Fat Acceptance: Compliments and Accusations

[Content Note: Fat Bias, Disability, Disordered Eating]

Small Cookies by Petr Kratochvil
One of the fun things about having a chronic pain disability is that I have to make a daily decision between taking really strong drugs with numerous un-fun side-effects or I can be in immobilizing pain for the day. Only it's not even really that simple, because some of my drugs rely on a sustained treatment in order to work, so I really get to choose between taking my drugs every day or being in immobilizing pain for however long it takes for the drugs to start working again if/when I miss a day.

One of the un-fun side-effects of my drugs which I get fairly frequently is dizziness. And one of the very few ways I have to mitigate that dizziness is to eat something whenever it occurs. And it is for that reason that I keep my desk stocked with various little pre-packaged non-perishable snacks: tiny packets of cookies and chips, and anything else sweet-or-salty that will hit my system hard and fast when the alternative is slumping over while the world spins gaily around my head.

I've been doing this for a fairly long time, and I cannot count the number of times this habit has amazed my co-workers when they happen to see inside my desk drawers. "You keep food in your desk?!?" is the typical conversation-opener, stated in the same tone as I would expect from someone asking about a live garter snake in my drawer. I will then confirm, with a little puzzled furrow of my brow and a polite little smile on my face, that yes, I do. "Oh, you are SO much stronger than I am," they will usually exclaim, as if I've just broken down a steel door with my bare hands or metamorphosed into a green body-builder wearing purple underwear. "I can't keep food in MY desk; I'd eat it all up in a day!"

I don't really understand this framing since there's a constantly-stocked "pay-what-you-like" snack table mere feet away from where I sit now, so one might think that if simple food proximity were a Thing, then that open-air table would be as equally problematic as food residing inside one's desk. But I also accept that different people have different bodies and that my body issues are not universal. At the same time, though, I'm not really sure how to handle a 'compliment' which is presented as congratulating me for restraint and yet somehow seems to be less about complimenting me and more about criticizing them. At the very least, I don't feel comfortable agreeing at that point and I mostly just want to get out of the conversation. (Not the least reason because having my disability be a jumping-off point for implied self-shaming makes me feel very uncomfortable.)

Some -- not all -- people manage to make this conversation even more uncomfortable, however, by implying that this Eating Of All The Snacks is something universal, and that it therefore is something I must do, and that furthermore this very clearly explains why I am fat. (For fatness must always be a Mystery in need of a solution. I cannot simply Be Fat Just Because. There must be a Reason.) And so now my disability is being used as a jumping-off point for my shaming -- I am an Irresponsible Fattie with so little self-control that I keep snacks in my desk so that I can secretly eat incessantly without interruption and (because the food is 'hidden' in my desk rather than in my lunch bag) without detection.


And for the record, I really wish people would stop doing this. Draping an accusation in a fake compliment doesn't actually mitigate the fat hatred, and assuming that everyone's bodies work the way you'd expect them to doesn't minimize the disablism.


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