How to Stop Patronizing Your Fat Friend: Self-Loathing Edition
Trigger Warning for Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders
So you’ve stopped making the political into the personal when it comes to your fat friend. That’s awesome! Thank you so much for hearing what your fat friend has to say rather than your own internalized assumptions about her feelings.
“But sometimes,” you tentatively begin, “I hear her actually hating on herself. I hear her call herself worthless, ugly, and so on. What should I do then?”
Definitely, definitely don’t tell her to just love herself, ignore the “haters,” or otherwise pretend that your assessment of her attractiveness will make it all okay.
In addition to robbing us of our ability to discuss that which affects us, telling fat women to self-love away anti-fat bias asks quite a lot of us. Are we just supposed to turn ourselves into rubber and all of the fat-haters into glue? Ignore everything that we happen to see or overhear? Pretend that everything that is said to us was never uttered?
I’ve worked my ass off to feel good about myself but I have my down moments. A head-pat that frizzes up my carefully-arranged hair and a “you should give yourself more credit, hun” doesn’t help me in those moments. All the self-given credit in the world won’t change the fact that sizeism is, indeed, A Thing, and that my experiences are real. One person’s individual feelings doesn’t exactly change all of my external experiences.
The relentlessness of the message that fat women are repulsive means that fat women have to grow quite a thick skin in order to be confident at all. To make matters worse, confidence in fat women is often mocked and derided even more than their fatness is. One person’s declaration that a particular fat woman isn’t “actually fat,” that she is “proportional,” that she is worthy and beautiful, won’t magically make all that disappear.
What to do about your fat friend, then?
If she mentions any kind of positive feelings towards her body, you should be damn proud of her. She has managed to resist a pretty incessant message in favor of being happy with herself and living a full life. Direct some kudos her way.
On the flip side, if she mentions anxieties about her body, blaming her for not being confident enough is a rather jerkface move. Think about just how hard she would have to work to never once internalize the message she’s constantly being force-fed. Give her some of that credit you think she isn’t giving herself in her moments of self-hate and refrain from blaming her. Instead, offer the truth: that you feel she’s a worthwhile person and that you’re not sure what you can do to help her feel better, so until she indicates otherwise, you will offer a friendly ear, sympathetic murmurs, and a hug if she wants one.