Transcript of The Fat Lip Podcast Episode 33: Holiday Table Advocacy–How to Speak Up About Fatphobia at Your Holiday Gathering
Hello! Welcome to The Fat Lip, the podcast for fat people, about fat people. I’m your very fat host, Ash, and I want to wish you all a very happy holiday season, however you celebrate. Some of you are no doubt preparing for visits and holiday meals with family and friends—maybe you’re even already at your holiday destination—so I wanted to talk today about some of the things fat people struggle with around holiday gatherings and some strategies for having a better time.
I’m calling this episode Holiday Table Activism. Actually maybe it should be Low-key Holiday Table Activism…I don’t want this to sound like you need to bring a milk carton to stand on so you can preach the fat acceptance gospel to your family, and I certainly don’t want you to start any big arguments—dog knows my family in particular does not need any help in that department—but I think there are some small things you can do or say to make this and future gatherings easier on you.
But first! Before we ever get to the holiday table, I wanted to talk briefly about accommodations. Now, in my own perfect world I always stay in hotels when I travel—I like to have my own space to wind down, breathe, decompress—but some people really enjoy staying with family, especially for the holidays. I’m sure there are some of you out there who can’t fathom missing Christmas Eve with everyone in their pajamas and Christmas morning watching kids’ running around the tree and tearing through gift wrap. But it can be hard, when you’re a fat person, staying at someone else’s house. Not everyone’s furniture is as sturdy as your own. Not every bed is strong enough. I’ve even had trouble fitting in the space beside the bed in tiny bedrooms before.
So how can you make this part of the holidays easier on yourself? For me, the most important thing is to know the situation I’m facing when I get to this person’s house. If you’re staying with family, you’ve probably been to their homes before, so think about their furniture. Are you comfortable on it? Does it feel sturdy? What about the bed you’ll be sleeping on? Do you have room to get around? Once you’re armed with information, you can make a plan.
In my case, if I’m driving, I always bring my own chair, for starters. My worst nightmare is breaking someone else’s furniture, and I can prevent that by bringing my own, so I do. That doesn’t mean I’ll never sit on strange furniture, but having a backup that I know is sturdy and readily available gives me a ton of peace of mind. Now if you’re flying this isn’t an option, obviously, so in that case I’d suggest having a conversation with your host about your needs. If I were in this situation, I’d ask my host if they minded if I order a chair that I know will work and have it sent to their house. If you’re spending a holiday at someone’s home, they know you and love you and want you to be comfortable, so this shouldn’t be a problem. And if you need ideas for chairs, check out my “7 Sturdy Chairs for Fat People” blog post on thefatlip.com. Everything there is available on Amazon and is under $100. It’s a small price to pay for furniture to security, I promise you.
Now beds, on the other hand, are harder. In some cases you’re going to be lucky enough to stay in a well-appointed guest bedroom with a sturdy bed frame and plenty of space to move around. But it’s important to realize that often thin and average-sized people just aren’t aware of a fat person’s needs when it comes to furniture. Sometimes you’ll find out that your Aunt Jane plans to put you up on an old pull out couch or a cheaply made futon, and, depending on your size, that may be a big problem. Again, in a perfect world you’ll be able to bring an air mattress with a high weight rating with you. But you need to know that your host’s house has space for it, so be sure to ask. And also, I wouldn’t rely on your host to provide their own air mattress in this case. The truth is that a lot of not-fat people don’t even know that air mattresses—or chairs, for that matter–have weight ratings. This is stuff they’ve never had to think about before. So if you’re flying, again ask if you can order an air mattress to be delivered to your host’s address. I’ll put some links to good options in the show notes.
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Okay, so that should get you started on accommodations.
Now let’s talk about holiday meals. First, we know by now that diet culture is pervasive. It can crop up in dozens of tiny little ways on any given day. And when there’s food around, diet culture is always lurking. And I think the first step in combatting diet culture is being able to hear it and recognize it and know why it’s happening. Aunt Jane probably doesn’t mean any offense at all when she says “I’m going to be good today and not have dessert” but it can start to make you or the rest of the people at the table feel like *they’re* bad for having dessert. So if you can start to listen for these things, you can think about how to address them (or not address them—sometimes you have to know when to just turn around and walk away.)
And only you can know where to draw that line. You know your family and friends. You know who is going to be receptive to discussing this stuff and to what degree. It’s the holidays, and you don’t want to start fights. But you should also be comfortable at the holiday table. You shouldn’t feel like someone is watching your plate or counting how many trips you made to the desert table.
Also, I think the nature and intent of the comment makes a huge difference. If Aunt Jane says that she shouldn’t have dessert, that’s one thing. But if she says YOU or someone else shouldn’t have dessert, that becomes a different issue altogether. If an adult family member is making disparaging comments about their own body or food choices, they have dozens of years of internalized fatphobia that you’re just not going to chip through over Christmas dinner. Don’t expect a breakthrough here. But what you can say is “Aunt Jane, the only bad thing about you having a slice of pie is that that’s one less slice for me.”
Now if Aunt Jane’s comment is directed at you, say “You should eat more vegetables” or “You don’t need that dessert,” I would say, as gently as possible “Fuck off.”
I’m kidding! I’m kidding.
But here are some things that you can say. Choose what seems to fit the tone of your family or your relationship with this particular family member best.
You could say “Thankfully now that I’m an adult I get to make my own food decisions.”
Or “I don’t do diet advice.”
Or “I’ve found that my body is pretty good at telling me what it needs. Sometimes that’s broccoli and sometimes it’s pie.”
Or even “Hey, eyes on your own plate.”
The key here is to keep it as casual as possible while still being firm.
And for some relatives you’re going to know you can’t push back without starting drama. In those cases, I would just turn around and walk away. People who are saying judgmental things and who won’t hear any criticism for those things aren’t worth your emotional energy. I had a great uncle who said shitty things about my fatness every time I saw him, and he was a crotchety old asshole so I could usually get away with a snide comment back, but I knew that it wasn’t going to change his mind. Some people are too convinced that they’re right to hear anything to the contrary. But you also don’t have to sit around and take those comments if they don’t feel good. If all you can do is get up and walk away, do that. Ultimately this is about creating a more pleasant environment for yourself, and sometimes the only way to do that is to move your entire environment to another room.
Now, occasionally you might hear a comment directed at another person. It’s hard to know when to speak up when the target of a fatphobic comment is an adult, so that’s going to be a judgment call. If they seem like they are being picked on or that the comment is upsetting, you should speak up, but in most cases I’d suggest that, when two adults are involved, you keep any comments in reference to your own body. For example, if one family member says to another “Are you sure you don’t want fruit instead of pie?”, even though the comment wasn’t directed at you, you can see how it is influenced by fatphobia and diet culture. So you can say something like “I can have fruit anytime. I’m having pie.” Keeping the comment about your own food choice allows you to subtly voice your opinion on diet talk without stepping on anyone else’s decisions about their own diet.
That’s for adults, though. In my opinion, it’s a whole different story if someone is commenting on a child’s body or food choices. Now, some parents put a lot of emphasis on food choice, and teaching kids to eat nutritious foods is important, so if you’re around kids that aren’t yours, you have to defer a little bit to what the parents allow. If your nephew is only allowed to have two cookies, you have to respect that. But if you hear someone telling a kid that cookies are bad, that’s where I would say something. Even if it’s as simple as saying “Cookies aren’t bad. Cookies are great! There’s nothing wrong with having a cookie sometimes.” Or if you hear someone say to a kid “Don’t have too much pie or you’ll get fat” I would say “You’re not going to get fat from having an extra piece of pie today, but if you do get fat someday, that’s okay. I’m fat and I’m still cool, right?”
I’m always concerned about kids hearing negative messaging about food and fatness because that they are getting enough of that stuff from entertainment and from kids at school. If you can be the one voice in a kid’s life that says “hey, food is good and it’s okay to eat things you like.” And “hey, being fat is one of a thousand ways to be, and it’s totally okay.” I know I wish there had been someone around saying that to me when I was a kid. I definitely would have enjoyed holidays much more.
And finally, one of my favorite things about large gatherings of people with whom I’m close is gossip. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with who’s-dating-who, who’s-new-puppy-peed-on-who’s-sofa type of gossip. But if you start to hear gossip that’s based on body commentary of any kind, it’s fine to take a stand here. I like to just say “Yeah, I wouldn’t want someone gossiping about my body choices, so I’m not comfortable talking about anyone else’s.” This covers a lot of bases, I find.
So go forth and enjoy your holiday with your loved ones. I sincerely hope that not a single fatphobic comment is uttered at your holiday table and that this episode is entirely useless to you. But if you do hear some questionable diet culture-y things, I hope you find a way to address them that is comfortable for you and that makes your holiday even better.
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And finally I hope you have a very happy holiday season, however you celebrate and wherever you are. I’ll talk to you again for our New Year’s Eve episode!
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