As fat people in a fatphobic society, we deal with a bunch of ridiculous bullshit all the time, from family and friends food police to street harassment to businesses that don’t accommodate us, sometimes on purpose. There are lots of ways to deal with all of these things, today I want to talk about the power of writing a letter. I don’t mean letter writing campaigns – though they can be powerful – I don’t even mean reviews on site like Yelp – though they can be effective as well.
What I’m talking about is dealing with discrimination/poor treatment where you decide not to fight back in the situation (which is a legitimate choice) and/or you still have more to say after it’s all over. Maybe it’s because you decide not to go off on your fat shaming grandma at the family reunion, maybe it’s because you just don’t want to get into it with the nail salon owner who wants to charge you extra for being fat, or maybe the guys who threw eggs at you drove away like cowards before you could have that chat you were hoping for (about fat bigotry and also that dude’s terrible throwing mechanics…)
In cases like that I have found that it can be sometimes help to write a letter so that instead of dealing with internalized rage I get it out there. To me there are three main parts to the letter:
1. Name the party who wronged me specifically
2. Place the problem where it belongs – on the person who perpetuated the mistreatment (this can keep me from buying into the idea that social stigma is my fault because bigots insist that people who look me deserve mistreatment, or that the cure for social stigma is for me to change myself – essentially giving the bullies my lunch money and hoping they stop beating me up.)
3. Take back my empowerment over the situation – explain how I will not allow them to affect me.
Here’s a little fill-in-the-blank example to get you started, but feel free to ignore it in lieu of whatever you like best (and feel free to write your own and publish them in the comments if you would like!)
Dear [grandma/manicurist/egg chuckers/jerk],
It was really [messed/screwed/fucked] up when you [did that bigoted/bullying/stigmatizing/discriminatory thing to me]. I didn’t appreciate it and [here is what I would like to say to you.] I wish you weren’t such a [bigot/bully/jackass] and I may not be able to change you, but I’m sure as [heck/anything/shit] not going to let your bad behavior mess with my great life. I’m going to sign this letter and [send/file/toss/burn] it and your bullshit fatphobia along with it.
Empowered Fat Person
So there you go, just another little tool for being fat in a fatphobic world!
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29 thoughts on “Write a Letter, Feel Much Better”
I really wish you could get over your self hatred, and stop putting down the ones you love. I have essentially cut you from my life but still run into you on occasion at events like weddings and hear about your antics from family.
I don’t understand why you would feel it’s necessary to continue your bullying antics that I grew up with. Why do you treat your grandchildren so horribly? There is no reason for you to fat shame your very pregnant granddaughter. Even if she was fat, which she isn’t (try absolutely tiny), she’s your granddaughter and deserves your love, not such treatment. Your comment to her could have had no other purpose but to try to put her down and thus somehow elevate yourself.
I cannot change you, neither can my niece. I will not let your bad behavior ruin my life. My niece is working with a counselor to deal with the pain of her relationship with you among other things–do not expect her to welcome you in her life right now, either. Especially after the way you treated her at her wedding. I hear you are planning a trip to visit her and her baby without first asking her permission to do so. Here’s a tip: call and confirm she’ll let you in the door before you make that reservation.
I may mull some wording before I send the letter, but I am definitely thinking about it. I have considered looking into some bible verses… she’s a preacher’s kid. Sometimes verses make more of an impact than rational thought.
Not that being religious is being other than rational… Sorry if anyone took that as what I meant. Grew up in the church, respect all faiths.
I find that people who rely on religion as a crutch tend not to be very rational, they either cherry pick text to support their bigoted beliefs or refuse to examine the problematic areas of their religion and will support the most ridiculous positions because they don’t actually think about it.
Religion should be a way to express yourself and to be part of a community, it should be a way of expressing your morality not the reason for it. If someone is using religion to hurt others I think they are doing it wrong.
The reason it came up in my remarks is that I have been on the receiving end of several interesting rants through the years that included quotes from the Bible. I’ve stopped reading letters from her… Sad.
Sending you hugs & feeling great empathy. I know what it is like to have to cut toxic relatives out of your life.
*hugs* I’m sorry you’re having to deal with a situation like this.
A suggested bible verse, Ephesians 4:12, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
I was shocked and hurt when I overheard you giving our Director and VP your negative opinion of my exercise habits. It’s none of your damn business, besides being completely inappropriate for workplace conversation. Just as I would never consider it appropriate to comment on your smoking, there is no reason you should feel it appropriate to comment on my level of physical activity. It was particularly hurtful to hear from someone I had considered a kind and professional person.
I will not alter my behavior to please you or anyone else. If I hear myself or others being judged for their level of physical activity again, I will speak up, for myself and others.
Your Fat Coworker
Holy crap, I hope you send this. How awful!! ***hugs***
Wow, this one took my breath away, and definitely not in a good way. That’s horrible! *hugs*
I hope you send this, too. What a horrible thing to overhear. I’m so sorry.
You still seem not to understand why I’m not in contact with you more than I can help. It’s really quite simple: I will not allow you to use me to continue your pointless battle against Mom. Even if she were the horrible, abusive monster you believe her to have been (which she wasn’t), she has been dead for nearly a quarter of a century. What’s more, I am my own person with my own strengths and faults. I will not accept your treating me as her substitute.
As for your obsession with my weight, get over it. My body is my body, not yours. If you want to hate your body, I cannot stop you. If you want to hate my body, I still cannot stop you, but I can refuse to listen to your constant assertions that you know the state of my (clearly failing) health based entirely on a glance at my waistline. You never asked me if I had diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or severe constipation. You simply informed me that I did. BTW, I have none of these conditions. Even if I did, it would be none of your business unless I chose to share it with you. That goes for everyone else in the world, too, so please stop telling me about the bowel issues of everyone you have ever met. Even if I could believe in their accuracy, it isn’t something I think they would enjoy a third party sharing with someone they (in many cases) barely know. Besides, I really am not interested.
Most of all, you seem to be suffering under the misapprehension that if I stand up for myself in any way, this is something confusing and wrong of me. I’ll be blunt: you stopped being my oracle when I was about seven. I am now fifty-two. Do the math.
I do not wish you ill in any way. In fact, I sincerely hope that you can one day learn to stop fighting Mom, stop judging people so harshly, and forgive yourself, too. I still love you in spite of how much you have hurt me over the years. I always will. But for the sake of my own health and survival I have to avoid you. Your current influence on me is toxic.
So let me know when you are ready to talk to the real me of today’s date. I’ll be here.
That makes my heart hurt, Twis. Sending you love today.
LOVE! My relationship with my mother is toxic. My relationship with my sister is quickly waning due to recent events with regard to my neice and my mother and my sister being less than supportive.
Family members really can be trying. We can love them without liking them very much and hope that someday we can have a good relationship with them. Until then, keep the space.
Wow, Twistie, that’s seriously effed up on his end. *hugs and kitty kisses*
Hugs & empathy to you, Twistie. As I stated above, I understand about toxic relatives & the need to avoid them. I have not spoken to my two surviving brothers in well over ten years. The oldest one, the only one of us to inherit our very abusive father’s thin genes, spent years verbally abusing me at every family meal about my weight, while, I might add, eating about three times as much as I did. You do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
When writing to a business concerning poor service or discriminatory practices, remember that angry, ranting letters tend to wind up right away in the trash. Writing a coherent, rational letter that focuses on the problem is far more likely to produce results. If your letter sounds like you’re just venting your anger, the business owner will regard the letter as nothing more than that, and figure that, now that you’ve gotten it off your chest, you’ll move on.
When our letters sound like we’ve put objective thought and analysis into them, that implies we’ve taken some time to put aside the anger. Someone who invests that kind of energy into addressing an issue is the kind who will probably follow up, meaning if they receive no response or see no correction, they will continue to pursue the problem up the corporate ladder, as well as bringing others into awareness of the issue. Nothing motivates a business more than the prospect of impacting the bottom line.
With family and friends, however, all bets are off. How they will react to any particular style of letter is dependent on the kind of person they are.
I agree with you wholeheartedly. But I find that sometimes it feels so good to write the ranty letter without sending it… then write the coherent, rational letter after getting the anger and ranting out. 🙂
I do that frequently.
Very true. Writing the angry missive can be extremely cathartic, even if it’s not the most productive letter to send.
Thank you so much for the letter template! You are so amazing at cutting through the bullshit–I believe it’s one of your superpowers! Here’s something you inspired me to write. I may actually email it to the corporate headquarters of the store where it happened.
Dear grocery store checkout guy,
I was really hurt and dismayed when you made humiliating comments about the food you saw me buying and then packed it so tightly into the bags that I couldn’t lift them and had to unpack them in the parking lot. I didn’t appreciate it and I hope some day when your health gives out, or you sustain an injury, or you just get old like me, and you can’t work out at the gym any more and it makes you gain a lot of weight, that you have kinder people and a nicer society to deal with than I did when you decided to practice your “wit” on me. I hope when that happens that you remember how unkind you were to me and that you’re ashamed of yourself. I hope when somebody makes you cry for something you can’t help that someone is there to comfort you, because unlike you, I’m not a bigoted little shit with no compassion for people you’ve decided are worth less than your august self. I wish these things for you because I’m a bigger person than you in more ways than the obvious. I wish you weren’t such a bully and a bigot, and I may not be able to change you, but I’m sure as shit not going to let your bad behavior mess with my great life. I’m going to sign this letter and share it and your bullshit fatphobia along with it.
Empowered Fat Person
Love this response, but I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. Have some *internet hugs* :).
I love you and I have a lot of respect for you. However, you did not know the state of the fat young man’s health simply by watching him walk across the grocery store parking lot. Nor what his habits are or what is family did or did not do to him. I know you are very proud of all your years as a nurse, as you should be, but you have absorbed a lot weight bias during that time and I wish you were aware of it.
I’d like to think I would have stood up for him no matter what. But as I argued with you in that car, in a way I never have in my entire life, I realized I was also standing up for myself for the first time. I never said a word when you handed me the packaging for the thinkThin protein bar and you told me I can’t just think it. Or when you told me “don’t you dare get too big for those jeans.”. Or when I was 8 years old and you told me that if my weight stayed the same, and I grew a little bit, I would be perfect. And don’t think I haven’t noticed that you only compliment my “beautiful face.” While you did your best never to sound too harsh, all of these things made an impact on me that I can only describe as negative.
I know these are all things you learned from your own mom and these are behaviors that have been passed down through the generations. I also know that you are not likely to change your mind, as you clearly stated over and over. However, I would like to make a promise to you that when it comes to the weight pressures in our family, mother to daughter and grandmother to granddaughter, that they will end with me. I swear I will never give my future daughter (or son) a reason to feel ashamed of their body or to be afraid of how they might grow. And when I tell them they are beautiful, they will know that I see and accept every inch of them. That is my promise.
You taught me to be honest and strong. I will show you how well I learned.
An Empowered Fat Granddaughter
Interesting that this subject showed up now. Just a couple weeks ago I had a situation arise with a long time friend, where he pretty much insisted that I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT MY WEIGHT. I lost it during that phone conversation, and may have said some unkind things. Immediately after I hung up, I opened the word processor and wrote the following letter, which has not been sent yet, and may never be. But I wrote it. Since then, I’ve made a couple minor edits, but it is largely the same as the very first draft, which spilled out in less than 10 minutes.
Dood …. [How I address my friend]
This whole conflict between us has been coming to a head for a long time now. Seems to me, it’s been since you and [XXXXXXX] have chosen to lose weight through dieting. Which, of course, I respect your right to do. I certainly wish you continued success with it.
I have tried SO HARD over the years to communicate to you what **MY** body works like. I have tried over the years SO HARD to communicate to you what I have learned through extensive research.
Unfortunately, you do not seem to be hearing me. You seem to insist that you know how my body works better than I do. You seem to be calling me a liar. You seem to be insisting I just need to try harder at…..what? ….. dieting? …..surgery? You are treating me disrespectfully.
You asked, “so you know better than all the doctors?”. That was a hostile, and completely defective rhetorical question. Not all doctors believe what you think they do about obesity. In fact many agree with my position, with more every day learning the truth. A mountain of peer reviewed studies support my claims. And to answer your question again, yes, I do know more about obesity than MOST doctors.
I am in the fight of my life here. I am firmly convinced that dieting is not the right approach. So, I guess what I’m saying is, I need you to get on board and support me in pursuing what I believe is the best chance at my survival: to abandon weight loss dieting, and avoid weight loss surgery and other strategies that consist of trying to starve my body down to size.
Don’t misunderstand. I appreciate everything you have done for me over the years TREMENDOUSLY. I value your friendship TREMENDOUSLY. But I cannot live in the shadow of your judgment and disrespect. I cannot make medical decisions based on what you think is best for me.
Respect my choice?
Dood [I’m also known as “Dood”]
Thank you for creating this amazing community and for writing so clearly and fiercely about this stuff! I know you’re already super popular, but I included you in a chain-style blogging award anyway. My corner of the blogging universe could stand to hear more of what you have to say. Here’s the information: http://captainglittertoes.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/lovelyvery-inspiring-blog-award/.
I had to look up this post again to say this:
Today I was at a restaurant (after having a nice time at the movies) and one of the workers hassled me over my appearance (non-weight related, but something I don’t have much control over). I’ve had too many experiences in too many inappropriate situations like this, so I put my foot down, went to Google when I got home, found their address, and wrote them a letter with pencil and paper. Many would probably say “let it go”, but like I said, it happens too often and has upset me too many times, and I’m tired of trying to let it go.
I wanted to thank you (and other bloggers) for giving us the courage to do this! I (and others) can feel like we’re the only ones that get picked on, but together, we are strong!
Good for you!!!