Hey, all! After a fantastic trip to Northern Ireland, I’m back in my home base, catching up on sleep and wondering why driving on the right side of the road has suddenly become so difficult. On the plus side, this means that I’ll be able to get back into my more typical schedule of posting. Exciting times!
Today’s topic is a little more abstract and general than usual, but I still think it’s really important to think about.
How do you respond to people who disagree with you about body positivity?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to repeat the same three or four arguments in favor of self-love and health at every size. Even in the past two weeks, I need more than the fingers on both hands. While body positivity is a very personal journey, many people have a hard time understanding what it’s all about, or why it’s really not any of their business how I feel about my body.
I sometimes have a difficult time not flying off the handle when confronted by people who are completely against all the principles of positive body image that I work for. I find myself tempted to build a soapbox out of whatever materials I happen to have at hand, climb up on it, and wave my hands around while shouting for about a quarter of an hour. But this won’t accomplish anything.
And that’s why I’m compiling this list: Five Ways To Talk To People Against Body Acceptance Without Making Enemies. It’s not the catchiest name you’ve ever read, but it’s still a useful list to have on hand when someone confronts you about your beliefs. Because if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably only a matter of time.
1. Keep It Civil
This is one of the most important elements, and the one that’s the hardest to stick to. When someone is telling you that fat people are the reason they pay more taxes and so should pay higher health care costs, or that eating disorders are first-world problems for spoiled rich kids, it’s tough not to get angry. But no one’s mind has ever been changed by an exchange like this:
Person A: “Oh my God, how can you believe something like that? You’re so stupid!”
Person B: “You’re right! I am stupid! How did I never notice that before? Thanks for pointing it out!”
Often, the only reason someone is so vehemently against you is that society pushes the opposite message of the body-positive community. It’s not fair to target others because they haven’t been exposed to the viewpoints that we’re dealing with.
If they’re willing to listen to you and hear your reasoning behind your beliefs, that’s great. But think about it this way: you have someone in front of you that can potentially be persuaded to change their perception of the body-positive community and respect people of any size, shape, color, or what have you. Don’t throw that opportunity away by going off on a rant.
2. Ask Questions
A recent conversation I had with a total stranger (that’s what happens when you put me on an eight-hour flight, I get into discussions about body positivity with my seatmate) evolved into the motivating factor for compiling this list. He shared his distaste for dating women he deemed “overweight,” because living a healthy lifestyle was important to him, and he was worried that dating a heavier woman would compromise his goals.
There were plenty of things I wanted to tell the man in 26F, not least of all that weight and health are not the same thing, or that what a woman does with her body does not need to impact what he does with his. But lecturing him would get me nowhere, and would make me look like a jerk.
“I mean, can you really tell what kind of lifestyle habits I have by what I look like?” I asked him. “Can you tell I’m not a chain smoker and an alcoholic?”
I’m neither, by the way, but by looking at my weight alone, it’s tough to tell.
The best part of questions is that they force the audience to think for themselves without making them feel attacked. It’s the same as the old “I-feel” statements: you’re allowed to express how you feel without ganging up on your conversation partner. Which I’m sure they appreciate.
3. Have Facts And Resources Ready
Too many arguments get derailed because they descend into finger-pointing and name-calling. Calling each other rude names isn’t going to convince anyone that body positivity is a good thing for society.
But you know what might? Facts.
Too often, the “War On Obesity” or the Sedentary Age of America gets blown up into emotional appeals and exaggerations. When obesity has become not only a disease but an epidemic, it’s tough to get people to take a step back and think critically about what they’ve been told.
If you have facts and scientific studies that show that BMI is not a reliable indicator of health, or that fad diets are more harmful than helpful, or that being severely underweight can be more damaging to your health than being overweight, this hard data will go ten times as far as your simply repeating, “you’re wrong.”
Debate Team 101: it’s easier to be persuasive with facts rather than opinions.
4. Meet People Where They Are
This tactic appears all over the consciousness-raising sphere, from educating people about sexism, racism, homophobia, or what have you. If you’re talking to someone who’s never considered the idea that fat discrimination or society’s pressures on our bodies and our health habits are serious problems, leaping into a discussion of complicated particulars on the subject is not going to be helpful.
Everyone has been exposed to some kind of body pressure, whether or not they think they have. Been teased for being the scrawny kid who got picked last for dodgeball? Anxious because you’re shorter than your girlfriend? Feeling uncomfortable because your significant other expects you to look like either David Beckham or Kate Moss? You’ve experienced body pressure. How did it make you feel? Trust me, you’re not the only one who feels that way.
5. Know When To Walk Away
It would be great to think that with enough reasonable conversation and awareness about the serious problems around body image, social pressures, and body type discrimination, we could change everybody’s mind in the whole world.
It would also be great to have a pony and a billion dollars.
There are some people who disagree with you simply to get a rise out of you. Sometimes it’s patronizing, sometimes it’s rude, sometimes there’s a “it’s for your own good!” note to it.
Either way, know that there are some battles you’re not going to win.
This is a big issue, and it will take more than one conversation to change everybody else’s mind. There’s no call to expose yourself to verbal abuse when it’s clear you’re making no progress.
That’s what the “block” function on blogs is for.
And that’s what legs are for: to walk away.
What do you think? Are there any other suggestions you’d give to people trying to explain their body-positive position to others? Anything I’ve suggested that you don’t think will work? Let me know!