Things You Don’t Owe Anybody

What a Load of CrapWhen it comes to a lot of areas of our lives we get to choose what we do and why, and who – if anyone – we do it for.  Sometimes people get confused and think that we owe them behaviors, states of being, or explanations.  Let’s just clear some of this up:

Pretty – Nobody owes anybody else attractive by any standard.  People who get upset that there are others walking around who are not aesthetically pleasing to them have an over-exaggerated sense of self importance.  Don’t like what you see?  Too lazy to expand your skills for perceiving beauty?  Then feel free to follow the advice of the band Chicago and look away, baby, look away.

Health – Nobody owes anybody else health or healthy habits by any definition. Each person gets to decide how to prioritize their health, and the path they choose to meet their goals.  That’s why people are allowed to be professional bullriders and X games athletes, and NFL Players. The suggestion that fat people have some obligation over and above what everyone else has (which is none) is thinly veiled bigotry and nothing more.  I think that public health should be focused on making as many options as possible available to as many people as possible (including eliminating issues of access and oppression that cause people’s choices and options to be limited) rather than trying to make the individual’s choices and health the public’s business.

Sexiness – One of the more ridiculous types of hate mail that I receive are e-mails letting me know that the sender would never have sex with me.  These are always phrased in a way that suggests they are under the impression that I care.  I don’t understand why they would think that – that’s the kind of thing that they can really keep to themselves.  Regardless it’s not our job to comport ourselves in such a way that other people will want to have sex with us (unless you want to, then comport away!)

Food Rationale –  Food talk is a cultural phenomenon that I could very much live without.  I would be perfectly happy if I went the rest of my life without hearing “I want a muffin but I can’t because I’m being good” or “I’m going to have to do 3 hours on the treadmill to make up for eating these grapes” or whatever “Will Perform For Food” thing society wants from us.  Sometimes I try to imagine if we made all of our personal decisions out loud “Hmmm, I kind of have to pee, but not that badly so maybe I’ll finish this blog, or maybe I should go now and finish it with full concentration….” Who cares? Regardless, we don’t owe anybody an explanation of what we eat or don’t eat ever.

Apology/Explanation for Our Size –  I see lots of people, even those in the Body Positive movement who say things like “sure I have some extra pounds” or “I don’t go to the gym enough” or “If I’m honest, I could work harder at being healthy”  of course people are allowed to say whatever they want, but we can also explore the joy of not apologizing!

I’m sure there are plenty more but that’s a start, remember that not only do you not owe these things to anyone in any specific situation, you have every right to reject the entire premise and suggest that people drink a big steaming mug of None of Your Damn Business.

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24 thoughts on “Things You Don’t Owe Anybody

  1. You’re amazing! I just love the way you clear away all the clutter in our crazy mixed up world and say things that make a whole lot of sense!

  2. Thanks for posting! This I-can’t-have-a-muffin-because-I’m-being-good just highlights the ridiculous relationship women have with food – and it starts very early. I was handing out some truffles at work – the slimmest young woman declined because she was being “good”, another colleague told her young granddaughter (who visited after work) that having a truffle would make her “feel better” – the kid had a belly-ache. What crazy emotional messages we all have surrounding food!

  3. I used to be miserable at the thought of getting through another day of food. I used to get comments from family members and friends “Should you be eating that?” “That’s not very healthy.” “Why don’t you just have a salad?” One woman told me she was worried i was going to have a heart attack and die (my heart health is perfectly fine) and then a few months later when i happened to mention i had lost 2.5 stone (35lb) since then, she replied with “To be honest, you can’t tell.” WTF? So they can intefere but not be supportive?

    I haven’t been happier since the day i told them all that what i do or do not eat is none of their business. I don’t accept any conversations about my size or my health and have rudely shut people down and walked away in the middle of a convo when people haven’t got the message that i don’t want to talk about it.

    1. I’ve experienced the opposite, somewhat, with coworkers or acquaintances that I know by happenstance (like the woman who works at the coffee shop I frequented a few years ago, near my office who also goes to the same gym as me) who insist that I’ve lost — not just some weight, but “tons” of weight — when in fact, I’ve gained. I get that these people think they’re being complimentary to me, but I find it to be one of THE most annoying and triggering things to hear. I want to shoot back, “My body is not up for discussion” but they’re generally sweet-natured people; just completely ignorant of anything outside of the typical weight-loss=good-health paradigm.

  4. I love these posts. Yet again you remind me in simple terms what I can and can’t control. I can be civil and polite and still say that it is not your business what I put in my body and what is “good” behaviour by someone else’s standard… what I should be doing according to others is not my responsibility. Thanks again for the reminder of what I can defend and what I should walk away from. Keep doing what you do – it makes a difference every day 🙂

  5. Learning to accept myself and create boundaries that help me feel safe and honored has been a challenge. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m lazy. When I do succeed in being motivated and active (mentally or physically) I get an amazing amount of things accomplished and sometimes astonish myself. But my current ‘go-to’ behavior is lethargy. I’ve been subjected to food policing talk at my lunch table at work. No one is policing me, they are doing the self-shaming/have to earn it/deserve or don’t deserve kind of comments about what they are eating. And, all of them are intelligent wonderful co-workers who I would prefer not to insult or harm with my actions or words. I choose to just let them go on about their business and I don’t join in on the conversation. I just wait for a more comfortable subject to come up. I like talking about recipes and grilling and such as that.. eventually they drop the self-punishing comments and get excited about talking about a new restaurant they visited or a new way they discovered to prepare some food item. I realize I am not helping the movement towards eliminating negative food and body talk. But I’m so tired and so sick of conflict and emotional turmoil. I’m choosing my battles and this isn’t one of them. That being said, I do get up and leave when talk turns to childhood obesity or t.v. programming like biggest loser… but again, I do not voice my opposition often, I just leave. Usually, later, to the folks at the table whose relationships I truly value beyond co-worker status, I will tell them, “hey, I left the table the other day earlier than I would have liked because I cannot handle the comments being made in regard to ‘obesity epidemic/fat kids/bullying shows like….’. It’s amazing to see how supportive they are one on one.

    Back to the whole ‘lazy’ thing. I’m in my 26th year of working the same job. (read that as burn-out) I’m in year 6 of dealing with chronic foot issues that have lead to 4 surgeries (amputations of toes and parts of feet) and 3 years of limited mobility to try and help those feet heal up so I can walk on them again. I’m so physically atrophied that even working at a recovery fitness plan is daunting and wipes me out in such a way as to interfer with my ability to do my job. I don EVEN want to mention how my home, housekeeping and relationships in my family have suffered. So consequently I don’t have a lot of new information on current events, ideas and thoughts to talk about that could derail conversations about body, diet, health, weight, etc. I feel stuck in a little box where the most interactions I get are in passing (very shallow detail conversations about work schedules, dinner times and who needs the car) or text/facebook whining about how bad I feel being in the state I’m in.

    Of course if I bring up anything regarding my current situation it seems to bring on all sorts of ‘helpful advice’ about getting fit, changing eating habits, etc. So I just don’t talk to people anymore. I listen. And since I’m choosing to be passive in conversations, I don’t always feel justified in being a voice of activism, especially since most of the comments are directed at themselves. And I kind of think if I did say something about that, it would be breaking the underpants rule. Once or twice I’ve had a chance to bring up my choice to be Healthy at Any Size and that each moment I am working to be good to myself. Mostly those moments come during teaching about nutrition. I am working very hard to reach a few kids with the concept of ‘in the moment’ healthy choices and to put loving your body and caring for it as it is in this moment ahead of any media messages that tell them they aren’t good enough as they are.

    I guess this is just kind of rambling. I’m so happy to have a safe space to share and such a great blog to read to stimulate my mind about issues related to my lifestyle choice.

    1. You know what else you don’t owe anyone, Susan? Your activism. It’s entirely up to you what actions you take in what situations, and your reasons are yours and yours alone. You’ve got a lot on your plate with your current health issues and recovery from surgery. Please don’t beat yourself up for not being SuperFatWoman 24/7. Believe me, when you’re feeling more up to speaking out, there will still be plenty to say.

      Besides, you are helping the movement against food shame simply by refusing to participate. The food shame spiral is a team sport. Every one of us who chooses to sit on the bench is another activist against food shame.

      As to dealing with activism vs the Underpants Rule when people start trashing their own eating habits, you’re right that it would be a violations of underpants to start berating them about how they are talking. On the other hand, if you feel you would like to say something, you can use the intervention tool of ‘I statements.’ IOW you could say something like ‘I really prefer to just eat what I want/need without worrying about weight’ or ‘I like cupcakes, and I don’t think eating one once in a while will harm me.’ That way what you are saying is about you, not them. It might even give someone else a safe space to agree with you.

      But as I said in the beginning, YOU are in charge of your level of activism. It’s up to you when you feel safe, when you feel strong enough, when you believe you will do more harm or more good by speaking out, and which issues you are most motivated to take action over. Activism matters, but so do you apart from your activism.

      1. Twistie, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten partway through reading a comment here and thought to myself, “Wow, this person is well-spoken, kind, funny, and really gets it” and then I look up at the top to see who it is… and it’s you!

      2. THIS!!! So much this! Even if you can’t actively oppose them, just refusing to join their team is a huge help.

        There are days when I’ll go on about activism, and other days when I can barely get out of bed, let alone talk to people.

        One thing I find helpful, when I don’t want to debate, but I don’t want to (or can’t) leave, is the wildly fantastical bean dip.

        “Bean dip” is a phrase I learned at, and what it means is that when someone is speaking something you don’t want to deal with, you say, “How interesting. Have you tried the bean dip?” This scenario is assuming you’re chatting at a party, where there is bean dip, but the strategy works wherever. It’s just a name they have applied to that strategy.

        You can “bean dip,” about any appropriate topic, such as current events, or the weather. Most people won’t even be aware that you’re trying to avoid a touchy subject. Of course, that means that most people, without meaning any harm, may very well go right back to that topic. And, it takes time and energy to come up with appropriate topics, as you have already pointed out.

        So, I came up with the wildly fantastical bean dip. The weirder my answer, the more obvious it is that I want to change the subject NOW, and please don’t involve me in any more.

        For example: “Michelle, when are you going to have children?” My answer: “Three o’clock!” Three o’clock is my go-to answer to any “when are you going to” impertinent question. It stops them in their tracks, and by the time they have processed the absurdity, I have moved the conversation on to something else. It works even better for a “what are you going to do about it?” sort of question. I love having a go-to answer, so I don’t have to think it up on the spot.

        That works if they ask me a question. If they’re not asking me directly, and I need to steer the conversation, I have to step up with something more, to get their attention and derail the conversation.

        For a wildly fantastical bean dip, choose a topic that is waaaaay out there, and has absolutely nothing to do with anything at hand. Be absurd. Preferably, choose something that will be fun for you to talk about.

        This is only if you are determined to stay there, but don’t want to argue. If you don’t have the strength, by all means, leave.

        You do whatever you need to do for YOU. And remember that silence is a powerful tool, in and of itself.

  6. Even aside from food issues, I despise the level of entitlement you describe so well in the post. One of my hot buttons falls under the “pretty” category: the “you should smile” bit. I imagine I do have resting bitch face, especially when I’m focused on something. But that’s not anyone’s business, and especially not the business of a stranger who thinks I should consider myself purely ornamental whilst in their presence.

    The “sexiness” one, on the other hand, usually cracks me up. I’ve had so many trolls who didn’t like my opinions (or me having the temerity to voice them and disagree with them) inform me that they wouldn’t sleep with me under any circumstances. And it always makes me smile that they think I’m going to find that truly disappointing, when in actuality I always find it an absolute relief and joy.

  7. *Ahhhhhhh* This right here is my breath of fresh air. Your blog restored many of the sanity points I lost after seeing a full 2-page spread taken out in my local commuter paper by Dove about whether we, as women, see ourselves as “beautiful” or “average” and my eyes nearly rolled out of my head from seething.

    1. That stupid door experiment, right?

      Whether I see myself as “beautiful,” “average,” or “ugly,” I want a soap that doesn’t make my super-sensitive face look burned and pop yet another crop of zits. Dove is not that soap.

  8. That last point reminds me of a time I took a seat next to a very fat woman on a crowded subway train–the only seat left. There wasn’t much space because the seats were smaller than she was, but there was enough for me to balance on, which was good, because my feet hurt at the time. Otherwise, I’d have left the lady all the space so as to avoid making her feel cramped (though everyone in a seat was cramped, really). At one point, the train lurched, and I had to grab the bar to make sure I didn’t fall off the seat. The woman gave me an embarrassed smile and said, “I’m sorry I’m so big.” I think I said something like, “Oh, please, don’t worry about it.” What I wanted to say, what I wish I said, was, “I’M sorry that the world we live in is one that makes you feel like you have to apologize for how much space your body takes up, because how bullshit is that? Your size isn’t the problem, it’s just rush hour!”

  9. This essay was very timely as once again a friend of mine asserted I don’t look like I care about myself. I need to sit down and ask her what she means. I don’t wear makeup, dress in t-shirts and jeans and pull my hair back. What’s wrong with that?

    It isn’t any of her business, but I also know she cares about me, so I’m willing to have the conversation sometime. I’m also a bit concerned she might be inadvertently teaching her kids there is a right way and wrong way for girls to look.

    I know she was told if she became a scientist she couldn’t look pretty, so she is very focused on making sure she keeps up that part of herself. I’m not sure if she does it because she likes it, or if she is still doing it to prove others wrong.

    Anyway, I needed the reminder that I don’t actually owe anyone else anything. I only owe myself to do what is right for me.

    1. “she was told if she became a scientist she couldn’t look pretty, ”

      What? Seriously, whaaaaat?

      That’s just… I can’t… I have no words.

      Wait. I do.

      Hedy La-freakin-marr!

  10. “I would be perfectly happy if I went the rest of my life without hearing “I want a muffin but I can’t because I’m being good” or “I’m going to have to do 3 hours on the treadmill to make up for eating these grapes” or whatever “Will Perform For Food” thing society wants from us. ”

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. It bothers me that people believe that I’m interested in the latest way they’ve decided to emotionally torture themselves. I get it from women *and* men. My solution? These people are banned from having lunch with me. Forever.

    Your blog is a gift to us all. Keep writing.

  11. The ones who seem convinced that I am just waiting for them to crook their fingers so that I can leap into their beds and therefore will run off crying if they ban me from their penises–I just–what?! Like, some dude’s crotch is the axis around which everybody else’s world must spin?

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