I had a very public Facebook exchange with my brother yesterday that was slightly startling.
Why is it that people who believe that fat and health and mutually exclusive get so angry when you disagree? I mean, people who in most situations you can have a great conversation with even if you don’t see eye-to-eye, see red if you challenge them on whether or not there is an obesity epidemic.
So, how do you talk to someone you love who confronts you about your belief that you have the right to take up space without having death threats hurled at you?
How do you listen to them say that fat people eat fast food four or five times a week and never exercise with out getting defensive?
How do you stick to your guns, even when you’re hurt by the sudden onslaught of anger?
Here are my ideas on that:
1. Be informed. I know you already are and that’s your ace in the hole. Have some resources handy to back up you’re claims. If the exchange is electronic, like mine was yesterday, leave them with some article links. Refer them either way to authors who are writing about body acceptance and Health at Every Size. I referred my brother to some articles about how we are not in an Obesity epidemic and to Linda Bacon, Sally Edwards and Laura Fraser.
2. Be calm. Their anger is theirs, you don’t have to own it. You don’t have to match it with their own. You are right, and so you don’t need anger. Take a deep breath, answer any questions as best you can if you feel the need to, and refuse to let their anger be your anger. As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to maintain anger when the other guy isn’t participating in it. Your calmness also shines a light on their anger and shows how misplaced it is.
3. Offer to educate. Give your reasons for believing in Health at Every Size and that exercise will make you healthier and fitter, even if it never makes you thinner. Then offer to tell them more. They may or may not want to hear it, but at least now they know you have the information to give them. And maybe just knowing there is information out there, eventually some day, might penetrate their defenses and they may surprise you by asking for it later.
4. Don’t take their anger personally. This one is hard, at least for me. But remember, their anger is a sign of their own issues. Perhaps you are embodying a philosophy that lights it up, but that isn’t your problem. It’s theirs. This is harder when you love someone, because their anger is aimed at your body (or other bodies that look like yours or other families that look like yours, or maybe even your family) and it feels super personal. Try to remember that their anger is being reflected on you. You aren’t the source of it.
5. Be prepared to walk away. Your mental health is important. Be aware of your ability to hold tight to your beliefs in the face of someone you love expressing serious anger about them. If you aren’t strong enough to handle it without damage to yourself, acknowledge that. It isn’t a sign of weakness to know that you can’t handle a major confrontation right now. It’s actually a strength to know yourself that well. You are under no obligation to defend HAES or being a defiant athlete to anyone. Tell the angry person that you love them, but you’re late for training and get yourself out of there if you have to.
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