Getting a filling at the dentist last Friday certainly wasn’t comfortable, but it was checking out that really got uncomfortable. I was being checked out by an employee who has worked with both me and my partner Julianne and has always been super nice and truly helpful.
They asked me what I was doing tomorrow and I said going on a run (Saturday is long run day, it dominates literally my entire day.) They immediately responded “my stomach used to go out too much too, but I found this great diet” then stood up and pulled their shirt back to show me how flat their stomach is. The numbing agent had me numb from my chin to the top of my forehead so my WTF? expression game wasn’t where I wanted it to be, plus I was focused on trying to keep from drooling out of one side of my mouth so I was going to just let it go.
Then they sat down and started to go into exactly what the diet entails (“First, I bought a big bag of tomatoes…”) I interrupted and said in what I was hoping was a friendly but firm tone that conveyed finality (and didn’t involve drooling) “Yeah, I don’t want to hear about your diet.” They said “ok” and then moved on to non-diet discussions.
Why am I telling you this story? Of late, there has been a lot of discussion of whether people have the right to talk about their diet/weight loss in various situations, regardless of how it might affect folks practicing Size Acceptance, Health at Every Size, or dealing with eating disorders. Regardless of the context of a sizeist world where those with large bodies face shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression and where weight loss talk is deeply tied not just to sizeism, but also to healthism, ableism, “goody fatty” tropes, and privilege. So, knowing that, the question seems to be: Is it ok for people to talk about their diets?
The answer depends on context. So we’ll look at this in various situations.
First, if it’s a space where the rule is no diet or weight loss talk, then it’s simply not ok to talk about diets or weight loss. Fat people live in a world where we get ceaseless messages conflating weight and health, that giveweight loss the credit for health improvements in highly dubious ways, suggesting that becoming thinner is – in basically every way – synonymous with becoming “better.”
It is vital that fat people who want to opt out of a weight loss paradigm and a thin-obsessed culture have the ability to create non-oppressive spaces that center their needs and feelings, and that means spaces without diet or weight loss talk. People dealing with eating disorders need to have spaces where they aren’t triggered by diet talk. Put simply – our spaces, our rules.
Next, let’s look at general conversation. Of course in these situations people are allowed to talk about their diet/weight loss. We don’t have the option to control what other people talk about, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have options.
We can choose to talk about our Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size practice in the same way that people talk about their diets. Or we can just remove ourselves either without comment, or by saying something like “Oh, I don’t do weight loss talk. I’m happy to talk about something else, or to go over there if you’d rather continue to talk about your diet.”
Which brings us to the clerk at my dentist’s office. This interaction shows exactly how screwed up our society is around weight loss talk. I say I’m going for a run and the person responds “my stomach used to stick out too much too.” WT actual F? There’s nothing wrong with my stomach – it sticks out just the right amount (and if it changes, it will stick out just the right amount then too.)
The fact that me saying I running was enough for someone to think they “know” that I think there’s something wrong with my body tells you all you need to know about the prevalence of diet and weight loss talk in our culture. If I’m a paying customer somewhere, then I’m not about to listen to diet talk. I’m not necessarily going to be unfriendly, but I’m going to be firm and clear that I’m not there to buy a diet, so I’m not interested in hearing diet and weight loss talk.
People are allowed to attempt – and believe whatever they want to about – weight loss. We are allowed to create rules for our own spaces, and we are allowed to create boundaries in our own lives. It’s perfectly ok to opt out of diet culture, and it’s perfectly ok to choose to avoid talk that suggests that fat bodies will be somehow “better” if they are a different size.
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