I received this question from reader Jeanine:
I was talking to a good friend of mine about Size Acceptance and she said “I just can’t believe that you could be happy with your body!” Except it sounded more like a judgment than an acknowledgment that she didn’t understand. What could I have said?
This is a weird phenomenon that has certainly happened to me and to my friends who are open about their fat acceptance, and loving their fat bodies. The commentary can take a lot of forms, usually something like “Well, I can’t believe that you are really happy.” or “I could never be happy with my body if I was your size.”
This isn’t something that I find appropriate for someone to share with me regardless, but I have noticed the same thing that Jeanine did – it’s not really said as if they want to share their thoughts about their own body with me. What it can often sound like is “I know better than you how you feel about your body” as if it’s a (cowardly) way of trying to accuse us of lying.
The truth is that we don’t always have a frame of reference that allows us to understand other people’s situations and circumstances. If everyone did have this level of self-awareness, then people dealing with alcoholism, depression, and anorexia wouldn’t have to deal with people telling them to just stop drinking, cheer up, or eat a sandwich.
Sometimes we just don’t “get it,” sometimes we can’t get it. It’s ok not to be able to understand someone else’s experience or situation. But that doesn’t make it ok to disrespect them, or to insist that their experience can only be correctly viewed through our frame of reference. To me the appropriate reaction is to listen to those we don’t understand, consider them the best witness to their experience, and either offer them the support they are requesting or, at the very least, mind our own business without acting as if our inability to understand their situation is an indictment against it, or as if we are a better witness to what they are going through than they are, or that they must not be telling the truth since we can’t imagine it could be true.
So, if you say that you can’t imagine that fat people can be happy and love our bodies i believe you, but it has actually nothing to do with fat people who are happy and love our bodies, so please feel free to believe us (and perhaps acknowledge that you simply don’t have a frame of reference that allows you to understand) or don’t believe us and keep those feelings to yourself.
As far as Jeanine’s question about what she could have said, if someone says to you “Well, I can’t believe that you are really happy with your body.” here are some reply options (feel free to leave your ideas in the comments!)
- Ok. (perhaps with a shoulder shrug, said in a tone to make it clear that it couldn’t possibly make the least bit of difference.)
- You don’t have to understand, but feel free to be happy for me!
Starting a conversation (if that’s what you want to do, you don’t have to)
- I’m happy to try to explain, but if you aren’t able to get it, that’s ok too.
- Why not?
- I can’t understand why you would think it was appropriate to say that, so I guess we’re even.
- I’m not sure why you said that, but I can’t imagine you think it has anything to do with me.
- Really? What a shame.
The bottom line for me is that we live in a truly fatphobic society and so I’m not surprised if people have trouble grasping that there are people who have opted out of that culture of body hate, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ok for other people to try to pull us back into it.
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26 thoughts on “When Someone Can’t Believe Fat People Can Be Happy with Our Bodies”
Well, in some cases, they cannot believe fat people could be happy with their bodies, because they are they are unhappy with their thin bodies, and if they are unhappy with what they think is closer to the ideal, how could anyone be happy being farther (in their perspective) from said arbitrary ideal?
Many people do not seem to realize that happiness is not something we achieve. Happiness is something we live. Finishing a project, reaching a goal, solving problems – if my happiness depends on these things, it will be intermittent and short-lived, because there will always be more projects, more problems, and more goals that I will need to deal with in order to achieve happiness. If my happiness is based instead on, this is my life, and I can be happy as I work on those projects, pursue those goals, and deal with the problems, then I don’t have to wait for those short-lived moments of happiness when I hit some sort of milestone.
Even more, why should anyone, regardless of what trait it might be, make their happiness dependent upon changing something that really does not need to be changed?
perfect comment. i love all the debate about the concept of happiness (my line of thought is similar to yours), but one thing I know for SURE is that starving and getting stuck to exercises you hate just to lose weight is the most difficult path to feel, to savour the happy things. that’s why so many people who lose weight only get a very quick moment of euphoria, like “i achieved my goal” but that’s it. as soon as you get used to your ‘goal’, the magic is gone. not to mention how fucked up your mood gets and how you end up pushing away people you love, social events you love, etc.
And even worse is after you achieve your goal, and then the weight comes back, despite all your effort, and your happiness is not only lost (due to it being fleeting, in the first place), but your success is replaced with failure, and then the guilt piles on, along with all the frustration of “I’m doing everything RIGHT, so why am I getting FAT AGAIN?!”
Been there, done that. No more, thanks.
I don’t get people. Guess what? I’m fat. I’m happy. Not only am I fat and happy, I’m in love with a wonderful man and we have a very happy and satisfying sex life! I love me. I love him. He loves me. Since I love me, who the hell cares if you don’t think I should be happy.
I think the comment “I can’t believe you’re happy with your body” is pretty much always incredibly rude and usually repressive. I suspect it is delivered to fat people more than to, say, short, tall, or alter-abled people (though, God help us, they get the “you’re an inspiration for being alive” one).
It’s a shaming statement which implies—pretty much always implies—that you should not be happy with your body, that you’re deluded for being happy with it.
I imagine it’s sometimes delivered with sincerity, but that ought to stop too. Not everything that happens in one’s head has to pitch out of one’s mouth.
If anyone ever presents me with that statement, I think I will counter it by asking if they’re happy with theirs, and why or why not.
How about, “Well, that doesn’t make it any less true.” or “I know, I’m truly blessed to come to this level of self acceptance.”
using the word “true” directly contradicts their implication that it is a lie.
Potential responses to “I can’t believe you’re happy with your body”:
1. Well, that’s your issue, not mine.
2. I don’t appreciate being called a liar (watch ’em backpedal)
3. Huh. Well, I can’t believe you’re happy with your level of tact and human decency, so we’re even.
4. You know what *I* can’t believe? I can’t believe people still think it’s OK to make judgmental comments about someone else’s body. (Then walk away.)
5. Well, I can’t believe that the Kardashians are popular, so I guess we’re both wrong.
Brava! All good.
I admit to having said similarly (or worse) inappropriate things in my youth, though I had enough tact not to say them to people directly. I would express them to close friends in private. About quadriplegia, for example, and my fear of blindness. You are spot on — I didn’t have a good frame of reference, just my own relatively short life, which wasn’t short on challenges, and at the time that hadn’t made me stronger yet; maybe that’s why I found it hard to face dealing with what seemed to me much larger obstacles.
That experience has made me more tolerant towards people who I suspect of (youthful) ignorance rather than innate rudeness or cruelty. I’m more likely to engage them in conversation to convey exactly why, yes, I am happy, even though I am fat (and have chronic depression, and was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused as a child, and and and — being fat is by far not the worst thing in my life; not even close).
What a hopeless life it would be if we could never be happy just because life has thrown challenges at us! How much harder is life if you hate a part of yourself, doesn’t it make sense to try and be happy with it instead? Is that really a lie, even at the start? Or is it rather an attitude, a philosophy that we aspire to because it improves our life?
But indeed, nobody is obligated to answer politely to an expression they perceive as rude, or engage with somebody who implies they’re a liar.
Exactly. Only a tiny portion of humanity conforms to most of the norms we have as a society – social class privilege, white privilege, geographical privilege, sexual orientation privilege and so on. Being “abnormal” when it comes to one or a few things is part of everyone’s lives, and it is such a modern concept this idea that we can change everything we want, depending on our efforts. We can’t, and that’s fine. Nowadays I’m happy with my body, but when I decided to stop dieting I wasn’t – however, on that first phase of my healing, one thought that really helped me was: “Ok so you wanna lose 20 pounds. Fine. You would also like to become a millionaire, though, and still you are not taking crazy measures to try to become one, cause you know your chances are very tiny and you actually don’t need to go that far to be happy.” There are so many things in our lives that follow this logic (“No, my husband is not perfect, sometimes I’d like to feel the joy of being single again, but well, we can’t have both so I choose his love since happiness can never be 100%”. We just move on with our challenges.
But when it comes to body size people just don’t get it. they don’t get that: a) you just can’t change it; b) you could change it if you’d count calories every 3 hours, every day of your life, for the rest of your life and.. well.. MAYBE you have other priorities ahn? c) you just don’t overthink about your appearance or your shape.
and this kind of comment ‘can’t believe you’re happy this way’ is the most passive-agression comment that exists.
How about: “if being UNHAPPY actually worked as motivation for self-improvement, I’m sure my body would never inspire such a comment from you – but let me assure you, after a lifetime of attempting that strategy, self-hatred does NOT work!”
Who says ceasing to be fat is self-improvement?
Depending on how much I care about being friends with the speaker in the future, I might use, “Really? I can’t believe you think other people’s bodies are here for you to discuss.”
“Happy.” Ironically, that’s one of those words that gets misused and misdefined as literally anything the speaker wants it to mean. It’s easy to say I’m not “happy” when you get to decide what happy means, and easier still to further hedge your bets and say you *don’t believe* I’m “happy” by your definition just in case, but that doesn’t mean it has any real-world relevance.
Now, by the lexical definition, I’d say I’m no more or less happy than average. I’ve never won the lottery but I’ve never been struck by lightning, either.
The people who say those kind of things are so full of BS. They tend to keep blabbering on that way no matter what their target’s body size is or is not. They just switch their judgmental arbitrary standards of what they consider acceptable is all. Anyone who is not in fact anorexic “can ALWAYS” stand to lose 5-10 pounds. Or one is told told they eat the wrong things. Eat too much. Eat too little. Don’t exercise. Exercise too much. Do the wrong exercise. A favorite tactic of the WW branch of these bullies and shamers was: “Ooh! So you wear clothing size—insert letter or number of choice here– Well, I hate to tell you this, but you don’t REALLY wear that size at all! Year and years ago sizes were different, and you REAL size is about a bajillion sizes bigger than that, so don’t you go getting too happy about your size, because you are WRONG! and OMG fat too. So there.”
Some day, and only if Ragen were to approve, I will tell the tale of the doctor who told me I need to lose 8-10 pounds at the size I am in my picture. It was so out there that I laughed like a hyena and he fired me as a patient on the first visit. I was so proud.
I’d say you dodged a bullet. Who wants to put up with an idiot for a doctor? If he makes a stupid statement like that who knows what other crazy, non-scientific things he believes in.
As for what to say to that I can’t believe your happy statement, if I was in a good mood I might say there are lots of things in this world I hate–greed, violence, cruelty, but my body certainly isn’t one of them.
If I’m not in a good mood, I’d probably look at them with pity and say I feel sorry for anyone shallow enough to judge others on their appearance, because what a sad, superficial life they lead.
The nice thing is, you can use that argument on rude people who wear a size 2, too.
I’d look sad and reply, “I can’t believe you don’t understand how happiness works.”
Yeah, I prefer snark.
How about, “Gee, I can’t believe you’re happy with your weight prejudice. Will you let me try to help you get over it?”
I wish I could share the tale of the fatphobic job counselor who tried this crap with me years ago.
“[P]eople who have opted out of [the] culture of body hate” — I’d love a button we could wear to announce that this is who we are, both to identify people like ourselves, and to give warning to concern trolls that we’re no longer buying their crap.
Maybe a Flying Rhinos pin or button?
Even as I move towards becoming a Flying Rhino myself, Flying Rhinos does not in my mind represent all folks who have opted out of body hate culture. It represents a subset of exercise-focused “good fatties”. Many of us haven’t the spoons, means, mobility, and/or inclination to join that subset.
I always tend to err on the side of snarky.
I like Miss Manners’ reply to this sort of thing: “How KIND of you to take an interest.”