What I want my friends to understand about being a plus-size woman
I was the youngest of a large group of girl cousins and sisters; most of them had never struggled with weight. They never had to think twice about bikinis or where they could shop; while I, on the other hand, vividly remember my mom being relieved to find a store that sold plus-size kids’ clothes for me when it came time for back to school shopping.
I’m now 27, and although I’ve struggled with my health and my weight in the past, for the first time in my life, I’ve gained a little pride in myself as a physical being. However, I’ve recently become overly aware of how the well-meaning women in my life talk to me about my body.
I’ve always had a lot of girl friends; I’m pretty proud of that. I like that I’m not too competitive, that I can celebrate the women in my life and make those relationships as much of a priority as having a boyfriend. However, this has also led to a lifetime of advice from women who have never had to struggle with weight the way that I have, and yet think they understand it. So, I’m going to make a few suggestions to help ladies with the best intentions figure out how to be helpful and not unintentionally hurtful.
1. Weight loss is different for everyone. Unless you yourself have ever had to lose a massive amount of weight for health reasons, you can’t really give advice on the subject. I’ve never had a baby. So I don’t dare give other women advice on their birth plans because it‘s something I don’t know enough about. The same applies to weight loss: it’s different for everyone and it’s a sensitive subject.
2. Stop acting amazed that your plus-size friend is pretty or dressed well. “You’re so pretty in the face” or “You really dress nicely” don’t really make me feel great. Just because I weigh more, it does not mean that I want to throw in the towel and never try to make myself look nice. This would basically be the equivalent of me thinking people with green eyes aren’t as pretty as everyone else and occasionally telling my green-eyed friends “you know, you actually look nice today.”
3. Realize that if we’re single, we’re in the dating game too. I cannot even begin to explain to you the frustration I feel when I notice a cute guy or develop a relationship with one and tell my friends. Usually, the conversation ends in one of two ways: either they realize they’re interested in him or they know a friend who would like him, and that friend usually weighs less than me. Kudos for being in the dating world or wanting to help out your other single friends, but we’re still in the game, too!
4. We do not need you to take inventory of what we eat. Honestly, for me personally, eating in front of people has become a very personal thing because of this reason. I have had everyone, including a boss, make comments that let me know they’re keeping track of what I eat. But rather than lead to “better” eating, this has only led to me eating in secret, which is super unhealthy.
5. And, last but not least, you can be helpful, but you are never going to be the hero of our weight loss journey. Relationships with friends who invite me to work out with them or who want to talk about new recipes together (in a way that doesn’t critique what I had for lunch today) can be healthy and helpful. You can be a fantastic support team. However, if and when I lose the amount of weight I see suitable, it will be because of myself, and I will be the hero of my own story.
Being a woman is not easy in general. And I know that we’re all dealing with a host of insecurities when it comes to our bodies. It’s OK to talk to me about my weight, but think about the implications of your words before you say them. Put yourself in my shoes, and acknowledge that in the end, we’re all just women wanting happy and healthy lives where we feel loved.
Willa Johnson is a Kentuckian living in North Carolina working as an Appalachian Transition Fellow. She spends her days pretending Bill Murray narrates her life and avoiding ice chewers. It’s also not unusual to find her traveling all over Appalachia with her yorkie Marlow tagging along. You can follow her on twitter at @appal_belle.