Here is what happened today to two people on Christmas who may or may not be my partner and me. Two women, we’ll call them Regina and Juliette were at Juliette’s parent’s house for Christmas. Presents were being handed out and all was well. Suddenly, Regina noticed that Juliette looked really upset. Juliette handed her the card that she had just opened from her uncle (her mom’s brother) and aunt (his wife) both of whom she only sees once a year at Christmas
We are worried about your long term happiness. If you don’t start taking care of yourself, we’ll really miss you when you are gone.
Aunt and Uncle
Let’s examine some of the many, many issues with this.
First of all, even if this is well intentioned, even if they think this is what being supportive looks like, even if they believe that she needs some kind of intervention, a Christmas card handed out in front of the whole family is simply not the proper delivery method for an intervention. And if they have to use a Christmas card because it’s the only communication they have with her, then maybe they should consider how relevant they are in her life and how appropriate it is that they dole out health advice in an assumptive and shaming way in a holiday card.
“If you don’t start taking care of yourself”
These are people who haven’t seen or spoken to Juliette since Christmas last year, and then Christmas the year before that. They have literally no idea whether she does or does not take care of herself. Even if other people’s health was your business, it is not ok to make assumptions about people’s habits or health based on their size. There are people of all sizes who engage in many different prioritizations and paths to health, and are all over the spectrum of health for many reasons, none of which are anyone else’s business unless we invite them to make it their business.
“we’ll really miss you when you are gone”
Merry Christmas, also please don’t die an early death because mourning you would be a super bummer for us.
“We’re worried about your long term happiness”
Are you worried about someone’s happiness? Then might I suggest you take a pass on giving them a shaming holiday card?
Not from where we’re sitting. Juliette has definitely had a rough year, including a two week hospitalization. When she was in the hospital the aunt and uncle didn’t visit, call, text, send flowers, or offer support of any kind. Despite the fact that they are so concerned that she isn’t taking care of herself and is going to die young, at no point this year have they called, texted, asked if she needed, or offered any, support.
Fat bodies are not a representation of failures, sins, or mistakes. Fat bodies are not an indication of health or fitness. Fat bodies are not up for public discussion, debate, or judgment unless the owners of those bodies ask for that. Fat bodies are not a indication that we need help or input to make decisions about our health or lives.
Situations like this – where someone has never so much as asked about health or habits, nor made any offers of support or help, but feel the need to engage in this kind of behavior – indicate to me that this is probably all about the ego of the person doing the shaming. They see this as their contribution to the “Save the Fatties Campaign.” They want to feel good about turning the poor fatty around with tough love. Except that fat people aren’t in need of being turned around or tough love.
Maybe you noticed that in their crappy Christmas Card, they’ve STILL not made any offer of support or help. All they’ve done is make assumptions about her actions and health based on absolutely no information, and expressed how difficult it would be for them if she were to die. Regardless of their intentions, they do not get a cookie for that.
Juliette addressed her family and spoke eloquently to the fact that if people want to support her they can reach out, ask what she needs, and then offer their support – and that, for her, support does not include them talking about her behind her back, making assumptions based on stereotypes, and writing them up in a Christmas card. Then she left.
Regina, with Juliette’s permission, got a chance to talk to the uncle. He said, as expected, that it was out of love. That may be true but the conversation revealed that it certainly wasn’t out of being informed. Turns out he didn’t even know why she was hospitalized, he assumed that she has diseases that she doesn’t have, he had no basis for his assumptions other than her size, and no knowledge of any of the research around weight and health, and he had no invitation to discuss it with Juliette. He apologized but it was too little too late for this year. If her uncle and aunt are lucky (since, you know, they just care so much) she’ll give them another chance next year, but they’ll just have to wait and see.
If this happens to you, know that you get to choose how to deal with it – and it’s ok to set boundaries with your family (or anyone else) – you can choose who gets to talk to you about what on holidays, and every day.
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