Dear Abby: Your prejudice is showing

2nd January 2008

Dear Abby: Your prejudice is showing

I don’t know why I continue to read advice columnists like Ask Amy or Dear Abby, I really don’t. It could be the voyeur in me or maybe reading the problems of others reassures me that my life can be much worse. All I can offer in defense is that they’re good for distraction when my ADD-addled brain needs a break from work.

I wonder if there is some sort of mandatory fat-washing program advice columnists undergo once they’re handed free reign to dispense non-professional advice liberally: Thou shall promote acceptance of everyone but fat people… Fat people don’t know they’re fat so you should tell them… Encourage your fat friend to lose weight so she, too, can land a husband… If your spouse becomes fat, leave them… Fat is ugly… Fat kills… and ad nauseam.

Most recently saw the Dan Savage debacle, which garnered more than 200 approved and scores of deleted comments before I turned commenting off altogether. Not to be beat, Ask Margo chimed in that same week with her own brand of fat patronization.

Before that, Fillyjonk from Shapely Prose and I both ridiculed and lamented via email Ask Amy’s condescending and fat-bashing advice to another “good guy and a great husband” of a fat spouse who is withholding sex from his wife of more than 25 years until she loses weight.

Dear Abby scored big points with me last year when she came out in support of gay marriage, but I guess promoting acceptance of fat people is too vast a humanitarian gap for her to bridge. For more on her past fat-bashing record, see Big Fat Blog.

So, it was with little surprise that I read Abby’s inaugural New Year’s post, “Start Year with Positive Steps,” an often-requested list Abby says was adapted by her mother, Pauline Phillips, from the original credo of Al-Anon.

Overall, the list is positive, if a little Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul’ish for my taste. The list encourages readers to think positively, have courage and work to improve one’s mind and actions towards others. Readers are admonished to “accept what is” and to try and “correct those things I can correct and accept those I cannot.”

But of course, what list of New Year’s resolutions would be complete without a dose of guised self-loathing. The list advises:

Just for today: I will do something positive to improve my health… If I am overweight, I will eat healthfully — if only just for today. And not only that, I will get off the couch and take a brisk walk, even if it’s only around the block.

You have to admire how Abby deftly succeeds in patronizing and offending multitudes of people with much-trumpeted, but scientifically unproven stereotypes rooted in discriminatory attitudes.

It’s not Abby’s recommendations I oppose, it’s the myopic demographic – fat people – to whom she has directed her comments. Not only does the resolution falsely assume that all fat people eat unhealthy foods and are sedentary sloths, it overlooks the fact that many thin people eat unhealthily and are inactive and could benefit from the same sage advice.

If promoting good health and physical fitness were truly the intention, a more constructive and less-offensive resolution could read:

I will do something positive to improve my health… If I eat unhealthily, I will eat healthfully — if only just for today. And not only that, if I am inactive, I will get off the couch and take a brisk walk, even if it’s only around the block.

For many fat people, eating healthy and exercising regularly are already facts of life and their body weight and shape is something that no amount of dieting and working out can permanently reduce or change.

Perhaps Abby should amend her mother’s second resolution –the one advising readers to “correct those things I can correct and accept those I cannot” – to read: We should all work to correct only those things that need correcting and accept those that need no correcting at all.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 at 4:12 pm and is filed under Body Image, Fat Bias, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 10 responses to “Dear Abby: Your prejudice is showing”

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  1. 1 On January 2nd, 2008, Michelle said:

    Rachel I guess that column is a clear indication that we in the fat acceptance movement still have a long ways to go in our journey of informing the misinformed successfully. We will get there some day.

  2. 2 On January 2nd, 2008, miriam heddy said:

    I wrote back to her, because I think that she’s one of the few advice columnists out there who might be led to rethink her position.

  3. 3 On January 2nd, 2008, Meowser said:

    I think that particular list of “resolutions” has been around since Abby #1, unchanged. You’re right, it wouldn’t take much to change it the way you said, and it would be a lot more constructive. I don’t understand why fat people are automatically raked over the coals for being lazy and self-destructive when thin people with the same behaviors get an automatic pass.

  4. 4 On January 2nd, 2008, dusty rose said:

    I’ve been lurking around the fat-o-sphere for a while, and I’m delurking because I’m really annoyed at Dear Abby too. When I saw the title of your post, I thought it referred to her column from last week. A woman wrote in to say she felt bad that her fat friend was not getting attention from guys when they went out together, and she didn’t know what to do other than lie to her friend that guys were complimenting her. Abby’s response:

    The first thing you must do is stop lying to her. Every time you do, you raise her hopes that the person you have invented will show an interest, which of course can never happen.

    The second is to have a loving and truthful discussion with her about how much you care about her and about her weight because it affects not only her social life, but it could also affect her health. Sometimes it takes a loving friend to direct our attention to something we would rather ignore, and it appears in this case, that person is you.

    Um, yeah, fat people have no idea we’re fat. It’s not like anyone’s ever told us that before.

  5. 5 On January 2nd, 2008, Sarah said:

    Fat = Bad
    Skinny = Good

    I think it’s safe to say that most people have a lazy brain these days. Apparently, it’s just too darn hard to look past stereotypes!

  6. 6 On January 2nd, 2008, Rachel said:

    Dusty Rose – Yeah, an email list I am a part of had a spirited discussion on her advice to that particular letter writer. Which is why, Miriam, given her past history, I doubt that Abby is likely to see the big fat light anytime soon.

  7. 7 On January 3rd, 2008, Maya said:

    I am missing something – not about the Abby part, but about Amy. Is the link correct? Because I don’t see what is “condescending and fat-bashing” about her advice, it seems to me that she is supporting the “fat” wife: “Because you are fit and thin, you might think that losing weight is simpler than it is. Gaining weight is pretty simple; getting and keeping the motivation to lose it is complicated.” OK, so she hasn’t written a pro-F treatise, but that’s not her job. I think she’s given a pretty balanced, but brief, response. What am I not getting here?

  8. 8 On January 3rd, 2008, Rachel said:

    Maya – Granted, in this context, fat-bashing might be too harsh a word but I used it in light of Amy’s past record in dispensing advice related to fatness.

    As for this particular letter, sure Amy sounds supportive of the wife, but she still refers to the husband’s hassling of his wife’s weight as “loving gestures” and refers to a husband who admits to withholding sex from his wife of 25 years as a “good guy and a great husband.” This is, despite the fact that the wife continues to make sexual overtures and advances, indicating she wants that intimacy. Even Dan Savage disproves of using sex as a bargaining chip within a relationship.

  9. 9 On January 4th, 2008, Tari said:

    What a list of tools!

    I always think advice columnists encourage people to make decisions based on other peoples’ values and circumstances…I wish more people felt comfortable living by their own standards instead. Although, I will totally admit to loving Ask Umbra….so I guess for my personal taste it depends on what kind of advice is being given.

    And I wholeheartedly love Al Franken, despite his decidedly un-fat-friendly outlook…so deep down, I must think occasionally compromising my values for entertainment’s sake is okay.

  10. 10 On September 23rd, 2009, Love is blind, except when it comes to weight » said:

    [...] his reply: “I will love you regardless if you weigh 100 or 1,000-pounds.”  The endless array of bad advice from columnists to men and women bemoaning their fat spouses has only convinced me [...]

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