Dear dieting friends,

I was reading The Rotund’s post about grey areas and lines in the sand, and I could feel the wheels in my brain slowly clunking into action. (They’ve been very relaxed brain-wheels for the last while.) I started thinking about how I feel about having friends who go on diets or whatnot. And I realized something — that I really don’t care very much.

Now, if my friends were the type who evangelized about diets, and overwhelmed every conversation we had with diet talk, or barged into fat-acceptance-land and started being all diety, and if I found it obnoxious and/or triggering of my own neuroses around food and weight, I think I’d start to care very much. But it seems my immediate reaction is curiosity — one of my friends said she was on Weight Watchers, and I felt compelled to ask, “Do you like it?” to which she responded, hilariously, “Well, no. I like to eat food.”

Similarly, if my friends went around bashing fat people and saying things that were patently offensive about fat people, or even just bodies and appearance in general, then I’d feel morally obligated to talk to them about that, and it might not always be while using my Inside Voice. I would expect the same from them, if I were to say something boneheaded about race or religion (which I have certainly done, and to which they have responded passionately, much to their credit.)

But I suppose I am lucky, because my friends don’t do those things. If they ever have, it was long ago, before they were aware of the existence of fat acceptance and my own involvement in it. And since I made them aware of my feelings about being fat and about how fat people are treated, they seem to have thought it over and decided, yeah, you know what? It’s not cool make nasty judgments about people based on the way they look.

Like I said, I am lucky to have awesome friends.

So, in those few instances where I overhear in passing that one of my friends is trying to lose a few, it really doesn’t bug me. I know they’re aware of my viewpoint, and I really don’t need to belabor the point — they get it, at least conceptually. I don’t expect them to line up politically with me, or to make the same personal choices I’ve made, or have a perfectly complementary worldview. I value having friends and loved ones with different opinions, as long as we can treat each other with respect.

(Now, other people in fat acceptance may not be comfortable having friends who diet, because it touches an area that remains painfully sensitive to them, and they may need to distance themselves from those friends — and that’s fine. That’s them. We do get to choose our friends, and people have varying levels of comfort for disagreement.)

Anyway, the thing I’ve noticed, once or twice, is that when a friend of mine does choose to purposely try to lose weight, I detect a — shall we say particle? — of defensiveness. That’s what I’d like to address.

Look, my very good friends who I’ve loved since childhood — you don’t have to justify your personal actions to me. You already know what I think about dieting, but this isn’t about me. Your choices are yours, and as long as they’re not harming other people, or impacting my sanity, or doing overt damage to your own well-being — (and there’s a fine line there, because you can be damned sure I’m sensitive to signs of eating-disordered behaviour if I know someone is unhappy with their body. I once had a boyfriend who claimed that it was perfectly normal to chew up tasty food and then spit it out while dieting! I had to tell him straight out, that? Is disordered eating. And he was massively offended, because eating disorders are for girls, but I wasn’t about to keep quiet on that shit) — then your choices are your own, they remain your own, and I’m not going to badger you about them.

Your shit is your shit to figure out, and sometimes the only way out is through. In fact, the way I came to the place of relative peace I now inhabit with my body was by experiencing dieting in all its fucked-upness. I am not about to take that learning opportunity away from you, if you feel you need it. And if, in the end, you decide dieting is really not a tool of the devil, and you have no particular problem with it? Then whatever. I still won’t have a particular problem with you, either, unless you make it my problem.

No, I don’t agree with it, but we don’t have to agree. We just have to love each other, and thankfully we really, really do.

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  1. meerkat
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m too afraid to bring it up with them, but I am witheringly annoyed by my friends’ updates about horrible their bodies are because they are fat (this does insult me by implication) or how awesome it is that they have lost five pounds and how they are totally going to continue losing lots more. It will take ages to play out and nothing good will come of it, but I doubt there’s any convincing them because the voice of the media is so loud and Shapely Prose is inherently untrustworthy because it is a blog on the internet (you can’t believe anything on the internet, but you can always believe the evening news).

  2. Posted June 7, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I think you should bring it up, meerkat. You might be surprised. I certainly was. If they love you, they will make an attempt to understand.

    If not, well…it’s time to make some better friends anyway.

    But I know this is all much easier said than done.

  3. Louise Halyk
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi Michelle: Great blog. I’m very proud of you. You are doing great.

    • Posted June 19, 2009 at 12:37 am | Permalink

      Hey Louise! What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this??

  4. N
    Posted September 14, 2009 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Thanks for writing this. I started Weight Watchers a few months ago, and one friendship has ended because of it… I guess I have cognitive dissonance in that I think I believe that I am healthy at any size that I’ve been, and that other people can be healthy too at any size (barring the usual caveats), and that I’m still seeing if I can lose weight and keep it off… maybe I won’t be the freak of nature who in five years will keep off the forty or so pounds I’ve lost, but maybe I will. I guess we’ll see – but I really feel like I not only can be healthy at any size, but I can love myself there too. And I have.

    I thought the comment from you friend was funny too – you asked if she liked Weight Watchers and she said no, that she liked to eat food. I like to eat food too, but I don’t feel like I’m not eating while I’m doing WW. *shrugs* To each hir own, I suppose. :) Keep up the good work!

    • Posted September 14, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      I think lots of us go through that, where we like the idea of HAES and/or size acceptance, but still would like to lose weight in our personal lives.

      There’s nothing wrong with that — in fact, it’s a pretty rational response to living in this culture. I definitely don’t look down on anyone for pursuing weight loss. In fact, I pretty intimately understand the motivations for doing so. After all, I did it myself.

      Good luck with whatever path you ultimately pursue. I hope it works out for you.

      • N
        Posted September 14, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Thanks :) I expect that I will be surprised whatever the result.

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