Quick Hit: “But You’re not Fat!”
In a really stellar article from Dead of Winter, Joanna discusses a common reaction to learning of a friend’s eating disorded behavior: “But she’s/you’re/he’s not fat!” She elaborates on three reasons why this person has TOTALLY MISSED THE POINT.
#1: What do you call fat? Some people begin their eating disordered behavior as a result of being told they were “overweight” by their doctors. What the BMI considers ”overweight” is vastly different from what the average person identifies as such. People differ in their personal standards as well. What some people call average or “pleasantly plump” might be unacceptably fat to some. … What culture does that person hail from? Cultures differ in their standards, just like individuals do. Maybe your culture does not consider that person fat, but theirs does.
#2: EDs, by definition, distort the patient’s perception of reality. Telling someone with an ED, “You’re not fat! Stop it!” makes about as much sense as telling someone with psychosis, “He’s not real! Stop talking to him!” Some people with EDs are *incapable* of perceiving that they’re not fat.
#3: You don’t need to be fat to be damaged by an ED. For some reason, people think EDs are safe over a certain weight limit. You’re not fat, but THAT person over there that weighs 200 pounds should spend some time with her head in the toilet bowl. He’s not fat, but that chunker over there should NEVER be allowed to eat again!
This last point is so key. EVEN IF THEY ARE “FAT”, EATING DISORDERED BEHAVIOR IS DISORDERED. Saying “But you’re not fat!” implies that there is a line where over a certain size or weight this behavior would be okay. Creating this line is really dangerous. Because those suffering with ED already have a distorted body image and everyone’s sense of where that line is is different, you are inevitably reinforcing that this behavior could be safe for them. As Joanna says, “EDs do not discriminate, and EDs are life-threatening. Period. They are not safe for people of size, and they aren’t safe for the straight sizes.”