURRED TO ME.

    So, yeah, bad skin can be a pretty big blow to the body image — when I was an adolescent, it was right up there with fat. I’ve been thinking of writing a post about that, actually.

  92. Kate, I would love you so much if you wrote about bad skin (not that I don’t love you already). Lately I’ve been getting really down on myself because I’m 22 and I’m still fighting acne. There are days where I look at the acne scars on my face (and other parts of me) and want to cry.

    Sorry to go off topic, I just got a little excited when you talked about your potential bad skin post.

  93. it’s not like they were saying “let’s oppress people for this” but rather “fat is not an inherently unattractive quality, which btw, these few other things are according to some study or something.”

    Not a precise match, but II wonder if you’re remembering this:

    The only solid results from sociobiology as it relates to attractiveness I’m aware of all involve signs of disease, which are always considered unattractive, across all cultures and times. I don’t mean “fat is a disease lol” type disease, but sores, jaudice, flu-like symptoms, all that sort of thing. Nobody wants to screw people with the plague, period, except perhaps the occasional extreme outlier. At the other end, appreciation of a clear completion is also nearly universal. Traits more nuanced than that start to take noise from individual variation and can only be predicted in the aggregate.

    From this thread:

    http://kateharding.net/2008/03/29/in-which-i-ramble-about-attraction/

    I dated a guy who fretted some about his acne and acne scars, and when he mentioned it I did recognize I’d never known anyone so badly scarred, but jeeze louise, everyone I knew thought he was a total hunk! It wasn’t that he was a confident guy who carried them off, either; just for whatever reason the scarring and remaining acne just didn’t seem to have much negative impact.

    I know there was a group of Frodo fans who took great delight in the “one zit” (it wasn’t literally one zit, but Elijah Wood dealt with some stress acne in the filming and you could see it in some shots). I think with people some of us consider interesting, acne and acne scars just add character, somehow.

    And the clear skin thing can’t be universal when you consider the many tribes and groups that have gone in for deliberate scars and tattoos to the face – dunno if that was what the poster was thinking in recognizing the lack of universality of it, but that was my first thought.

    Our culture does have an obsession with doll-like skin, but there are also a lot of people who reject the air brushed perfection look as plastic and prefer people who’ve got some acne going and are more “real” looking (I put “real” in quotes because I’ve had some friends who I felt outright rejected people just for having what they considered “model-perfect looks” – it’s the air brushed stuff that isn’t real, not people who happen to be beautiful according to that cultural standard).

  94. my 3.5 year old hasn’t said the word fat yet, or not so I have heard. It will be interesting to know the context it’s used in the first time.
    I would like to think that if any of my child’s playmates were to say to me “you’re fat!” I would say “yes I am!” and maybe ask a bit more about what they think that means. We’ll see if I’m that composed when it actually happens.
    Little one’s daycare is very diverse for the town we live in, and there are teachers there of all sizes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they talk about size diversity, too. It will be interesting to see how and when “fat” comes out to play.

  95. Meerkat’s posts raise an issue in fat acceptance that makes me somewhat uneasy—the issue of beauty. I think it’s great that fat acceptance encourages people to be comfortable in their own skin, but I don’t really like the rhetoric that is often used to discuss this issue. It seems that a lot of emphasis is placed on finding oneself “beautiful”. To me, this is a problematic goal. One because I don’t think it’s necessary to find oneself beautiful to believe that one has dignity and is entitled to be treated with respect and compassion.

    Also, redefining one’s notions of beauty to put oneself in the beautiful category just seems somewhat self-serving, and I think it might cause some cognitive dissonance. For example, what if I’ve convinced myself that I’m beautiful, but then I see someone who looks somewhat like me on the street and don’t find them beautiful. That might cause me to doubt whether or not I find myself beautiful after all.

    Moreover, I think that convincing oneself that one is beautiful is easier for some than for others. If someone has a high degree of facial asymmetry, or birth defects, or stuff like that, I think it can be harder to convince oneself that one is beautiful. While, ultimately, I think it’s great that people feel good about their appearances, I just wish it didn’t have to take the form of declaring that one is beautiful. Often, the reasons that people give seem very in-line with the beauty standards propagated by the media.

    The bottom line is, for me, fat acceptance is about putting beauty in its proper context (i.e. it’s nice, but not very important). Yes, beauty is subjective, but some people will be found attractive by many more people, on average, than others. Someone may consider that remark and say, “So what?”, but I believe that being found unattractive by many people, on average, has implications for one’s self-esteem.

    To me, to empower all people to accept themselves and live their lives to the fullest, we need to emphasize that beauty is not that important a characteristic. If someone is beautiful to you, that’s great. But you don’t have to be beautiful to a single person to be worthy of respect and compassion, and to make a valuable contribution to society. I think character traits like thoughtfulness, kindness, patience, and sincerity are more important.

    I’m sorry to be so long-winded. I love a lot of the ideas raised by posts in the fatosphere. Sometimes, I just wish people would emphasize that, while it’s great to be comfortable in your own skin, you don’t need to convince yourself that you’re beautiful to love yourself. Your self-esteem should be based on a solid foundation of your personality, character, and goodwill towards others.

    By the way, meerkat, I sympathize on the acne. I used to have bad acne, and it seems like so few treatments are effective without irritating the skin excessively. My advice is, do what you can to treat the acne without irritating your skin, and then find things that you can enjoy without worrying about your acne (if possible).

  96. My 2 year old — with pride — will exclaim “Look at my big belly! It’s so fat! I love my belly!” I think he likes taking up space, being the littlest one in our family.

    Which is great, of course, but also really leaves him open to someone saying something hurtful. Which I suppose will happen someday, and my fretting will do nothing to stop it.

    Funny thing is, he’s the skinny kid. My elder isn’t fat, but he’s got the football player physique.

  97. This thread may be dying out, but I wanted to share a fat-positive DREAM I had the other night. I dreamt I was edging down a row of theater seats with my rear end in everyone’s face. Some kid said “You’re fat!” I said, in a mock-surprised voice, “Oh, does it show?” Then I went on, more seriously, “Yes! Does it matter? Not a whit!”

    I woke up so damn proud of myself for my witty comeback and my fat-positive unconscious!

  98. BlueSphere, I think that your points are important, but I don’t think any of us would disagree with you that “But you don’t have to be beautiful to a single person to be worthy of respect and compassion, and to make a valuable contribution to society.” That’s pretty much our MO around here — paired with the idea that you probably *are* beautiful to more people than you think, because a lot of money and energy and words go into convincing you otherwise.

    Probably most of you have seen this already, but if you haven’t, check out this post at A Dress A Day.

    Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

  99. Haha, Daisy, I had one too the other night, almost certainly brought on by this post! I was trying to change clothes discreetly, and a guy started making sideswipey comments, and I was like “is that supposed to be a fat joke? What, somehow you couldn’t tell I was fat when I was wearing clothes, but now that you see a little bit of skin you have to put me in my place?” I was just like, yawn, your humor is boring to me.

    “Does it show?” is actually really funny — brava to your subconscious, it’s hard to be genuinely funny in dreams.

  100. BlueSphere, is it possible you’re mistaking the need to not find yourself ugly with the need to find yourself beautiful? The two are not equivalent.

  101. That’s a really important point, FJ. Again, I’d like to repeat what Kate said: we understand body image struggles and we encourage discussion of them here, but we are against any form of body hatred.

  102. Charlotte, I’m 28 and I still deal with acne — a lot of times, adult acne for women is hormonal (meaning it has nothing to do with how old you are). I’ve had a lot of unsuccessful treatments and one highly successful one, but I went off that about a year ago and had a very stressful year and lo and behold, my acne’s back. It doesn’t make you ugly, it shouldn’t make you feel like a teenager, and you probably think about it a LOT more than people who look at you do. That said, if you haven’t been to a dermatologist for your adult acne (and you have medical insurance), I’d recommend it — I was skeptical because doctors couldn’t help me much with my teenage acne, but it turned out the adult acne was more treatable for me. It’s worth a shot.

  103. I think it’s funny how much Acne can mirror fat in terms of how it works within society. Some people are fat no matter what they do, and some people are thin no matter what, some people have acne no matter what and some people don’t. (I have very little acne and my skin regime consists of appling spf moisturizer whenever I remember to.)

    I’m going to go whole hog and just say that no part of your appearance really reflects your character, it only reflects your genes.

  104. There’s a lot of stuff in here and I’m not trying to stir the poo, but I did take some issue with a few commenters who said size 20s or 22s don’t really know what it’s like to be fat. I know I’m not a regular commenter on here, but that made me kind of grumpy..it forgets that most of us on here have been up and down the size board. Just because I’m a size 20/22 right now doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten all the experiences I had as a 28/30 for many years. And..at the end of the day, it’s hard being a 300-pound gal – whether she’s a size 20 like me or a size 28..

    On queer, to me, that’s just one of those words I don’t use. I see it like the n-word (OK within the group, not OK outside the group.) Although, to be fair, my mom (Miss Civil Rights March) raised me never to use the n-word, so even though I’m inside the group, I personally don’t use it.

    On little kids, it doesn’t send me to tears (although it did at one point), I just throw them off if they’re being mean:

    “OMG, really? I’m so glad you told me because I didn’t know.” Which leaves them perplexed because that wasn’t the response they wanted.

    If they’re just pointing it out, then I try to be positive and point out something like “And you have blonde hair!” Which then usually gets them to point out things like “you have curly hair!” and we go back and forth like a game. :)

  105. Thanks for your responses, fillyjonk and sweetmachine. Also, thanks for the link to that post, sweetmachine. I hadn’t seen it, and that post was awesome!

    I agree that I think most people in the fatosphere maintain that beauty is not a prerequisite for dignity. Also, I do think that, while it’s not important to convince oneself that one is beautiful, it is worthwhile to convince oneself that one is not ugly. While it is definitely okay to be ugly (some people think that that’s an inherently pejorative term, but I like to think it’s just descriptive, but unattractive may be a better word), I think that thinking that oneself is ugly is usually symptomatic of a kind of self-loathing, rather than a measured assessment of one’s appearance. Thus, if someone thinks that he or she is ugly, I think it’s a good idea to assess if one is really upset about something else (like the way one is being treated by society).

    That’s one reason why I like what I hear about the show “How to Look Good Naked” (though I haven’t seen it). I hear that the host tries to show women that the characteristics of their bodies are not as extreme and abnormal as they think they are. As I understand it, he’s not trying to convince them that they’re models, but that their notions of themselves as ugly are unfounded and unhelpful. Whether someone is pretty or ugly, to some people or to all people, the important thing is to be comfortable in one’s own skin.

    I like the message of the post that sweetmachine linked to. It gets me thinking about that post about short hair. A lot of people said that, even though they though they wouldn’t look good with short hair, they were surprised to find that they received a lot of compliments. I just want to note that, even if they hadn’t received a lot of compliments, even if some people had said that that hairstyle didn’t suit her or his face (or whatever), it still could’ve been a good haircut for them. Short hair cuts can be very practical, because they help people keep cool, and don’t get in the way. Thus, I think everyone should feel good having a short hair cut, if it helps them live their lives to the fullest. Long hair is okay, too, of course.

  106. Re: acne. Since people are bringing up treatments, can I just note that zinc supplements (50 mg / day) are very effective in treating most hormonal/adult acne. (Zinc has long been known to be more effective than allopathic drugs for acne, but the powers-that-be of the medical-industrial complex certainly don’t want that widely known.)

  107. Eh, zinc didn’t do much for me. Neither did evening primrose or a dozen other recommended things. Allopathic treatments didn’t do much either, though. Adult acne sure can be stubborn!

  108. Birth control pills, Lush’s Coalface, and mineral makeup improved things significantly for me, but I still have a couple zits today. Now I can go weeks with relatively clear skin (aside from acne scars), though.

  109. That’s awesome! I’ve [finally] stayed pretty clear since the accutane, but it sucked to have to go on that, especially with the current regulations and my crappy healthcare situation. With everything else I tried either it didn’t work or I couldn’t tolerate the side effects, though, so I did it.

    In any case, I guess the point is that adult acne is really difficult to deal with, and frustrating, and very hard on self esteem. That’s probably true no matter what the size and shape of your body, but the intersection of stubborn, difficult acne with fatness is, I imagine, especially hard.

  110. I’ve got a 7 year old and a 4 year old (and also a 3 month old, but he’s too little to be relevant to this discussion right now).

    The two older kids have asked me/said to me:
    Why do you have spots on your arms? (freckles)
    Why are some of your spots bigger and some smaller?
    Why do you have lines like stripes on your side? (stretch marks)
    You have a big tummy and Daddy doesn’t.
    Why does Daddy have a long neck and you have a short neck?
    Why do you have spots on your face?
    You have a big nose.
    Your hair is curly.
    What color are your eyes?
    You’re naked.
    You’re wearing a princess skirt!
    You look like a ballerina in that dress!
    Daddy weighs 150lbs. I weigh 60lbs. How much do you weigh, Mommy?
    How old are you again?
    I couldn’t jump on your belly when you were pregnant with Milo, but can I now?

    It never ends. Really. Seriously.

    My answers, honed over time, have been along the lines of:

    People come in all different shapes and sizes. I’m about 250 pounds (to which my son was like, “Wow! That’s a lot more than Daddy and me!”) Those are stretch marks I got when you were in my uterus and my belly got bigger faster than my skin could stretch. But those there are lines from the sheet that was under me while I was sleeping. Those are freckles I got because when I go in the sun, I don’t tan. I have a lot of them because, when I was little, my parents didn’t know to put sunscreen on me everytime I was out. Yes, my nose is bigger than yours, but it fits with my face. Of course your nose is smaller. Everything on you is smaller because you aren’t done growing yet. Yes, I am naked. I just woke up. Thank you. I like this skirt, too. Daddy has a long neck because his genes told his body to grow like that. He’s also thin because of his genes, just like his Daddy and Great Grandma. Genes tell our bodies how to grow. Yes, you can jump on me now as long as you don’t hurt me. Yes, my breasts are squishy. Ow, now you’re hurting me. Your nose looks funny from this close up too. Back up.

    Really. Never ends.

    But I’m big on the fake it and you’ll make it approach. Even if, inside, I’m flinching (and sometimes the outside, because rambunctious jumpy kids!), I still try to tell them the truth as I know it, which is that genetics determine an awful lot about who we are and how we look, diversity is a good thing, people look different from each other and that’s okay, and ballerina skirts are awesome though I have no interest in being a princess.

  111. There’s a lot of stuff in here and I’m not trying to stir the poo, but I did take some issue with a few commenters who said size 20s or 22s don’t really know what it’s like to be fat.

    Speaking up, because I suspect it’s my comment you’re referring to.

    If you reread the comment, you’ll see that I’m referencing specific people–not midsizers as a group. Because I HAVE experienced some midsize friends who seem to think that their experiences are the only ones that matter. And their ignorance of the privileges they do have annoys the hell out of me.

    Additionally, onto the above topic about beauty and acceptance…

    My personal perspective is that ANY value judgements with regard to our physical selves are ultimately damaging. There is no such thing as a morally good body. There’s no such thing as a good body at all. Just as there’s no such thing as a bad body.

    The only things we should ever be judged upon are our conscious and informed actions. That’s it. Those are the only things that ever merit a value rating at all.

    I don’t need to find my body “good” or “beautiful” in order to accept and love myself as a person. I don’t quite understand why anyone should trade one value judgment on their body for another, when the underlying problem is that we place any value on something so incontrovertible in the first place.

    I have little to no control over my physical appearance and existence. So why should those things ever be included in the equation of deciding my value and worth as a person?

    We are all of us worthy of love, respect and rights whether our bodies resemble that of Anna Kournikova or more like Stephen Hawking. Who, by the way, should be all the evidence anyone needs that the judgment of a person shouldn’t ever rest on what their body looks like or is capable of.

  112. but the intersection of stubborn, difficult acne with fatness is, I imagine, especially hard.

    Add in an amount of body hair that’s deemed unacceptable for women and a non-functioning reproductive system, which can often include hemorraging for days instead of having normal periods, and welcome to the world of most women with PCOS.

    It does suck. Hardcore.

    If all I had to worry about was finding cute clothes and fending off the occasional catcall, I would fall on my knees and cry for joy. Not to invalidate the negative experiences for those who do only have those problems but… gah. I really am jealous.

    I sometimes look back on my 19-year-old, size-18 self, and want to give her a thorough lecture about the “OMG I’m fat and should DIE” shit. Not that I could’ve ever known any better, of course. I was reacting to my culture as much as anyone else.

    But damn… I wish I had known then exactly how privileged I really was, so I could’ve gotten myself out of the house and really enjoyed life a lot more when I had the chance. It makes me thoroughly angry to see how our culture has beaten down so many perfectly healthy and vigorous girls and young women and made them believe that they’re subhuman, and thus robbed them of life experiences they have a right to.

    (Which, of course, is the point of sexism anyway–keep them worried about the intangibles and they’ll never leave the farmhouse. But that’s another rant.)

  113. I guess I’m not fat enough to have small children comment on it (or I don’t hang around enough small children), but my young cousin once pointed out that I am covered in zits.

    Somewhat OT – but kids will point out anything.

    I was overdue for a waxing appointment once and a 6-year-old let me know the hair on my face was unattractive — in front of about 20 other 6-year-olds — in as blunt and straightforward a way as possible.

    So now when men say I’m vain because I’m a compulsive tweezer/waxer/manicurer I just laugh in their faces.

    Mortifying.

  114. Charlotte–36 years old, and still have acne in general that’s worse when I’m pre-menstrual. I need only look to my family to understand it; you can’t outrun your genes, and compared to some, I got by easy. Age is no guarantee of nothing. I’ve got zits AND lines. Whaddayagonna do.

    Kids WILL say anything and everything that pops in their heads. Back when I was still teaching, and started covering my grays (stopped doing that now and am kind of enjoying my extreme highlights), I was using a gorgeous shade of Hydrience Hibiscus, a deeeeeep red.

    Mrs. C, why is your hair purple?

    Ah well. I felt glamorous for a day.

  115. Of course, when your hair really is purple on purpose, the awed whispers from kids are a total highlight.

    “Mommy! Her hair is purrrrrrplllllle!”

    It’s the main thing I miss.

  116. If all I had to worry about was finding cute clothes and fending off the occasional catcall, I would fall on my knees and cry for joy.

    So would I. And I’m a size 18.

    Tal, you might want to look here before you decide that “midsized” women don’t suffer discrimination from the medical profession, just for starters.

    As a size 18, BMI 34.9, I cannot get private health insurance. I’m lucky to be able to go to doctors and actually get treated for what I came in for at all instead of being given a diet sheet; many of my friends have not been so fortunate, even those who aren’t even as fat as I am. I can’t get most jobs other than total scrubwork. Most women don’t want to be friends with me unless they are looking for a diet buddy. If I was single, at least 99% of men would refuse to date me. If I was looking for a roommate, at least 99% of people would turn me down just because of the size of my ass, without even talking to me.

    My family still thinks I’m a stroke waiting to happen even though they KNOW there are medical reasons for my being this weight and that I didn’t get here hoovering Big Macs. Most people are flabbergasted when I tell them I have no interest in trying to “slim down.” Thin people won’t invite me to their dinner parties because they think I’ll snarf all the food and eye everyone else’s leftovers with greed in my eyes. I still have to listen to them go on and on about “obesity epidemic” this and this and that and that without having ONE clue in the world that they might be hurting my feelings. Hurting my feelings? How? Don’t I want to be thin? What’s the matter with me? They just want to helphelphelp!

    I still can’t fit in the rides at most amusement parks. I still have to worry that people will resent me for sitting next to them on a public transportation vehicle. I still worry that I will slop into the next seat on an airplane and have to pay for the second seat. I still can’t take any kind of dance or exercise class, other than a specifically “plus sized” one, without worrying that everyone will be staring at the fat freak.

    I cannot emigrate to most other countries or qualify to adopt a child because of my weight. If I travel abroad, I have to worry about being snickered at as a “fat American” and not having public accommodations that will fit me. If I have children of my own, I face a million scare stories about dying during the pregnancy or my baby being born dead because of my fat, and am warned not to gain any weight because my fat is already a potential death sentence for us both.

    Will I acknowledge that someone who weighs 100 or 150 pounds-plus more than I do has a tougher row to hoe than I have? Of course, I’d be a fool not to. But NO problems as a result of “only” being a size 18? Yeah, don’t I wish.

  117. Okay, I didn’t quite get through all the comments so apologies if this has been said. I just have to add…my daughter is 4yo and she has never (and I mean never) commented on anyone’s body size in public. Ever. Okay, maybe she said something about a man who was very tall–we bought our car from a man who was at least 6’6″–but fat? no. never.

    I think there are two reasons. One, I don’t talk like that. About anybody’s body, including my own. And two, it’s not like fat people are a rare sighting.

    And it’s because fat people are everywhere that I just frankly don’t believe kids who comment on the body size of strangers are just noticing a difference. Unless they live somewhere where they’re insulated from what is normal in the united states, they see fat people all the time everywhere they go.

    trying to teach kids not to call people fat to their faces but that it’s okay to make those comments at other times (directed at oneself, at folks on tv, out of earshot) is difficult for kids, confusing. When the rules aren’t clear, that’s when they make “mistakes” and embarrass their parents.

    Kids will be curious about anything they see that’s really unusual. I couldn’t keep my kid from staring at a man with no legs we saw on the sidewalk last week. But I wanted to post this because I know way too many people who chalk their children’s rude comments up to kid’s just noticing differences when it’s often nothing of the kind. Especially when it’s something they see every day and if they aren’t seeing fat people every day, I’m not sure where they live. Seeing a fat person and seeing a man with missing limbs are completely different experiences.

  118. As far as the “fat people know they’re fat” and children thing go…I remember being 10 years old and having no clue about being fat. Really. All the women in my family were big women, and I thought that being big was ok. That was until my mother told me, at the age of 10, I was starting to look “chunky”. I didn’t exactly know what she meant, and she explained to me that chunky meant kind of fat, and no one likes fat. Especially boys. From that point on I thought I was fat. And I hated it. That episode was followed a few years later when I wanted to enter a beauty pageant, just for fun. My mother told me no, because I was too fat and fat isn’t pretty so I would never win. My senior year of highschool I got tired of it and started excersizing fanatically. I was up every morning at 4:00 and did Tae Bo tapes and Aerobics tapes til 7:00 then I went to school. I ate nothing but salads and Slimfast shakes. After school I used the school’s weight room for another 2 hours. EVERYDAY. And I lost weight alright. And I still hated everything about myself. I hated the food I ate, the clothes I wore and thought it was all my fault because I was fat. My mother then told me I had to stop getting up in the mornings so early because it was waking her up and she needed her rest. So I stopped getting up. The next week she told me I couldn’t stay after school anymore because I was needed to watch my two cousins, as their sitter was longer available for afterschool. I gained all of my weight back, and fell into even more self loathing.
    I am now 24 years old and have decided that I am beautiful. Everything about my life has proven everything wrong that my mom said to me about being fat. I have a wonderful devoted and GORGEOUS husband, I have friends who think I’m gorgeous. And whereas I know that I would have eventually have figured out I was fat, and having survived highschool I know how horrible society can make you feel about it, I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different had I not been told I was fat, and no one likes fat, at the age of 10.
    At this point though, I like me. I like being a size 18. I like looking into the face of society and saying Who are you to tell me I can’t be beautiful and fabulous? I’m fat. And I’m fierce. And I’m 100% woman.
    I have a 2 year old daughter and I’ll be damned if she grows up feeling like difference isn’t beautiful, like she isn’t beautiful, like she could never be beautiful. Difference is wonderful, be it skinny, fat, short, tall or orange with green stripes. And making sure that our children know that and accept that and advocate that is what will eventually make the difference. Wanna change the world? Do it one child at a time.

  119. I myself am more of the “Why yes, I am fat! And I’m tall, and I have long legs. People come in all shapes and sizes. However, some people don’t like it when you make comments about their bodies, so you might want to think twice about doing that in case you hurt someone’s feelings by mistake.”

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