Let's Talk About Talking About Fat


"You know, you're not that fat. Chubby? Yes. But not that fat."

This was the priceless appraisal I received from a gay man after an hour and a half on our first (and likely last) date. Earlier, he had told me that he was not afraid "to tell it like it is to people's faces," so I really shouldn't have been that surprised. And to be honest I really wasn't. Not to mention he may have been simply trying to prove his New Yorkiness to me, a recent transplant to Brooklyn from the genteel, passive aggressive oasis that is the Pacific Northwest where people talk shit to others like they were taught to: behind their backs. But coastal-cultural differences aside, this is what I needed to tell him: shut the fuck up, bitch.

My body is my body, and the fact that physicality is, for better or worse, a very public and visible part of one's character, does not mean you have free rein to discuss and judge my appearance after getting to know me over the course of drinking a single grande iced coffee. Would he comment (a.k.a. ridicule) someone's socioeconomic status, their religious affiliation, their level of education, etc after a similar length of time? I would really hope not. But for some reason people think it's alright to politely snide—might I suggest drop a microaggression—on the less-than-supermodel beautiful class of people because, hey, I've been looking at you for this long, why can't I give you my unsolicited advice on your physical failings?

You see, if you're one of the lucky few who has been blessed with a body that the majority of society deems "beautiful," you may not realize how ingrained body image issues are to the rest of us. Calling someone "chubby," (or "big boned," "husky," "bigger") will inevitably translate in our minds to "lazy," "irresponsible," "lacking will power," and "not good enough" because those are the associations that we have grown up with and have been taught to believe throughout our lives. In no way could anyone, ever, say, "I'm just telling you like it is," and mean it in good faith. If anyone suggested that to me, as this person did, there are only two options: They have no idea how raw and deep-rooted body image issues run in someone's persona or they are a sociopath who would also condone, "Let me degrade my fellow humans for sport without regard for their emotional well being... because I just tell it like it is."

This isn't to say that individuals have no opportunity to talk about another person's fat; it's just that the right time to have such a delicate conversation is really fucking rare. Are you a doctor concerned with someone's obesity-related health risks? Great, you might be entitled to bring up your concerns over their weight, granted you keep the discussion strictly on health concerns. Are you a person in a long-term relationship who's seeing his/her partner put on the pounds in an unflattering way? You—maybe, MAYBE—have grounds to bring up weight-related concerns granted you make it abundantly clear you love them regardless, you use the absolute utmost care when bringing up the topic, and you convey without ambiguity that their loss of weight could be beneficial for everyone, including the relationship itself, involved. (Let me say that the level of care necessary to bring up this topic without conflict is practically insurmountable, but I do think couples should have the space to discuss it.) Both the doctor/long-term partner scenarios share two very important characteristics: the person bringing up the weight-related concern has the other party's best interest at heart, and, perhaps more importantly, the trust between the two parties is absolutely unquestioned.

So what should my date have said instead? Nada. Zilch. Zero. He doesn't know me. I don't know him. I don't care about what he was looking for in his romantic partner. I don't know what degree of self-servingness his off-the-cuff comments on my heavier than ideal body contain. Maybe it was true that he was "just telling it like it is" and that his comments contained no ill will. I don't fucking care. Why? Because the vocalization of his judgment over me at that point in our (nonexistent) relationship was as acceptable as if he had turned around in the cafe queue and vocalized his views of the waistline owned by the person behind him. You don't do that shit. That is gauche. YOU ARE A BAD PERSON FOR SAYING THINGS LIKE THAT. There is a special circle in hell reserved for your kind!

If you are on a date and you don't like what you see, you have every right to publicly or privately end the relationship's potential right there. Physical beauty is a completely acceptable characteristic that you're allowed to check off on your list of "must-haves." But you are not—never, never-ever-ever—allowed to demean another human who does not meet that level of beauty. Even if you feel compelled to just "tell it like it is."

Please incorporate this new piece of information into your dating lives going forward.

Thank you.

Image labeled for reuse by Kyarako

Kevin Zimmerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Brooklyn. He goes by Clio while on Kinja, is shopping a YA novel, and can be contacted via Facebook here and on Twitter here.