My Friend is Having Weight Loss Surgery — Ask Fluffy Kitten Party

It’s me, back from outer space and ready to rock your world with more AWESOME ADVICE. This week’s first letter is a heavy one (no pun intended), so let’s quit with the snarky intro and jump right in!

Dear Fluffy Kitten Party, 

I have a good friend who is having weight loss surgery/stomach amputation soon. I’m feeling very conflicted because I loved my friend, but I am totally opposed to weight loss surgery. I’m not sure how to be there for her without getting sucked into congratulating her for her weight loss. I’m worried that seeing her get smaller and smaller might be damaging to me and take me back to a bad mental place. I’m also angry with her for making this choice. How do I deal with this? 

Okay, buckle in, because this conversation is going to be a ride. We’re going to have to get nuanced as fuck up in here.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: There is a difference between the systemic issue of weight loss surgery and the individual people who have weight loss surgery. It’s a huge, vast, massive difference. The difference is all of the synonyms you can think of that mean “very big.” And sometimes, unfortunately, it’s hard to actually separate them. So let’s try.

Weight Loss Surgery, The Thing: This is an umbrella term that can refer to multiple types of bariatric surgeries, such as the “full” Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, vertical sleeve gastrectomy, duodenal switch, gastric bands, and gastric balloons. It’s a highly profitable surgery and multi-billion dollar industry, for surgeons, bariatric centers, hospitals, and insurance companies. Some patients do lose weight, some lose weight then gain all or some of it back, some patients have complications that compromise their quality of life, and some patients die.

People Who Have Weight Loss Surgery: Human beings trying to live their lives.

If you are a person who has worked hard to extricate diet culture from your life, learning that someone you love or even just a writer you really like has had weight loss surgery can feel like a betrayal. “Another one bites the dust,” you sigh. You thought you had an ally, someone to fight alongside you, but they sold out. They gave in. And making it all harder is the fact that when someone buys into weight loss surgery, they are usually all in. They talk about how they don’t want to die, how they want to be around to see their kids grow up. They talk in hushed tones about their blood pressure and diabetes and how terrible it is to live in a fat body. Even if you want to separate the person from The Thing, they often make it incredibly hard to do so, because they go into full Fatness Is The Worst mode.

you bitch

And then it kicks in. That little voice. You know, the one that you’ve been working to quiet. The one that tells you that maybe keto will finally make you thin, maybe “WW” is actually different than Weight Watchers and you’ll have different results if you try again. It’s full of hope, that little voice. Your rational brain knows better (and has the receipts from thousands of dollars spent on diets to prove it), but your lizard brain still holds on to hope. It’s not rational. It knows the studies, it knows the statistics about maintaining weight loss long-term. It just doesn’t care. It hopes. And it says, “Hmm, maybe…

little voice

We fight back, and we fight back hard, to get the voice to shut up. And sometimes that means making the person who stirred up the voice into your sworn enemy.

middle finger

But here’s the thing. Here’s the nuance in this situation. It’s easiest to stop at the “us vs. them,” enemy stage. It makes it a lot simpler. But life isn’t black-or-white. Nor is health, nor are decisions made about our health and bodies. Everything is fucking complicated. Bodies are complicated. Fatness is complicated, thinness is complicated, health is complicated, mortality is complicated. The simplest thing about this whole discussion is on the side of the people performing the surgery: They do The Thing, and get paid handsomely for it. But it’s not simple for the people going under the knife, at any point.

A lot of people who opt to get weight loss surgery would have never have considered it when they were fat, but smaller. (Or, Small Fat, if you will.) But if they gain weight, and graduate from Small Fat to Mid-Fat or Super Fat, it gets a little harder. They start to feel their oppression in ways they haven’t before. They can still find clothes in their size, but they are relegated to plus-size stores exclusively and they carry fewer options in their sizes. They start to experience not being able to fit into airplane seats or concert seats or booths at restaurants — chairs become a problem. They were never a problem before, but now, the mental math keeps getting more complicated. Need to use a public restroom? There’s a 50/50 chance the standard stall might not have the space they need. If they’re on a plane, forget it, they better hold it until they get to their destination. Visits to the doctor become even more fraught and produce more anxiety. When they go in for a physical or to address a health issue, they know their weight will be the first thing mentioned. Blood pressure cuffs stop fitting, and they may need to bring their own with them to appointments. Scales can’t weigh them accurately anymore; they can’t fit in an MRI machine. (There might be one that can accommodate them somewhere in their state, but no one knows where it is, or whether it’s in-network.) Perversely, the only place where they can find medical equipment that is built for them is in bariatric surgery centers. And doctors may refuse treatment for painful medical issues until they submit to losing weight.

And the barriers just get higher and more challenging the higher up the size spectrum you go. People who wear above a size 32 might not be able to find clothing that fits them properly, at all. The fatter someone is, the more they are discriminated against in every area of life. They might find it harder to get a job — and it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against people because of their weight in 49 states. Even dying gets more expensive, and they won’t have life insurance to help with the cost, because insurance companies will refuse to cover them. This is how people slowly get shut out of society and forgotten. Those people on those horrible weight loss surgery reality shows? That’s how they get to the point where they don’t leave their houses. Society boxes them in, discriminates against them, refuses to accommodate them, refuses to let them participate, and then wonders why they’ve withdrawn.

It seems like the most vocal opponents of weight loss surgery skew smaller. It’s easier on that end of the size spectrum, when fat activism is all about posting pictures of your double chin with a cute hashtag on Instagram and showing off your latest fatkini. It gets a little trickier when the question is, “Do I wait for massive shift in society so I can participate fully and enjoy a better quality of life in the distant future (knowing that the shift may never actually come in my lifetime and my quality of life may continue to degrade as I continue to be discriminated against), or should I just submit to having my stomach cut up so I can participate more and maybe have a better quality of life in the near future (but may also die or have an even worse quality of life)?” It’s not an easy question, and there are no easy answers.

Size oppression intersects with other oppressions. It compounds any other marginalization you experience. So, if you are a person of color, trans or non-binary, LGBTQ+, disabled, older, or any combination of these things … you carry the weight of all of your oppressions around at all times. And the more you carry, the more you feel the weight. The more exhausted you get. These systems of oppression wear you the fuck down. You get tired and fed up. You want to unload. What can you take off your back so you can keep walking? You can’t change your race or your age or your disability, but you have these doctors telling you that you can lose weight, if you’ll only have this surgery. Maybe it’s a gamble you’re willing to take, because you’re tired.

“But Fluffy Kitten Party,” you say. “My friend doesn’t belong to any marginalized groups I don’t, and I’m still able to resist.” Okay! But here’s the thing: People are different. Some can carry a large load and still press forward, some can’t. Some people are better at being uncomfortable than others. (And, to be clear here, I’m not saying that being fat is uncomfortable. These systems of oppression make it uncomfortable.) Some of us are people who feel strongly that it’s the chair’s fucking fault our asses don’t fit into it and get angry at the lack of chair options and write letters to business owners asking for a better chair situation and blog about the tyranny of chairs with arms. And some of us just want to sit the fuck down and would sell our souls to the devil himself if it meant that we had more chair options everywhere we went and we never had to devote another second to thinking about chairs. And some people might be fine with going under the knife even knowing they will never fit into all chairs, but stand a pretty good chance of being able to fit into more chairs. Different strokes for different folks.

And so, it’s not the people we should be angry at, it’s the systems, it’s The Thing. You can resist weight loss surgery, if you feel that’s the best decision for you, without seeing the people who choose to have it as agents of your oppression. They are just people, and they are making the choice to have weight loss surgery in response to being oppressed.

So, I say, do your best to be there for your friend. Try to operate from a place of compassion. If you are in a place where you can do so, talk to your friend about why she made this decision. If you are afraid for her (and it makes sense to be afraid — people do actually die from weight loss surgery, more frequently that medical professionals would lead you to believe), you can let her know. Odds are, she’s even more afraid than you are. But it’s her body. It’s her decision. It’s her life. And part of the empathy required to navigate this situation is understanding that you cannot fully understand the weight she carries, even if you’ve made a chart of her oppressions and think you’ve got a mathematically unimpeachable understanding of the weight she carries. Try to be there for her, and check in on her, because sometimes what kills people after weight loss surgery is not having a support system in place.

I wouldn’t try to persuade her against it if her mind is already made up and the machine is in motion, but if she asks to know your feelings, or asks for resources, you can certainly share those with her.

You can set boundaries, though. You can mute her on social media if the discussion of her impending surgery is nonstop, or if she takes to sharing before-and-after pictures as she loses weight. (And she probably will! Again, you have to be all in to make a decision like this.) If you need to, restrict your time with her to one-on-one hangs or phone calls instead of using social media, because that is where people losing weight are generally the most difficult to deal with. (Remember: People present their ideal selves on social media, not the full picture. So, that picture of her looking thin and fabulous might set you off, but you’re probably not going to see or hear about her running to the bathroom for an emergency shit or how she experiences horrible pain or throws up if she eats too much or how she’s really hungry.) If she brings up how awesome she feels about losing weight, you can say, “I’m so happy that you’re happy!” And leave it at that. You can even say, “I don’t want to talk about it,” if a conversation strays down a path that is dangerous or uncomfortable for you. And, as a final resort, if your friend becomes a total asshat after surgery and won’t shut up about her weight loss and diet and new life and will not stop proselytizing about weight loss surgery… well, the friendship may have run its course. You don’t have to stick around for that. If your friendship no longer serves you or brings you joy, Marie Kondo that shit.

kondo

But don’t write her off just yet. Some people find Health at Every Size and fat activism and body acceptance only after they go through something like weight loss surgery. Weight loss surgery puts your friend at a greater risk of alcoholism and suicide, and the few years after surgery can be a seriously topsy-turvy time for people. (“Bariatric divorce” is a real thing.) So, protect yourself, set boundaries, set limits if you find yourself getting sucked into a “what if?” weight loss brain spiral, but if this is a close friend? She’s probably going to need you.

Good luck, to you and your friend.

Hello!

I have a good friend who makes her living as an exercise coach and nutritional therapy practitioner.  Because we live in a world where one’s personal and professional online selves are increasingly merged, 9/10 of her social media posts are either about fitness, paleo recipes, or what supplements I should be adding my coffee to achieve optimal gut health (why TF is everybody obsessed with gut health these days?)  We’ve been friends for years, and I love her, but NONE of this is my jam, and it’s been tricky to find balance between supporting my friend as she grows her own business and tuning out a lot of what I believe to be toxic diet culture masquerading as “health”.  Lately, she’s been re-posting a lot of stuff from body/fat positive bloggers, and to be honest, I have very mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, I like that she’s making it clear that the focus of her practice is not weight loss, but on the other hand, it feels like she’s co-opting the words of folks who’ve been working for years to dismantle diet culture when she’s still playing right into its insidious hands.  It’s all well and good to call yourself  “body positive” and parrot platitudes like “there’s no wrong way to have a body”, but when so much of what you preach focuses on telling people what they should and should not eat and how they should and should not move their bodies, that seems at best hypocritical and at worst harmful to the people (her clients and followers) she’s purportedly trying to help.  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m not sure what I should do about it.  Do I try to have a conversation with her about it, or should I just put her posts on mute and ignore it?

Sincerely,

Fed-up Fatty

Oh god, your friend isn’t in an MLM, is she?! If she is, tell her to listen to “The Dream” and encourage her to run away fast.

scream

Diets are going through an awkward rebrand these days, because no one wants to diet. They want a “lifestyle change.” They want to “eat clean.” They’re sharing recipes for cloud bread (which I’ve had and can report is vastly inferior to actual bread) and bulletproof coffee (get your BUTTER and COCONUT OIL away from my coffee!) and obsessing over gut health. (I’m pretty sure you can thank Michael Pollan for that last thing, he’s been writing and lecturing and rhapsodizing about gut bacteria since at least 2013.) It’s getting increasingly hard to tell what is a diet and what is not. And when it comes to people who are marketing their nutrition services, they’ve found that injecting a little Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size ideology piques people’s interest and gets them new clients (and will maybe help them get on a podcast or land a book deal). At the very least, it allows them to use all the best hashtags on Instagram. I’m fed up with it, too.

While you’re raging against a machine that’s bigger than you, your friend, or me, there’s a few different ways you could handle it:

  1. Call her in instead of calling her out. Is it possible your pal is not sharing these memes for the likes and engagement on her posts, but because she’s actually agreeing with them? Maybe, just maybe, the internet meme machine is working here. Maybe these messages are starting to sink in. And maybe she’s toying around with the notion of incorporating a little Intuitive Eating or Health at Every Size into her practice, or is at least curious to know more. And MAYBE you can be the friend that gives her a little nudge. Do you have Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size? Lend it to her. There’s also a slew of great books that have come out more recently: Just Eat It by Laura Thomas, PhD, which I’ve read and has the potential to really appeal to someone entrenched in nutrition science and fitness because it was written by someone who was similarly entrenched and saw the light, Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield and The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner, which I haven’t had the chance to read yet (sorry) but I know will be awesome because everything she says on Instagram is spot-on. If she’s a podcast person, why not point her toward Christy Harrison’s Food Psych podcast? YOU COULD BE HER GURU. You could tip her from being a pro-diet, Paleo-recipe sharing nutritional therapy practitioner and fitness coach into an awesome, evidence-based, anti-diet nutritional therapy practitioner and fitness coach. That’s… actually not a huge shift, believe it or not. Pretty much every dietitian or nutritionist who is out there preaching the HAES gospel made that shift at some point.
  2. Leave a breadcrumb trail. So, if your friend is decidedly NOT a burgeoning HAES practitioner, and is doing this for the likes, consider popping into her comments to provide supplementary information. She wants to share a meme from a fat positive blogger? Leave comments that link to a related blog post, or recommend a book or podcast you like that goes into the topics the post is about. Maybe you can passively engage with her, and leave a breadcrumb trail for people who follow her. Because of your breadcrumb trail, they may be able to find their way out of the hell of being sold vitamins and shit by people on the internet who tell them how to eat.
  3. Talk to her and lay it all out. If you prefer to address it more directly, invite her out for coffee. (Or a smoothie or bulletproof coffee or a grain bowl or whatever floats her boat.) And just tell her how you feel. Ask her questions, try to see her side of it. Use your words! Hopefully the two of you can have a better understanding of where you’re coming from, and who knows, maybe you’ll find out that she’s questioning some shit in her life’s chosen work and help her work through it.
  4. MUTE HER. So, on Facebook, you can mute someone for 30 days, which is great. I mute people all the time when they’re bugging me. On Instagram, you can mute them indefinitely. I don’t know what you can do on Twitter because it’s the only internet hellscape I don’t enter, unless I have to, for work. But you can probably do something. Your friend won’t know you muted her, unlike an unfollow or unfriend. You can even mute her just until you want to figure out how to play this. But, if you really don’t want to see this, if it bugs you, and none of the above options appeal to you, mute away!

The only other option, and one I don’t recommend, is going nuclear and calling her out in front of everyone. You can do that, if that’s your prerogative, but it’s generally not a good look and doesn’t win us fatties many fans.

📬 Got a question? Email askfluffykittenparty@gmail.com!

How Do I Deal with Anxiety About Not Fitting in Spaces? – Ask Fluffy Kitten Party

I’m back to play your internet agony aunt with more reader questions!

But before we get down to it, I wanted to let you know what’s been going on. Shortly after I published my last post, “An Open Letter to People Who Feel Infringed on by Fat People on Airplanes,” WordPress featured my post. I didn’t realize it for awhile, but I woke up one morning to find that my inbox was BURSTING. On average, I get about 20 emails per day, and most of those emails are from HelloFresh trying to get me to come back. But I had HUNDREDS of emails. And many of them were supportive and kind and drove me to tears. But many of them were not.

Here’s the thing: I’m just an average person! I have a full-time job and a cat and a dog and a husband. I eat brunch and order pizza and watch lots of HGTV. I am a perfectly mundane, average person. I have never been a public figure. I’m a quiet person with a blog. And I’ve never really dealt with much internet hate. Sure, this blog gets a troll here and there. Sometimes I get a comment calling me a “fat bitch” and I roll my eyes and mark them as spam. But I have never ever been the recipient of so much trolling and hate.

It was confusing. It was alarming. It was, more than anything, exhausting. It was relentless, because my phone was constantly notifying me of new comments. Would it be a nice comment? Would it be someone writing an essay about why they do not want me to touch them on a plane? Would it be some concern-troll telling me that I should lose weight if I want to fly more comfortably? Would it just be another iteration of the “fat bitch” comment? SO MUCH ANXIETY! I tried to keep up, but I couldn’t.

And then I got the flu. It was bad. On Valentine’s Day, I threw up all over my husband and gave him the flu. We were both so sick my mother-in-law had to drive three hours to take care of us. If I had been a baby, I probably would have died. I was out of work and completely incapable of doing anything but drinking Gatorade and sleeping for a week. It took about a month for me to feel fully better.

So, that’s where I’ve been. But, hey, I also got a lot of new followers and some really lovely comments from the whole thing, I don’t have the flu anymore, so things are great! And if you’re new, HEY THERE.

kiss

Back to business! This week, we’re diving into size accessibility, how to look the part of Badass Fat Professional, and how to do fitness when your knees are fighting against you.

let's do this

I have a question. I’m not sure if you’ve touched on this yet but how do you go to a concert or theater event if you know you probably won’t be able to fit in the seat? I’m shaped like a pear so most of my fat is on my butt, thighs, and hips. My husband bought me tickets to Shawn Mendes for later this summer and theater tickets in the spring. I am so excited to go to both but also dreading it. Since stopping dieting almost a year ago I’ve gained a lot of weight. I’m 6 foot tall and right around 330 pounds. While those aren’t benchmarks to compare and I don’t look at them as negative, I’m just giving you an idea of my size. 

OH GIRL. I feel this in my heart and soul. Chairs are one of my favorite things in the world, and also one of the things I hate the most. I’ve written before about how much space in my brain is taken up by thinking about chairs, but I haven’t actually talked about practical steps to navigate this wild, wild world of unpredictable chair sizes.

A few years ago, my husband and I went to a Paul McCartney concert. We shelled out big bucks for this concert, because I love Paul McCartney and The Beatles, and I wanted to be in the same room as a Beatle just once in my life. Sir Paul is 76. I mean, he’s healthy as a horse by all accounts, but who knows when another chance to be in the same room as a Beatle would present itself? I don’t know what Ringo is up to these days, so this was my chance and I took it. Tickets were selling out fast. I grabbed tickets for two of the last seats that were together (and priced under a million dollars.) I didn’t look at the seating chart, I just pounced on the tickets. This turned out to be a mistake.

The venue was in an arena. Our seats were nosebleed seats. I just barely fit into my tiny seat, which was in the middle of the row. And when I say I “fit,” I mean that I could just squish myself into it and I was in pain the whole entire night. I was supremely uncomfortable. And I would have just stood and rocked out, but these seats were so far back and the drop was so steep that my fear of heights just wouldn’t let me do it. So I sat, all night, in a very expensive seat that left me with bruises on my hips and thighs.

paulmccartney
This was an amazing picture of took of Paul McCartney on a Jumbotron. It is blurry because I was shaking in terror from being up so high at the venue, and also because I had to zoom in one million times to get even this.

So, I learned my lesson. And I’ve gotten smarter. Here’s what I do now:

  • Research. You can actually find a surprising amount of information about venues online! Start by Googling. Check the venue’s website. You may even be able to find videos of the seats on YouTube. (Seriously!)
  • Check out accessibility apps. Apps like AllGo and Ample aim to solve this problem by providing reviews from other fat folx who’ve been to a spot and can let you know whether it’s fat-friendly or not. These apps are pretty limited at this point (AllGo is in beta), so whether they’re helpful or not depends on where you’re located. But it’s worth giving it a shot! (Also, maybe leave a review after the concert to help these apps be more helpful.)
  • Check online reviews. While they’re not designed for this purpose, sometimes Yelp and Google reviews can provide information about size accessibility, sort of by accident in most cases. Scan the reviews to see if there’s any relevant information about the seating situation.
  • Crowdsource. If you’re part of any local fat-friendly groups online, ask the group! You can also just ask your friends: “Hey, has anyone been to this venue? What’s the seating situation like?” If the venue is in your town, you might be able to pick the brains of pals who have been there before. I know some people can feel awkward or embarrassed about this, but there’s no need to be. If anyone gives you guff or makes fun, eat them. CHOMP.
  • Check the seating chart before purchasing tickets. Okay, since your husband already purchased these tickets, this may not be helpful to you at this point. I’ve found that aisle seats are generally more comfortable for me, and I also prefer seats at the front of the section because they usually have much more leg room. I absolutely do not buy tickets without checking the seating chart and making sure the seats are where I want them.
  • Talk to the venue. This falls into the But It’s So Awkward! category, but it’s really not: You’re a paying customer. You have a question about their seats. So, they should provide answers, and they’re usually able to. You can email if you’re not comfortable calling. Just say, “Hi there, I have tickets to [CONCERT], and I’m wondering how big the seats are? Do the arm rests lift up? Is there a solid barrier between seats, or is there a space? Do you have accommodations for customers if the seats are too small? Any help you can provide is much appreciated!” You should be able to get your final answer this way. (And you may be surprised — some venues will happily put you in the accessible section with a chair if you’re not able to be comfortable in your seat.)

These things usually help me feel less anxious, because I know what I’m walking into. That said, if you get there and find that you don’t fit, what do you do?

Well, as a fellow married gal, I say: Invade your husband’s space. I do this all the time to my husband if seats are small, and he doesn’t mind. I mean, he married me, and routinely invades my space on the couch, so it’d be ridiculous for him to get huffy with me for spilling into his seat. And I figure, if I’m going to spill into someone’s seat, it might as well be the man who is legally bound to me instead of a stranger. I’d also recommend voicing your concerns about this to him. Having a partner who knows what you’re up against and how anxious you are about it can be a huge help in these situations, because you’ll be able to talk to him about what you’re feeling, and he can help you navigate the concert experience so it’s less stressful for you. (And if you’re reading and not going with a spouse or partner, the same thing applies to friends and family! Tell them what’s going on. In most cases, your people will step up and do what they can to help out.)

Then, I’d find an usher or ask to speak to an employee, if the seat is just too small or uncomfortable for you. They may be able to work something out so you can enjoy the show.

And the good news is that, at concerts, a lot of people just end up standing anyway. So, if you’re able to do so, just stand. Dance! Enjoy yourself! And, if the seats are really shitty and uncomfortable, I recommend writing an email or letter with feedback to the venue to let them know what your experience was. Sometimes businesses just don’t think of size accessibility, so it’s helpful when people give them feedback. Some venues don’t care. Some venues might go to their team and start working on plans to make their venue more accessible, or at least devise options for customers in bigger bodies.

The one thing you SHOULD NOT DO is regard a small seat as your own personal failing or beat yourself up about it. It’s not your body’s fault that a seat is too small; it’s the seat’s fault, and the business’ fault for not accommodating customers. And you’re not the only one: sometimes seats are just fucking small. At the Paul McCartney concert, my husband was uncomfortable too, and he’s not remotely fat. The seats were small, for everyone. They were not built for comfort, they were built for squeezing as many bodies as possible into the space. So, find out what you can before the concert to quell your anxiety, go in problem-solving mode (instead of oh-god-what-if-I-don’t-fit mode), and do your damndest to have a good time.

Good luck!

Hi Fluffy Kitten Party! I love your blog, especially your piece about diet culture in the office. I’m writing because I just got my first job in a “business professional” office, and I’m freaking out because I have nothing to wear. The women in my office are very stylish, and I just feel like a big messy lump. There don’t seem to be many options for plus-size office wear that suit my style and my budget. How do I go about building the wardrobe I need so I can fit in at my new job? 

Congratulations on your new job!

I can relate: I worked in a big, huge office for years with a business professional dress code and fashionistas all around me. And we talk about weight discrimination preventing fat people from getting jobs a lot, but there’s often more subtle ways weight bias creeps in even after you’ve gotten the job. Part of office culture is fitting in and looking the part. But when your clothing options are slim, and super overpriced, it can be hard to compete with people who can find perfectly professional-looking clothes off the rack at any store in the mall. And when people generally perceive fat people as lazy, unintelligent, less competent, and sloppy, it’s something you’ve got to fight against at the office. You need to work harder and spend more just to get to the middle, where your thin counterparts start out.

meee
This was my goofy-ass professional photo from that period of my life. I wore a cardigan and camisole pretty much every day of my life.

Here’s how I survived:

  • Create your own uniform. This sounds awful, doesn’t it? But before I skipped the business professional workplace for somewhere that let me wear jeans every day, I had a uniform: gray or black pants, dressy top or sweater, cardigan, sensible flats. This made it a lot easier for me to build up a wardrobe, when I had an idea of what I needed on a daily basis. I started out with a few outfits, and added more pieces as I could.
  • Invest in a few staple pieces. So, on “What Not to Wear,” they talked a lot about “investment pieces.” These were usually striking, expensive pieces of clothing like a blazer, jacket, skirt, or pants. But we’re not talking about that here, because you’re on a budget, and let’s face it: plus-size clothing is often cheaply made and not meant to last more than six months. What I’m talking about here are a few pieces you can build your wardrobe around. My business professional wardrobe started with two pieces of dressy pants: a gray pair, and a black pair. I got them both on sale at Lane Bryant. I like pants, personally, because they’re nondescript. No one is paying close enough attention to your plain ass pair of black pants to notice, “Hey, didn’t you wear those on Monday?” But a skirt with a pattern or a dress? People may take notice. So, get a couple of dressy pieces of office-appropriate pants, and start there. Check what’s on clearance at Lane Bryant and Torrid — you may be able to get a few pairs of pants on clearance for a steal. I found that tops were something I could find more easily, and generally cost less, so I had some pants as staples and rotated tops and cardigans.
  • Work with what you’ve got. I was able to repurpose a bunch of stuff already in my wardrobe: I had cardigans and sweaters. Even the plainest of plain camisoles can be incorporated into a business professional outfit. (Cami + cardigan + aforementioned pants? DONE!) Take a look at what’s already in your closet and see what can be dressed up.
  • Accessorize! You know what almost always fits? Accessories. Adding some nice, dressy touches like a long necklace, a bracelet, some earrings, whatever floats your boat, can be a great way to dress up your work wear and add a little bit of your own style into a starter work wardrobe.

In terms of stores, I tended to shop at: Torrid (carries 12-30, though the higher up on the spectrum you are, the fewer options there are, especially in-store), Lane Bryant (carries up to 32, a little bit more on the spendy side but good for work stuff), Woman Within (carries sizes 12-42, great for basics), and Dress Barn Woman (carries sizes 14-24). I also lived in SWAK Designs (14-36) Pretty Camis for a period of time. Modcloth also has cute sweaters and cardigans and dressy tops (they go up to a 4x, which is about a 24). But don’t be afraid to check your local thrift shops, plus-size clothing exchanges in your area, and so on. If you’ve got a little more budget, Eloquii is a great place to find classy work-friendly attire.

I’m not really sure what size you are, but I’m answering from the perspective of a mid-fat, meaning I can find clothing in most plus-size stores. But infinifats (or, people above a size 30 or 32) are seriously underserved — if anyone has any hot tips on stores with workwear for sizes 30 and above, please let me know in the comments!

I am hoping you can help me out. I saw you mention having a bad knee and was wondering if you could recommend some gentle exercises for me? I am looking to up my physical activity level without injuring myself (I have a few chronic pain issues but my knees and ankles are the weakest joints in my body). I’m scared of gyms and people who make fitness their life, like trainers, because of the potential fat shaming so I’m not real sure where to go to get advice on it. Hopefully you can help me out! 

Thanks so much, 

Struggling in South Carolina  

I’ll be honest here: I’m still figuring this part out for myself. I do have bad knees — and you probably know this all too well, but here’s what that means in terms of fitness. When I do something my knees disagree with, I will hear a startling crunch. And sometimes I’ll feel a sharp pain radiate from my problematic knee all the way up my groin. Sometimes strenuous exercise means I can’t walk without pain for the better part of a week. Sometimes I get crazy cramps that go from my knee all the way to my crotch that leave me screaming and seeing stars. So, exercise can be fraught for me.

Often, people misunderstand what people who live with injuries and bad joints and chronic pain mean when they say they have trouble exercising. It’s not often a problem that can be solved with exercise. You cannot plank and Jazzercise your way to the other side. It hurts. It can cause you harm. Lots of personal trainers don’t understand this, and just assume “you need to build up your endurance and strength!” and push you when your joints are screaming at you and your pain is through the roof, so I understand your trepidation with them. I’ve worked with those trainers, they suck.

First, I’d encourage you to see if physical therapy is something that’s covered by your insurance and doable for you, time-wise and financially. A physical therapist can help you find exercises that work for your chronic pain, knees and ankles.

But other than that, here’s what I recommend, and what I am doing (with varying degrees of success): Mentally separate “physical activity” with “gyms and working out and sweating and feeling terrible.” When you stop thinking of “physical activity” as something you do in a gym, you can find all sorts of opportunities to be more physically active.

One of my favorite physical activities is walking. Not power-walking, not jogging or running. Just walking. I have a dog. He’s really cute, and he likes to go on walks. So we walk. (And he pulls, so walking him is a full-body workout. My core is engaged.)

doge
Here is my dumb dog’s Christmas picture from last year.

Sometimes I’ll take a break while he takes a deuce, or sniffs a really interesting patch of grass, and sometimes we take a break just because my knee hurts and I need it. I work from home three days a week, and when I do, I take a little break from my work and we go outside for a walk. Did you know that walking for just 30 minutes a day can be hugely beneficial to your health? (That article is not HAES-friendly, but few fitness articles are. I tried to find one, I promise!)  Some days we walk more, some days we walk less, depending on how my knees are feeling that day. Some days, my husband does most of the walking if my knee is really bugging me. But walking is low-impact, free, does not require a gym membership or trainer, and can be great for your overall health and fitness.

I don’t just walk with my dog. If I’m having a good day, I’ll take a little walk on my lunch break at work, and walk to a cafe nearby. Sometimes, if it’s rainy and/or cold, I’ll walk on the treadmill I have in my house. (I know treadmills are expensive as hell — we got one for free from a family member who never used theirs.) To some people, walking on a treadmill is boring. For me, I find it relaxing. I have a little TV I can turn on while I walk, adjust the speed and incline as needed, and just zone out for a little bit.

Walking may be harder for you because of your ankles, but listen: I am not talking about fast-walking. Walk at a pace you are comfortable with. If you need to take a break, take one. If you need to stop, stop. If your knees and ankles are killing you one day, don’t walk beyond what is necessary to live your life. If a walking stick might help, use it. But fitness can honestly be as simple as, “Hey! It’s nice out, how about going for a walk?” (And make sure you have good shoes with arch and ankle support! Walking is painful in bad shoes.)

And I realize there’s privilege in this. I used to live in a neighborhood where walking outside wasn’t 100% safe. I’ve also lived in places where there were no sidewalks, where there were dangerous busy streets, or where I’d encounter street harassment pretty consistently. I often walked around on my lunch break at work, because it was an isolated campus with lots of pretty trees and paths (and a security guard). So, make it work, if you want to walk, and you can find a way to do it safely.

In the summer, I’ll jump at any opportunity to swim. Water is super awesome for people with joint problems to exercise in — in addition to being fun. I don’t have a gym with a pool nearby, just a neighbor with a pool. But don’t let swimsuit anxiety keep you from a community or gym pool! Look for water aerobics. Apparently there is even WATER ZUMBA. (Which sounds weird, but I also don’t understand what Zumba is.) People taking these classes usually have joint problems of their own, or are on the older side, so it’s not like walking onto Muscle Beach with a bunch of supermodels. You’ll be fine. No one will be staring at you in your swimsuit, promise.

Other people have recommended yoga to me more times than I can count. Personally, even the gentlest yoga does not feel gentle for me. It makes my knees crackle and pop and I don’t really enjoy it. But you could give chair yoga a try if it’s something that interests you! Amber Karnes is a body-positive yoga instructor with a chair yoga course available online, and you can find free videos on YouTube to see if it’s for you.

The important thing here is that you should focus on doing things that feel enjoyable and beneficial. If you hate something, you won’t do it. If you are miserable every second of Orange Theory, you will never go. You don’t need to push yourself. You don’t need to do anything that causes you pain. You can become more fit and more active in increments — it doesn’t need to be a big overhaul, or even a new dedication to one activity. It could mean that, this weekend, you go on a little walk with a friend at a local park. Next weekend, you go swimming. And the weekend after that, you try a chair yoga video on YouTube.

And it goes without saying that fitness and exercise are not requirements. If you’re not in a place where you can think about these things, don’t. If you are not up to it a particular day, week, or even month, it’s okay.

Got questions? Send them to askfluffykittenparty@gmail.com!

How Do I Deal With My Fear of Gaining Weight and Embrace Body Positivity? – Ask Fluffy Kitten Party

Hey guys, gals, and nonbinary pals! I have a contact page here on this blog, and sometimes, people email me for help. I’ve been responding to these questions privately since I started my blog last year, but you know what? It’s time to start having these conversations out loud, for others to hear. Because they’re important, and because there are few places you can go to find out, say, what to do when you want to embrace Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating but still aren’t comfortable with what you see in the mirror. Or when you’re not sure how to handle a coworker who will not shut up about their diet. So, we’re going to do that, here.

Let’s rock.

let's rock

Hi there, 

I’m really trying to embrace body positivity and intuitive eating and HAES but I still have a hard time fighting this voice in my head that says I should diet, that I’m too fat, that I would be happier if I lost weight. Sometimes I get sucked into googling weight loss surgery and fantasizing about what it would be like if I lost a bunch of weight. It’s especially hard with all the New Years stuff I am seeing all over social media and on TV. How do I get past it? 

This is the hardest part of the whole journey, friend.

Unfortunately diet culture is not a switch you can simply flip off when you’re ready — it’s more of a chip that’s implanted in your brain, it becomes part of you and your cognitive function. It’s that invasive. It’s a copilot you didn’t ask for second-guessing you at every turn. And it’s hard for everyone to silence it.

The first step is recognizing it. New Year’s is the most profitable time of the year for Diet Culture: it’s when people try to shake off the “excess” of the holiday season, join Weight Watchers, buy diet books, join gyms, sign up to try new exercise classes, and make a commitment to shrinking themselves. So that pressure you’re feeling right now? When you’re bombarded by messages telling you that you’re too big, too much, too soft, and must shrink? That’s Diet Culture. It is hustling this time of year. So, it’s no wonder you’re feeling particularly fragile about your body and attempts to accept it as is: you’re fucking surrounded. You are bombarded. We all are. You are not alone in this.

The good news is, even though you are being literally attacked with this message of shrinking yourself, you can make a choice. You can give in, and entertain these thoughts of shrinking, and keep Googling. Or, you can block it.

blocked

I mean this literally and figuratively. Curate your social media feed. If you have a friend or family member blathering on about their new diet, or how much weight they’ve lost or gained, mute them. You can unfriend them, if they’re people you feel comfortable losing. You can also mute them or snooze them for a limited amount of time. (And, trust me, give them a month and they will probably just move onto the next thing. That’s the thing about New Year’s resolutions — most people are done talking about them by February 1st. Planet Fitness basically designed its whole business model on people giving up on New Year’s resolutions.) You can also give feedback about ads you see; get familiar with your Ad Settings on Facebook. Report or hide ads about dieting or selling you diet-related nonsense. It feels like an attack you have no control over, but you do have some control. So, use the control you have to block the shit you don’t want to see. If you want to make a New Year’s resolution, resolve to prioritize your own mental health and proactively block things that are damaging to the path you’re on. Unfollow people who make you feel bad about yourself, and follow more people who look like you, are on the same journey, and empower you.

And, while you’re at it, surround yourself with contrasting messages. Have some Amazon gift cards from the holidays? Build a fortress of books around yourself. Start with the building blocks, if you haven’t read them yet: Body Respect and Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Fat? So! by Marilyn Wann, Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby. Read some books by amazing fat badasses: Landwhale and Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker, Shrill by Lindy West, The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar. If you don’t have gift cards or money, check out your local library — they may have some you can borrow. And if you are part of any online communities, ask! People may be willing to mail them to you. And if you’ve already read these and have them in your library, revisit them.

books

The other part of your question is the hardest. How do you learn to love yourself when you aren’t happy with yourself? Oh, if only I had a simple answer to that! But it starts by letting go of the idea that you need to love yourself. You don’t. Start with respecting your body. Start with honoring it. Only then can you start to liberate it. It is, after all, the only body you get. So, you should take care of it. That doesn’t mean dieting and shrinking it, that means respecting it and taking care of the whole you — and that means not dieting.

Dieting doesn’t work. Really, it doesn’t! Even weight loss surgery works for only a stunningly small percentage of people past the first few years. Remind yourself of that, each and every day. Weight cycling is harmful to your body. I know it’s tempting! Dieting sells a beautiful lie: that when you lose weight, you will become the person you’re meant to be, you will become self-actualized, and the whole world will open up to you. And parts of the lie are true: fat bodies are marginalized and oppressed. Fat people can face discrimination in so many places! At work, at the doctor’s office, from friends and family. Sometimes we have a hard time finding clothes that fit (let alone clothes that are in our personal style) and fitting into public spaces that weren’t built for us. And that sucks. It hurts. Sometimes it seems like it’ll be easier and simpler if we just lose weight to fit in, because it doesn’t seem like the rest of the world will change. Being thin is easier in a world where fat people are oppressed. But no one knows how to make a fat person into a thin person. If we could successfully do that, the diet industry would not exist, and people would not need to make New Year’s resolutions to diet, year after year.

So, next time you look in the mirror and feel bad at the body starting back at you, ask yourself: who benefits from me feeling this way? It’s certainly not you. But there’s a whole industry that makes billions from you feeling that way. Yes, billions. The diet industry makes an amount of money from you feeling bad about yourself that is hard to even wrap your mind around. Get angry about it. Get angry, and rebel by finding something about your body that you like. Do you have big, strong arms? Delicious thunder thighs? Awesome tits? A cute, soft, round belly? A killer smile? Beautiful eyes? Try to look at yourself the way you’d look at a friend who was feeling bad about themselves. Try to find the things about yourself you love, the things that make you you. Do it every day. It’s not your body that is a problem, it’s the culture that tries to shrink it. So, lift yourself up. It may feel forced or even silly at first. It may even be painful. But the more you do it, the easier it will feel, and the more you will believe it and be able to silence that voice in your head (the Diet Culture chip) that tells you that you need to shrink.

And, lastly, I can’t reassure you that you won’t gain weight when you ditch diet culture. You might! If you’ve been restricting your food intake on a diet, you may gain weight. I did. But you know, it’s not the end of the world. Bodies change. And when you stop dieting, hop off the hamster wheel, get angry at the hamster wheel, silence the bullshit around you and lift yourself up instead of putting yourself down, it won’t matter as much. And you can finally begin to do the work of healing your relationship with food and your body.

You know what won’t give you peace with yourself, your body, and food? Dieting. If it worked for you, you wouldn’t be on this path. You wouldn’t be trying to incorporate HAES and IE and body positivity into your life. The fact you’re trying to embrace these things means you’ve probably been down this road once or twice before, and it didn’t make you thin, make your life easier, help you chill out about food and your weight, or magically turn you into a different person. So, why would it work any differently this time? SPOILER: it won’t.

Good luck.

The company I work for just sent out an email about their new wellness plan that allows employees to get a discount on our health insurance premium if we enroll and reach certain benchmarks for health, including weight loss. I’m really annoyed by this. But… I could also use the discount. I’m torn between just gritting my teeth and enrolling and writing them an angry email. ARGH WHAT DO I DO? Help!

Oh, I’ve been there and worked for companies with “wellness programs.” For those unfamiliar, these programs are typically orchestrated by Human Resources departments in a bid to keep their healthcare costs down. When employees opt in, they submit to “biomarker” screenings that categorize their health: whether they smoke, their blood pressure, their BMI (obviously), and HR uses a discount (either a flat dollar amount or a percentage) as an incentive to encourage employees to be “healthier.” Sometimes you get the discount by submitting a form from your doctor that declares you “healthy,” and sometimes you have to complete health-related milestones to get the discount. (For instance, completing a smoking cessation program, or lowering your BMI, or lowering your blood pressure.) These are inherently fatphobic (since it’s using weight as a health marker — and encouraging employees to diet) and ultimately benefit the insurance company and company you work for more than employees (since the insurance company’s goal is to not pay for health expenses, because that’s how they make money, and because your company wants to negotiate a lower rate for themselves by making the case the their employees are “healthier,” and therefore less likely to need expensive healthcare.) Sometimes it’ll even involve a corporate partnership, like a discount for a gym or diet programs like Weight Watchers.

They also don’t work all that well.

Wellness programs put employees in a tricky position: I remember getting the yearly emails about the company wellness program, and considered enrolling several times. At one organization, my healthcare was good but expensive, and I could have used a discount. They also made me feel singled out, and worried that by enrolling, I’d be giving HR access to my BMI and blood pressure and other personal health information. I worried that it would affect other areas of my employment, like being considered for promotions, or being considered an insurance liability. (I mean, they knew I was fat, because they could see me. But it meant submitting a form to them that told them exactly how fat I was, and put them in a position to judge my health.) I usually quietly deleted the emails and never enrolled. I also never fought them, or wrote the angry emails I wanted to write them about their poisonous, fatphobic program. Ultimately, they just provided a wave of shame, and made me feel awkward.

I never said anything about it at any organization I worked for. It was not a hill I was willing to die on. I wanted a steady job, opportunity for advancement, benefits, and good reviews and relationships with colleagues. And I already felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb and had to work twice as hard for recognition because I was one of the few fat employees at the job I worked at the longest. It seemed wiser not to stick my neck out, not to be seen as a “problem.” I was willing to sacrifice speaking my mind for the sake of a steady job.

Before deciding what to do, learn more about your company’s wellness program. How much is the discount you will see? Ask questions, if you need to. If you were to enroll, how much would you actually save each year? How much would you see put back in your paycheck? Healthcare expenses are high and most of us could use a discount, but unfortunately, sometimes the discount employees receive for participating is next to nothing. $500 per year may sound like a lot, but that’s not a cash rebate — that’s spread out over an entire year of paychecks. Do the math. Is it worth it for you, financially?

And if your employer’s wellness program does end up saving you a nice chunk of change each year, do some additional math to figure out what it will cost you personally. Understand the wellness program and what you’re signing up for. It could be that your employer is running a pretty lean wellness program where you get credit for easy things like getting a check up, getting a flu shot, and so on. Easy stuff! In that case, it may not cost you much personally or emotionally to sign up. But understand the terms. What are they measuring? What information will they require? What can they do with the information? Contact HR and ask to see any forms you’ll have to submit so you can decide. Know what you’d be signing up for.

Then you’ll need to do a cost/benefit analysis. Weigh the pros and cons. If you’d be getting a big discount that would may your paychecks go further, but not cost you much personally and has terms that seem reasonable to you, go for it. You can probably drop out if you find out you hate it. But if it seems to cost more than it’s worth, opt out.

Now, on whether to address the issue of having a wellness program, period, with HR … well, that’s a little trickier. It depends entirely on your comfort level. If you’re comfortable giving HR a (polite, professional) piece of your mind, go for it. Maybe send them the New York Times article linked above about the efficacy of employee wellness programs. My recommendation is to make it less about your feelings, and more about the message it sends to employees — namely, that they privilege thin, able-bodied employees and don’t seem to be considering employees who may have disabilities, chronic illnesses, or bodies that don’t conform to the image of “health.” That’s a language they can understand. And since their job is to protect the company from lawsuits, that may be the thing that makes them sit up and take notice, especially if your company bills itself as an Equal Opportunity Employer.

But it’s also okay to just delete the email and say nothing. If you’re new and don’t want to make waves, or if you live in fear of HR and want to keep your head down, or just don’t feel like you can communicate what you want effectively … it’s okay to just opt out. It takes a lot of bravery to stand up to HR. Ultimately, they’re not there for employees, they’re there to protect the company. Some HR departments are more open to feedback than others. You know your HR department best. Do what’s best for you. Protect yourself and your well-being first.

type

Whatever you choose, you have my full support.

***

Got a question? Email me at askfluffykittenparty@gmail.com!