Sitting in my “to-read” list for a bit was this article. It caught my eye because of what we have been talking about in class for our fat studies unit. Now that I read it, I am SO glad I did.
During our conversation last week, we talked about the really important idea of keeping the lives of fat people at the center of our analysis. One of the other points from class that really stuck with me was that it’s not just enough to focus on loving our own bodies and encouraging people to love their bodies, but we also need to respect and love other people’s bodies of all shapes, to accept, to affirm, and to abandon size-judgement.
This article talks about one simple way that many people forget to do this – by giving, as the author names them, nonpliments. “You look so good lately! You’ve really slimmed down!” “What have you been doing? You look great!” The sayings are meant to be positive, but they really reinforce a sizeist attitude. As Bevin explains,
…just because you’re well-intentioned doesn’t mean what you say doesn’t have a harmful impact. Weight loss doesn’t mean I look good. I believe I look good at all of my weights–all bodies are good bodies. And I know your perception of me might have changed because you are socialized to believe smaller is better, but I would like to gently invite you to do something different with your nonpliments of “You look so good!” when someone has lost weight.
She goes on to offer suggestions of other ways to give people appearance compliments if you really feel the need to. But what I thought was most interesting was her point that weight loss isn’t always healthy. Bevin writes that for her, difficult emotional periods are often followed by weight loss – so when people compliment her, she makes a point of explaining that it’s actually because she’s in a bad spot right now. Calling attention to someone’s weight may actually trigger them – perhaps it’s emotional, or it’s because of a physical illness.
But people who are genuinely happy to be losing weight will often tell you right away (YES, THIS IS DEFINITELY TRUE!). You’ll probably find out pretty quickly about someone’s efforts if you’re talking to them. Bevin’s also has some great suggestions about how to respond to that – my personal favorite is,
I think you look great at any weight, but I’m really glad you feel good in your body right now.
What are your thoughts about these suggestions? Do you think they would be helpful for people trying to be better allies and challenge some of our ingrained sizeist attitudes? Do you have any other suggestions about how to be a good fat ally?