Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel shares tips for being a better ally to your fat family members this Thanksgiving.
Today is Thanksgiving in America. While I’m not into celebrating a racist, colonialist holiday, many people still enjoy gathering with family, eating a home cooked meal, and celebrating things they are thankful for. If you’re not a fat person, it’s likely that you’ve got fat relatives. I primarily write for my fellow fats, but post is for thin folks. Here I will outline 3 ways you can be a better ally to your fat relatives this Thanksgiving. I’ll be providing examples, explanations, and offering alternatives for you to try. Let’s dig in.
1. Avoid assigning moral value to food.
Example: “I’d love a piece of pumpkin pie, but I shouldn’t. I’m trying to be good.”
This is…frustrating. Choosing to eat nothing but vegetables doesn’t make one good, and choosing to eat an entire pumpkin pie doesn’t make one bad. When a person says something like this, they often believe that they’re only talking about themselves. However, by assigning this kind of value to food, they’re actually passing moral judgment on everyone else as well.
When I’ve heard this said, it’s almost always been said by women to other women. This is a particularly insidious way that people perform femininity. It is troubling because people seem to bond over diet culture by wishing they could eat certain foods, talking about how “bad” they were because they ate dessert, etc.
When fat people engage in diet talk they are treated more positively than when we are proud of our bodies1. Given that positive treatment, it is understandable why fat folks (or even thin folks who perceive themselves as “fat”) would choose to engage in self policing comments like the one above. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for better.
Alternative: “No thank you, I wouldn’t like a piece of pie,” or “A piece of pie sounds great, thanks!”
2. Refrain from making comments on weight fluctuation or about relatives’ bodies.
Example: “You’ve really packed on the pounds, eh?” or “Wow! You’ve really slimmed down! What’s your secret?”
Other people’s bodies are none of your business. Here’s a helpful hint. When you want to make a comment about somebody else’s body: Don’t.
“But Amanda, I’m just trying to compliment them!” If your aim is to compliment them, then odds are it’s because they’ve lost weight. This is problematic for two reasons.
1) Weight loss may be unintentional. Your relative may be dealing with mental or physical health problems that have affected their appetite. They may be struggling with an eating disorder. They may have lost weight rapidly due to stress. By complimenting their weight loss, you’re affirming that whatever negative thing they’re going through is actually positive.
2) Even if the weight loss was intentional, their body is still none of your business. Diet culture (also known as weight loss culture or wellness culture) harms all of us, not just thin folks. A congratulatory attitude toward weight loss enforces diet culture, which enables the structures that marginalise fat folks.
“Come on Amanda, I’m just trying to motivate them!” If your aim is to motivate them, then it’s probably because they’ve gained weight. This is troublesome for a whole host of reasons, but the following two are the most prevalent.
1) This “motivation” is actually anti-fat bias which has extremely negative psychological effects on the target including increased vulnerability to depression, economic hardship, isolation, and more2.
2) There are also many negative physical effects on the target including increased stress, decreased motivation to engage in physical activity, increased binge-eating behaviour3.
Your fat family member already faces stigma and discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives4, they don’t need it from their loved ones as well.
Alternative: Keep your observations about other people’s bodies to yourself. Every time.
3. Let people eat whatever they want without comment.
“Should you really be going back for seconds?” or “Maybe you should have a salad with that.”
Remember how other people’s bodies are none of your business? Well, what other people eat is also none of your business.
The ONLY exception I’ll allow is if somebody reaches for the last piece of pie or the last deviled egg you were also reaching for. In that case, you could arm wrestle, flip a coin, or play rock paper scissors to see who gets the last piece.
Alternative: “That stuffing was so delicious! I can see why you’d want to go back for seconds!”
The great thing about these 3 ideas is that they only require one to think before speaking. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say enforcing the idea that fat = bad and thin = good?” If the answer is yes, then don’t say it. Once you master that, it’s time to take one more step.
Allies, we need you to call out other family members who say hateful, anti-fat things this Thanksgiving. It’s not enough to not say them yourself. If you allow others to harm fat folks without objecting and trying to educate them, then you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor. Sure, challenging loved ones can be uncomfortable, but it’s the only way we can grow together.
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1. WANN, M., 2009. Foreward: Fat studies: an invitation to revolution. In: ROTHBLUM, E., and SOLOVAY, S., eds. The fat studies reader. New York: New York University Press. pp. IX - XXV.
2. MCHUGH, M. C., and KASARDO, A. E., 2011. Anti-fat prejudice: The role of psychology in explication, education and eradication. Sex Roles. vol. 66, pp. 617-627.
3. NUTTER, S., RUSSELL-MAYHEW, S., ALBERGA, A. S., ARTHUR, N., KASSAN, A., LUND, D. E., SESMA-VAZQUEZ, M., and WILLIAMS, E., 2016. Positioning of weight bias: Moving towards social justice. Journal of Obesity. vol. 2016, pp. 1-10.
4. CARELS, R. A., BURMEISTER, J., OEHLHOF, M. W., HINMAN, N., LEROY, M., BANNON, E., KOBALL, A., and ASHRAFLOUN, L., 2013. Internalised weight bias: ratings of the self, normal weight, and obese individuals and psychological maladjustment. Journal of Behavioural Medicine. vol. 36, pp. 86-94.