Thursday, 23 April 2020

When Good Friends Share Bad Memes – Dealing With Fatphobia

These Coronavirus Weight-Gain Memes Need To Stop Right F_cking NowThanks to everyone for the blog topic suggestions I’m writing away based on your great thoughts! Today’s blog comes from a conversation with Justine Sutton aka Queen Justine!

We know that all the COVID-19 related fatphobic memes are complete bullshit, and I blogged about some response options. Justine suggested that I write a bit more about options for when the person posting the meme is a good friend.

This can definitely change things – whether it’s a friend or family member who you want to keep a relationship with, or someone in a situation of power/privilege who you can’t safely afford to upset.

So I want to talk about options, and then some ways to respond to their responses. Before I do that I want to just remind everyone that we are not the problem – fatphobia is. And we are under no obligation to say anything. We can just make a note of the fact that this is a person who isn’t emotionally safe or us to be around and keep that information for later use.

The options that I wrote about earlier are all still good here, but when it’s a friend it may be an option to give the benefit of the doubt and/or be more vulnerable either on a public post or in private communication:

I’m sure you didn’t mean to, but this is really hurtful to fat people like me and also to people dealing with eating disorders. I just wanted to let you know because I know you would never want to do that.


I want you to know that the meme you posted really hurt my feelings. When you suggest that looking more like me is something that you fear and think is a bad thing, it’s really hurtful.


As someone who has dealt with an eating disorder, I wanted you to know how triggering this is for me and people like me. I know it might seem funny if it’s never been life or death for you, but for me it’s just awful to see stuff like this.

This can also be an excellent opportunity to fight fatphobia with confusion, which I explained here!

Now let’s talk about some possible responses that we might get. Before I do that, I want to remind everyone that when we take the time to point out someone’s fatphobia, we are doing them a courtesy. The only appropriate response is to thank us and fix the problem. Unfortunately the typical defensiveness that we are likely to experience can hurt even more when it comes from a friend, which is something to think about before we decide to engage.

Finally, it can help to remember that we can never control the response we get to doing people the courtesy of pointing out their harmful behavior. We can choose to use our time and energy to give someone the opportunity to become a better human being, but we aren’t obligated to do so, and we aren’t responsible for whether or not they take the opportunity.

“Can’t you take a joke?”

This is some classic defensive bullshit.

I can – what I’m asking is why you want to make a joke at my expense?

The problem isn’t that I can’t take a joke. The problem is that someone who is supposed to be my friend is telling me that I should get better at being stigmatized and made fun of without complaint, so that you can have a laugh at my expense without having to feel bad about it. Does that really sound right to you?

“You’re overthinking this”

I think that you are underthinking it, probably because it’s hard to grapple with the fact that something you’ve done is hurtful. That’s understandable but it doesn’t change the fact that you hurt me.

Well, I’m the one who has been hurt so it makes sense that my response would be more thought out.

“You need to look into yourself and see why you are responding this way and making yourself into a victim”

I’m responding this way becaues you did something that was hurtful to me. That’s completely valid.

It sounds like you are saying that you think I need to get better at allowing people to mistreat me.  I absolutely disagree. I’m interested in improving my ability to insist people in my life treat me well.

That just sounds like victim blaming and gaslighting to me. I think that when someone is harmed, the person who did the harm is responsible for their behavior.

“If you insist on acting like this, you’re going to lose friends”

If people are willing to make jokes at my expense, even after I’ve explained that they are hurtful, then they weren’t my friends to begin with.

No, other people will lose me as a friend. I’m going to gain the self-esteem that comes from setting boundaries and not allowing people to mistreat me.

If they refuse to take this opportunity to become less of a fatphobe, you’ll have to decide what you want to do next. Those options including everything from deciding to ignore it for the sake of the relationship, blocking/hiding/unfriending on social media so that you don’t see more, setting some boundaries, or deciding that this person no longer gets to be in your life.

No matter what you decide, remember that you aren’t the problem and this shouldn’t be happening.

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