A simple way to show up more fully for your fat friends and family: Make sure to choose activities we can and want to participate in. Solicit fat folks’ input when you’re making plans to ensure we’re able and excited to join in. Check apps like AllGo, which reviews spatial and seating accessibility for fat people, or just Google the establishment and the word “accessibility” for more information. If you want to go shopping with your fat friend, make sure they carry your fat friend’s size. Better yet, ask them whether and where they want to shop. Whatever your plans, if you want us to join you, first make sure that we can.
2. Let your fat friends choose where to sit.
Seating can be a real minefield as a fat person. Beyond booths, tables, and chairs sometimes being be locked into place, chairs may be flimsy. Some may buckle under our weight, and others may threaten to, leaving us half-sitting and half-crouching, more aware of our swaying, creaking chair than our beloved friend’s company. Even in thinner friends’ homes, those friends rarely know the weight capacity of their own furniture, and assume that fat people’s seating needs are the same as their own: simply a place to sit, with any seat as good as the next.
This may seem like thorny territory to address (how do I ask a fat friend if a chair will hold them?), but there’s a simple, elegant solution. When you enter a bar, restaurant or room, simply ask your fat friends where they’d like to sit. Let them pick, and take their lead. It’s accessible for them and easy for you.
3. Ask for consent before talking about your diet and body image issues.
Too often, my thin friends who don’t feel at ease in their bodies assume that, because I’m so much fatter than them, I must feel terrible about my own body (I don’t) and assume that I will welcome discussion of those perceived insecurities (as someone with an eating disorder, I don’t). And because of that assumption, they’ll launch into a litany of complaints about their own body. I’m so fat, it’s disgusting. Look at my thighs—no one wants to see that. I can’t have any more carbs today. I’m such a pig.
While I empathize with their body image struggles, it’s also tough to stay in those conversations. Because while they’re hyper-focused on their points of dissatisfaction with their own bodies, my body becomes collateral damage. Even if I’m having a good body image day, hearing someone half my size bemoan their “fat thighs” reminds me that, as a fat person, my body is their nightmare. If you think you’re impossibly fat, what must you think of me?
And research shows that these kinds of negative body image conversations can indeed harm self-image—not just for us, but for our friends, coworkers, and whoever else we might invite into the conversation. We tend to think of these conversations as a way of venting our insecurities, blowing off some steam. But they can cause significant harm to us and to those around us.
So instead of launching into these thorny conversations unannounced, take the quick step of asking for consent before digging in on diet talk or sharing body insecurities. It’s a small step that can save you, your fat friends, and your friends with eating disorders a whole lot of heartache.
4. Stand up for them even if they’re not around.
When I think of returning to the world after over a year of isolation, I feel hope and excitement, yes, but I also feel dread. The last year has been a welcome respite from the onslaught of in-person street harassment, casual office diet talk, and leering stares that too often follow me as a fat person. Given the sharp rise in proud, public, anti-fat rhetoric over the last year, I’m quietly resigning myself to an increase in negative comments, harassment, and overt discrimination. And, based on a lifetime of experience, I know that when that happens, my thin friends are unlikely to interrupt it. I’ll be on my own.