Dr. Deah's Tasty Morsels

Constant Comments

Posted on April 13, 2012 by Dr. Deah

I am not clear how this came about…but about…it certainly came. There seems to be an unspoken rule that it is perfectly okay for people to comment on other people’s bodies.  And I am not referring just to the behind the back conspiratorial comments frequently accompanied by a wink wink nudge nudge to a nearby co-commenter.  I am not even talking about the never-ending stream of body comments in the tabloids.  I am talking about face to face full body slamming contact commenting by strangers who feel perfectly justified in walking up to someone and letting them know that they are fat.  A public service announcement of immense proportions doled out as if I had been living my life under a rock.
 “No, really???  Me??? Why, I hadn’t noticed!  Thanks for telling me that…now I will fix it and my whole life will be better and all because of you!” “Oh wait, don’t leave, how in the world shall I repay you?”
And then there are those who are more specific in their assault as they single out a particular body part that they find offensive or distasteful.
“Wow, you’d be such a babe if you lost some of that fat around your middle.”
To which the thought that inevitably crosses my mind is,
“I’m sorry…but have we met????”
Perhaps it’s not even the incidents involving strangers that are really the most egregious though.  What about the times when you are with someone and you feel safe, loved, and sexy?  Someone with whom you have shared intimate moments with…sans clothes…who suddenly finds it vital to inquire whether or not you have considered losing some weight in order to be really beautiful?  Talk about a buzz kill!!! Did I miss the amendment to the etiquette constitution that afforded people the right to give their unsolicited opinion about my body? Where are the filters between thought and speech that most of us were taught growing up?  You know the ones:
  • Think before you speak.
  • If you don’t have something nice to say, just don’t say it.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I can’t remember ever going up to someone and saying,
“Wow, you’d be great if you just dyed your hair a different color or grew six inches.”
(Apply that last one anywhere you’d like! ;-)) Lately, there has been an avalanche of news stories about bullying.  Most of the attention has been focused on situations involving race, sexual orientation, or religion and include tips for intervening and explaining how most bullies were abused and are perpetuating the abuse cycle with their own bullying behaviors.  The victims are offered support as well and are being counseled to speak up and not suffer in silence.  Schools and workplaces are implementing zero tolerance policies along with both proactive and consequential strategies to eliminate bullying cultures.  And I applaud this trend whole-heartedly. But what about the situations where the targets are fat?  When the targets are fat, the advice is almost certain to be,
“Just lose the weight and then you won’t be a target.” “You are just asking for it by not losing weight.” “The best revenge will be getting thin, that will show him!”
These attitudes are insidious in a variety of ways but one of the most destructive is that it implies that there is nothing wrong with shaming a person for being fatter than the bully’s definition of what is NOT too fat. And because many fat people already feel like failures in the diet game, we don’t feel it is our right to stand up to the perpetrator; instead a common inner monologue goes something like this:
“Guilty as charged!  I am fat and deserve to be admonished for my crime against society.  I am an eyesore in your world and if I walk out in public it means I have checked the box indicating that I accept the terms of agreement for users of the streets.”
And so I continue on my quest and ask the same QUEST(ion) I have been asking for so many years and no one has been able to answer.
“Why do we hate people just because they are fat?”
Chris Reid recently wrote a piece about respecting fat people in the Huffington Post and while it didn’t bring me any closer to the answer to my QUEST(ion) I found it a refreshing reminder about manners.  Granted, it isn't a perfect article but I for one am hungry for any public proclamation that calls for people to examine their prejudices and change their hateful points of view and actions.  Mr. Reid appropriately directs people to examine their bias against fat people and own up to their inner bully.  Reid does not exclude himself from having to go through this inner spring cleaning process as well, but the article assumes two things: 1.  People are capable of that level of insight and 2.  That insight leads to a change of behavior. Those are assumptions that I find difficult to have faith in at times, but, if I didn’t believe in change of that magnitude, I would have thrown my therapist towel into the ring years ago.  The gear shifting step from internal attitudinal change to external behavioral change is huuuuuuge, necessary and not easy.  Once we admit that it is wrong to judge people based on their bodies and even "more wrong" to feel entitled to verbalize those opinions, we need to learn to speak up.  I know, I know, that sounds contradictory...learn when not to speak and then learn to speak up, but think back and remember when we were learning what words we could and could not use in front of our grandmother and trust that we still have that skill set! Whether we are the victim, a reformed perpetrator, or the witness of fat bashing it is our responsibility to cultivate our own constant comments that tell ourselves or others, “If you think you are helping, you are not.” “Why are you so mean?” “Have you considered another point of view?” “Funny, I don't recall asking for your opinion.” Or if all else fails there is always the question about that six inches… Til Next Time, Dr. Deah

About Dr. Deah

Dr. Deah Schwartz, clinician, educator, and author specializes in Expressive Arts Therapies, Eating Disorders, and Body Image. Deah is the author of Dr. Deah's Calmanac: Your Interactive Monthly Guide for Cultivating a Positive Body Image and co-author of the NAAFA award winning Off-Broadway Play, Leftovers, and its companion DVD/Workbook Set. An outspoken “New Yawker,” Dr. Deah believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to point out and eliminate size discrimination even when it means battling the mainstream media, and even more challenging...family members! To find out more about Dr. Deah’s work or to book a session visit her website at www.drdeah.com

Categories: Body Acceptance | 16 comments

Comments (16)

  1. Did you read about Ashley Judd? They commented about her full face & hinted it was plastic surgery, but she had been taking steroids for a medical problem.

  2. Awww, the terrible memories flooding back from my entire life of people thinking it is ok to comment on my weight. From my mother, to my aunts, to boys I had crushes on, to being made fun of in school. But I was told to buck up and lose weight, dammit! I figure now no one comments on my weight because I have become middle age and invisible! Finally, some relief!

    I remember when my “best” friend and my aunt ganged up on me at work and told me I had to lose weight. Because “no one will love you” and “guys in Chicago don’t like fat girls because there are so many beautiful women here.” (By the way, I grew up in Kansas, surrounded by beautiful women…) All I wanted to do was say something about my friend’s nose and hair–but I was to polite! Plus that would have been mean…but talking about my weight like it was something I wore to spite people was completely alright.

    Damn, sometimes I hate manners!

    Thanks for making me think…again!

    xo Susie

    • Susie, wow, what a long road it has been and perhaps someday beauty won’t be defined so narrowly and won’t hold all of the importance that it does now!

  3. “Why do we hate people just because they are fat?”
    I really think it’s all about fear – fear of difference; fear that if the hater doesn’t watch hirself closely, zie will become what zie hates/fears; fear that the hater doesn’t measure up in some way and has to denigrate others in order to feel better about hirself. Fat is just one of the many reasons used to hate people over the course of history (and being fat has fallen in and out of favor many times over the years). It seems that as a group, humanity (or society) has to have its scapegoats, and anyone who is different from what is perceived as the “norm” will be hated and reviled/blamed for society’s ills.

    • Vesta, you are insightful and of course spot on…I suppose then, my next quest(ion) is why are people so fearful of something that really poses no threat to their own wellbeing? Is it because, perhaps, that they feel they can be superior to this particular group of people as opposed to an axe murderer who would really be a more appropriate trigger of fear and subsequently hatred?

  4. Dear Dr. Deah, I think you are right on. It is a bullying thing, which never occurred to me before. Now can I get up the courage to say something like, “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you”, or, “You would look so much better if you were 6 inches taller.” Or, “Why are you so short?, or Thin?” Thanks for the tips. I don’t know if I can do it, but I will try….

  5. Heather, I’m so glad you found the post helpful. And of course it isn’t easy!!!

  6. The verbal come-backs are many.
    I am not sure what would happen if fat people used them often.
    “You’d be so much more pleasant if you could not talik!”
    “I’m sorry. My mother taught me manners. I guess yours didn’t love you enough to do it.”
    “I wish you’d get plastic surgery to satisfy my standards of beauty.”
    “I guess you’re jealous that I have tits and you don’t.”
    “Be careful in a strong wind. It might blow you away.”
    “Yes, I am fat. God made me that way. I don’t argue with God.”
    “I would find it boring if we all looked the same. I certainly don’t want to be like you.”

    Has anyone thought about selling a product consisting of cards with the come backs?

  7. Let’s do a thought experiment.

    Picture that one of these rude idiots, after picking on you or me, makes a remark to someone more vulnerable than we are, who says nothing, as manners suggest, internalizes it, and later that day commits suicide because every one of these remarks hurts them, and this is the last straw.

    I don’t know about you, but I would like to have prevented that result if I could. What is my obligation to the idiot’s future target?

    So the question is not whether I would want to “lower myself” to the level of the idiots. The question is how I should behave in order to make the idiots less likely to behave in the way that I don’t want. Being polite has not caused the desired result. We have done that experiment as asked repeatedly and not liked the result. So, let’s assume that we have some choice about how to respond, and we can anticipate this bad behavior and plan ahead.

    If every time one of these idiots makes a fat phobic remark, they get a come back which is as self-esteem-attacking to them as what they said, would this make them stop? I honestly don’t know the answer, but that is the question I would want to ask in considering what is best to do.

    I assume that most of us are aware of the idea of privilege, and that getting one nasty remark will not have the same result as getting remarks over and over and over in a lifetime. There is no way that one remark by me will change an idiot. This only works if a lot of fat people do it.

    • Dear Mary-Anne Wolf,
      It is a horrible outcome that people do end up committing suicide after a lifetime of fat missiles hitting them. I hadn’t thought about that carefully. I agree, it would be good to have a way of stopping the missile throwing unloving people in this world. I guess these people need to be punished in some way, or stopped from carrying out their terrible behaviour on others also. Yes, I guess this is the idea of this dialogue; that if all fat people stood up for themselves when under attack; in some way; perhaps that might change a person one at a time. That is why I joined this discussion; I really need ideas as to how to deal with the missiles when they come up, and encouragement to feel good about myself. Thank you for your thoughts…

      • Heather and Mary-Anne, I love that this blog fosters this kind of dialogue and that both of you are so open to hearing each other’s points of view. It is so refreshing and different from the usual blog comment situations where people aren’t really “listening” to each other. This exchange was very touching for me to read. Let’s call it a successful dia-blog!! 😀

  8. The entitlement of saying what one wants out loud to anyone without a pause, a thought, will it hurt someone’s feelings shows how unconscious our society has become, permission has been granted in so many ways, in so many venues. To this I say, people, behave yourselves, be kind to strangers, you could be them, easily, support loved ones, we do not know their road, we are not in their shoes, we could be, though. This all comes out of frozen fear, unfreeze, folks, thaw out and connect. Dr. Deah, your writing has touched me deeply and has sent my thoughts to the place where my emotions live, not scary anymore and does not have me running to the fridge. Thank you, as always, you inspire

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