Fat Bodies Are Not Public Property

What a Load of CrapI was running and he was riding his bike.  We were coming up on a narrow passage between a light post and a bus stop.  I stopped and motioned for him to come through. Instead he stopped, blocking my path, and started talking. I took off one of my headphones, and this happened:

Him: Do me a favor, don’t lose too much weight.

Me:  Well I’m not interested in losing weight at all, but it’s not really any of your business.

Him (getting frustrated): It was actually a compliment.

Me (not willing to offer bonus points for mansplaining our interaction to me): No, it was an attempt to suggest that I should form my body based on your preferences.

Him:  You know what, fuck you, have a good night.

Me:  Back at you sir.

One of the side effects of this ridiculously horrific “war on obesity” is the totally bullshit message that a fat body is a sign that someone should be told that their body is wrong, and given anyone and everyone’s advice on what we should, or shouldn’t, be doing to “fix” that.

So when fat people go out in public, people often confuse us for public property presented for their judgments and comments.  If we aren’t exercising they tell us what we should be, if we are exercising, they say that we’re doing it wrong (or they just moo from their car, or throw eggs,) if we’re eating a salad they congratulate us, if we are’t eating a salad they chide us as if our food is any of their damn business.

In our culture there is also a deeply mistaken notion that all women should care about whether men find us attractive, as expressed by men telling us that we should lose weight (but not too much,) gain weight (but not too much,) smile, dress sexier, dress less sexy etc. Plenty of the hatemail I get is just some dude saying “I’d never fuck you.”  (To which my response is – You are so very right about that.)

The fact that a body is fat doesn’t make it public property, or open for public comment. If a fat person wants to hear your thoughts about their body, clothes, fitness, or food, just assume that you’ll be among the very first to know. And until you know, it would be just peachy keen if you would keep your judgments, preferences,or advice to yourself.


This year we have a kick ass line up of speakers talking about everything from Re-Imagining Fashion from an Inclusive Framework” to “Activism for the Introverted and Anxious” to “Building Fat Patient Power While Accessing Healthcare” and moreThis is a virtual conference so you can listen by phone or computer wherever you are, and you’ll receive recordings and transcripts of each talk so that you can listen/read on your own schedule.  We also offer a pay what you can afford option to make the conference accessible to everyone. The Conference will be held September 23-25, 2016

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46 thoughts on “Fat Bodies Are Not Public Property

  1. Ah, the intersection of sizeism and patriarchy, where men feel entitled to tell you exactly how they think you should look for their viewing pleasure! :-\

    Can I tell you how many times strange men have walked up to me and told me to “Smile! It’s not that bad!” when I’m casually minding my own business and thinking about something that wasn’t making me break out in a huge grin (also known now as “resting bitch face”, which is another attempt to label Just Being into something we should be mindful of). I usually shoot them a look of WTF and say, “How do YOU know?” or leave the WTF face on until they get afraid of me and give up. Idiots.

    1. I have decided the next person who asks me to give them a smile I’m gonna ask them to give me £5, if they give me a fiver I’ll give them a smile. I have used the line, ‘It already did’, when told, ‘smile it might never happen’. I don’t explain, makes it more uncomfortable if they have to wonder what it was.

      My favourite (for sadly amusing until it gets boring – takes about 5 secs) interactions are they guys who see my chest and then realise it’s attached to a really fat chick. They get sooo upset thinking their mates were looking at their groins and maybe saw a reaction to a fat chick that they start off almost comically leering and then rapidly devolve into sexist, sizist harassment. Of course the actually funny bit is really when their mates (who weren’t following their chain of thought) get startled by one of the group just randomly hauling off and harassing someone for no apparent reason.

      And people wonder why I spend more time with my computer than the outdoors these days.

      1. “My favourite (for sadly amusing until it gets boring – takes about 5 secs) interactions are the guys who see my chest and then realise it’s attached to a really fat chick.”

        I cannot help but wonder if some of the anti-fat notions directed towards people (women in particular) are really about the person in question hating themselves, thinking there is something “wrong” with them for finding fat folks to be physically appealing.

        In order to distance themselves from this stigmatized attraction, they lash out at fatties in an attempt to feel better in the moment, to get their power back.

    2. I frequently want to explode at the “smile!” guys with, “You know what? If you actually care about my happiness, give me a REASON to smile, not an ORDER to do so.”

    3. Miss Manners once wrote about how someone told her “Smile! You look like someone just died!”

      She was on her way to a funeral.

      I believe she told the person, “Yes, that is because my ____ just died, and I’m on my way to the funeral. So KIND of you to take an interest.”

      Normally, she just goes straight to “So kind of you to take an interest,” but for that, she just had to set him straight, and point out that, yes, sometimes women have actual cause not to smile.

      I had a similar experience in high school, where a guy told me to smile, and I responded that I had a cut on my lip, and no way was I going to smile until it healed, thankyouverymuch. I didn’t realize, at the time, why his “Smile!” bothered me so much. Now I know. He was reducing me to a decorative object. He would never have told one of his friends to smile. Cheer up, perhaps, but not smile.

  2. I personally consider comments about other people’s bodies, whether compliments or criticisms, to be too much of a danger of not being received well, as your story illustrates. Even if it’s something I would consider an innocent compliment, such as, “You look nice today,” there is a danger of it being misinterpreted and creating problems. I don’t need the problems, and I don’t need to potentially place such problems on someone else, either. I save all my appearance compliments for my wife. If she interprets them as flirting, that’s okay. We flirt with each other frequently.

    Had I been the cyclist in this situation, I would have kept riding, and given a friendly wave, with a comment along the lines of, “Thank you! Have a nice evening!”

    There are way too many creepy men out there. I don’t want to be one of them, or even perceived as such.

    1. I find that the vast majority of people will appreciate a compliment about appearance, if it is 1) specific, and 2) about something they really control.

      For example:

      “I like your shirt” compliments their choice in clothing.

      “I like your hair” compliments their choice in hairstyle and/or their skill in styling.

      “I like your eye make-up,” compliments their choice and skill.

      “I like your body,” is NOT going to work, because even the most fit and active gym-goer does not have complete control over their body, and it comes off as objectifying.

      It’s all about the subtext, IMO.

      1. Complimenting a shirt is usually safe, though again, the circumstances may dictate whether a compliment is well-received or not. If the shirt is snug, the compliment may be taken as due to it accentuating the bust, and less because it’s either a nice shirt, or a witty t-shirt that made me laugh.

        The difficulty, of course, is in knowing who will appreciate it, and who will not. Given the number of men that only compliment a woman as a lead-in to hitting on her, it can be something of a mine-field in our current environment where sexual harassment allegations can often result in a “guilty until proven innocent” attitude.

        Years ago, I would joke with women at work without much thought, provided I believed the woman knew me well enough to know that it was just joking. When I read an article that spoke about how frequently such joking was used as a “safe” precursor to more serious flirting, in that if it was not received well, the person could backpedal by saying, “I was just joking around,” I decided it was best all around to cut it out, rather than potentially give the wrong impression.

  3. Good morning, I have been reading your Dances with Fat emails for quite some time and agree with you on most. But, please don’t pick fights with random people/bicyclists on the street. Your current column frightened me. I don’t want you or anyone else to get hurt. Kathryn Moore

    1. I’m sure that, just like the gentleman who tried to tell me how to look, you are well intentioned with this comment and I appreciate that. But just like I don’t need or want advice on how to look, I also don’t need or want advice on who to talk to, when, or how. I’m perfectly capable of making those decisions for myself.


      1. This is one more example of the public attitude about women’s bodies and the violent culture that these attitudes foster, that we are expected to make nice with guys who are being creepy or giving fake compliments or trying to tell us how to look so that we don’t get hurt. How about instead of telling people to just make nice for their own good, we try to make our world one where we feel safe not giggling like a schoolgirl every time a random dude makes a pass at us?

    2. The fact that you thought she might be hurt by this guy just goes to show how MESSED UP his actions were, in the first place.

      He went from “complimentary,” to abusive in a matter of seconds.

      She didn’t pick a fight. She told him to mind his own business (to which the proper response is to back off and mind one’s own business). HE brought the fight.

      He felt entitled to her, and when she made it clear he couldn’t have her, he turned to abuse. Yes, he could have turned violent and hurt her. Newsflash: Guys like that will turn violent even if you simply ignore them.

      Also, he blocked her, and FORCED her to interact with him, in some way. So, she could not even ignore him.

      Would you have suggested that she flirt with him, out of a sense of self-preservation? That’s dangerous, too. This is the sort of guy with whom it is dangerous to have a relationship, and things can escalate really quickly, if you even start basic flirting.

      I get where you’re coming from. Women are socialized to please men, either from male entitlement, or for female protection from male entitlement. Either way, this needs to end.

      1. The proper response, once told that his comment was out-of-line, would have been to immediately apologize for the faux pas, return to a cordial greeting such as, “have a nice day,” or, “enjoy the rest of your workout,” and move on.

        Excusing it is an attempt to put the problem back on her. HE meant it as a compliment, so her not taking it as such is HER fault. There are too many people out there, and men especially, that think that fat women are desperate for any positive attention they can get, and so will be immensely grateful for any “tidbit” they get thrown.

        The worst expression of this are the guys who think fat women are “easy scores,” and will gladly bed down with any guy that gives them even a modicum of positive attention. I would not be surprised if this guy had been of that mentality.

        1. Yep — this is why I am slowly learning to be more cautious and question men’s intentions. I had one guy recently who has to be at least 55 years of age message me after seeing my photo on a BBW Facebook page and say, “I love you, babe.” I was a bit offended because how can you love someone you don’t even know, for starters?

          I wondered if he tells thin women these things or just fat ones because he thinks we are easy to get into bed and will fall for such lines.

          I knew he read my message because FB lets users know when it happens.

          I have to protect myself.

  4. It makes me crazy when people comment on my weight, usually, “Have you been losing weight?” I usually just say, “No, I don’t think so.” They think it’s a complement. I don’t want the attention on my body.

    1. A female friend did this to me just a week ago! “you look so good, you lost weight! what are you now a 12? you look smaller than me!” while PUTTING HER HANDS ON MY WAIST…just NO. I reacted in a very crabby manner…NO, I did not lose weight, stop saying that and please don’t do that (as I pushed her away from me physically). I’m not into that shit! My male friend who I was speaking to before she interrupted us completely got it.

  5. Rock Star Ragen, may I post this quote image on my FB page? I made one adjustment to line 5 – changing “would keep” to “kept.” If you prefer I change it back, I’m cool with that. My inner editor oversteps sometimes. Please let me know what attribution to make!

    Thanks! Christine

  6. While I obviously understand that his comment was inappropriate as phrased and clearly he was a jerk, if it had been something more along the lines of “you look beautiful” without any mention of size would you still have felt it was offensive. I’m fairly new to all this and I’m getting better, but I have to say that I’m a sucker for compliments. Maybe that stems from years of a bad self image, but if someone pays me a compliment, it’s an ego boost.

    But now that I’m saying this, I can see that perhaps I’m allowing someone else’s opinion of me to influence my own opinions about myself. Honestly, I never would have realized that, I’m always the first to say I don’t care what anyone else thinks.

    1. Any guy who physically blocks me before paying me a compliment, of any sort, scares and offends me.

      There’s a right way to give a compliment and a wrong way. This was a wrong way.

    2. To me, this one is tough, because even if someone says something positive and body neutral (e.g. “You look beautiful”) rather than a loaded directive (e.g. “Don’t lose too much weight”), they are still making an uninvited assessment of that person’s physical appearance. If he really wanted to be friendly, he would not have blocked her path and could have said something along the lines of, “Have a great run!” and left it at that.

  7. If people want to pay someone a complement, why don’t they just give out good investment tips? Everybody can use that information.

    1. I’m trying to imagine Wall Street Investment Harassment – “Hey Girl, buy low, sell high!” ; “How are *you* doing? Index Funds are a great way to diversify your portfolio and minimize risk!” ; “Treat most stock purchases as a long term investment and don’t react to market volatility, Babe!” …?

    1. Yeah, that wasn’t my favorite part of the exchange. I wasn’t 100% trapped because I could have run onto grass that was being doused with sprinklers, or into oncoming traffic on the street, but my only option for staying dry and not chancing being hit by a car went right through him. 😦


      1. I don’t think many men really understand how threatening it can feel when they block a woman’s path.

        Granted, this isn’t an excuse because it is our jobs to educate ourselves.

  8. “Plenty of the hatemail I get is just some dude saying “I’d never fuck you.” ”

    Or, in the case of this guy, it’s just some dude saying, “I’d totally fuck you, regardless of your own feelings about me, because whether or not you want it is irrelevant to my world view.”

    Seriously, if you want to have sex with a person, court them properly. I don’t mean you have to follow all sorts of courtship rules. But you DO need to get to know them, in a non-threatening manner, and introduce the idea of romance gradually.

    Even “love at first sight” couples don’t just hop into bed with each other before they even introduce themselves.

    When a person goes straight to “I want to have sex with you,” it is NOT a compliment, because they are reducing you to an object designed to gratify their sexual urges, not a person with desires of your own.

    I dream of a stranger coming up to me, and saying, “I find you attractive and would like to get to know you better. Here is my name and number, if you’re interested. Bye!” If I want to call him, I can. If I want to stop and talk to him right then, I can say, “Wait! Let’s chat now.” If I want nothing to do with him, I can chuck the number and forget about it, secure in the knowledge that he’ll leave me alone. THIS is a compliment, to me.

    This guy was a total jerk, and should be written up on one of those hollaback or anti-cat-calling websites.

  9. Yeah, this doesn’t feel like a compliment to me – because he 1) blocked you and 2) made sure to put you down first. “Don’t lose too much weight” = lose SOME, because I want someone I can bully and control, and if you take my slimy bait, I’ll be able to keep your feeling of being “good enough” just slightly out of your reach.

    But it never hurts to carry pepper spray or a taser. Sometimes you have to put punctuation on the life lesson. 😉

  10. Very true… I am so sad when this happens, but more upset. Yesterday I wasin our company’s kitchen eating my lunch and my colleague comes in and says “you should be watching your weight, you will get diabetes and a cardiac arrest”. I was more or less telling her to shut up and she ignored it, continuing how her husband (fat) had died of a heart attack and how her children (fat) are sent to a fat doctor to lose weight and how her (fat) school friend had diabetes. I asked “was your husband an alcoholic?” – “Yes”. But of course the fat is the reason….. I am a vegetarian and was eating lettuce with corn and carrots and she was having a go at me for putting too much balsamic vinegar inside of it and I wanted to eat it in peace, not because I wanted people to tell me to watch my weight!!! I always get anxious when eating in public and try to hide away where I can’t be seen. I have also seen other fat people do this. I can’t even tell my boss, he would laugh! I am so angry and hurt

    1. “lettuce with corn and carrots and she was having a go at me for putting too much balsamic vinegar inside of it”

      OK, so not only was she rude and wrong in her behavior, she was also wrong in her reasoning.

      Lettuce, carrots and balsamic vinegar have NOTHING fattening about them. Corn has carbs, but NONE of these have fat and cholesterol, so where did she think this cardiac arrest thing was going to come from?

      Anyway, science now tells us that cholesterol levels are largely determined by genetics, and even thin people who eat healthy can have problem levels, that require medication, and even fat people who eat fat all day can have good levels.

      But what the heck, she’s complaining about VINEGAR? Since when does ANYONE believe that vinegar is fattening?

      I’m sorry for yelling, but seriously, what.

  11. I’d like to change this to “bodies are not public property”. Female bodies are not. Transitioning bodies are not. Genderqueer bodies are not. Non conforming bodies are not. Male bodies are not. Fat bodies are not. Thin bodies are not. Multiracial/mixed racial bodies are not. Tattooed bodies are not, but tattoos and/or other artwork may be (ask). AND SO ON. AND SO ON.

    1. I agree with you that bodies are not public property. I also think it’s ok to talk specifically about fat bodies, especially in relation to events where fat bodies are specifically attacked.


      1. I’ve been wanting to tell y’all about a wonderful experience I had recently, and this is probably as good a thread for it as any.

        Some background — I’m 60 years old. I have (idiopathic, unexplained) neuropathy in my legs and feet, which means that my balance is very shaky, my leg muscles are weak, and I stumble easily. So I walk with a cane. I do my 8000 to 10,000 steps a day, but I go slowly and I have to look at the ground in front of me to make sure I don’t lose my balance.

        A couple of weeks ago I was visiting Boston. I’d just got off the train at South Station and had my backpack on, my purse over my shoulder, my suitcase handle in one hand and my cane in the other. I was looking for a taxi, and forgot to look at my feet. And, of course, I stumbled over a little curb around a bicycle stand, and fell very hard and very heavily.

        Why do I call this a “wonderful” experience? Because three young people immediately rushed to help me. One young woman asked “Are you okay?” and picked up my suitcase and cane for me. Another came up, picked up my purse, and stood there holding it for me until I was composed enough to take it back. Most amazing of all, a young European man (Dutch or German, I’d guess by his accent) jumped out of the passenger seat of a car he’d just stepped into, offered me a steady arm to help me up, and asked if I was all right. When I said I was, he said “Yes. You are a STRONG woman,” and gave me such a beautiful and sweet smile that for a moment, in my dazed state, I seriously thought he must be an angel sent to me with a message of affirmation. Then he got back into his car and was gone.

        I’ve been wanting to tell all of you about this ever since. With all the hate that fat people get, here at least were three young, slender, beautiful people who, when they saw a fat 60-year-old woman with a cane fall on the sidewalk, did not jeer or mock or laugh at her, but instead rushed to help and comfort and encourage her. I was badly bruised and very shaken up but I came away feeling so very grateful and touched that I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

      2. Just like the “Black Lives Matter” thing. Yes, of course, all lives matter. But we’re talking specifically about black ones at these rallies, thanks.

        And on this board, we’re talking specifically about fat ones, thanks.

        Sometimes, people with privilege have to be educated about the specifics, as well as the generalities, because they don’t truly understand that those specific types ACTUALLY count and fall under the “all” umbrella.

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