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Choosing Self-Preservation and Kindness Over Friends

June 10, 2014

Weight LossFat HealthEating DisordersMy Boring-Ass LifeWeight Loss SurgeryDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Eating disorder, fat hate, weight loss surgery

I’m fairly picky about my friends, it’s true. I hold my friends to a high standard and any bigotry must go. I’ve ended friendships over sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia/biphobia/transphobia, and, yes, fatphobia.

The thing is, most people understand perfectly when you end a friendship because your friend ends up being a racist or a homophobe, but they get all undie-bunched when it comes to choosing friends who are not fatphobic, like this sort of bigotry should be accepted and tolerated with kindness. Which yes, some people can and do, and that’s perfectly fine. Change people from the inside. You go!

The thing is, though, you’re also allowed to not have that negativity in your life. For many of us fatties, having fatphobes around constantly bombarding us with body hate, either internalized or directed at us, is extraordinarily triggering. Many of us have experience with eating disorders, many more with disordered eating, and almost all of us, at some point, have hated our bodies. Being around the negativity of weight bigotry can put us in a very bad and very dark place. But, say the haters, you should just deal with it because body hate is perfectly acceptable in our society.

Now, I do understand that someone with fat hate issues can’t necessarily be blamed. In a culture that constantly demonizes fat and fat people, how can you really not have fat hate issues unless you’be become enlightened through education and understanding? It’s tough, and internalized fat hate is society’s fault especially more than the person’s. But that doesn’t mean I have to put myself around it.

And this is where the self-preservation and kindness part comes in. I have the right to look after my mental and physical well-being. I have the right to say that enough is enough and that I need positive body influences in my life. You have that exact same right and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Recently, I ended a friendship because this friend decided to get weight loss surgery. She was involved in the Fat Acceptance movement, so it was a double blow and a personal betrayal. I decided that it would be very bad for my health (mental and physical) to watch someone I care about go through that all because of severe internalized fat hate. As someone with a 10-year history of having an eating disorder, I could not watch someone choose what amounts to a medically-induced eating disorder (and, in fact, medical anorexia can be an official side effect of these surgeries).

I blogged about this on my personal blog and got bombarded with pro-WLS people calling me sexist slurs, threatening me, and calling me a horrible person/friend, all because I decided to look out for myself. If there’s one thing that I want you to take away from this blog post, it’s that no friendship is worth your mental or physical health. No relationship is worth your health. Period.

Now, personally, my friend was completely oblivious to how her actions could effect me at all. I chalk this up to pure self-centeredness, but I have the feeling the rest of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Others’ actions have consequences. They do affect friends, family, and lovers. Your decisions are not made in a vacuum and the consequences of those decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. Your body hate poisons other people.

So, be careful who your friends are. If you are the type of person who can stay friends with bigots and try to change them, then more power to you. We need people to change the world from the inside. But if you aren’t, that’s perfectly acceptable too. Never, ever feel guilty for taking care of yourself. You’re totally worth taking care of.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    June 10, 2014 11:10 am

    This!! People who are body negative can be just as toxic as people who are mentally, emotionally, and physically abusive. If it’s okay to remove abusive people from your life, it should be okay to remove body negative people from your life as well.

  2. June 10, 2014 11:30 am

    Thank you for this post. I needed to hear this.

  3. June 10, 2014 12:17 pm

    Sorry to read this. Yes, please do take care of yourself.

    I have never felt the need to end a friendship because the friend chose to diet, but I won’t deny that it felt like there was a wedge driven between us because of her choice. I can only hope that I wasn’t the wedge-driver myself, back in the days when I was sure that I’d be skinny forever if I could just find “THE ONE.”

  4. Jonna permalink
    June 10, 2014 2:33 pm

    This is something I’m struggling with right now, although not with a friend. My mother, who is in her eighties, is a source of constant stress, as she is still “dieting” herself, and always criticizing my food and clothing choices. Finding a way to keep the peace and my mental health is a daily struggle.

    • hlkolaya permalink
      June 10, 2014 3:17 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear that Jonna. I’ve certainly cut abusive family members out of my life, but i’ve never had that issue with my mother and can’t imagine how difficult that would be. have you talked to her about how she’s effecting you? sometimes just the threat of cutting someone out is enough to change their behavior. the least she could do is to stop criticizing YOUR choices.

      • Jonna permalink
        June 10, 2014 9:19 pm

        We’ve discussed this issue over and over in the last ten years (about the time I realized how much damage her speech was doing), and she has made attempts to change. Unfortunately, her own self-esteem issues and bad behavior are so deeply ingrained that she’ll never be able to change completely. I am fortunate in having a sister who loves me just how I am, and supports me in standing up to our mom. It does break my heart to see Mom still hurting herself at her age, though.

  5. LittleBigGirl permalink
    June 10, 2014 4:53 pm

    I know this exactly. If someone hates fat, they hate me. They can’t say bad things about fat people (or themselves if they are fat) and then be “oh present company accepted” or something like that. If they are fat-hating, they look down on you, even if it is subconsciously. My former “friend” saw me as a project – she thought it was her job to help me fix my “flaws” like my weight. Suffice to say we are not friends anymore. If your friends are self-hating, you can’t let them pull you down with them. WLS is just too big of a thing. Maybe in some situations, people can be friends even if one friend can’t support another’s choices…but who really wants a ‘friendship’ like that in the first place? Friends support each other. If I can’t support you, or you can’t support me, then the friendship will suffer/change at least and at most be over.
    Friends make sacrifices for each other, but no one should sacrifice any part of *themselves* on the altar of friendship – and a real friend wouldn’t ask/want them to. Friendship cannot exist at the cost of Self.

  6. Sophie permalink
    June 10, 2014 5:15 pm

    Absolutely true for me. Just coming to terms with fat hatred in society. I’m starting to use self preservation with friends and acquaintances who hate fat, talk incessantly about diets and WLS.

  7. Kristi permalink
    June 11, 2014 12:07 pm

    I don’t think I understand. The basis of the FA movement is to be comfortable in your own body, right? So if your friend losing weight makes her comfortable, what’s the problem? You assume she’s going to become anorexic or have an eating disorder–but doesn’t disordered eating lead to weight gain too? And some people have EDs that don’t affect size at all, right? If she was your friend she obviously loved you regardless of size (or any other factor). I’m sorry, but this paints you like a really bad friend.

    And your wording kinda threw me for a loop. You said that HER decision made YOU feel bad? You sound so self-centered in that comment and then accuse her of it. I don’t get why she would need your approval for a surgical procedure anyway…

    Sorry if this comes off as bitchy but I don’t understand why everyone can’t just love everyone regardless of how their body looks. If body size could be a true non-issue, you two would still be friends, and that’s sad. Sometimes I hate the world 😦

    • Kristi permalink
      June 11, 2014 12:11 pm

      I mean, my aunt has her WLS scheduled already and I’m not happy about it but I know that it’s her choice. Doesn’t matter how I feel, I will still always love her whether it works just like she hopes or doesn’t change a thing.

    • Meghan permalink
      June 11, 2014 1:08 pm

      I agree. It was 100% her decision, she should do things that make her happy. If getting this surgery would make her feel happier and more comfortable, then good on her. There is literally no reason why you should be so upset about it. Good friends don’t try to drag their other friends down.

    • June 11, 2014 1:29 pm

      First of all, bodily autonomy is central to Body Acceptance. At no point does Heather say that her friend can’t get the surgery, but she does feel like it was a betrayal because she supported the Fat Acceptance movement. We don’t have all the information behind her former friend’s decision to get WLS, but from what Heather explained, there seemed to be some self-loathing espoused around the decision itself. Internalized fat hatred is what Heather says she is reacting to, not strictly the surgery.

      But it does not matter why her friend got the surgery. Heather is under no obligation to maintain a friendship (whose roots or depth we also have no concept of based on this post) if maintaining that friendship in social media puts her at risk for triggering her eating disorder. If her friend made this decision to get WLS, fine, that’s her choice. But Heather does not have to stick around and listen to the kind of rhetoric that frequently swirls around weight loss and weight loss surgery. Heather does not agree with her decision, but nowhere does she say that her friend has to get her approval. But this idea that if Heather doesn’t remain friends with her that she’s a terrible person is fucking ridiculous. We all get to decide who we surround ourselves with depending on how important that person is to us, how long you’ve known each other, and how their personal opinions and decisions may affect or influence us.

      I’ve had friends who have had evolving social or political opinions that eventually became so noxious that I chose to not hang around them any more or to distance myself from them on social media. Those choices weren’t based on my own mental health, but on a simple calculus of how much I liked this person versus how much I want to hear their obnoxious opinions. I once made friends with a guy who was dying of state 4 esophageal cancer and later found out he was also incredibly racist. I did not unfriend him because of this because all of his other friends abandoned him when he got cancer, but I would confront him about his racism directly. Again, that friendship was the result of a complicated calculus of who I wanted to surround myself with.

      I’ve read the reaction of people on reddit and elsewhere who are up in arms that Heather stopped being friends with this person because they got WLS, but I’m seeing a LOT of conjecture about this relationship when the fact is that Heather found her friend’s comments about WLS triggering to her eating disorder. To act as though Heather should just ignore the harm it was causing her mental health because of some arbitrary standard of what friendship means is fucking bullshit. Each one of us has absolute authority to decide what kind of friends we want to have, and that can change at any time. For others to say who I should or should not stay friends with is fucking ridiculous. Period.

      Peace,
      Shannon

      • Kristi permalink
        June 11, 2014 2:44 pm

        I can see where you’re coming from, but I didn’t really see how the friend became fatphobic or toxic. That’s just the POV I got. I guess I’ve had to come to terms with accepting other people’s choices, like I said my aunt and her upcoming gastric bypass. No matter how much it hurts me I’ve got to let her do what she’s gonna do. I could understand if the ex-friend turned into a bitchasaurus and had to be cut out, but the only thing I took from the post was “she got WLS and I don’t like it”

        Sorry again, my PTSD tends to fragment my thoughts quite a bit :/ But I get what you’re saying.

        • June 11, 2014 2:59 pm

          Heather goes into it more here on reddit, but apparently it had a lot to do with what her friend was saying after this decision was made, not strictly the decision, although I can see how the decision to get WLS might startle someone who had thought of you as a Body Acceptance advocate. But we all get to determine what we’re willing and able to put up with. Thank you for taking the time to understand. I know this has been a pretty emotional subject for a lot of people (we’re getting blistering attacks from reddit), but I let yours through because you did not have the hateful rhetoric I’ve seen others spewing.

          Peace,
          Shannon

      • Jen permalink
        June 11, 2014 2:55 pm

        Ending a friendship doesn’t make her a bad person, she has every right to do that. But when someone makes their friend’s surgery all about themself (“…my friend was completely oblivious to how her actions could effect me at all.”), THAT is self-centeredness, which is generally considered to be a negative trait.

        • June 11, 2014 3:29 pm

          I just responded to a similar comment on reddit citing the same quote. Here’s what I wrote in response:

          She’s not talking specifically about the surgery, she’s talking about the self-hatred her friend was espousing on social media surrounding this decision. Notice she says “actions” not “action.” Heather is talking about a whole host of issues that arose when her friend started discussing her WLS on social media, and how her friend’s decision to share all that was affecting her own mental health. And, yeah, if you know that you have friends who have struggled with eating disorders, then ignoring that when you decide to talk about issues that can trigger EDs is inconsiderate. Now, I don’t know all the facts, so I can’t chalk it up to self-centeredness vs. carelessness or whatever. But if Heather felt as though her friend’s behavior was harming herself, she had every justification in the world to unfriend her.

          Peace,
          Shannon

          • Jen permalink
            June 11, 2014 3:58 pm

            That may have been what she meant, but it isn’t what she said. What she implies in the post (intentionally or not) is that getting WLS means you hate yourself. Surely you can understand why people would get upset about that.

            If it really was because her friend was saying negative things and not about the surgery, that is completely understandable. And of course, either way she has the right to decide who to be friends with.

        • June 11, 2014 4:11 pm

          (Starting over to avoid noodling)

          I agree that it is somewhat convoluted as to whether she’s referring to the surgery or the behavior around the surgery, but she refers to her friend’s “severe internalized fat hate” and after talking about how her friend’s actions affect her, says that “Your body hate poisons other people.” As the proofreader here, I should have asked her to clarify the distinction, but I was short for time today and I’m not always able to follow through like that. However, what I drew from it was that her friend had exhibited signs of fat hate, got the WLS, and that combination of talking about it and acting on it became an external manifestation of what Heather saw as internalized fat hate, which is the collective “actions” that affected her. I think that meaning is clearly there, but I also see a lot of people coming to the same conclusion that it was strictly the choice of surgery that Heather meant was affecting her. I don’t believe that was Heather’s intention, so I take the blame for not working to make sure this particular paragraph was clearer.

          Peace,
          Shannon

  8. Natalie permalink
    June 11, 2014 4:44 pm

    I think you friend has every right to do whatever she likes with her own body. It may be a stupid decision but it is her prerogative to decide. So you are unhappy and decide you don’t want to be friends any longer – which is fine, just sort of shows you are not a real friend. It is a bit like saying you won’t be friend with someone because they decided not to diet and it pains you to see them fat. I mean people don’t have to live their life to look in a way you find pretty or acceptable. I agree this surgery is awful but still I fail to see how a good friend wouldn’t want to be around to help someone they love. I mean I love my friends and even if they want to look pretty (or whatever reason she is doing it for) and go about it in a silly way it doesn’t make them bad people. It is not like being racist or homophobic or fatophobic. It is her body. She is not making you change yours, is she? And if she really hates herself it still doesn’t make her a bad person. You sound terribly self-focused, like your friend should lead her life in a way that you like and consider what you will feel when making life-changing decisions. I suspect she is deeply unhappy and hopes it will make it better. And it is not her fault the society really hates fat people and it has made her hate herself so much she is willing to undergo a dangerous procedure to try and fit in. It is not always about you, you know? Sometimes it is about someone else.

  9. Dizzyd permalink
    June 11, 2014 7:36 pm

    Boy, the “concern trolls” are out in force today, aren’t they? Of course, it’s not “all about you”, DUH! It’s just that all too often, we see people who once stood strong against the onslaught of fat hatred fall for the lies that weight loss will “solve everything”. It feels a bit like being betrayed. Sure, they’re free to do whatever they want with their bodies. They’re free to run themselves through a taffy machine to make themselves long and lean like a spaghetti noodle if it makes them happy. It’s just that Heather said she was struggling with this particular issue, and all too often, we’ve seen where people get the WLS, lose the weight, and suddenly they’re a guru of weight loss and health, and everybody SHOULD take their advice, cuz OBVIOUSLY this stuff is so great and if you care about yourself, you’d stop being fat and get your stomach cut up, which BTW is probably about as safe as the aforementioned putting yourself through a taffy-pulling machine.

  10. Dizzyd permalink
    June 11, 2014 7:39 pm

    But to play devil’s advocate for a second, Heather, you might not want to be TOO quick to cut her off, as she may need a shoulder to cry on once she finds out what a horrible experience WLS really is and how it didn’t deliver those magical results she was promised by the slick WLS-salesmen. Then let her know it’s okay, and resist the urge to say “I told you so”.

  11. Happy Spider permalink
    June 11, 2014 8:13 pm

    I’m sorry you’re hurt. How painful for you. It’s a sad fact that you can’t become one with other people: you can think you have a real bond, that this person really understands you, that this is someone who really has your back, and then they can go make a life-altering choice that goes against everything you believe in and seems to show there was never any understanding after all.

    Sometimes people go down paths that you just can’t follow. So you’re just left, abandoned because you can’t follow, and in this case also sick with worry because it is a bad path.

    I hardly ever have friends myself but people say it’s an important part of being human so you’re supposed to continue to be open to friendships even though you get hurt. Like this CS Lewis quote:

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

  12. June 11, 2014 11:14 pm

    I think this is a little mean in some ways..

    I love the fat acceptance movement. It made me feel like in a world where people will make comments when you go for a walk, there were people that would accept you.

    Weight loss surgery has a lot of different values, not all of them are cosmetic. My husbands joints – although I believe he is beautiful and incredible – can’t hold his weight. He hurts, all the time. It’s horrible to watch him suffering because of his weight, even though he knows he is a very attractive man and loves himself and is proud of himself.

    So, weight loss surgery is something we might have to do. And it’s not because he hates himself. It’s not because he has internalized fat hatred. It’s because it will take away his pain.

    It’s not a quick fix, and it’s not ideal – we’d rather not have to have anything like this happen! But how can you exercise when it hurts, when you have insults hurled at you? How can you eat less when you’re so hungry?

    I don’t know. I feel sorry for the author, eating disorders.. they eat your life and they hurt you mentally. But you should never shame anyone for their bodies, no matter what size or ability. Weight loss AND weight gain should never be frowned upon or ridiculed – fat acceptance isn’t saying “You’re only okay if you’re fat” it’s about body positivity. And sometimes people have goals that they want to reach and that’s okay too.

    You can love yourself and want to change at the same time.

    For instance, one of my dear friends recently had implants after cancer took away both breasts. The insult and abuse she got for other survivors was horrific, saying she should be proud of her scars and that breasts were worthless lumps of fat.

    But she was proud of beating cancer, proud of her body for fighting. She didn’t hate herself or think less of herself, she just wanted her breasts back. It doesn’t lessen or cheapen her fight. It would only do that if she suddenly changed personality and became vindictive to those who also struggled.

    I just don’t like that any surgery you are thinking of going through should concern how your friends would feel about it. Surgery is scary enough without worrying about how others would feel, sometimes it is necessary for health – emotional or physical. Yes, you have the choice to break off a friendship because of this! But she has to make the decisions to look after her own health, her own body, in spite of what people will think of her for doing so.

    Even if it turns out that she has internalized hatred – and many, many do – if it does make her happy, if she loves herself more, even if it’s for something as unimportant as weight loss, then I think that’s the main thing.

    Love yourselves, be good to yourselves. You’re all worth it.

  13. vesta44 permalink
    June 12, 2014 11:40 am

    Okay, I’m putting in my 2¢ worth again. 19 years ago, my best friend had WLS (we weren’t speaking at the time, but later that year reconnected). Now, realize that back then I didn’t know shit about WLS or fat acceptance. But I saw what she went through in order to go from 400 lbs to 160 lbs (and that happened in less than a year). I also saw that the surgeon who did her WLS was a fucking idiot, in spite of the fact that he’s one of the teachers of this particular type of surgery in Minneapolis. It’s never a good idea to go in and mutilate the digestive system of someone who has a massive ventral hernia that’s been repaired with mesh, unless you’re going to go back in after the weight is lost and fix the hernia. He didn’t, and her intestines got tangled in the mesh, became gangrenous, and he had to remove almost half of her intestines and the mesh. She then had to take opium drops to try to paralyze her digestive system so she could at least get some of the nutrients out of her food. If she didn’t take the opium, when she ate, she dumped – the food came out looking just like it did when she ate it (and the gas she had was horrendous). To compound matters, she started gaining weight back, even though she couldn’t eat much, and couldn’t keep what she did eat in her system for long enough to get any good out of it. She went back and had a second WLS – and 6 months later, she was dead.
    In spite of her horrendous experience, she convinced me that a VBG would help me lose the weight I was told I needed to lose in order to have my knees replaced. She told me she would be there for me – she’d go the hospital with me, and she’d help me recover when I got home (she had been a nurse before her hernia made it so she couldn’t work anymore). So I saw the surgeon, jumped through their hoops, and scheduled my surgery. Pat died the month before I was supposed to go in for surgery, so I had to go it all alone. Yes, I was stupid enough to go ahead and go through with it even though it killed my best friend – I was that desperate to lose enough weight that I could get my knees replaced when the time came.
    It’s 17 years later, my VBG failed to make me thin, I’m fatter than ever, and I doubt that I’ll ever be able to get my knees replaced if they need it. Doctors are ready, willing, and able to revise my WLS to a more drastic alternative, but I refuse to go through that again – they had their one chance to kill me, I’m not giving them another one. The complications I have now are worse than what I had to deal with as a fat person before WLS, and I’m still dealing with all of that, plus the complications.
    I haven’t lost any friends over my decision – I didn’t have any friends in MN after Pat died. I don’t talk about my decision to have WLS very often, and I sure as hell don’t like to talk about what that WLS has done to my relationship with food. The only time I talk about what happened to Pat, and what happened to me, is when I see people saying they think WLS is a good idea or they’re thinking about getting WLS. Even then, all I do is relate Pat’s experience, my experience, tell them to research the surgery and the surgeon, and then research it some more before making their final decision.
    I wouldn’t cut them loose as a friend just because they decided to have WLS. After all, I stuck by Pat when she had her second WLS, even though I thought it was a bad idea (and I was there for her when she had to have an ovarian tumor the size of a football removed, in spite of the fact that she only had a 50/50 chance of surviving that surgery). But, if that friend had WLS, talked about how she hated her body, how she couldn’t eat everything she used to eat, how she had to restrict what she ate, and on and on about how wonderful it was to finally lose the weight, then she would no longer be a friend. I have enough trouble with food – remembering to eat at least twice a day, trying to figure out what I can eat so I don’t end up with explosive diarrhea, trying to figure out if “this much is enough, or is it too much, or is it going to keep me from being hungry again 15 minutes after I ate even though my stomach says it’s full”. I don’t need the triggering that a friend’s comments about her body, diet, and surgery would do to me.
    Maintaining a friendship with a person who is cheerleading WLS after having been a fat acceptance/body acceptance advocate, and who talks about the results all the time would be more than my sanity could handle and I’d have to, at the very least, distance myself from them, at the worst they would no longer be a friend at all. If that makes me a bad friend, because I consider my health and sanity to be more important than maintaining a friendship that’s going to do me harm, well, then I’ll just have to be considered a bad friend. It’s not like there aren’t going to plenty of people ready, willing, and able to listen to, agree with, and cheer on the person who’s having WLS. There are more people who will cheer you on when you have WLS than who will understand why you refuse to have WLS.

    • Rubyfruit permalink
      June 12, 2014 6:28 pm

      Comments like this are why I wish there was a like button for comments on WordPress.

    • jennydecki permalink
      June 12, 2014 6:41 pm

      *slow clap* That comment is amazing.

  14. Dizzyd permalink
    June 18, 2014 4:07 pm

    Yay, Vesta! That’s exactly why WLS is a bad idea – it could kill as easily as anything. If you want to read another heart-breaking story of a WLS gone bad, go to Big Fat Blog and click on Richie’s story regarding his wife. I guarantee you won’t be able to read it without feeling angry, sorrowful and wondering why ANYONE would want to put themselves through it. I understand Emma’s desire to help her husband and not have him hurt anymore – I have some knee problems myself but I’ll NEVER get WLS, even if they told me I’d die if I don’t – but there’s got to be other things that can be done besides that. Because from what I understand, once you get it, it’s hard as hell to get it undone. Not to mention the complications.

  15. Sophie permalink
    September 2, 2014 7:20 pm

    Thanks Vesta

    Love your post. I share an office with a colleague who has had WLS and she talks about food, dieting, weight loss all day long. She wants me to visit her WLS surgeon. I have told her that I am happy with my size and being fat, she won’t accept this. According to her and society, it’s impossible for me to accept and enjoy being fat, even using the word “fat” is unacceptable to her. So after many talks with her about Fat acceptance she keeps on with WLS and dieting, her “concern” for my health is relentless. She will not accept the boundaries I have set. I no longer eat in the lunch room because of the food policing and diet talk. I now eat my lunch outside in the sun, a great time to relax and reflect. I have been accused of isolating myself, I reassure my colleagues that it is my choice to eat alone and that I enjoy it, and they keep trying to fix and save me.

    My next strategy is to request that I move to a single office, so when one becomes available I’ll be moving- even to a broom cupboard if need be.

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