The Thing About Concern Trolls

Concerned puppy is very concerned
A pug puppy’s face is shown with a very sad expression. It is captioned “Concerned Puppy is very Concerned”

I get a lot of mail from people who asked someone to please stop making inappropriate comments/giving inappropriate “advice” etc. only to find out that the giver of unwanted advice is upset that their sincere efforts at helping fat people are not being taken well. It might be food policing, body policing,  negative comments about our bodies, recommendations for weight loss methods, suggesting that [insert aspect of our life] will be better if we manipulate our bodies into a different size, or any of an endless list of unwanted interference in our lives.

All of this is often discussed under the umbrella term “concern trolling.”  Often when the person doing the concern trolling is confronted with the phrase they insist that it’s rude and unfair because they just wanted to help. In many cases, this is true – maybe their concern trolling behavior actually comes from good intentions.  And sometimes that creates an uncomfortable situation for fat people who suddenly feel that perhaps they need to let people treat them in ways that they find personally harmful because the person who is harming them says that they sincerely want to help.

While everyone who has to deal with it is allowed to handle concern trolling however they wish, including letting people say and do things to them that they believe to be harmful, I’d like to offer the following food for thought on this:

What they want doesn’t matter. What they think is helpful doesn’t matter.  This is not about them.  I think that someone who truly wants to help me cares whether or not I want their help, and cares whether or not what they might think is helpful is actually harmful to me.  If I tell someone they are hurting me and they explain that they did it because they want to help, then we have a problem because whether or not they want to help, they obviously don’t have the skills and emotional intelligence to get that done.

A fat body is not a sign that we need (or have to put up with) other people’s  unwanted comments and advice .  Our health/food/fitness/body/life is not anybody else’s business unless we ask that person to make it their business and even then we are allowed to set boundaries.

Consider this pictorial representation (from  a hilarious article about #TheInternetNamesAnimals):

Cuddlebug Mcnope
A little girl looks at a giant crab through aquarium glass.  It is captioned “Cuddlebug McNope”

In this situation I am the little girl, and the crab is the concern troll.  I don’t care how much that crab wants to help, or how much that crab thinks that cuddling me is a good idea that will benefit me in some way, I am not cuddling that crab, even if the crab insists that his concern trolling is justified. You have options for how to handle this – I have some suggestions here for how to deal with concern trolling here, as well as an example from one of my own little crabs here. Regardless of what you decide to do, remember that the problem isn’t you- it’s the concern trolling, and you don’t have to cuddle that crab.


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16 thoughts on “The Thing About Concern Trolls

  1. When my husband was driving a 26′ Uhaul on our most recent move, towing one of our cars behind it, he didn’t swing a turn wide enough and he got the whole thing into a tight spot that he couldn’t get out of (without some help from a very kind Samaritan). It was at a gas station, and a man who was leaving the gas station paused in his car, leaned out his window, and asked “Can I give you some advice?”

    My husband and I, who had been at that point driving for two and a half days on this move, looked at the man with relief, thinking he was going to give us a solution to our problem.

    “Swing it WIDE next time,” he said with a smirk. Then he drove away.

    The kind stranger, who was already helping us, looked over and said, “I’m really sorry. I actually hesitated to help you at first because I didn’t want to be that guy.”

    It’s pretty much the perfect example of concern trolling, because it doesn’t have the emotion of weight attached to it. When I tell this story, nobody has yet said “Well he was only trying to help!” The response is always, “Wow, what a dick.”

    Concern trolling is concern trolling, and it’s unhelpful in any context. At all.

  2. OMG I HATE concern trolling and half the time they do get upset if you rebuff them.

    Sometimes you can’t even have a conversation with them without hearing their opinions and advice. Ugh.

  3. A while back, I read about a group of people who had used charitable donations to tried to occupy part of a public park and build shelters for homeless people on it. Like, literally tiny boxes with no heating, or electricity, or running water, and no one to police the safety of those in them or control who gets access, in high concentration in a public space. There was outcry about how the government stopped them when they were “just trying to help”. About how they cared about homeless people and had to “do something” and “it’s better than doing nothing!”.

    Their good intentions could have killed homeless people. An outbreak of stomach flu in an office can spread quickly, leave lots of people missing time from work and potentially hospitalise more vulnerable individuals. In a cramped, cold, outdoor space with no running water to provide either washing facilities or flushing toilets, you’re guaranteeing it spreads faster and further, and kills someone. And that’s just one potential result of their project.

    The money, time and resources that went into building obviously-doomed, substandard hovel death-traps could have been donated to provide counselling services, or help getting benefits, or soup kitchen resources, or access to to a doctor/medication, or any of the other countless things that actually make homeless people’s lives better.

    People’s “good intentions” can fuck right off. In my experience, there are two kinds of people who “want to help”. Those who care enough about the person they want to help to actually find out *what that person needs* and provide it (including if what they need is to be left alone and not bothered about their weight). And people who care more about creating and preserving the personal feel-good sensation they get when they do a “good deed”.

    1. “People’s “good intentions” can fuck right off.”

      Oh that’s getting embroidered onto a pillow.

      You are right about there being two kinds of people who “want to help”. I always ask myself, “would I want to be on the receiving end of the “help” I want to provide?”. If no, then I find another way. My wanting to help may be sincere, but that doesn’t mean I know the best way to provide it. Hence, I donate to my local homeless shelter.

  4. What do you do when the concern troll is a nurse and, therefore, can use their power to shut you down — or attempt to do so, anyway? I’m a terrible debater, and also very introverted, which does not help.

    Possible trigger warning below:

    Since this person is a nurse and you’re not, they “know” how “unhealthy” fat is and, if you argue, it’s because you’re “in denial.”

    I ask because I have an aunt in the family who is a nurse, though she hasn’t said anything about my size or my eating habits in ages — not to my face, anyway.

    I was a bit on edge when she visited in November before Thanksgiving (I used to live at home), and I prepared lunch in the kitchen, which consisted of a hamburger patty mixed with ramen noodles (I dislike healthy food a lot). Whether she bit her tongue or not, I cannot tell, but she didn’t say a darn thing to me.

    I would have been promptly shut down by her and my own mother if me and my aunt had gotten into it. They would have said what you described here, that she is “just worried about your health” and “cares about you.”

    Funny enough, the last time I remember her saying anything was in the early 2000s when we went on vacation and stayed in a condo together. I was a thin teen then and decided to eat a lot of cookies — and she let me know it!

    1. If it’s been ten years, she’s probably decided that she may be a nurse, but she’s not YOUR nurse, and so she’s not going there with you.

      Or maybe she’s just stopped concern trolling, in general?

      In either case, I’d say not to worry about it. It’s been a long time since she’s done it with you, so probably you’re not in danger. If she does start up with you, just tell her “No, you’re not my nurse, and my body is my business.” Then change the subject, preferably to something she’ll be happy discussing with you, to show that you don’t harbor a grudge against her.

      It’s OK to have boundaries, even with family members, and it’s OK to stand up for those boundaries, and enforce them, and then go about your business loving each other, with those boundaries standing strong.

      Good luck!

      1. I think a huge reason why she has not bothered me is because I rarely see her.

        Maybe she felt it was inappropriate to say anything because she knew she was going home soon anyway but she may say stuff behind my back.

        1. She might. But saying what you “should” do, to anyone other than you, isn’t really going to make much difference to you, is it?

          If you know she’s talking about you, then you may need to confront her. Or not. You might simply choose to ignore it. Either way, you can make a choice and follow through, and let that be the end of it.

          However, if you’re not even sure she’s doing it, why are you tying yourself up in knots about it?

          I understand being afraid of a confrontation, and that’s fine. Imagining a confrontation that’s not actually happening, however, just leads to unneeded stress. Perhaps, if you can face it, you might want to just ask her about it, if only to ease your mind of your uncertainty. If you do that, I’d recommend rehearsing what to say, in advance, so you can edit it, and make sure it is clear and tactful as you can make it, to minimize any potential discomfort on your part (and hers). You don’t want to start a fight, just ease your mind. And that’s OK.

          1. Gonna agree with Michelle C Young here. Your aunt may be mindful that she is not your “keeper” and has no right to butt into your affairs (eating habits, etc.). You may be working yourself up for nothing.

            How do you know aunt is talking about you to others? Be careful here that you are not putting too much into the one time she did say something (when you were a teen). It may be she realized after that interaction that she crossed the line with you. She might be doing her level best not to do so again. She may know that concern trolling is damaging and doesn’t want to repeat that mistake.

  5. This is somewhat of an aside, but I was wondering if you could explain the reasoning behind having a description of the pictures right underneath them. I have seen that on other sites/blogs and not sure what it is about. Thanks!!

    1. It’s probably for visually impaired people who have someone, or perhaps a computer program, read the page to them out loud.

      Also, sometimes the picture doesn’t show up, at all, so a description is nice to have in that case, as well.

  6. Even if the person isn’t a concern troll, they are almost always “thinsplaining.” For example, one time a doctor told me I weighed too much. As it happened, I was dieting at the time and had lost 40 pounds. I told her, “I’m doing everything I can, and this is the lowest I can get my weight.” She said, “Have you tried exercising and eating low calorie foods?” She obviously thought I was a complete idiot who had never, ever thought of these things before. WHAT A JERK!

    The reality is virtually all fat people have tried to lose weight, usually multiple times. But body weight is largely biological. Unless fat people either get bariatric surgery or eat so little that they becomes unhealthy, they stay fat. (Well, there are a few other options, such as shooting up heroin.) There simply are NO healthy behaviors that will make a fat person lean.

    As yes, I do know quite a lot about this, way more than that idiot doctor did. I have published in the New England Journal of Medicine on this subject.

    1. What a condescending question from your doctor! Sheesh! She could easily have simply asked you WHAT you were doing to lose weight if she suspected it was something she disapproved of, but that would entail several minutes of listening to a patient, and what physician has time for that? *headdesk*

      In a related vein, I sometimes feel like I’m going to go berserk if someone explains YET AGAIN, in a tone of awed revelation, that a bagel is TWO servings of bread! For some reason I run into that one all the time as an example of how vastly we’re overeating these days, and it makes me crazy. Oh, no wonder I can’t keep weight off. A bagel is TWO servings of bread! If I had only been told that sooner, I would be model-thin!

    2. Well, bariatric surgery is not a sure cure either, since you will always rely on vitamin injections and blood transfusions to get your nutrition, and most who live long enough gain more weight than they started. Vesta who runs the First Do No Harm blog, had this done 40 yrs ago, and her life has been hell since, yet her doc still have the audacity to ask if she wanted yet more surgery.

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