Not a River

One of the things that intrigues me about the way that people interact with fat people is the constant refrain of “oh, you’re not fat.” Not only is it patronizing, it’s an outright lie. And it’s ridiculous, because fat people know that they are fat. Most fat people are not in denial; they are well aware of their weight, and pretending that they aren’t fat is actually really offensive. For fat people who embrace their weight and are confident in their bodies, hearing “oh, you’re not fat” is really just a slap in the face, and a denial of that person’s identity.

I’m not quite sure why it’s acceptable to say that fat people aren’t fat. My Black friends would be pretty pissed if I said “oh, you’re not black.” Especially when the same people who say “oh, you’re not fat” to your face are quite happy to talk about how fat you are behind your back. Or when they point to someone they see and say “man, that person is fat,” and you look at that person and think about how he or she weighs significantly less than you do.

My irritation with the passion for size denial demonstrated by otherwise with-it people was recently piqued when I was on a search for a particular article of clothing. As I have stated elsewhere, I really try to support local businesses whenever possible, which is especially challenging when I need clothes because most stores here don’t carry stuff which fits me. I also really don’t like to interact with clerks since I am incredibly shy, so I kind of hide and skulk around the edges of stores unless I am forced to deal with a clerk.

At any rate, I went into a local store and one of the clerks immediately pounced on me to ask if I needed help. I said that I was looking for such and such a thing, and she immediately started parading me around the store to show me things.

I noticed two things:

1. Everything she was showing me was really overpriced, and way more than I wanted to pay.

2. Everything she was showing me was way too small.

Eventually I reluctantly picked a few things in the larger sizes off the rack for her to put in the dressing room, and then I wandered around the store on my own to see if I could find anything I liked. My shyness prevented me from just leaving and saying that nothing there was quite what I wanted, so I already felt guilty for wasting the clerk’s time as I quested in vain for something which would fit me and not empty my bank account. I happened to wander into the woeful plus sizes area of the store, and she immediately shouted:

“Oh, honey*, you don’t want to be in there, that’s the plus size clothing, it’s all way too big for you.”

“Actually,” I said, fixing her with an icy stare, “I hate to break it to you, but I’m fat. This is the section of the store that I should be in.” Yes, perhaps I was a little abrupt with her, but, damnit, she was being rude.

She glared back, huffed, and started talking with the other clerk while I picked out a few things and went into the dressing room.

Where I found that she had swapped the larger sizes I picked out with smaller sizes.

Do I need to explain why I find this offensive? And humiliating? And…ridiculous?

I tried on the plus sizes I had found, and discovered that they fit and looked good, although they were way too expensive. I also gamely attempted to try on one of the pieces which the clerk had swapped, and it very obviously didn’t fit, and since she was hovering outside, I said:

“Oh, I must have grabbed the medium by accident, could you please get an extra large, if there is one?”

And she came back…with a small.

So I left. I’ve had a history of problems with the staff of this store, and every time I try again to shop there, I am insulted. (Incidentally, Haddock, I have complained to the manager and store owners about the problem, to no avail.) Somehow, after that experience, I don’t think I’ll be coming back.

There’s a discussion on Shapely Prose about Marilyn’s Law, which states that “As an online discussion about fat women grows longer, the probability of a mention of Marilyn Monroe’s dress size approaches one.” Fat denial is ugly, my gentle readers, and it is also stupid, offensive, and just plain rude. As an advocate for fat rights and a member of the Healthy At Any Size movement, interactions like the one above are easy for me to deal with, although irritating; fat people who are still struggling with their weight probably find them soul crushing.

Fatties aren’t sailing down the Nile, kids. We know we’re fat, and you all can stop pretending that we aren’t. Don’t tell your fat friends that they aren’t fat, since it makes you look ridiculous. Not only that, but it implies that you don’t want to be associated with fat people, so you want to rationalize your fat friends out of a few sizes. If you don’t want to be friends with fat people, you’re a fucking tool, and don’t try to rationalize your fat hatred.

*Don’t. Call. Me. Honey. Or sweetheart, sweetie, or any other derivative. It is a 100% guaranteed way to make me extraordinarily angry.

7 Replies to “Not a River”

  1. I despise shopping in stores and when I recently had to go shop for a girdle-type undergarment for a fancy dress, I had no choice but to deal with sales clerks. The girl who helped me was a thin, goth chick who grabbed a tape measure and escorted me into the dressing room where I was measured. I kept expecting some smart aleck remarks, but this girl (at least 20 years younger than me) was polite, professional and fitted me perfectly. I wish there were more clerks like this girl.

  2. far be it from me to defend idiots. and i certainly don’t have a problem telling people they’re fat if they are. i haven’t been phobic of that much at all in my life, and since being friends with you i wouldn’t think twice about it, so you’ve done a good job evangelizing on that level.

    but, to play the devil’s advocate for a moment, i am not sure that it is always something people should be blamed so much for, denying someone is fat. many of us have been conditioned by people in our lives that when they tell us they’re fat, our job is to tell them they aren’t. it’s a fucked up system, and i certainly am not denying it, but it exists, and scores of men and women have been trained day in and day out that this is their proper response.

    the trick is to understand when someone is okay with the fact that they’re fat, and when they aren’t. reinforcing someone’s own self-destructive body image, whether or not it is true, can be a dangerous thing to do, and i have known people who say “i’m fat” trying to get just such a reinforcement. whether or not they are fat is beside the point. what they want is external validation that they should be going to the bathroom to purge. and whether or not that’s what you say when you agree, that’s what some people will hear.

    that’s not to defend the specific instance of the woman at the store. she was obviously a fucking idiot. and it’s not to defend the system that thinks fat is ‘bad’ and thin is ‘good’. it’s just to say that for a lot of people who have the kneejerk reaction to deny fatness, it doesn’t come from a personal discomfort, or distaste. it comes from indoctrination by past girlfriends or boyfriends or parents or siblings, all of whom would lose their shit if you did anything other than vehemently deny their own assertation of fatness.

  3. What I love is talking to someone who’s stressing over the ‘last five pounds’ and THEN she turns to me and says “you’re not fat”.

    um… right. At least she could have tried “It looks good on you” that way it doesn’t have to be a lie.

  4. Brendan, I think you make an excellent point; as a society, we are conditioned to think that fat is unacceptable, and therefore we wouldn’t tell people we like (or are trying to sell things to) that they are fat. This is something that the HAES movement is obviously trying to change, but it’s an uphill battle, obviously.

    I think, for me, there’s a clear difference between someone who is obviously slender who says “I’m fat” and someone who is fat who says “I’m fat.” I would tell the slender person that he or she isn’t fat, whereas I would agree with the fat person; unless it was obvious that the statement was made in self loathing and hatred, in which case I would probably have a more elaborate response. Because I agree with you that we should not be enabling self hatred and misery by telling the truth. You’re right that a lot of people say that they’re fat in expectation of a vehement denial, which is sad and kind of fucked up, and I think that says something about our society too.

    Was this clerk obviously a fucking idiot? Well, yeah, I mean she swapped the sizes I picked out for smaller sizes, tried to kick me out of the plus size section, and then brought back a small when I asked for an extra-large. But to some extent, I think that clerks are really conditioned to do this, to pretend that people are smaller than they are. Definitely not to the level of stupidity that this clerk displayed, but I’ve had lots of clerks tell me I look great in something which is obviously too small, or a clerk will eyeball me and say “oh, you’re about an eight, right?” They do this not to be rude or insensitive, but because they are taught to do this. If a clerk says “you’re around a 16, right,” it might really upset a size 16 who is struggling with her weight and hating herself for it, so clerks lie to allow their clients to take the lead.

    One of my favorite clerks ever had a great response to a dress that I tried on that was obviously too small and really not very flattering, back in the days when I was really struggling with my body identity. I came out of the dressing room and she said:

    “You know, that color really doesn’t suit you, let me find it in teal, I think it would look much better.”

    And she got the dress in teal, three sizes larger, and I loved it. I didn’t notice the size until the day I pulled it out to wear it.

  5. Oh hon*, I’m sorry that store irks you and sad to hear that they aren’t doing anything to remedy or enhance their customer service.

    I agree with you that it’s stupid and idiotic and impractical. They’re rationalizing it in their own ways that, perhaps it doesn’t come off as offensive (to them at least) or hurt the person’s feelings or risk being too frank. Nonetheless, it’s stupid.

    *I’m teasing!

  6. Yesterday I met a friend for lunch. I hadn’t seen him in 2 years. I can truly call him a friend, because after we shook hands, his first pleasantry was to say “Well, you’ve certainly put on some weight.” And who but a friend would be that honest?

  7. I wonder, if a size 8 woman went in and had pulled things for herself in her size, would this clerk have swapped them out for a size 2? Of course not.

    Beyond the size issue, this woman wanted you to try on what she wanted you to try, not what you wanted. Extremely poor service. I’d be writing a firmly-worded e-mail to someone 😉

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