The Guardian runs a feature called Private Lives, in which readers write in with their problems, and the Guardian’s expert provides her expert advice, along with a healthy helping of the peanut gallery’s remarks. The audience is encouraged to write in with their very helpful ideas on how to fix these people’s problems, and then there is a group hug and everyone breaks for cupcakes and small talk. It’s all very nosy, small-town, people butting in–but then, people were invited to butt in, and we love nothing more in the world than to tell everyone how we think they should live their lives, all in the interest of honest helpfulness and goodwill.
Except that this is the anonymous internet, and last week, when this question was posed, I was uneasy, and feared that the only cupcakes that would be evoked would be Cupcakes of Evil, and that ugliness would be unleashed.
My 23-year-old sister is seriously overweight. It’s not a matter of education or lack of knowledge about nutrition – she knows what good, healthy food looks like – and would naturally opt for a salad rather than a plate of chips. However, her portion sizes are very big and she eats more often than she needs to…I think she has come to associate food with love…[a]s a family, we are passionate about food; we all enjoy cooking and regularly have great family meals together…How do I get through to her, without damaging our relationship, that she will be happier if she eats less and exercises more?
But I was startled by the responses, which skewed in support of the fat sister and suggested that the thinner sister ought to hush:
Mind your own business. Your concern for your sister clearly comes from love, but you are not her doctor or her therapist, and you can’t “fix” her in the way you’d like to.
The expert’s opinion particularly struck me:
You also seem to feel it’s not right that your sister associates food with love. Why not? It sounds like your entire family associates food with love – that you strengthen the bonds between you when preparing and enjoying meals together. This sounds like a very beneficial association, particularly because the foods you choose are health-giving…
…Take a fresh look at your sister. She dresses stylishly and looks attractive. She has a supportive, loving partner who fits in with your family because he loves food. She knows what foods are nutritious, and those are the foods she loves. She has a great deal going for her!
Me, I would have said it a little more clearly: “She doesn’t ‘complain’ about her weight, though you clearly think she ought to–where do you get off deciding that it’s a problem? Don’t you have something better to do than weigh and measure her food? It sounds to me like you’re the one with the issues that need addressing.” I backspaced a lot of profanity, there.
Since I am cynical and also have been living in the world for 35 years, I know that a shitload of negative and hateful comments were carefully edited out by the Guardian’s staff–but that makes me even more pleased by what was left in. Every time a message in the media does not immediately skew entirely towards Fat is Evil and We Will All Die of Obesity, I am inordinately pleased, and have to celebrate, to collect these moments, articles like the one in The New York Times, books like Susie Orbach’s, and hope that enough of them will instigate a sea change.
But what do you think about the question posed? How would you have responded to it? What do you think of the advice that was offered?
Posted by jenfu