In response to my post about dealing with body shamers I had a number of people ask me how to deal with concern trolls – ie: those who say something like “I think it’s fine that you like yourself, I’m just concerned about your health.” These people may be well meaning, but here’s the deal with this – our health is none of anybody else’s business unless we choose to make it their business. The difference between education and concern trolling is request and permission. If we don’t ask someone for their opinion about our health, and we don’t give them permission to discuss it with us, then they are allowed to feel concerned (or anything else) but they’re going to have to learn to self-soothe.
This can be difficult to deal with because, since people seem well intentioned, we can feel obligated to appreciate what they are doing, or accept it as ok. Like everything, it’s your choice how to deal with it, but for me this is not ok. People are allowed to be concerned about whatever they want, but it is not ok to unburden that concern onto me. Peter Muennig from Columbia did research about body size and shame and found that women who are concerned about their size have more mental and physical illnesses than women who are fine with their size, regardless of their size. So, being incessantly barraged by the message that I should be concerned with my size is contraindicated for improved health.
And let’s not forget that however well-intentioned it might be, this kind of concern is based on all kinds of myths, misunderstandings, and misinformation that conflates weight and health. Health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, guaranteed regardless of behavior body size or anything else, or anyone else’s damn business.
There are lots of reasons that people may choose to express their concern. There are some who are truly well-meaning, for others it’s about feeling superior, feeding their ego, or just killing fatties with kindness. For some it’s a knee jerk reaction from tons of programming that they’ve received about body size and health. But if it doesn’t fit within what you consider acceptable behavior it does not matter why someone does it.
So when someone says “I’m just concerned about your health,” here are some options for dealing with it.
- No need.
- I’m not currently soliciting opinions about my health.
- My health is none of your business.
Responses for a teachable moment if you want one:
- I practice Health at Every Size, if you want more information I’m happy to send you some resources.
- According to research out of Columbia, people who are concerned about their weight have more physical and mental illness than those who aren’t – regardless of weight. So every time you try to make me concerned about my weight you may be putting my health in jeopardy.
- Can you tell me how you justify your beliefs based on the findings of Matheson et al., Wei et. al, the Cooper Institute Longitudinal studies, and Mann and Tomiyama 2007 and 2013?
- The most likely outcome of weight loss attempts is weight regain, so even if you believe that fat is bad, weight loss attempts are the worst thing that you could recommend.
The things I think but do not say when I’m having a bad day:
- My path to health is something that I’ve spent hundreds of hours researching – how about you?
- I’m concerned that you don’t understand what is and is not your business.
- I’m confused – what was it I said that made you think it was appropriate to make wild guesses about my health?
- So it seems like you lost your beeswax, sorry I but haven’t seen it.
- Are you feeling ok? I think you just hallucinated that you’re my doctor.
Edit: It has been suggested that the last bullet point was ableist – disparaging to those with mental illness that cause hallucinations. I wrote it specifically to avoid this since hallucinations can be caused by so many things (dehydration, lack of sleep, ingested substances etc.) and aren’t a definitive diagnosis of any mental illness. That doesn’t mean it’s not ableist but I wanted to leave it with discussion and my apologies rather than simply deleting it and acting like it didn’t happen.
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