Ask Aunt Fattie, Fat

Ask Aunt Fattie: How do I talk to fatties in public?

Hi, Aunt Fattie

For awhile I’ve been wanting to reach out to other plus sized people in public, but I don’t know how to approach them. I think they would most likely be defensive towards me, because of all the fat prejudice they’ve encountered, which I can personally understand. Since I feel somewhat defensive around people who weight less than I do, which I think is another problem with size bias. It keeps people from being able to relate to other people.

So how would I approach someone who’s plus sized in public. Just say hi? I feel like I want to let them know I know how they feel, but I think they’ll look at me and think “Uh-huh, you’re only 200 pounds, like you know what it’s like being stared at EVERYWHERE you go!” You know what I’m saying?


Dear Jackie,

How do you open a conversation with a fat stranger? To quote Miss Manners when she was asked how to greet a gay couple: “How do you do?”

Truly, Aunt Fattie understands your desire to reach out, especially if you’ve been participating in FA for a while. You feel a sense of kinship with every fat person you see, a sense of participating in a larger struggle. This is lovely. But not every fat person is in on the struggle with you, and not every one who is wants it acknowledged in public. Also, not every one is lovely. Some fat people, like some thin people, are really mean — take, for instance, some of the SP trolls, or Fillyjonk.

To avoid embarrassing someone or getting the sharp end of a vicious tongue, it will suffice to treat fat people in public as you would anyone else towards whom you wished to be pleasant. Here are some approaches to try:

  • A smile.
  • “Hi.”
  • “I love your top/shoes/belt/earrings.” (Use only when you love their top/shoes/belt/earrings. Or rather, employ the appropriate term when you like the respective item, as a top/shoe/belt/earring is not a standard piece of sartorial equipment.)
  • “Honestly, this bus is always late, it’s ridiculous.” (Again, use only when appropriate, NOT randomly.)

In short, Aunt Fattie would have the same advice for you on talking to fat people that a less esoteric advice columnist would have for someone asking how to talk to “men” or “women” or “homosexuals.” The answer is: “like people.”

If you’ve got your own questions on fat, fatphobia, fatshion, and fatiquette, send them to

124 thoughts on “Ask Aunt Fattie: How do I talk to fatties in public?”

  1. I think maybe we should have a secret code word to recognize each other on the street. Like if you mumble Baby Flavored Donuts or Thighs of Doom very quietly and the person responds, then you know you’ve found one of us!

  2. I laughed out loud, Aunt Fattie, and i wish it we had a Secret Fat Handshake that makes this all easier.

    But in my eyes, the question isn’t fully answered yet. What I’d like to know, how do I reach out to other fat people when I don’t know where they stand on fat acceptance? Or if I know that they don’t accept fat at all? Of course, you can’t give me a fat acceptance recruiter’s handbook that works every time. But there are probably many Shapelings who have talked about FA in real life a lot more often than I have, and I’d love to know what their experiences are!

    Where to start if I want to make people think about fat acceptance, but not instantly get my head bitten of by furious fat-haters?

  3. I’m sure the person who sent in the question is cringing now at the obviousness of the answer. Or sputtering ‘but… but… but… how do I talk to FAT PEOPLE!?!?’

    Jackie: fat has no moral value. It also has no discursive value because just as you cannot tell health at a guess, you also cannot tell a feminist or a misogynist, a gay person or a homophobe, a concernfatroll or a fat-positive person by appearance alone. (Unless they advertise their fat-positivity on their shirts and such, at which point the only appropriate question is ‘Are you Kate Harding?’)

    The safe option is to find a common interest or subject about things that are in fact subject to change, ie. not about their skin colour or adipose fat. And rather than the bus line or the complimenting clothes thing, I’d recommend something along of the lines of, ‘My, it’s dreary today’. The weather is a useful standby for a reason: it changes every damn day, unless it doesn’t, in which case it is still a useful conversational topic. Never underestimate the weather’s power to bridge social awkwardness.

    Thank you, Aunt Fattie, for handling this question with such deft kindness!

  4. I agree with that one should treat fatties as people- that’s how I, as a fattie, would like to be treated. But I try to give fat folks around me a little extra friendliness. I read somewhere that in general people just don’t smile as much at fat folks as at thin folks- so I try to make up for that just a little bit.

    I got a boost once from a tiny little Random Act of Fat Solidarity like this: I was waiting in a long line for the ladies’ room in an LA movie theatre. Most of the other women in line were quite thin industryl types. As another fat woman left the bathroom, she stopped and said to me “I love your outfit!” I said thanks and smiled a big smile, and all the other women looked at the two of us as if they were surprised that I was singled out for a compliment, or that we fatties could like our clothes, or something. Maybe I’m projecting their response, but in any case it felt good!

  5. Thanks for answering my question Aunt Fattie! Hmm, I don’t know about the idea of a secret code word. I mean, it’s a good idea, but what word.

    I like the idea that some people have come up with, wearing a bracelet with a certain color to identify yourself with a movement. More so personally, that I’ve taken up Scoubidou. (pronounced like Scoobi-Doo) It’s a new version of lanyard that’s easier than the square lanyard. They sell a book about it here:

    So you can make your own braclet in whatever colors or style. The thing now is what colors would be a good idea, as in, not taken. I know orange and white are taken.

  6. I dunno, randomly saying “Honestly, this bus is always late, it’s ridiculous.” could get a whole bunch of interesting conversations started, but that may just be me.

  7. I have a similar question: how do I reach out to people who believe themselves to be the most gigantic and disgusting people alive and who bring it up, A LOT, when we are talking? I mean, most people don’t like being punched in the mouth, so that standard tactic is, you know, out.

    Also, I’m going to start mumbling “baby flavored donuts” to everyone because it’s pretty much the most awesome phrase ever.

  8. Em, that’s a great (though different!) question. I’ve actually been meaning to write a follow-up to my “changing the conversation” post with some actual tips on techniques I’ve employed to turn a potentially fat-negative conversation into a fat-neutral or fat-positive one. I think the main key is standing firm and not getting sucked into diet talk or fat-hating talk, which can be really tempting in some social situations. Personally, and this might not work for everyone, when talking to people I tend to pretend like I don’t even know that they might be anti-fat. So if they say “god, I really need to work off that cake” I say “I know, I always crash after I have some sugar, and I don’t feel good again until I can move around a little.” It’s actually shockingly effective.

    For people talking about the Fat Health Crisis, never underestimate the power of “oh actually, I was reading about this — people are still talking about fat ‘causing’ health problems, but apparently scientists don’t think the causation is clear at all.” Again, not preachy, just “would you believe this interesting study?” People are kinda willing to swallow anything that they hear “scientists are saying” — witness the fact that they still think there’s a direct causality between fat and ill health. (You can preach after you make them aware of the possibility of rejecting the fat=bad equation.)

  9. I’ve been working on this a bit too for myself. I’m finding that eye contact and a smile work very well, though I just try to make friendly conversation and don’t get into the whole “are you part of FA or not”. For instance the other day I had a nice conversation after the person I smiled at complimented my daughters handknit jacket that my MIL made.

    It’s all particularly terrifying for me, because I’m pretty inept socially anyway and people are scary!

  10. Hmmm.. I’ve actually found that there’s sort of a nod-and-wink acknowledgement between us fatties. Some–the ones who are ashamed–don’t make eye contact with anyone, especially another fattie, but usually about half the time, we’ll lock eyes, smile that “hey, another member of the club!” sort of smile and go on. It’s something like how queer folk (of which I am one) recognize and acknowledge each other.

  11. I would TOTALLY respond with delight to a near-muttered ‘baby flavored doughnuts’, so don’t forget to try it on thin girls too.

  12. Some fat people, like some thin people, are really mean — take, for instance, some of the SP trolls, or Fillyjonk.


    Where to start if I want to make people think about fat acceptance, but not instantly get my head bitten of by furious fat-haters?

    I’m very casual about it, just slipping bits and pieces of non-self-hatey information/observations into conversation (where appropriate, of course–if someone’s talking about how it’s rainy today, my response isn’t going to be “HAES!!!!!”). And to just live an out-and-about kind of life, I reckon.

  13. FJ, there’s totally a hanky for gay men who are into big guys (apricot). Don’t think there’s one that’s, y’know, political and not just gay, but still. Great idea :)

  14. The other day I told another plus sized woman that I liked her ‘look’ … that she look great…then I blurted out, “Have you looked at the blog ‘Shapely Prose…you should look at it.” and she was offended thinking it was a weight loss blog and walked away. I’ll try again in another way.

  15. Thanks Colin! Apricot, god, that slays me. I love the assumption that gay men will be easily able to distinguish between various shades of pinky-orange in order to avoid a faux pas.

    Dang, if you go by the version of the Hanky Code floating around the internet, there’s barely a color left for us to use. I have my doubts about it, though; it seems just a little too intricate to be effective in real-life usage. And who would need to flag apricot on the left? I mean, if you’re fat it usually shows.

    Maybe we should actually go around with apricots. That would only be effective in the summer, though.

  16. I’m good with pretty much any fat-solidarity lanyard colors, except I would like to put in an early vote against blue and yellow…

    I agree with Swellanor; it’s not really in my nature to make eye contact with or smile at anyone, but I have been trying to do better at that and I probably try a little harder when it’s a fat person. Especially if the person is someone that you just know most other people–if they look at her at all–are probably looking with annoyance or making all kinds of knee-jerk assumptions. If I see a very fat person using a motorized cart in the grocery store, these days I think about the things I’ve learned here (perhaps the person became fat after becoming disabled, but regardless of why they are fat, which is none of my business, this is still a human being who deserves as much respect as anyone else in the store) but honestly many other people might be making all kinds of unfair assumptions or thinking “this is why obesity is such a problem in this country” or other bullshit. This goes double if the person is moving slowly because people can pretend their simple and unfair annoyance at someone being in their way is actually some kind of noble self-righteous battle for the health of Americans or something.

    I’m not like aggressively forcing other fatties to respond to me, or staring at them, but I figure a little positivity, in the form of a passing smile, among the likely negative reactions can’t hurt.

    I like the idea of complimenting someone’s outfit, or other unique features like tattoos if you really do like them. But then this is made easier because you tend to like and gravitate toward and compliment outward things that about someone else that you share in common, because you see them as indicators that you and the other person might be similar or likely to be friends, so I’m not sure I’m doing anything beyond stating the obvious here.

    It’s tricky though. I’ve told the story before (at fatgirlonabike’s site, in response to a post about similar things that have happened to her) of how I was out running and another fat woman rode by me on a bike and said “You go, girl!” I think if she had just smiled and said hi, it would have been a very positive interaction for me–after all . As it was I felt condescended to (was she assuming that I was just starting an exercise program whereas she was some kind of “expert”? etc.). I’m pretty sensitive and likely she didn’t mean anything bad at all by the comment–and I was WAY more irritated when a thin woman did the same thing a few days later; what the fuck are you thinking?–but still.

    So you have to kind of be careful about how, sort of, enthusiastic you are, because for some reason that can come off as condescending IMO. But I don’t think there’s any reason you shouldn’t compliment a fellow fat person on some aspect of her outfit you like, or the book she is reading, or whatever. At least it will be obvious fairly quickly whether the person is interested in continuing the conversation. The reason may be complicated, like she may be uncomfortable with her own fat and therefore uncomfortable being seen talking to other fat people; or perhaps she is having a bad day or just doesn’t like talking to strangers or feel like talking at that moment, but I still feel like it’s worth a shot anytime you are feeling brave enough to make a positive connection with someone. The worst that can happen is that you have said something nice to them and it doesn’t go any farther than that, which is still good.

    Jackie, I know you have put a lot of thought into this too and the stuff I am saying is fairly obvious, so lest I irritate you with these blindingly obvious “pearls of wisdom,” I wanted to mention that I am not giving you “advice” per se, more working out what it means to me when I approach or smile at a fellow fat person out in public.

  17. ok so, feminists have triangles and gay pride is a rainbow, so how about we have pins or something shaped like pears, apples or something. People are always going on about body types. Or those plastic bracelets in red that say “Stop hating your body.” I’d be down with that. picking a color might be tricky though.

  18. Also, I’m going to start mumbling “baby flavored donuts” to everyone because it’s pretty much the most awesome phrase ever

    Me also. Can you imagine if you muttered the code phrase and the person answered back with, say, “Rack o’doom”. So much win.

  19. How about bracelets that look like donuts? I’m in a strange mood today everybody… and unluckily enough for you, I have a lot of free time at work.

  20. I am a thin on the outside person. Here’s what’s going on in my head when I smile at the fat woman in the motorized cart. “Everybody’s ignoring her, if she looks over I’ll smile. O.K., I smiled, and she looked a little startled. Did she think I feel sorry for her and I was being condescending? OMG, did she think I was laughing at her!! Fuck, is there a way I can make this better or should I go get the milk now and get over myself?”

  21. On the topic of outreach:

    Any advice for thin folks/FA allies who want to help end body-hatred? I am always afraid to say anything because I’m pretty sure the reaction I’d get would be, “Easy for you to say!”

  22. feminists have triangles

    Er, that’s not quite right. There are quite a lot of hetero feminists actually.

  23. Or we could carry these:

    I’ve broken the link up so it doesn’t break the comments. They also now have cupcakes and steak.

    Whenever I see another fat girl on the street, who looks like she feels like a big lump (I know that look, since I had that look) I have to suppress an urge to invite them to my gym. They helped me go from feeling, and therefore looking, like a fat lump, to being the same size but strong and confident. I even gained anough confidence to say to myself ‘You know what? I’m going shopping at the plus-size store, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that.’ And I got some gorgeous skirst and jackets.

    But inviting a stranger to your gym is likely not going to end well.

    Clothing compliments work, though, because most people like to share where there found this or that piece that actually fits well.

  24. wow, you guys are braver than me. I don’t know if I could wear a “secret” sign that I’m into FA. When I talk about FA, I feel REALLY nervous and embarrassed, because I know that most people aren’t going to agree with me. I’m not even sure sometimes that I can *totally* accept my body the way it is.

  25. I totally want a top/shoe/belt/earring now! That could be awesome!

    I wonder if there’s a way of working a hat into that garment. I’m all about the hats.

    The only problem I have with a code word is that I would feel a desperate need to wear a trench coat and fedora to go with it. The fedora would rock, but I look like a bad Humphrey Bogart joke in a trench coat. Still, I suppose I could imagine the coat and sidle up to someone to whisper ‘baby-flavored donuts.’ Oh! the thrill when I hear the countersign ‘I am Kate Harding!’

    Oh, and I love the idea of the donut bracelets. Mine would have chocolate frosting and sprinkles…but not real frosting and sprinkles because that would get kind of messy, especially on hot days.

  26. OMG, those stuffed animals are adorable. I couldn’t get the link to work but then I figured out I could just type in “” Duh.

    DONUT BRACELETS! What an awesome idea, Laura!! I missed that the first time through reading the comments.

    So cute!! Personally I like the charm one best but the crocheted one is really clever.

    On the charm bracelet, perhaps we could just get a regular charm bracelet with one donut charm and one baby charm? I don’t know much about charm bracelets but I’m sure there is a baby charm somewhere.

  27. Hee, apricot hankies, I had no idea. A new clue to the identity of the subject of “You’re So Vain”? your scarf, it was apricot . . .

  28. Or, you know, we could just get brave and wear the baby donut t-shirts, but I am a big weenie.

  29. it’s interesting. at first i understood what the question really was (okay, what i thought it really was). but then i remembered when I worked for this woman who was larger than i am, back when I was not nearly as large as I am right now. and she assumed that i had the exact same issues as she did: i had to shop at the avenue, i had to wear cloudwalkers, did i think i could work with her all summer going up and down the stairs to show fifth-floor walkups – was i ‘up to it’. she would also analyze everything i ate.

    i have to tell you that i was incensed. i mean, i knew i wasn’t skinny, and i don’t want to say ‘and i wasn’t as fat as she was’ but that wasn’t even the issue. it was this assumption that her reality was my reality because society would have perceived me as fat, even though i didn’t consider myself fat because i could still buy size 20 at the gap and didn’t have to shop at LB/macy’s woman/the avenue/etc.

    all of that said, i will sometimes walk up to another fat woman if she is wearing something i have been looking for, and that sometimes leads to a further conversation. but at no time do i assume anything about her awareness or lack thereof or anything more than – nice top. where did you get it?

    and to fully recognize my hypocricy: there are times, like this winter when i saw fat girls getting on the bus with coats that were entirely too small for them that i wanted to say – you can buy a men’s navy pea coat at the army navy surplus store and it will fit you and YOU WILL BE WARM, just because you are fat doesn’t mean you have to punish yourself by stuffing yourself into a coat that is too small for you.

  30. Well I know something that has just brightened the HECK out of my day was one woman just last week telling me she loved my bathing suit when I got out of the pool. Considering the hell I went through to FIND one I could deal with wearing I was very flattered and smiled right back with a huge thanks.

    Sometimes it IS as simple as that.

    As to starting up a talk on HAES it is not really something I think you can work into conversation with a stranger right off the bat; no matter how many late buses or rain clouds are there to break the ice.

    Athough I do think I’m going to start muttering Baby Flavored Donuts under my breath in a hungry tone of voice more often now! ^^

  31. There have been times when I’ve wanted to invite random fat women to join our larger fatosphere community, but I’m unsure of how to approach it. I don’t want to come off patronizing and.or assumptive in that the other woman must surely not be as fat enlightened as we here.

    I’ve also thought of printing off small business cards linking to the fatosphere feed that I could randomly pass out and post in coffee houses and fat positive stores and such. I also like combining this with a project like the Dressing Room Project, where it might have the most positive impact. After all, dressing rooms are where I think many women are vulnerable to body hate talk, so having a body affirming sticker also listing the links of body positive blogs might be especially beneficial here.

  32. Que es la dressing room project? I would totally put body-positive stickers up in dressing rooms! that’s a bit of semi-vandalism that I could get behind.

  33. Rachel, it would be super cool and a little subversive to take those business cards and slip them into diet books at the bookstore :)

  34. As the “Southern Lady” my grandmother and cotillion raised me to be, I quiver with delight whenever people decide that the best possible course of action is to Be Polite. Of course it is!

    Also, super happy to see that Aunt Fattie is an advice giver of the Miss Manners school and not the snarky, superior Dear Abby school.

    Big Love!

  35. I love the donut bracelet and the WWKHD bracelet too, but those knitted donuts are so AWESOME!!! Whenever I find my box of leftover size 10 crochet cotton, I’m gonna start working on a crocheted donut or three.

    btw, what color frosting do baby flavored donuts have? Do they normally have sprinkles?

  36. Twincats- yes on the sprinkles. The yummy fingers and toes of babies.

    Oh wait, that sounds sort of sick. . . .but tasty.

    I think the answer was right on when answering the question of strangers. Work acquaintances and others are the tricky area in my experience. Then again another fat gal who I know sometimes comments around here and I got talking one day about fat in our relationships (how the SOs react) and it as natural and flowed into talking about this place. Other folks at work. . . .not so much on this topic of conversation even though they are fat because I work with scientists mostly which means big inflated egos.

  37. I’m not much of a talker in public places, but when I’m wandering around, I like to just make eye contact with people and smile. Especially if there’s a hot fat girl wandering around, and she sees me checking her out. I have a policy of smiling at people who might not get smiled at a lot.

    But the bracelet thing is an awesome idea. I’m not much one for talking to people I don’t know unless I know we have a point of similar interests somehow. But if I met another FA activist, I’d totally say hi.

  38. I’ve actually met friends by going up to them in public (bar, in line, bus stop, that kind of thing) and asking them where they got their clothes. Me: “Nice outfit! Mind if I ask where you got it?”

    Translation: “I’m plus sized, and I think you probably are too. Where did you find the cute plus-sized clothes?” Nobody has ever been offended.

  39. Dee, I might like that from you with that as the translation, but as an overly-sensitive person (still) that’s a question I dance around like you wouldn’t believe when a thin person asks me. I still hate saying it came from Lane Bryant or the like – oh, you got it at a FAT STORE. I’m working on it, really I am, but it’s still a little ping of pain sometimes.

  40. Re: hankies and donut bracelets- What about Cupcake Necklaces? I love them, and it feels like half of the internet already has them, anyway.
    If I ever get the chance, I’ll get one, or some other cute food jewellery you can get on etsy. Because, I think, openly displaying a love for food is so subversive already, even people who have never heard of a code will instantly get it.

    Oh and, the hankies? The cocksuckers and fuckees must be pretty nervous all the time, not to be mistaken for Teal Blue.

  41. that’s a question I dance around like you wouldn’t believe when a thin person asks me. I still hate saying it came from Lane Bryant or the like – oh, you got it at a FAT STORE.

    Yeah, me too. I usually just say, oh, I bought it online (not much in the way of plus size stores in my neck of the woods). If a fat person asked, I’d be happy to answer the question, but from a thin person, it’s hard. I know that’s cowardly, but there you are.

  42. I think we should all have apricot-colored top/shoe/belt/earrings!

    Also, since apricots are apparently the theme of the day, I want to share that my friend makes liquor out of the apricots that grow in her yard (apricot trees are fucking prolific, they produce way more fruit than a normal person can consume or give away before it goes bad). It’s really sour, but if you mix it with soda, EXTREMELY DELICIOUS.

  43. Oh, and another anecdote on the “chub club”: where I live, there are no plus sized stores aimed at young adults at all, except for the H&M plus size line, which, as I have often mentioned, only carries three different outfits and one piece of outerwear per season. So when you meet another fatty, it’s highly likely that they’re wearing more or less the exact same outfit as you. Which is a little embarassing, but can also lead to grinning and winking and feeling like an uniform-wearing member of the Fat Army.

  44. Also? The Hanky Code is ridiculous. How are you supposed to tell the difference between “maroon” and “dark red”? And where the fuck are you supposed to obtain a leopard-print hanky?

  45. Who cares. Just imagining the situations Robins Egg Blue and Teal Blue could get you in, made my day. :)

  46. Not to be a Miss Manners geek (but I am!): I think she gave the following suggestion for greeting a gay couple:

    “How do you do? How do you do?”

    Which is even better.

    I love Miss Manners, and her hands-off, none-of-anyone’s-business approach to most encounters/situations/assumptions/etc. Thanks to this general stance, she has been quite profoundly, blessedly neutral on all of the size/weight/food/body issues that I remember coming up in her columns and books. I’m remembering one situation where someone was bemoaning a fattie visitor breaking a piece of wicker furniture in the living room, and how to deal with that. As I recall, she had reproof only for the person putting wicker out as if it was meant to be sat on during the normal course of wear and tear of a living room, which, being wicker, it clearly is not.

  47. bigmovesbabe, yeah, but that doesn’t make any sense when applied to a fatty. (Hence the link, so people can see Miss Manners’ glory in context.)

  48. Or, we could all wear food-themed jewelry, and have special colored handkerchiefs strategiclly placed on our bodies, and hand out specially printed cards that translate the color code. While mumbling *b-b-fl-v-r-d-d-n-ts* so only those in the know will understand. ;)

  49. Oh, the link actually goes to a book preview, ah! Well, good. But really, you can’t see her glory in context until you go back a few decades to some of her earlier work. That lady was WAY ahead of her time with general good behavior to everyone.

  50. That lady was WAY ahead of her time with general good behavior to everyone.


    On a totally side note, it drives me crazy when people use “Miss Manners” as a synonym for “priggish and elitist” (possibly this happens most in discussions of wedding etiquette, as I don’t know if I’ve seen it outside wedding forums). Miss Manners has always maintained that etiquette is about making everyone feel comfortable, and has given advice accordingly.

  51. Fillyjonk–AMEN! I’m a huge fan of Miss Manners and yes, it drives me batty when people assume they know what she’s about without having read her. Cary Tennis did in a recent column.

    The only thing that bugs me more than people using “Miss Manners” to refer to someone priggish and uptight is when they use “Miss Manners” to refer to *me*. Which my agent, mother, and the Globe’s marketing specialist still do, on occasion, so it’s an uphill battle …

  52. Cary Tennis raises talking out one’s ass to the level of an art form.

    Also, Shapelings who have not recently visited Miss Conduct’s blog must click this link immediately (if you are somewhere that you can watch a video and laugh out loud without fear of repercussion). I never thought someone could make me like Natalie Imbruglia.

  53. I have this annual get-together with friends, one of whom has a terrible body image despite being, you know, what I think would be considered “thin.” This gathering inevitably includes body talk, and I am sick of it after about six years of same. So this year I disarmed her with my newfound FA blog reading and thinking and shopping and eating and generally no-negative talk about MY body no matter what she said about hers (which is, of course, substantially smaller than mine). I don’t think she liked it! She didn’t believe FA was real until I showed her this blog. Not sure where I’m going with this…except to say I was surprised a friend would think I’m making this stuff up. So I guess so far in my short experience of discovering FA online, I sense one has to find it on her/his own to believe in its merits…or something.

  54. Rachel, it would be super cool and a little subversive to take those business cards and slip them into diet books at the bookstore

    I meant to say this before, but I mega-love this idea.

  55. The problem with deciding how to approach a complete stranger and politely proselytize FA to them is, unfortunately, that there is NO polite way to approach a complete stranger and proselytize ANY idea to them. Period. Anyone who tries to make assumptions about a stranger’s personal life and propose a solution without knowing how it will affect them is a nosy concern troll, whether they’re proposing diets or FA. I understand the whole idea that you love this concept that has completely changed your life but if you think about it you’ll realize that it couldn’t have changed your life unless you were ready for it at the time. Not everyone is, which means not everyone is ready to be receptive.

    The changing room stickers, bumper stickers, cards in library/bookstore diet books, all that I can get behind. It allows those who are ready to be receptive to the information find a safe place to learn. There’s a line that’s crossed when it comes to accosting strangers on the street or ringing doorbells in the assumption that every fat person is ready to accept themselves. Secret passwords are just plain good-ol geeky fun (I like, “Excuse me, but aren’t you Kate Harding?” It’s easy to follow up with “My Mistake” if the person gives you a blank look.)

    There’s a difference between discussing FA amongst friends and family and offering unsolicited opinions to anyone else. If you really can’t stand not helping that stranger, start a support group for HAES or FA and post a flyer at the bus stop where you always meet that person. They’ll see it. If they’re interested, they’ll show up. If they’re not, there is nothing you personally can do or say to make them without, IMO, being an ass and making that person feel worse than they already did.

  56. I agree with you, JoGeek, about random prostletyzing. It’s not only ineffective, it’s also off-putting and annoying. If anything, it’s likely to turn people off.

    I think the best way to spread the idea is to be walking examples of what’s good about FA. When someone then approaches us, we can be ready with talk of great FA blogs and HAES and general body positivity.

    When it comes to brightening someone’s day, it’s a lot easier to do that with a sincere smile or a pleasant comment than an offer of help they may not want.

    I still want a secret password and countersign. That’s just too awesome for words.

  57. Ah, yes. I remember feeling this way when, as an undergrad and a whitey (who was majoring in Sociology with a minor in African American studies) I felt the compulsion to make eye contact with every brown person I met to let them know * I understand, and the humanity in me salutes the humanity in you.*

    Bwwaa haa HA! What a ninny I was. But hopefully, a mannerly ninny. :-)

    It came from a sincerely held belief that one person could reach out to another person and that was the basis for social change. I still believe that. I just also know that not everyone needs me to reach out to them, all the time, nor do they always appreciate it. Or even give two damns about social change, just because they are brown (or in this case, fat).

    I hope what that means isn’t that I’m more cynical, I hope it just means I really do understand humanity better these days.

  58. I make a point to compliment the clothes of fat women in public.

    I love the idea of a secret code or pin or necklace. I am also ALL FOR stickers in subversive places. Let’s get on that.

  59. I love the idea of a secret code or pin or necklace.

    Yeah, it does historically work really well for other groups. The Ironic Donut is along the lines of reappropriation which has worked well in the past — obviously reclaiming the donut is a far cry from reclaiming the pink triangle, but it’s in the same phylum. Other ideas? Any of our doctors know if there’s a symbol one puts on a fat patient’s chart?

  60. Sorry to double post, but I was just reminded of an act of FA I committed the other day at school. Someone had left a bunch of diet magazines in the student lounge, and when I left for the day, I threw them away. :)

  61. I need to send this post to an individual who told me fat people are psychologically ill for believing they are normal people. Seriously.

  62. the greek letter theta kind of makes me think of being fat… But then that makes me think of college… soooo maybe not

  63. Ok, I think the secret code is “Aren’t you Kate Harding?” and the countersign is “Aren’t YOU?”

  64. (I like, “Excuse me, but aren’t you Kate Harding?” It’s easy to follow up with “My Mistake” if the person gives you a blank look.)

    This is brilliant but confusing to me as someone who lives like 15 minutes away from Kate! “Excuse me, but aren’t you Kate Harding?” “No, but I think I saw her at Nevin’s last night… why?” “Uh, my mistake.”

    Though I must say, I recently found out that one of my profs reads SP because I mentioned “my friend Kate Harding” in conversation. (Hello K!) So I guess this strategy works!

  65. I need to send this post to an individual who told me fat people are psychologically ill for believing they are normal people. Seriously.

    Assuming of course that people like that can be helped. Which seems like a stretch.

  66. The FINAL WORD:

    THe token is DONUT BRACELETS.
    (I personally think they should be petite, pink frosted donuts with sprinkles, but I am flexible)
    THe Sign is: Aren’t you Kate Harding?
    The Countersign is: AREN’T YOU?

    B*R*I*L*L*I*A*N*T !!!!

  67. Personally, I believe that each of us should design our own donut (within certain size specifications, of course) and display prominently on a piece of jewelry. Or perhaps we could differentiate said donuts regionally… I am also so down with subversive cards and stickers for diet books and dressing rooms. I remember one of my friends finding a card in the pocket of a jacket she bought at Forever 21. It said something like, “made by a seven year old girl” (but more specific than that). Totally strange that it would be something that small, but ithe little card acted as quite a catalyst. She really started looking into getting fairly produced goods, and remains committed to her vision of making a difference, however small.

  68. I am so totally Kate Harding! Not the real one, of course, not the original, but in the sense that every one of those red-coated dudes ringing bells on the corner or dandling kiddies on their knee in the mall is Santa Claus.

    I like that MUCH more than the whole baby-doughnut thing, which I missed the invention of and just find pretty gross.

    I admit it may get weird for those in Kate’s immediate circle, but it’s probably pretty weird for them already–and that’s the price you pay for being iconic.

  69. OMG, I have a 2nd job in a plus-size clothing store, and I will TOTALLY slip business cards into the pockets of every garment that has pockets, if someone will design them.

    I am also foreseeing a future “Friend of Kate Harding” thing, much like the old “Friend of Dorothy” thing….

  70. I am so totally Kate Harding! Not the real one, of course, not the original, but in the sense that every one of those red-coated dudes ringing bells on the corner or dandling kiddies on their knee in the mall is Santa Claus.

    That is the best explanation of the Kate Harding phenomenon that I have yet heard. She lives in all of us.

  71. Sorry to double post, but I was just reminded of an act of FA I committed the other day at school. Someone had left a bunch of diet magazines in the student lounge, and when I left for the day, I threw them away.

    Ha! I did a similar thing with an asinine “Men have evolved like this, women have evolved like this” evo-psych relationship “advice” article that I found in my therapist’s waiting room. I tore it out of the magazine and threw it away.

  72. This comes up for me a lot with all kinds of -isms. I normally approach it from a political standpoint and mention that I am a democrat, involved in progressive politics and do not tolerate judgemental statements about any group of people ect. ect.

    It usually works and I am able to discuss issues of fat acceptance or whatever else with other people.

    That’s just what I do though…It obviously doesn’t work if you are not a democrat.

  73. I agree with the whole “How do you do?” approach. It usually works pretty well for me.

    Now, spreading the word about FA and HEAS is a different thing. I’ve found myself, a few times now, sneaking in some FA stuff here and there to strangers, mostly women. Like today, I was in the lunchroom, and one of my co-workers and I started talking about soda. She started saying stuff ‘Sometimes I’ll be bad and have one.” etc etc ad nauseum. So, I slip in: “Well, I don’t think it’s either good or bad. Sometimes you get the craving for cola flavored bubbly water, and sometimes you want iced tea.” I think she was a little surprised by that. Last week I had a similar conversation as another fat woman looked at the brownie I bought at the cafe and said something like “oh, those look so good, but they’re so bad!” and I had a similar answer for her. She seemed to really be thinking about it after I said it, enough that I wonder if she looks at it differently now.

    Me, I just think “Damn, I’m good and sneaky!”

  74. True story:
    I was at a local gathering with a Shapeling friend of mine and someone had brought homemade donuts (OMG! nomnomnom!). I said to my friend (b/c I knew she would get the joke): “The only thing wrong with those donuts is they aren’t baby flavored!) ;)
    Well, this other woman I guess overheard me and said: “Oh, you read Kate Harding?” . . . proceed to further conversation . . .
    hehe. Totally unintentional, but totally successful use of baby donuts as a secret sign :)

  75. Aww, and once again I wish that English was my first language. But I’ll mention baby flavoured donuts anyway! And I’ll try to get my hands on some kind of donut-shaped sign to wear. And I want to have stickers and business cards, too! Everything that can possibly done to help the cause!

    As for the best way to approach fat acceptance as a topic, I strongly believe in “You won’t believe what I read in a scientific article recently, and at first I didn’t either, but …”

  76. Bigmovesbabe, I hate to break the news to you about Miss Manners, but I just checked the BFB archives and found this. Apparently a husband wrote in to back in 2002 her fretting that she had swollen to an OMG SIZE 10 at age 40 (!!) and he wasn’t attracted to her any more at that HIDEOUS size, so Miss Manners, instead of telling him he has a load of big fat nerve insisting that his wife be model perfect, told him to tell her, “Tell her that the greatest present she could give you would be to let you see her once again in her wedding dress.” GLARGH!

    And I would agree with Aunt Fatty’s advice. Fat people are just people. (LOVE the idea of baby donut jewelry, though. I’ll have to check bead stores and Fire Mountain to see if there are any donut charms to be found.)

  77. I have been known, when seeing a fat person (particularly someone larger than me) struggling with airplane or theatre seats, or in a fruitless search for clothing, to say “it’s a shame they don’t make their (seats, bras, whatever) here for normal-sized people.”

    Yes, “normal” is a problematic concept, but in the sense of “typical or average,” it is more normal for people in my country to be my size than to be skinny. And it avoids the use of the word “fat,” which can be upsetting for people who haven’t chosen it for themselves.

  78. Actually, re: the idea of dressing room stickers, I ABSOLUTELY HEART Photoshop. Thus, if folks could agree on a list of three or four absolutely essential FA blogs (it’s still only been a couple of weeks since I discovered the Fatosphere, so Shapely Prose is the only one I could say for sure), I could totally whip up some sort of design for the sticker/business card/whatever…


  79. “Honestly, this bus is always late, it’s ridiculous.” (Again, use only when appropriate, NOT randomly.)

    LOL, I am so tempted to use this randomly with people I am not trying to establish friendships with.

  80. Personally, I like to speak the universal language, music. More specifically, the universally musical greeting, Bohemian Rhapsody:

    I’m just a fat girl, from a fat family,
    Won’t you exchange a few words with me,
    I’m just a fat girl, everybody loves me
    How do you feel about bonding with me?

    And from there it becomes the car scene in Wayne’s World.

  81. Well, just speaking from what I know, I don’t want to be approached because I’m fat–not with sympathy, not with curiosity, not with “understanding” and not for the sake of talking about fat or how I got there.

    I’m married to a chef, and love eating. End of story.

    Want to talk politics? Great. But not to sidle into the “fatty sisterhood.” I am not your (in the generic sense) portal to the misunderstood world of fat people. I’m just another commuter waiting for the damn bus that’s always late.

  82. I wanted to mention earlier a particular subset of encounters-with-strangers that relates to this question of getting in with fellow fatties… Flyering for Size-Diverse Performances.

    So, Big Moves in the Boston area has a pretty aggressive approach to street marketing. We–by that I mean I–frequently stand outside of clubs, events, etc (with the organizers’ permission) and hand out our postcards to people leaving the club.

    Time was–oh, 5 or 6 years ago–I would be carrying around a stack of cards with me, and I’d want to hand one to someone who looked like a fellow fattie. The encounters ended up being so incredibly awkward, for reasons that I couldn’t articulate at the time, that I stopped that practice. It felt like proselytizing, it felt like shining a big spotlight on a panicking deer, and more often than not, it just didn’t work, like occasionally right in my face a fat woman would crumple it up and throw it in the garbage. Ouch! Who needs that kind of horizontal hostility?

    Nowadays I don’t have time for that shit. When I’m flyering an event, here’s what I do to make contact with ANYONE, of any size, who might be inclined to be interested in what I do…

    1) Wear Some Outrageously Sexy Costume. Anyone who nods and smiles at me or comes up to ME and says “wow, amazing get-up!” is clearly not grossed out by the vision of size-28 me in witchy-striped red-and-black thigh-highs with visible garters, black ruffle-butt panties, patent-leather Mary Janes with 2-inch heels, a fluffy black petticoat pulled up over my tits so it ends just a little past my hips, a red satin cape, and a top hat. Just for example. Point is, that kind of outfit will draw many of the people, of any size, who might reasonably like the curious things that Big Moves does in shows. These are the people who should be getting our event cards. If they don’t like me being wacky by myself, they probably won’t enjoy our show. Also, any fattie who comes up and compliments me while I’m wearing such costumes, he or she is clearly not afraid of the Fat Field that might suck them in and render them, in the eyes of passersby, Also (or More) Fat. Because the flashier you dress as a fattie, the bigger the Fat Field, at least as far as nervously hiding overweight people are concerned. (The corollary to this, of course, is if I’m trying to get my cards and message across to a broader cross-section of people, I dress down. Like flyering a children’s theater event, I dressed colorfully, but not sexily. Different tools in the toolbox, you understand.) Finally, and most importantly, I’m a Big (,) Fat Exhibitionist–reads properly both with and without the comma–so there really is no downside to this first approach.

    2) In addition to aforementioned costumes, if I’m really in a flood of humanity (flyering Commercial Street in Provincetown, for example, or outside a Margaret Cho show) I simply yell out verbal hooks and give cards to people who stop and ask for one. Or who smile (“hah! made you laugh! now you have to take a card!”). I do this constantly, at regular intervals, so it’s size-neutral. I admit to spotting people in the crowd, who I hope are fatties and wish would stop. But I try really hard not to yell louder or say things like “Big Beautiful Fatties on Parade!” when they walk by (that is a real phrase that I used once, it got lots of laughs, of course, but that just meant I was carding like a bouncer at a college-town bar). I just keep the stream of patter going, and hand out cards in a really size-neutral way. It’s a bit hard on my voice, but it works.

    I realized some time ago that I’m actually very shy about certain types of encounters, and writing this out today helped me identify one such encounter: making contact with anyone where I have no idea what our commonalities are. That someone is fat doesn’t meant that they’re a fattie. That someone is thin doesn’t mean that they won’t enjoy my shows. In flyering and performing, and hopefully in other parts of my life, I like to put the thing out there that I hope is an area of positive intersection (great, sexy, whimsical costumes, or funny shtick), as a magnet, really. They draw who is responsive, without targeting fat people.

  83. Bigmovesbabe and Meowser, yes, that piece of advice stinks worse than week-old fish in a heatwave, but there’s one thing we all have to remember: when someone has been writing an advice column for twenty or thirty years, somewhere along the line (s)he has given some pithy advice, and also laid some Goddamn huge pterodactyl eggs. This is one of Miss Manners’ (thankfully) few pterodactyl eggs. Let us mock it properly and then remember the many jewels of wisdom she has shared with us over the years, always remembering that Miss Manners, too, is a fallible soul.

  84. Hey, bigmovesbabe! Are you performing at the Big Top this week? I have VIP tickets for this Friday!! Now that I’ve read your little post, I’m even more super excited than before!!!!!!!!!!

  85. Er. I’m the ringmaster, so I’m part of the show, but not so much IN the show. But there are so many fabulous fatties and fatlets up there, that no one is going to miss little ol’ me. I’m actually wearing more clothes than I’ve ever worn in a show before. I’ll feel totally un-naked! I would not say that the outfit I described is false advertising, because definitely there will be tight leotards and feathers up on stage. That’s just the sort of thing that I have to wear if I want to get attention outside of the roller derby, for example.

    Laura, please come up and say hi afterwards! You and your guest are also welcome to join us at our Post-Show Pancakes (or whatever) at IHOP afterwards. Oh, and TELL people about this show (send them to our calendar at As fabulous as my street-marketing tactics are, nothing beats plain old word-of-mouth buzz.

    Kate et al, sorry for the hijack. I’m just in SHOW MODE right now, can’t you tell?

  86. talk to them like you’d talk to anyone else? that’s how i start conversations with anyone, regardless of size: nice shoes, a comment about their bookbag (i’m a student, so such a comment suits my situation), the weather…

    then again, i like talking to people (it’s part of my job after all), so this is common sense to me.

  87. Yeah, sorry for the non SP talk, but….

    Woah, bigmovesbabe!! Post-show pancakes! Sounds like fun! I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to stay since I have to be back to North Station by midnight or else I’m stuck in Boston with no place to go. But I will definately say hi and stay as long as I can.

    I guess you’ve got to cover up for a family show, eh? I’ve been trying to tell all my friends about you guys, but I haven’t had much of a response. Yet. Accept for the friend I’m bringing to the show. Little slip of a girl and very cool. Totally into people acceptance and loving everybody.

  88. OK, I just realized the kaboodle store I linked above has numerous examples of food jewelry. I still love the donut bracelet best, but then I love donuts. Anyway, there is a breakfast one (with bacon, naturally), and the cupcake necklace as someone else mentioned, cupcake bracelet, etc. So cute! It says she makes the donut beads herself, so perhaps we could see if she could just make a donut pendant to go on either a bracelet, necklace, or keychain (as the multi-charm donut bracelet is $35… but holy cow, so adorable) and then you could choose a “flavor.”

  89. I read all the time, rarely comment, but I need to defend Miss Manners: I couldn’t see the original link, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t her, but someone with a similar pseudonym. I love her, read her all the time and I’ve literally never seen her say anything anti-fat, but more notably, I’m damn sure she’d never say “Tell her that the greatest present she could give you would be to let you see her once again in her wedding dress.” Because, gag.

    She’s tart, not trite, and if she wrote that, I suspect Judith Martin (Miss Manners) has been kidnapped and replaced by a pod. Just sayin’.

  90. This site has an $18 donut bracelet:

    I actually wasn’t even looking for one when I found this. I belong to an lj community about making things out of clay and this person posted a small amount of her work. One just happened to be a donut bracelet! I’m totally buying this when I get payed next!!

  91. I’m with everyone who said that preaching to strangers is a bad idea. When that happens to me, I either politely disengage or actively mock the person who is ensuring me that my life will change if I just listen to them.

    I think the trick is to use the ideas, the theories, rather than pushing the movement. When women in the office refer to food as “bad” or “good”, I simply ask when food became a moral issue. When they recommended diets, I told them that I think diets are both evil and ineffective in the long run – and they almost always agreed with me – which opened up the conversation to why they’re doing it. I’m not going to convince them all to stop dieting, but we can at least talk about health and size and workouts without it being dominated by fat hate. It’s a start.

    I’ve recommended this site to some friends. One really grooves on it, but I figured she would. Another is too full of self-loathing to believe that anyone could be comfortable being fat, or be attracted to a fat person. I thought she would be more interested. So if I could misread my friend that easily, I am definitely not going to make assumptions about a stranger at the bus stop.

  92. The weird thing is, she’s spot on for the first two grafs, and then she goes into the “tell her you’re worried about your health” crap! Oh well, even Miss Manners has off days… I’m sure she would graciously admit that she’s not perfect.

  93. The other week when I had a shopping bonanza at a local outlet store’s “plus size event”, I forced myself to get over my ridiculous Minnesotan let’s-pretend-we’re-all-the-same reticence because I had to tell a two women I work with that that there were bargains to be had on cute clothing. I mean, I would totally want someone to tip me off to something like that; I wouldn’t respond with “Oh my god she realizes that I have to shop at the fat-girl store!” Because duh, my body (and my fabulous clothes) are right there for anyone to see.

    So how did they respond? One blinked, like she was momentarily astonished I’d mentioned our shared secret, but recovered quickly and thanked me– and actually went to check it out over the weekend. The other was a bit surprised, but didn’t react as if I’d let some dangerous cat out of the bag, and today she gushed over my cute new dress. Tiny victories, but not everyone is ready for a full-scale rant about how fat is a feminist issue.

  94. One of MM’s things is that she tends to shy away from psychological assessment of her readers or the people that they write about. This is refreshing, really, in the world of advice columnists–but it can be taken too far. It does sound to me as though the wife in that column might be depressed. Suddenly losing the “joy and motivation” to work out when you’ve been working out for many, many years is most likely a sign that something is up. MM should have caught that.

    Straight up, though, I sure hope people are discussing MY columns 20 years from now!

    For the religious in our midst, a good code word could be “Leviticus 3:16.” Not to be confused with John 3:16, this verse says, “All fat is the Lord’s.” So, the fatter you are, the more God loves you! (I actually think “Leviticus 3:16” t-shirts would be pretty hilarious to wear in the Bible Belt where “John 3:16” is ubiquitous.)

  95. This is refreshing, really, in the world of advice columnists

    Whoops, you might be a wee bit disappointed in next week’s Aunt F. ;) It’s more in a Carolyn Hax vein.

    “All fat is the Lord’s,” are you serious? Handy to know your scripture sometimes! I might have to make a Leviticus 3:16 shirt for the poor neglected CafePress store, I really might.

  96. Oh, I psychologize all the time, but when you’ve got Prudie actually *diagnosing people with personality disorders*, it’s sort of nice to see someone who consistenly refuses to do that. There should be all kinds of voices in the advice-giving world.

    Yes, I am totally serious about Lev. 3:16. I’m doing an extensive Jewish-learning class these days and ran across that one. It’s about how you’re supposed to sacrifice an animal properly, back when we used to do that, (the full verse is “The priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar as food, an offering by fire for a soothing aroma; all fat is the Lord’s”) but I’m all for re-interpreting/appropriating it! It would make a hilarious t-shirt.

  97. Um, I must have done something odd with my closing parenthesis, because that emoticon is not supposed to be there. Not that Leviticus wouldn’t be TREMENDOUSLY improved by a few strategically placed ;-0 ‘s, though.

  98. It needs to be said. I went to the Big Moves performance and afterwards went up to BigMovesBabe and said, “Hey, aren’t you Hate Harding?” Needless to say, she had quite the laugh.

  99. For the religious in our midst, a good code word could be “Leviticus 3:16.” Not to be confused with John 3:16, this verse says, “All fat is the Lord’s.”

    Leviticus 3:16 — not so good in context:

    The priest shall burn them on the altar as food, an offering made by fire, a pleasing aroma. All the fat is the LORD’s.

Comments are closed.