You Need Help: You Fat-Shamed Your Beautiful Girlfriend
This viral article was written by Heather Hogan for Autostraddle.com. The discourse about how fatphobia and body shaming impact us in our most intimate and important relationships at times is something that is often difficult to address and put into words. Heather does so with tact and insight that’s helpful for anyone working through body acceptance or body neutrality on their own too. Body acceptance refers to accepting ones body regardless of how satisfied or unsatisfied you are with all aspects of it and body neutrality refers to practicing accepting and respecting your body even if it isn’t the way you would prefer it to be.
The article covers a question submitted by someone inquiring what to do about their feelings regarding their significant others body changing. They state how “my girlfriend and I have been together for a few years. Recently, she has gained a lot of weight and it has been causing her significant distress”. The partner states trying to be helpful and supportive in trying to assist them in changing some of their behavior that’s contributing to their negative body image such as eating healthier or getting a gym membership. The partner states that they themselves follow “fat activists on social media…have worked hard to fight the fatphobia” they’ve learned, and states they feel like a “horrible person” and “horrible activist” because they sometimes miss the way she looked when they first met. They began having conversations with their significant others about how they’ve been “less intimate” together lately and the increase in their partners need for reassurance due to the insecurity about her weight gain. They stated “Recently, she asked me straight up if I am less attracted to her now than I was when we first met. I couldn’t lie to her face, and so I said yes…she was devastated…I feel even worse and even more ashamed…a hypocrite and a horrible person”. They inquired with autostraddle to find out how they “can revive some of that physical attraction, how can I be less of a fatphobic a**hole? Was it wrong for me to be honest about my feelings?”
Heather’s response to this inquiry was not a “fluffy feel-good pep talk”. In contrast, she said “In fact, what I’m going to write isn’t going to make you feel very good at all”. Heather highlights how this individuals question focuses high on how they feel about their girlfriends weight and how it impacts their feelings about themselves as an activist. Heather acknowledges a very important part of how our bodies change which is the fact that there are about a “zillion other factors that go into determining a person’s weight” outside of eating healthier and going to the gym. Factors that can go into determining a persons weight often include age, hormones, family history, metabolism, mental health, stress, social pressure, medication, ones relationship to past traumas or abuse or neglect, ones history with food and exercise, the messages one internalizes about those things growing up, perfectionism, what demands are on ones life and time and body outside of diet and exercise, finances, any food aversions and sensitivities, and even how the pandemic impacted them. Essentially Heather makes the point that we could go on and on about factors that determine ones body and diet and excercise are barely scratching the tip of the iceberg. Heather states “a person’s weight is almost never about their willpower to eat vegetables and sweat it out on a stationary bike; it’s a tangled, mangled knot of physical, mental, financial, emotional, and social factors that is almost impossible to unravel”. She gives the advice of “Really trying to learn about how those things intersect, and figuring out how any of them might have affected your girlfriend, would be a much better use of your time than following fat activists on social media.” She encourages us to break out of the normed mind sets about diet and body image by considering all these extra factors and asks for compassion from this partner for their girlfriend.
She frankly states:
“If your girlfriend wrote into this column with this story, I would tell her she should break up with you. Not because you were “honest about your feelings,” but because gaining and losing weight, over and over and over, is part of nearly everyone’s life. It is so inconsequential in the vast tapestry of existence, and if getting fatter over the course of nine short months throws you into this kind of tailspin where you find yourself not only unattracted to her, but you feel honor-bound to tell her so, how are you going to handle it when the really hard stuff happens? When one of you gets sick or disabled? When one of you becomes consumed by seemingly endless grief after the death of a loved one? When one of you loses your job? When money trouble strikes? When you lose your home? When one of you unearths a trauma you hid away even from yourself? When you become responsible for a dying family member? When one of you is unable to free yourself from the dense fog of depression or anxiety? When one of you is in an accident? When your bodies simply get old, the way all bodies do?”
Heather emphasizes in her rhetoric how bodies are some of the least interesting things about us and our bodies will change often throughout our life. Our bodies are not representations of how worthy we are or how deserving of attraction we are.
Her advice emphasizes starting with oneself. She encourages this partner to “really work hard on yourself, and learn to center your girlfriends feelings about her own body”. She emphasizes the need for personal growth in repairing their relationship, their intimacy, and unpacking “why you’ve responded to your girlfriend the way you have”.
Recommended reading for continuing to learn and educate yourself about distorted and incomplete views of body image and health: Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun Harrison, Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert, Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon, anything/everything by Samantha Irby, Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives. And, for podcasts, a good beginner one is Maintenance Phase and a more radical one is Unsolicited: Fatties Talk Back.