I received an e-mail from a reader recently (who gave me permission to share it) that said:
I was getting dinner out with my husband at a local hamburger joint, which has two sizes of burgers – the “Little”, which is a single patty, and the regular, which is a double. I ordered the regular. The lady at the register looked at me and asked if I knew how big the regular was. I replied that I was really hungry, and we continued with the transaction. I was completely humiliated, especially when, while waiting for our order to come up, I was close enough to overhear other transactions with customers and she asked no one else that question.
In writing, it doesn’t seem like much, but that small 30 second exchange has really devastated me. I fight with depression in the best of times, and now I feel as if I cannot get over that. Every time I try to eat I get upset because I keep hearing that evil voice in my head that tells me I’m worthless and shouldn’t be eating like this, even if it is a normal meal/ portion size / whatever. I hate feeling like this. What can I do to get back to the mostly confident woman who understands that there is nothing wrong with me, and that it is the haters that are in the wrong?
In addition to the stigma and oppression that we face on a societal level (war on obesity much?), as fat people who are involved in public displays of fatness, we can also face a lot of shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression that comes in small bits every day – negative comments about our bodies and food choices, dirty looks, spaces that don’t accommodate us, seeing ourselves constantly represented negatively in the media. Then there is another layer that happens when we talk about it and are told that either it’s all in our heads and/or it’s “for our own good” so we should accept and even be grateful for this treatment, and other truly troubling responses. Finally are the well meaning people who tell us not to talk about it because they still believe that ignoring bullies makes them go away, or who don’t want to hear about it.
It happens so often that it becomes part of our reality and sometimes it can build up, and then suddenly something that seems small can just be devastating. Some things that I have found that help are:
Putting the problem where it belongs
Remember that the world is messed up, you are fine. The problem isn’t that we, as fat people, exist. The problem is the bullying, shaming, stigmatizing and oppression that we have to deal with, and the people who are perpetuating it. We are not obligated to try to change our body size to end our oppression – we have every right to demand our right to exist and not be oppressed in the bodies that we have.
When you feel shame because of stigma that is directed at you, one option is to redirect that shame into embarrassment/anger/frustration with the person who is stigmatizing you. You can do this in your head, or you can do it out loud. You can write a letter or e-mail and send it, or burn it, or whatever.
Create a Mantra
Just something quick you can say in your head when, as many times throughout the day it happens, you are faced with size-based prejudice. Mine is “Hey, that’s bullshit!” but you can of course do what works for you.
Create a Supportive Community
Subscribe to body positive blogs so that you get them in your inbox, join Size Acceptance Facebook communities, join (or create!) Size Acceptance meet-ups in your area, tell the people that you spend time with that you are practicing SA/HAES and that you want them to support you but not engaging in negative body talk/weight loss talk etc. around you.
Engage in Activism
Size-based oppression is rampant right now and it’s going to take time, and a lot of activism to fix it. But this isn’t about that. Nobody is obligated to engage in activism of any kind for any reason, but activism doesn’t just have to be about changing the whole world, it can also be about changing our world. It can be about standing up for ourselves, a way to maintain our good self-esteem, and give our full-throated support to our amazing fat bodies.
Regardless of how you deal with it, please know that you shouldn’t have to – even though this becomes our problem it is not our fault.
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17 thoughts on “Dealing With Everyday Oppression”
Ugh. I hate this. I had a situation that was the inverse of this. I was at a relatively new job, and I was eating my lunch in the break room. My trainer stopped to chat for a moment and then she happened to glance at my lunch. She blinked and said (in a surprised tone), “Wow. That’s really healthy!” I wasn’t in a position to blast her, so I just gave her a very pointed look and said (with a bit of an edge in my voice), “Yes. It is.” and then changed the subject.
You’re much nicer than me. I probably would have written to the company complaining that she made me feel unwelcome as a customer and pointing out that she was actually trying to sell me *less* food, which is surely the opposite of her job.
I’m in agreement with you regarding contacting the management over this situation.
I don’t think this is being ‘less than nice’ either. Reason: if I was the manager, and one of my employees was doing anything to lose sales, I would want to know about it.
And should the manager respond in any way other than grateful for the feedback, why there’s always Yelp and Angie’s List and the like. Goodness, such a thing could even be Youtube’d for all to see.
Ugh. Reminds me of a restaurant in my city. I met two friends for lunch & ordered first. I ordered an appetizer (to share) & the server turned to ask my friends what they wanted. But I wasn’t done. I said I’d also like the war wonton soup. And she looked at me like I had 3 heads & made a comment about how
Big the soup was. I said yes, I know. And I’d also like a fresh roll.
She stopped writing & said “You like to eat ALLLLLLLL that??”
I was dumbfounded & managed to spitter out – well, I am going to share the appetizer. And I can take leftovers home.
As if I needed to justify anything to her! But I was taken aback.
The rest of the meal, she basically
Hovered around our table, seeing if I was really going to “eat all that”. I was angry but felt like there was no point in making a scene (language barrier, she was an owner/manager & I just would never go back).
It sounds like you were in a Chinese restaurant. I have experienced a similar phenomenon when visiting various Chinese restaurants. In my viewpoint, Chinese culture tends to be more blunt and straightforwardly curious than most American culture. We consider it rude, but they seem to consider it normal. It’s one of those cultural differences that might be best ignored, or answered with a simple, “Yes.” And then move on.
That’s kinda funny… our local chinese restaurant, you could eat literally three plates of food (it’s buffet-style) and the owners would still tell you that you didn’t eat enough, and you need to eat more, lol!!
Ragen, I’ve learned a few things from you over these last few years. In the same situation, my go-to response might have been, “Why did you feel the need to ask me that?” or “Do you ask everyone that who orders one of those?” Because that’s a load of crap right there.
My response: “Is your boss aware you are actively trying to discourage product sales and reduce revenues for his/her business? Perhaps we should ask him/her about your actions right now.“
Reminds me of one of Ruiz’s Four Agreements: Be impeccable with your word. She cast a spell on her customer. She cursed her.
Please regain your own “magic”, unravel that curse, dust off, go on even better! ❤
I think i need to read that book.
I just want to give the person who wrote the e-mail to you a HUG.
Kinda off topic, but I heard about a study in the BMJ that slams Dr. Oz (and the Drs). I have found it: http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g7346
It’s also got a podcast by the authors, and some comments from a radio host, journalist, some economists, and a cardiologist. They appear in reverse order, and basically the cardiologist is in agreement that Dr. Oz is a sham.
The study was published Dec. 2014.
I once had a place I ate at fairly often hire a really nasty server, she made sure to make fat people know they weren’t welcome and she hated serving them. That ended with me, not only did I refuse to pay let a lone tip for shitty attitude and service I demanded to see the manager whom I know fairly well. I explained what had happened, he was shocked, he hadn’t had any other complaints, and living in a smaller ciy center word of mouth and social media can destroy a business, needless to say she was fired.
I have never been afraid to go to every one I know and tell them not to spend their money in a place. I have also never been afraid to post it publicly on social media either.
You did good!
Rather surprised the server would jeopardize her tips like that. Did she actually think she’d receive a tip for boorish behavior?
I’m going to surmise that what she thought was that most of the time fat people shy away from the shame that comes with complaining about weight-based bigotry, and banked on them not telling. Sad to see how often she was right, based on the fact that Amara was the first to complain. YAY AMARA!!! You done good, Girl. 🙂
That is some scary business, at least she got called out on it, and punished for it.