Helpful Tips: How not to be a boorish body-policing jerk.

By | March 22, 2011

An illustration of fighting at City Hall between Municipal and Metropolitan police officers during the Police Riot of 1857 from "Recollections of a New York Chief of Police" (1887) by George W. Walling.

"But you grow up and you calm down / You're working for the clampdown"

Last week, a few of you alerted me to an article: The moments that make us fat, by CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. I’m certain Elizabeth Cohen is a nice lady whose intentions are only positive, and yet, this little bit of health-writing fluff has made a whole bunch of people very angry. The story takes form as a collection of scenarios—the “problems”—followed by suggestions for dealing with them—the “solutions”—in ways that, ostensibly, won’t make you fat.

Aye, Cap’n, thar be a blockquote on th’ horizon:

Think through your day, and you’ll see [the moments of fatness], as big and obvious as a hot fudge sundae sitting right in front of you. You’ve been good all day, and wham, your friends suggest you go to a buffet for dinner; or you’ve diligently worked out and wham, you end up at a cocktail party with an array of the most killer desserts ever.

[…]

The key is to accept the fact that your willpower will run out at some point, and plan strategies to get you through fattening situations. Here are the top five moments that make you fat, and what you can do to outwit them.

All right. So Cohen proceeds to list “moments” that are pretty broad, and solicits expert advice on how to respond to them, the sum total of which is “eat right and exercise.” Thank the maker someone finally wrote such an article! With Cohen covering the fat waterfront, I feel free to explore an analogous series of moments that we should watch out for—I daresay moments against which we must guard all the more vigilantly, if we are to get through life as kind and thoughtful human beings. I’ve therefore taken Elizabeth Cohen’s headings for her “moments that make us fat” and given them new context. Let’s see what happens.

I hereby present: The moments that make us body-policing assholes.

On vacation

The problem: You’re saved all year and finally the time has come! You’re off the plane and hitting the beach for a well-deserved rest. But wait, what’s that? Check out that fat lady in the bikini! Gross! What the hell makes her think she can wear that? What gives her the right to ruin your beach view with her disgusting body? Your initial inclination is to make eye contact with someone else—anyone else—and share a laugh over the fat woman’s utter cluelessness.

The solution: Fat ladies save all year for vacation too. Don’t waste your energy getting all worked up over someone else’s body shape or size, and don’t make comments to your neighbor, as you may embarrass the woman, or at least you will make a public display of what an asshole you are. Either admire her courage, or turn to look in another direction.

After a break-up

The problem: You were dumped by your boyfriend, and you’ve recently spotted him out with a woman whose bra size dwarfs yours by half the alphabet. When a friend asks how you’re coping, your first thought is to describe the new girlfriend as a shallow slut with implants larger than her brain, and to surmise that your ex is only using her for sex.

The solution: You don’t actually know if those are implants, for one. Furthermore, you don’t know that said woman is sexually promiscuous, and even if she is, being promiscuous isn’t an appropriate thing to judge a woman for anyway. Women with bodacious proportions have to deal with these assumptions all the time, and you’re not helping matters by piling on. Be mad at your piece of shit ex-lover if you want, but leave his new ladyfriend out of it.

A party with fabulous food

The problem: You’re on a diet, but your BFF Esmeralda is throwing her annual bash for National Handwriting Day! (This is a real thing; I looked it up.) You get to her apartment and there are writing-implement-themed hors d’oeuvres as far as the eye can see, not to mention vast stretches of sheet cake decorated to look like looseleaf paper. The other guests are digging in, and all you can think about is your diet. Damn, you should tell them about your diet!

The solution: Don’t tell them about your diet. Nobody wants to hear about your diet. The sole exception to this rule is other people who are also on diets, who may enjoy commiserating with you about how hungry you both are. Forcing calorie counts and food guilt on people who are having a good time is just rude. Keep your constant internal tally of carbs or calories or “points” to yourself.

Watching TV

The problem: It’s Wednesday night, and you know what that means: time for your favorite reality show, Fat Teenaged Pregnant Little People Who Are Getting Married and Didn’t Know They Were Pregnant.* You’re settled on the couch, but you can’t stop thinking about the one-third-full can of Pringles in the kitchen. You’re a disgusting pig if you let yourself eat them after 8pm! And now that you think of it, you didn’t work nearly hard enough on the elliptical trainer earlier today. Your dimply saddlebag thighs will never be in shape for swimsuit season at this rate, and you’ll have to spend another summer refusing to take off your sarong at the beach.

The solution: Eat the Pringles, if you really want them. Your thighs are fine. No, really, no matter what they look like: they’re fine. Trust me, you will never lie on your deathbed thinking, “I wish I’d berated myself more for not looking like a photoshopped-to-perfection model in a lingerie ad,” but you might think, “I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time worrying about what my thighs look like, when I could have been lying by the ocean and enjoying the sunshine.”

At a buffet, or a restaurant with enormous portions

The problem: You hate this inexpensive buffet restaurant, but your friend—who is a little on the girthy side—absolutely loves it. And you’ve noticed that a substantial number of the families eating here also tend toward the corpulent. These other patrons always look sloppily dressed to you, and it seems like your friend always takes one more pass at the buffet than you do. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to your friend that this restaurant is the source of her fatness! Maybe you should tell her!

The solution: Fat people aren’t homogeneously stupid. There are lots of reasons why fat people might be eating at a buffet. For example, given that fatness is more common at lower socioeconomic levels, it’s possible that this buffet is a cost-effective means of feeding a family enough for the better part of the day. One of the less likely reasons is that they simply enjoy shoveling unlimited volumes of food into their cavernous maws. If you’re curious as to why your friend prefers the restaurant, ask her. If you truly hate it, suggest that the two of you trade off choosing where to eat when you see each other. If you really are her friend, you’ll be willing to go to her choice of restaurant now and then. Also, if you really are her friend, you don’t want to bum her out by forcing her to discuss her body size and eating habits if she doesn’t want to, so don’t condemn her favorite buffet or suggest that eating elsewhere might be “healthier” or would lead to weight loss.

 

In summation, the cardinal rule for avoiding the moments that make us body-policing assholes is: Don’t comment on other people’s bodies or eating habits, not to them, not to people they know, not to strangers who may be nearby. If it would bother you to hear it said about yourself, don’t say it to someone else.

* Copyright Marianne Kirby, who dreamed up this show title a couple months back during an especially sarcastic chat conversation about cable channel TLC.


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