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Health & Fit 5 Ways to Show Up for Your Fat Friends as We Start to Reunite Again

03:35  09 april  2021
03:35  09 april  2021 Source:   self.com

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  5 Ways to Show Up for Your Fat Friends as We Start to Reunite Again © Getty Images / Maria Petrishina
a close up of a logo © Self

It’s hard to have a body. And over the last year, for many, it’s been harder than ever. Researchers have noted a precipitous rise in risk for eating disorder symptoms during the pandemic. For those already diagnosed with eating disorders, many are experiencing worsening symptoms. And at the same time, we’ve seen a sharp rise in stigmatizing anti-fat rhetoric.

Fat or thin, many of us have channeled that difficulty into growth. During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have come face-to-face with our own body image struggles. Our body politics have shifted and grown. More and more people are engaged in conversations about body positivity, fat activism, and body politics.

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That growth has largely happened in isolation, the way nearly everything has in the last year. So while our analyses might have sharpened, our social practices may not have. We don’t necessarily know how to shift our behavior to more fully show up for the fat people in our lives, many of whom have been so ruthlessly scapegoated over this last year.

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the country and around the world, more and more of us will begin to reunite with our friends and family, some of whom are still fat, and others of whom are newly fat. That gives us a great opportunity to align our behaviors with our beliefs and to take new steps to show up for our fat friends.

So, no matter your own size, when you reunite with your fat family, friends, colleagues, and loved ones, make sure you’re doing so in a way that allows them to fully participate and to be truly, radically welcomed. Here are a few things that you can do to show up for your fat friends.

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1. Make plans that your fat friends can participate in.

Frequently, thin friends and family make plans that fat people simply can’t participate in. They invite us to go shopping but don’t choose a store that carries plus sizes. They invite us to a restaurant whose booths and tables are bolted into place, requiring us to wedge ourselves into seating built for someone much, much smaller. Or they take us to see a show at a theater with angular, immobile armrests that dig into our soft skin, leaving us with bruises and in pain.

A simple way to show up more fully for your fat friends and family: Make sure to choose activities we can and want to participate in. Solicit fat folks’ input when you’re making plans to ensure we’re able and excited to join in. Check apps like AllGo, which reviews spatial and seating accessibility for fat people, or just Google the establishment and the word “accessibility” for more information. If you want to go shopping with your fat friend, make sure they carry your fat friend’s size. Better yet, ask them whether and where they want to shop. Whatever your plans, if you want us to join you, first make sure that we can.

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2. Let your fat friends choose where to sit.

Seating can be a real minefield as a fat person. Beyond booths, tables, and chairs sometimes being be locked into place, chairs may be flimsy. Some may buckle under our weight, and others may threaten to, leaving us half-sitting and half-crouching, more aware of our swaying, creaking chair than our beloved friend’s company. Even in thinner friends’ homes, those friends rarely know the weight capacity of their own furniture, and assume that fat people’s seating needs are the same as their own: simply a place to sit, with any seat as good as the next.

This may seem like thorny territory to address (how do I ask a fat friend if a chair will hold them?), but there’s a simple, elegant solution. When you enter a bar, restaurant or room, simply ask your fat friends where they’d like to sit. Let them pick, and take their lead. It’s accessible for them and easy for you.

3. Ask for consent before talking about your diet and body image issues.

Too often, my thin friends who don’t feel at ease in their bodies assume that, because I’m so much fatter than them, I must feel terrible about my own body (I don’t) and assume that I will welcome discussion of those perceived insecurities (as someone with an eating disorder, I don’t). And because of that assumption, they’ll launch into a litany of complaints about their own body. I’m so fat, it’s disgusting. Look at my thighs—no one wants to see that. I can’t have any more carbs today. I’m such a pig.

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While I empathize with their body image struggles, it’s also tough to stay in those conversations. Because while they’re hyper-focused on their points of dissatisfaction with their own bodies, my body becomes collateral damage. Even if I’m having a good body image day, hearing someone half my size bemoan their “fat thighs” reminds me that, as a fat person, my body is their nightmare. If you think you’re impossibly fat, what must you think of me?

And research shows that these kinds of negative body image conversations can, indeed, harm self-image—not just for us, but for our friends, coworkers, and whoever else we might invite into the conversation. We tend to think of these conversations as a way of venting our insecurities, blowing off some steam. But they can cause significant harm to us and to those around us.

So instead of launching into these thorny conversations unannounced, take the quick step of asking for consent before digging in on diet talk or sharing body insecurities. It’s a small step that can save you, your fat friends, and your friends with eating disorders a whole lot of heartache.

4. Stand up for them even if they’re not around.

When I think of returning to the world after over a year of isolation, I feel hope and excitement, yes, but I also feel dread. The last year has been a welcome respite from the onslaught of in-person street harassment, casual office diet talk, and leering stares that too often follow me as a fat person. Given the sharp rise in proud, public, anti-fat rhetoric over the last year, I’m quietly resigning myself to an increase in negative comments, harassment, and overt discrimination. And, based on a lifetime of experience, I know that when that happens, my thin friends are unlikely to interrupt it. I’ll be on my own.

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So, another good way to step up your support of your fat friend: Interrupt anti-fat behaviors and remarks, whether or not they’re around.

When I suggest this one, most people focus on their own uncertainty, or their own rationale for staying silent. What if I’m too nervous? What if I say the wrong thing? It’s an understandable response. Interrupting bigotry in action can be intimidating. But when we stay focused on our own discomfort, we lose sight of the message we’re sending to the person who’s the target of harassment, discrimination, and even violence. When we fail to interrupt anti-fatness in action, we send a powerful message to fat people: Your hurt doesn’t matter. You’re not worth defending. You’re in this on your own. Even if fat people aren’t around as anti-fat talk happens, letting it go uncontested sends a clear message to everyone involved: that anti-fat attitudes and actions are perfectly acceptable.

Take the opportunity to be one of the few to publicly defend a fat person. When you hear anti-fatness, whether or not fat people are around, push yourself to take action, either by addressing anti-fatness directly or supporting the fat person being targeted. (Or both.) Intervention can look like specific interruptions (“Why do you think that’s an acceptable thing to say about someone else?”) or pulling aside the person who’s being targeted and asking how you can best support them. There’s no perfect intervention, especially when so many of us haven’t experienced any intervention at all. And, of course, you need to keep physical safety in mind when intervening. Beyond that, when anti-fatness shows up around you, anything you do to challenge it is better than nothing.

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5. When your fat friends get vaccinated, celebrate.

As vaccines have rolled out around the country, many states are prioritizing fat people for vaccine access. We’ve spent the last year seeing headlines about the risks of COVID for fat people, which has led to plenty of public resentment and shaming of fat people. And now people are getting vaccinated early on for the “underlying condition” of being fat, which has led to plenty more public resentment and shaming.

The logic from those doing the shaming goes like this: You’re fat, so you’re at higher risk of severe complications of COVID-19. But I believe you’re personally to blame for the size of your body, so you also shouldn’t have early access to a vaccine.

It’s tough to square the two. After all, if we’re at greater risk, shouldn’t we be prioritized for prevention? Or, if we shouldn’t be prioritized for prevention, doesn’t that mean we’re not at greater risk?

It’s hard to overstate the impact of watching other people debate whether or not we should be allowed to survive a pandemic. And it smarts even more to access a vaccine that very well could save our lives—a moment that should be relieving and exciting—and be met with friends and family members who criticize our size instead of having the broad range of overwhelmingly positive reactions that could mark that moment instead.

So when your fat friends get vaccinated, don’t question why or if it’s “deserved.” We have made it this far. And that’s worth celebrating.

Related:

  • I'm Done Trying to Be a ‘Perfect’ Fat Person
  • After Years of Writing Anonymously About Fatness, I'm Telling the World Who I Am
  • Please Don’t Call Fat People ‘Brave’ Just for Existing

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