Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dear Abby: You kind of dropped the ball trying to help that nice fat lady

I guess nobody really wins this game, huh?

Don't get me wrong, my day feels incomplete if I don't read Dear Abby, the comics, and attempt the recycled NYT crossword puzzle in the Pioneer Press, but sometimes the Abb-ster really gets it wrong. On a lot of issues, she is refreshingly progressive, but once in a while I read her responses to letters and kind of want to cry. Like when she totally missed that a RAPE had been committed, or that column last year where she told that awesome rock-climbing chick to act more feminine and then maybe her guy friends would want to go out with her. Ka$h and I were so pissed off, we seriously discussed writing a response. But we probably got distracted playing the X-Files Drinking Game, and it never happened. Whatever. Yesterday's column certainly wasn't Abby's worst offense, but her response was certainly lacking. Here's the letter:
DEAR ABBY: Before her death, I promised my mother that I would not get fat like her. Now I'm finding it hard to keep that promise. Ever since we lost Mama, I have slowly gained a little each year. I have tried to lose, but all I do is look at food and I gain.

If this keeps up I'll become the size my mother was. Does that mean I failed her because I broke my promise? I feel so guilty. Please help me. -- JUST LIKE MY MAMA IN TEXAS

Dear Abby was pretty much just like, "Stop feeling guilty. Everybody gets fatter as they get older. But you should probably diet and exercise. Or maybe you have a binge eating disorder." I feel as though she could've been more helpful and/or affirming.

Let us break down all the things about this letter that are sad:

1. This lady's mom died. That sucks. Especially since it sounds like she wasn't very old.

2. There was obviously an unhealthy fixation on food and weight in this family for the mother to bring it up ON HER DEATHBED and force her daughter to promise not to get fat. Notice that there is no mention of the mother's weight being any sort of contributing factor to her ill health or death. Also, notice we have no clear idea of how "fat" is being defined in this woman's case.

3. Given that this poor woman is obviously fighting genetics by trying to stay thin, it's especially heartbreaking.

4. It seems as though the mother found a surefire way to guilt-trip from beyond the grave by extracting a promise whose fulfillment her daughter largely has no control over. I have to say that's not very nice.

JUST LIKE MY MAMA needs a big ol' dose of Fat Acceptance in her life. Please, JLMM, if you're out there reading this, a) you probably found me by Googling James K. Polk, and b) PLEASE go check out Shapely Prose. Seriously, that shit will change your life. I feel a little bit awkward talking about the whole Fat Acceptance thing since, well, I'm not really fat, and I feel like telling people who are fatter than me to accept their bodies makes me look like a self-righteous asshole. Sometimes I think that I'm not thin* enough, but then I remember that that is fucked up. I realize that since I fit most regular people's definition of "thin," I have never really experienced fat discrimination. But I do feel the pressure to be/stay skinny. I've never been super-obsessed, but I know I've still spent an unfortunate amount of time and energy hating my body. This is stupid. But we all do it. We're, like, required to do it, as women and girls. This doesn't make us stupid, but it does keep us from caring about more important shit.

Anecdotal section: My mother has been on a diet for as long as I can remember. As far as I know, she has never had an eating disorder and is basically healthy. BUT: she is a lifetime member of Weight Watchers, and that coupled with various scattered comments over the years makes it clear that she cares about her weight. And I know she cares about mine. She told me when I was about thirteen or fourteen (right when I stopped being a stick-thin kid and started thinking I was getting fat because my thighs were slightly thicker than rolling pins) that I would have a really big butt if I ever got fat. And though this may be an accurate observation, the fact remains that I remember to this day where we were (trying on clothes at an outlet store), and I immediately internalized the idea that my ass was big and damn, I better not get any fatter. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to blame my mom for some sort of nonexistent weight obsession, especially since I know we're all just reacting to outside pressure to conform to unattainable beauty standards. And I can thank The Sexy Gay Jesus that she would never be like JLMM's mom and try and make me feel like shit about a body type I inherited from her while on her deathbed.

BUT: I am still working on Fat Acceptance, even if my fat levels** are rather low. I mean, I know it's fucked up to enjoy the weight loss that comes as a side effect of my depression,*** but I do. So, what I'm saying is, Dear Abby, next time maybe you could direct people like JLMM towards something that can help them accept themselves for who they are, and learn to be healthy no matter their size, and to stop trying to live up to the ridiculous standards. The guilt has got to stop. Fat has no bearing on morality. Here, let me try:

Dear JLMM: STOP FEELING GUILTY. YOUR DEAD MOTHER IS DEAD. Your weight is nobody's business but your own, and mostly genetically determined anyway. YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND THANK YOUR DEAD MOTHER FOR THAT. I'm sorry for your loss, but she's gone and she shouldn't be able to make you feel bad about yourself anymore. Please learn to love yourself. And maybe admit that your mom kind of sucked.

Love and delicious baked goods and high-calorie fruity cocktails,

BTW: My coworker just announced that she has 600 calories left for the day. That makes me sad.

*Or blonde! Obvs.

**Shut up, this is totally a scientific term.

***I've started calling the appetite suppression the "Depression Diet." Though Abby was right to mention disordered eating, especially since grief and depression does lead some people to overeat, though it doesn't sound like it applies in this case. It sounds like this woman's body is just doing what it's meant to do naturally, despite her mother's ridiculous dying wish.


  1. julia "reasonably sized" swan6/4/08, 11:18 PM

    Consider this (because I did): What is the mother died of obesity-related health complications (of which there are many)? I mean what if Fat Mamma was like, deathly fat? In that case, it's a reasonable deathbed request. Like, "don't get fat like me so you can live a longer, healthy life."So basically if the level of "fat" that JLMM is trying to avoid is one that can cause health issues, that's one thing. But if she's worried about going from a size 6 to a 14, that's another. We just don't know!!

  2. The point is that the "obesity/health crisis" is way overblown (see links above). And it sounds like JLMM is doing her best to be healthy, but she is just predisposed to being fat.

  3. do you guys have "ask amy" in the pi-press? she got a letter a while ago from a lady who was getting married and didn't want her fat sister to be in the wedding party, because a fat lady would look bad in the photos. amy, who is normally pretty polite and middle-of-the-road, replied: "your sister is fine as she is. you are not, because you are MEAN." and she followed up with a column of hatemail from other readers. it was pretty awesome.

  4. One time after Mom said something about dieting or being fat or something I told: "Mom, you're not that fat." She kind of took offense to it, and I just remember thinking, "Then stop talking about it." I've never been one for talking about what I hate about myself. I usually try to ignore it because it doesn't really matter. Most people look fine! Although, considering how many informercials I've seen, I still want flat abs (that no one sees).