Why You Shouldn’t Tell Your Loved Ones They’re Fat on Christmas—Or Any Other Day of the Year

What Women Really Think
Dec. 23 2011 3:56 PM

“Health Experts” Suggest Telling Your Loved Ones They’re Fat on Christmas

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Photo by Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Jezebel’s Cassie Murdoch picked up on a BBC story with the unbelievable headline, “Tell loved ones they are overweight this Christmas.” The original article quotes a couple “health experts” (who are apparently complete greenhorns in terms of social skills) making helpful suggestions like, “[I]f someone close to you has a large waistline then as long as you do it sensitively, discussing it with them now could help them avoid critical health risks later down the line."

Murdoch, quite rightly, takes issue with the wildly insensitive and condescending nature of such a chat, which she writes will only “ensure that your relatives never invite you to another festive family celebration.” But there’s another good reason never to tell your loved ones they are fat—either on Christmas or at any other time: They already know they’re fat.

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So much supposedly well-meaning advice is predicated on the twin ideas that fat people are simpletons who don’t know that they’re fat and that this ignorance is the only thing standing in their way of becoming thin. This is ludicrous. Fat people already know that they are fat—just as tall people know that they’re tall, and brown-haired people know that they have brown hair. Fat people also know that society disdains them for being fat—our culture doesn’t exactly make a secret of its preference for thin people.  Turn on any television, open any magazine, or stroll through any bookstore, and you will be bombarded with the message that being fat is bad and that being thin is the key to fulfillment. The supposition that fat people just haven’t heard this message loudly enough is quite literally incredible.

What’s more, the BBC article—like most articles about obesity published in the mainstream media—erroneously conflates having bad habits with being fat. It’s telling that the expert quoted suggested bringing up health “if someone close to you has a large waistline”—not “if someone close to you never exercises” or “if someone close to you drinks a lot of soda.” Confronting a friend or relative because you don’t like his or her bad habits is a tricky proposition, and whether it’s ever a good idea is debatable. But confronting a friend or relative because you don’t like the way he or she looks? It’s always downright Scrooge-like.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

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