The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended a constitutional law / rhetoric program (a/k/a “awesome nerd camp”) at Yale University. In the sweltering heat of a New Haven July, I learned how to employ logos, pathos and bathos and wield them like mighty swords.
So I wasn’t too scared when I was chosen to argue for changes in trade regulations with China. It was a complicated topic that I initially knew nothing about, but I thought that with research, determination, and some artfully crafted stories, I could sway the crowd to my side.
I don’t actually remember what my side was, but I do remember this: out of 20 people, 19 voted for the other guy.
In other words, despite logic and reason and passion being on my side, only one person raised a hand to agree with me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was great training for being a Health At Every Size (HAES) advocate!
Convincing People Is Exhausting
Advocating something that goes against what people consider common sense is incredibly hard. In our country, the diet industry makes over $60 billion a year, big pharma makes gazillions on diet pills that don’t work, big medical makes gazillions a year on weight loss surgeries that promise more problems than solutions. That all means that lots of money goes toward convincing people that diets and weight loss are totes awesome. And how much convincing do they really have to do when our fatphobic society promises so much approval and health and freedom from discrimination for people who lose weight?
So here’s what I think about convincing people to embrace HAES and be fat positive – it’s not my job. And I’m sharing this with you because I don’t think it’s your job either.
Some Things To Try Instead
If trying to convince other people to understand the wonders of HAES and the detrimental effects of fatphobia is dragging you down, here’s a bit of advice.
Just Be You
I don’t think we always realize how incredibly powerful it is to model body positivity for others. Allowing yourself to take up space, wearing clothes that you feel good in, knowing you’re valuable, attractive, worthy and wonderful, enjoying food, setting boundaries with others on body and diet talk – all of this is both wonderful and important. When you model that behavior for others (even if you’re not “perfect” at it) you create an invitation for other people to act similarly or ask you how you do it. Rather than convincing someone to embrace a new way of being, you can do it by creating the space for them to try it.
Present The Facts
Presenting facts is still powerful and important. There are certain situations where presenting facts will be important for you, such as when you’re dealing with a friend, relative, doctor etc. who is pushing weight loss. But when you just present facts rather than try to convince people to agree with you, you take the pressure off both of you. (Some awesome fat fact resources to share can be found here, here, & here.)
Give Them Time
Remember back when you thought dieting was the answer to all of your problems? (And hey, if you still sort of feel that way, it’s okay!) I definitely remember when I felt that I absolutely had to lose weight if I wanted to get a boyfriend/change careers/be healthy, etc. I only found HAES when I was so sick of dieting and stressing about food that I knew that there had to be an alternative. And even when I started reading about accepting my body and healing my relationship with food, I still thought that it made a lot of sense but that I still had to lose weight.
I think that for most people, this really is a process. The more we respect that process, the more our advocacy will have the effect we want.
At least, I hope I have convinced you of that. :)
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Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight.