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April 06, 2016

Help: How Should I Respond to Fat-Shamers?

Should we respond to those who casually fat-shame us? See Madge's take on this.

by Madge

Dear Madge,
Hi! So... I'm a teenage girl with a body that's far from what most people would say a “perfect-bod”, and I'm perfectly aware of that. But I've been learning to love my body, and to feel comfortable in my own skin. I've been reading lots of articles, and books, and watch empowering videos about how to genuinely love yourself. 
The thing is, it's not a walk in the park. Whenever I meet an old friend or a cousin I haven't seen in months, they'd throw the "Ya ampun, lo gendut banget sih" (jeez, you're really fat!) right to my face in zillions different ways. I have to admit that it hurts me and lowers my self-esteem to somewhere beneath the ground. 
I want to tell people that it is not nice at all to say something like that to another person. Why do people (or at the very least, Indonesians) feel the need to comment on someone's physical appearance? I want to stand up for myself and for others, and I want people to understand that it's a nasty thing to say to someone. 
How do I tell these people that it's not nice while still keeping my composure? Because I once snarked back and the person was like, "Chill, dude, I was just joking." 

I want them to know that it's not funny at all. It's rude, it's bringing people down, and it's disrespectful. 
Hi M,
Oooh, I so feel you. Having been on the overweight side since I hit puberty – although I’m never obese – I’ve had my fair share of being fat-shamed. I remember once in high school, a boy in my class had the nerve to sit next to me just to say that I was fat and that I looked like an elephant.
I couldn’t say anything at that time. I was more confused as to why he picked on me, because there were other fatter girls in class. Maybe because I was the class clown? But that is no reason for the shitty boy to do it.
Sadly, it hasn’t gotten better since then. Fat-shaming exists in other societies too, but to my wonder and surprise, Indonesians especially feel it’s a national pride that should be preserved and thrown to other people the very first moment you meet them.
Strangers don’t have any reservation about calling people fat to their face. Once, an angkot driver (I sat on the front beside him) commented on me eating snack, “You’ll get fatter eating that.” I was stunned.
I was even fat-shamed during my pregnancy (even though I didn’t gain much)
and right after I had a baby (by a friend’s aunt who just met me after 20 years and didn’t know I just pushed a baby out of my vagina a week earlier, hence the baby fat).
Do all those comments hurt? Sure. Do I sometimes feel like I want to starve myself and hit the gym for hours afterward? Yes. Would it be worthy to give them the “body positive” speech and how hurtful and destructive their comments are? No, not really.
I found that most of the time, it’s just easier and healthier to just disengage and ignore the statements entirely. Sometimes trying to correct certain people is more traumatizing than the fat shaming itself.
I have my bad moment, though. I would reply, “Iya deh, yang ganteng/cantik (That’s rich coming from your handsome/pretty self).” That only works if the fat shamer is ugly, though :D. But most of the time, I just ignored them no matter how much it hurt. Once I met a college friend whom I had not met for years and, literally, the first line that came out of her mouth was, “Ya ampun, kok lu gendut banget sekarang? (How come you are so fat now?)” I didn’t bother to say anything and just walked away. Like, bitch, bye!
The fat comments, sometimes, come from a place of insecurities as well. So no matter how hurtful it is, take the higher road and don’t feed the negativity. I was so close to say to the friend’s aunt, “So, how’s your philandering husband?” but I didn’t, because what good would that be?
If I could draw a “hikmah” out of the years of fat shaming is that I don’t need validation from other people, and especially from the opposite sex. Ever since that comment from the boy in high school, I realized that most boys are jerks and that kept me from boy trouble.
It’s better to choose our battle and instead spread the positive body image message to those who need it and would listen. For me, it’s my niece, who, alas, inherits the big bone gene in the family. Sometimes I slipped, but I tried to never complain about my body in front of her and instead engage her in a more positive way of loving our bodies, like dressing well and doing exercise.
On top of it all, the most awesome response to fat shaming is being successful. Just channel your anger, or vengeance even, to work hard and do best in whatever it is you like to do. It’s like the best version of showing your middle finger to the world.
Actress Gabourey Sidibe made the best response to fat-shamers.

Hope it helps. And be more forgiving of yourself for giving in to that temptation of eating donut just before your bedtime. Sometimes it’s just what a girl needs.