So I don’t know if you’ve been following the kerfluffle regarding Dear Abby’s terrible advice regarding a fat woman and her mother’s reaction to the crime of wearing a bathing suit while fat. The whole thing started in August when a woman wrote to Dear Abby saying:
DEAR ABBY: I’m a 24-year-old plus-sized woman (60 or 70 pounds overweight), but very comfortable in my own skin. When swimming in public, I wear a one-piece bathing suit because it doesn’t attract a lot of attention. When I’m home, I have a bikini top and shorts I prefer to wear. This is because I don’t like being covered up like it was in the 1950s, and I feel good when my curves are properly accentuated.
When I go back to see my family and swim, I wear a bikini top and black shorts. Recently, my mother said, “When the family comes over, you can’t wear that. It makes people uncomfortable.” I was shocked, and we had a huge argument. Most of my cousins are fine with my attire, as are my aunts. Only Mom has a problem with it. I asked if she’d feel the same about a large man swimming without a T-shirt. She said it’s different for women. Am I wrong for wanting to be comfortable in my childhood home? Mom should be proud to have a daughter who accepts herself as she is. Who is wrong here? — OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO
And here’s Abby’s assumption-ridden (and apparently clairvoyant) response:
DEAR OFFENDED DAUGHTER: You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else’s home, that person’s wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home. While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.
Oh. My. God. This response has problems on so many levels. On the one hand, okay. When you are visiting someone else’s house, it is a good idea to keep their wishes and their “rules” in mind. It is their house. But then, after that we slide off a deeeeep dark cliff into nonsense land. Why would it be interesting to know what her physician feels about her obesity. I suspect it’s not interesting at all but rather a sort of boring restatement of the “fat bad, skinny good” trope played out in doctor’s offices everywhere. The only way this would be interesting is if this doctor were one of the few medical professionals aware of the significant evidence showing:
1. Weight is not in and of itself a health risk.
2. Focusing on healthy behavior is more effective than focusing on weight loss for long term health.
3. Stigmatizing people based on their weight is likely to make them sadder, sicker and fatter.
But that’s not what Abby meant at ALL. Abby thought, “Hmmm, I’m not a doctor, but if I vaguebook that hazy potential future health threat thing that doctor’s often do towards fat people, maybe I can get away with sounding sort of medical.”
And then we get to the real kicker line of the whole “advice” thing. Abby says: “I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.” And I suspect that you, dear Abby are an @ss. Here’s how I know. First of all, you are basing this next bit on on assumptions and everybody knows that an assumption makes an @ss out of u and me.
First of all, who says this woman is complacent? She says she is comfortable in her own skin. It does not say whether or not she is trying or has tried to lose weight. It does not say whether or not she exercises or eats well. It does not say whether or not she actively works to be healthy or not. It says she doesn’t hate herself for the way she looks. Well here’s a news flash dear Abby. Hating yourself is bad for your health. Period. Being comfortable in your own skin helps you do the things that give you a more healthy and productive life. And living your life caught in a cycle of weight cycling to make your Mom proud of you does not even bear discussion.
But wait, it gets “better”.
Not surprisingly, thousands of people wrote Abby letters telling her that she was insensitive, inappropriate and off base. This presented Abby an opportunity for a “growth experience”. She could accept that if thousands of people told her she was being an insensitive jerk, perhaps she could reflect carefully on what she wrote. Maybe she could learn from this experience. Maybe she could do a little research about the unsubstantiated assertions she made about fat and health. Maybe she could seek to make amends to the people she hurt with her ham-fisted response.
Did she do this?
Abby responded with an even less informed, more hateful response. And clearly she felt proud of it. She presented just one of the thousands of letters that called her out and then responded thus:
DEAR LINDA: Thousands of readers in newspapers and online wrote to tell me how angry they were about my response to that letter, accusing me of “fat-shaming.” If anyone was hurt by my reply, I sincerely apologize, because my remarks were not meant to be rude or disrespectful. When I called the young woman after that column ran to apologize if I had hurt her feelings and read her my response to her letter, she told me she was not offended.
When I answer questions, it is my responsibility to be honest and direct. As anyone who has read my column knows, I am not always politically correct. When I saw her statement that she was 60 to 70 pounds overweight — which is obese — and “comfortable in her own skin,” my reaction was alarm. If she doesn’t become proactive now, by the time she’s 35 she could be far heavier.
Everyone knows the many health complications associated with obesity, so I won’t list them. And while not everyone develops complications, in general, the greater a person’s weight, the greater the likelihood of developing them. While losing weight may be challenging, as I know from personal experience, it’s important to make beneficial lifestyle changes to promote healthy weight, just as it is important to have healthy self-esteem.
That young woman needs to have a frank talk with her doctor about what’s causing her to be so heavy. I told her that when I talked to her. I also suggested it might be helpful to consult a nutritionist.
As to my comment about her mother, I strongly suspect what I said is true, and I’ll stand by it until I hear from the woman telling me different.
Oh. My. GOD.
I could honestly write fourteen blog posts about how terrible Abby’s response to the response to her response is, but I have to get my fat butt over to teach an exercise class now. So let me just move on to offer our dear Abby just a little advice about taking criticism.
1. If thousands of people take the time to write you a letter to say they are offended, chances are, you said something pretty darn offensive. This is an excellent time for you to start listening. In order to do that you will need to STOP TALKING.
2. If thousands of people take the time to write you a letter to say they are offended, it’s a little silly to say “if anyone was hurt by my reply”. Yes they were. And they took the time to tell you so. If you’re not sure about whether or not they were hurt, some cognitive impairment may be at work here so you should probably STOP TALKING.
3. Saying you sincerely apologize because you didn’t mean for your remarks to be rude or disrespectful and then continuing for SEVERAL PARAGRAPHS to be even MORE RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL just makes you look hypocritical and foolish. If you want to apologize, say I’m sorry. Say you’ll try to do better and then STOP TALKING.
4. Saying that somebody who is fat and comfortable now is only going to be fatter down the road is just stupid. You don’t know that. You are not psychic. So this means you should STOP TALKING.
5. Saying everybody knows the health problems associated with obesity so you won’t list them is lazy. Literally hundreds of studies contradict the notion that health problems are caused by obesity and a lot of those studies indicate that the real problem is the sort of B.S. stigma you are perpetrating here. So maybe, as I said before, you should STOP TALKING.
6. When you insult an entire group of people to the point that thousands of them take the time to write you letters, and then you call one person in that group for absolution. Even if that person says they are not offended, you are not absolved of your infraction. You are guilty and that means you should STOP TALKING.
I could go on and on. But I think I will take my own advice now and listen to what you all have to say. So I’ll STOP TALKING.
Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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