It seems that trolls can be fed trollbait and transformed into raving monsters… or you can treat them with kindness and compassion, and they can turn into friends.
A few days ago, I posted the following link on Facebook, with a quote from Leonard Nimoy (who had passed away earlier that day). I thought it was a really sweet quote that fit with the work I’ve been doing on self-acceptance and with Abundia. But for some reason, it was accidentally posted publicly, and a friend of a friend took issue with it.
The ensuing conversation was a great opportunity for me to learn how to engage with someone who is still spouting the beliefs that are deeply ingrained in our culture, specifically that all heavy bodies are unhealthy bodies (and a few other issues, like the idea that losing weight is only about eating right and exercising). My commenter didn’t feel like she was just trying to be obnoxious, though… I had a feeling that she was struggling with a lot of the same beliefs I had wrestled with myself about ten years ago, after I gained back everything (and then some) I’d lost after a huge post-divorce life change. This is when I finally (after an entire lifetime) started to do the real research in how our bodies work, and had my eyes opened to the fact that it’s not just about calories-in-calories-out.
Here’s an approximate transcription of the evening’s discussion (the commenter deleted her posts, and then FB removed the whole thing for “nudity,” so I only have bits and pieces of the conversation):
The original post:
Me: “At the end of the day we just gotta be happy with who we are, and if we’re not, take on the responsibility to change. We got one life and one body. Much love to the big girls, the small girls and everyone in between.” Thank you, Leonard. A class act all the way.
THE FULL BODY PROJECT BY LEONARD NIMOY, photography by Leonard Nimoy
FriendOfAFriend: I’m all for embracing a healthy body. But these women are not healthy. They are just as healthy as someone who is underweight. How about embracing the real healthy? Being active, eating well, and not being over or underweight. Women weren’t meant to look like this, just as they weren’t meant to look too skinny. This whole movement is just as unfortunate as the magazine and model lifestyle
FriendOfAFriend: (Yes I know that my weight will probably be attacked for saying that but whatever, I’m working hard at improving that)
Me: Hi, FOAF! Since I am not your doctor or psychologist, and know nothing about your medical history or background, I would never DREAM of commenting on your body size or health unless invited to do so. The only thing you can tell about a body by looking at it is what it looks like. I would like to respectfully invite you to read a book called “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” (it’s a compendium of weight-related research and evidence-based applications of that research). The biggest revelations in the book for me were the explanation of set points, how the body uses fat to protect itself, and the true indicators of health (spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with a number on the scale!). Thanks for commenting, and know that I aim for friendly informed debate in this corner of FB… no attacks will be tolerated.
FriendOfAFriend: It seems like this book just encourages people to not improve on their current health levels. It’s never healthy to have fat build up to the point where you are justifying it by “protecting yourself”. Again, I’m seriously all for embracing yourself and loving yourself. But any doctor will tell you that the women in those photographs are at risk health wise. Serious risk too. I’ve personally seen it happen! In both ends of the spectrum, under and overweight
Me: This book did FAR more for my health levels than any diet ever did! (And believe me, I did a lot of them.) Just like you can’t tell what is going on inside a body without studying it, you can’t know the contents of a book without reading it. I think I may have been unclear on explaining that concept, let me try again: one of the body’s reactions to inflammation is to build up fat, not the other way around (nobody tries to build up fat as a means of protection). What this book does is investigate the real costs of weight loss. Did you know that if you push far past your body’s self-regulated weight set points, you run the risk of damaging several of your body’s organs… the opposite of getting healthy. Here’s a link to Dr. Bacon’s website, with some of the book’s info published for free.
FriendOfAFriend: At its finest
FriendOfAFriend: I’m sorry it’s too hard for you
(NOTE: Here is where my blood pressure started to rise… and the kind PMs started to flow in, which helped keep stay at an even keel.)
Me: You can be fat and fit, or you can be skinny and sick. Studies are showing more and more that you can indeed be a healthy large person, and indeed you will be healthier even if large if you quit focusing on numbers and start focusing on what you eat, and how you move.
FriendOfAFriend: How much do you eat and how much do you move? What about being skinny and fit? If you can be fat and fit why not skinny and fit? How about normal sized and healthy?
Me: I love that you use “Fatlogic” in a post inspired by Leonard Nimoy! Here’s the link I meant to add to that previous post, by the way:
Can You Be Fat and Fit — or Thin and Unhealthy? | TIME.com
Turns out, being obese isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
FriendOfAFriend: You can be healthy and larger. But not healthy and obese
FriendOfAFriend: I’ll ask again, how much do you eat calorie wise in a day? And how much do you burn? I know I’ve struggled with this but no one ever told me I didn’t need to worry because skinny is beautiful. Nope, they said gain weight. Just as someone would tell an obese person to lose weight
FriendOfAFriend: So you say you can be fat and fit, can you be skinny and fit also?
Me: See, the challenge is that, if you’ve already become obese, how do you get back to health?
(NOTE: ACK… I did NOT mean to say that! I meant: “…how do you get back to what society considers a ‘normal’ weight?” See, even after all these years, I still goof up and subconsciously equate a smaller body size with health. Rookie mistake, but I think the majority of the time I’m on track in this conversation….)
Me: Is it absolutely necessary to lose weight to be healthy? The studies are saying no… that massive weight loss is not only unsustainable (very few people are able to keep weight off after a few years), it can damage your heart, your liver, your kidneys, and your nervous system.
Me: YES! You absolutely can be skinny and fit!
FriendOfAFriend: You are equating weight loss to massive weight loss
ECG: As a (fat) yoga teacher, I see HAES working all the time to benefit my private clients and people (fat and thin and all the in between) who come to my public classes.
Me: Do people give you crap about being skinny? That is just as bad, in its own way, as someone giving somebody crap about being larger. I’m so sorry if that’s what’s happened to you.
FriendOfAFriend: You can’t be skinny and fit or fat and fit
FriendOfAFriend: Being skinny landed me in the hospital, just as being obese will land you in a grave
(NOTE: The light goes off… this signals to me that she’s probably been hospitalized for some kind of eating disorder, and tells me that my task is just gotten both more difficult and significantly more important… but it also commits me to holding my tongue and digging deep to find compassion for her. While I’ve never suffered from anorexia or bulimia, I’ve heard their siren song and supported friends in recovery… it’s an incredibly difficult battle and my heart just ached for her.)
FriendOfAFriend: Nope, I’ve gained weight. But I know scientifically that being on either end of the spectrum is not going to help anyone life a long happy life
Me: The body’s set point can fluctuate safely up and down about 15-20 pounds (depending on a person’s metabolism and environment). It’s when you push past that point, that you start seeing problems… and as soon as the body can, it will bounce back to its set point as quickly as it can.
ECG: We will all die, of course.
FriendOfAFriend: I know we all die. I just don’t like seeing encouragement to die early
Me: You don’t die of being fat. There are conditions that will increase your weight that will also kill you.
FriendOfAFriend: You die of eating unhealthy or too much and not excersise go enough to compensate for that to the point that you become overweight and unhealthy
Me: I don’t want to die early, either, FOAF. I’ve done the weight loss thing, and I’ve been unhealthy, and I’ve been large, and I’ve been healthy. Here’s a great TED talk by a (healthy, fit, trim!) doctor who has finally started to connect the dots:
“As a young surgeon, Peter Attia felt contempt for a patient with diabetes. She was overweight, he thought, and thus responsible for the fact that she needed a foot amputation. But years later, Attia received an unpleasant medical surprise that led him to wonder: is our understanding of diabetes right? Could the precursors to diabetes cause obesity, and not the other way around? A look at how assumptions may be leading us to wage the wrong medical war.”
ECG: Dieting can have as major a negative impact on the body’s organs as being fat can. Much of the “science” that people depend on is really fake science sponsored by the multi-billion dollar diet industry.
FriendOfAFriend: Well I’ve said my bit. I’ll look into your evidence again, but I’m set in stone. So let the debate continue with others
ECG: Oh that’s a great Ted talk.
Me: But can you see, FOAF, that a fat person can eat well and exercise and improve her heart rate, her blood pressure, her cholesterol numbers, and still look fat?
FriendOfAFriend: I am not talking about dieting btw. I’m talking about exercising and maintaining a weight that it not over or under weight. Simple as that
FriendOfAFriend: No I can’t see that
Me: Thank you for engaging, FOAF. If nothing else, listen to that one TED talk. He explains what I’m clumsily trying to say in a much more elegant and clear manner. He also believed VERY STRONGLY (possibly even set in stone!) what you believe… and he tells his story beautifully.
FriendOfAFriend: Thanks I’ll check it out
Me: (And thank you, everyone else who has contacted me, for helping me keep this conversation respectful and evidence-based and positive. My friends ROCK!)
(NOTE: My private messages were pinging fast and furious, with about a dozen people, all offering incredibly positive messages of support and encouragement, bless them! Their words were so grounding and helpful and I knew that many others were reading this exchange… it kept me honest and compassionate when I sometimes wanted to really scream.)
FriendOfAFriend: Was it ever disrespectful?
Me Well, the “Fatlogic” “At it’s finest” felt a little… harsh to me. But no, it didn’t go overboard and I was trying to say thank you for that
Me: And FOAF, most of the studies in the HAES book would apply to underweight as well as overweight folks. You might want to pick it up at the library just to get a handle on what the current weight management research says, just to arm yourself in the future if anyone else ever gives you crap about your weight. How DARE they! I’d be happy to help take ‘em down for you, any time!
(NOTE: A few comments were lost around this point… at one point FOAF had called me ignorant about how to lose weight)
AZR: Okay! So you’ve just called Katje “ignorant,” then. I weigh 130 lb and have a huge list of health problems, including blood pressure and cholesterol; my sister is also about 130 with diabetes. Friend of mine who weighs 250, her blood pressure and chol… (rest of comment cut off, but it was an example of a larger, healthy woman)
Me: Oh, FOAF also repeatedly called for my caloric intake and exercise levels. What she can’t tell by looking at me is that I am living with osteoarthritis and a handful of other autoimmune issues, that I eat almost exclusively homemade foods, gluten-free (rest of comment was cut off, but I talked about eating mostly fruits/veg, meat, nuts, some dairy, but very little sugar/grain, much less than my “normal” sized husband, doing weights and swimming, and having very good blood pressure, heart rate, and lab numbers).
DAP: I think the photos are beautiful. Too much obsession over what standards ought to be lets us lose sight in the diversity of beauty.
(NOTE: More comments lost, but FOAF said “That’s impossible. I don’t believe you” about my circumstances, and asked where the photos of normal-sized people were.)
Me: There’s one more link, FOAF, that you might want to visit if you really want to learn more about how human bodies work as well as some of the sociological implications of our society’s fatphobia. Deb’s Just Maintaining blog is written by a member of (comment cut off; talked about Deb being one of the tiny minority of those who lose weight and keep it off long-term. Her blog is an absolute goldmine of information that anyone who is interested in the physiology of weight management should read thoroughly.)
Me: FOAF, what do you think is impossible? Is it me you don’t believe? What have I said that you believe is untrue? I’m serious… I want to be very honest with you.
Me: Well, the link is to photos from a particular book that Leonard Nimoy published. He did many other photos as well.
AZR: FOAF, what on earth is your problem? You’re trolling big time.
AZR: GOOGLE, FOAF. Get your own skinny pictures.
AZR: Katje is not your Googling lackey.
AZR: It bears noting that a “healthy weight” has zero correlation with mental health, or with manners.
CG: Katje, I’m FB friends with R and saw this. your self restraint is incredible. I want to try to be more like that. Thank you
Me: Guys, FOAF is being asked to confront some pretty deeply held beliefs… this stuff is HARD to grasp! Hell, it took me DECADES. I can’t expect her to get it in one night. I’m just hoping she will listen, and think, and do her own research. And I thi… (comment cut off, but I was saying that I thought she was intelligent and willing to do the work to figure out the truth about physiology and cultural bias)
AZR: You know, I was thinking of posting Ijeoma Oluo’s phenomenal MLK Day Storify!
Me: Way ahead of you:
Me: Well, I frankly don’t know if Nimoy did a book on thinner women, but since most models on any fashion runway are pretty obviously devoid of body fat, it would be easy to collect your own images.
BS: Just read this whole thread, HAESers. AMAZED at your kindness and restraint. xoxoo. FOAF, I have slim friends who suffer judgments from people who assume various negative things about them. It’s not OK! Very not OK. (comment cut off, but if I recall correctly, she went on to discuss the connections between feminism and fatphobia)
(Lost a few of FOAF’s comments, she insisted she was only disagreeing and not trying to troll anyone)
Me: Well, it’s all in HOW one disagrees, FOAF. I’m not calling you a troll here, because I want to encourage you to think about these things… but some of the things you are saying could be construed as such. What I want you to do is to look for actual… (comment cut off, but I talked about looking for evidence-based weight loss research to back up her statements)
FriendOfAFriend: I never even said that
FriendOfAFriend: All I said was being healthy, active and at a normal weight is how to live longer
FriendOfAFriend: When did I say anything about losing massive amounts of weight
BS: I think we all mostly agree with that. Except “normal” is relative to you, and no matter what you weigh, health is never a guarantee. Cancer and car crashes are indiscriminate.
FriendOfAFriend: I said over and over again that being overweight or underweight will cause more health problems than should be had
Me: You said all those women in the photos were unhealthy, right? And that they needed to lose weight to be healthy?
FriendOfAFriend: It’s a FACT
FriendOfAFriend: I said they are unhealthy yes
BS: It’s true that a lot of people think being overweight is unhealthy, and that that’s a “fact.” People also used to think the world was flat and that smoking isn’t bad for you. We know better now.
Me How can you tell? Honestly? How can you tell by looking at their photos what their lifespan will be? Whether they will get cancer? If they have diabetes? What I’m saying is: you can’t. There might be some conditions that cause weight gain, that could also shorten lifespan… but it was the condition that created the gain, not the other way around.
RD: A ‘fact’ is something you can back up with research. Something we’ve given you plenty of access to & you’ve given us your disbelief. How exactly do you think your (uninformed – you aren’t a doctor nor to you know any of those women) opinion hold water (Comment cut off)
FriendOfAFriend: So we should assume that most women who look like that and band together have a life altering disease?
FriendOfAFriend: Or maybe just maybe, they are seeing other women make excuses for them to not eat right and excersice so it’s totally beautiful and ok
RD: No, we shouldn’t. That’s exactly (part of) the point. you CAN’T know those things by looking at them.
Me: Remember, gang… we are asking FOAF to change her view on something that took us a long time to come to terms with. I don’t expect her to do a 180 tonight. But I do expect her, and all of us, to stay polite. Thanks, all, for keepin’ it classy!
FriendOfAFriend: As with any debate, you have to explore the opposite side to gain “water”
FriendOfAFriend: Tell me
FriendOfAFriend: What have you researched that holds that this is healthy too
FriendOfAFriend: (posted a pro-ana photograph of an emaciated young woman; it’s pretty triggering so I’m not including it, but if you must see it, it’s over here: http://www.myproana.com/index.php/gallery/image/8215-cimg3298/)
Me FOAF, I’m telling you that I am a fat woman who “eats right and exercises” and I’m still fat! YOIKS! But it’s true! And maybe, just maybe, it’s true for some (if not all) of the women in that book. The whole point is that we can’t tell by looking at them.
BS: FOAF, that’s a pro-ana image. That’s meant to inspire women to starve themselves. That has absolutely nothing to do with health. Not trying to be aggressive about this, but that is not the same thing. What HAES is about isn’t gaining weight — it’s pursuing health, both physical and emotional. “Pro ana” is the antithesis of that.
FriendOfAFriend: Well I still disagree and I’m sorry if that means that I’m trolling
RD: what are the opposite sides as you see it? I think that might be a piece of confusion.
Me FOAF, is that you? (If not, I certainly hope you have the person’s permission to share their image with us.) Yes, I would indeed have a knee-jerk reaction that says this woman isn’t healthy… but I would also bite back a response to say, “Go eat a …(sandwich” … lost the rest of the comment, but I said that my knee-jerk reaction to an ultra-thin person could be just as disrespectful as a knee-jerk reaction to a fat person, and that I would be far more concerned about a friend whose eyes seemed so unhappy than I would about weight)
FriendOfAFriend: Ok go ahead and attack me for posting a picture of a person who is already very public on the Internet (cheap shot, good job). She’s unhealthy!!! Just like your knee jerk reaction says. So are the women in the article uou posted. Do you see the sadness and despair in the magazine models eyes that your article talks about? I don’t, they are just skinny
FriendOfAFriend: I’m sure most of those women’s doctors have told them that it’s in their best interest to lose weight
Me: I think telling that young woman in your image to gain weight would do her exactly as much good as telling one of Nimoy’s models to lose weight. It wouldn’t help any of them at all. Do you think gaining weight would solve all her problems? I don’t. And I’m not attacking you (and I’m not seeing anyone else attack, either).
FriendOfAFriend: I’m trying to say that neither end of this is healthy
FriendOfAFriend: I was trying to make a comparison that neither end is healthy at all. Which you confirmed
Me: OK, FOAF, like I said, please just listen to that TED talk. I think, out of all these links, it will illustrate best someone’s journey from where you are sitting to where I am sitting.
BS: I just want to make one more suggestion: What if those models are unhealthy? If we had all their bloodwork somehow and it showed that they all had diabetes and high blood pressure (which can be managed with medicine) … who cares? It’s their bodies, their lives. They’re free to do as they like.
Me: I’d also like to say that my knee-jerk reaction is only that… knee-jerk and not informed or backed by research or anything. I was displaying my own deep prejudices, which I’m still working on.
BS: I have found that people in ED recovery have the hardest time embracing these concepts, which makes sense to me. Congrats on your recovery, FOAF. I hope you’re kind to yourself, inside and out, like we are
BS: (or try to be )
FriendOfAFriend: I just strongly disagree that it’s ok to advocate either end of this. That’s all im trying to say
Me: I’m very happy to take your “maybe” for now! Thank you for your willingness to share your experiences and participate in a discussion that helped us all question our beliefs and what drives them. I think that’s more a sign of intelligence than anything else… the ability to examine your beliefs and being willing to alter them if/when evidence shows they need revision.
RD: No matter your weight, you are still a person that deserves respect and is valuable. I hope you are able to continue to do what you need to do. Good luck.
FriendOfAFriend: I am not lying when I say I will watch your clips. I’m always open to other views. Sorry if I’m solid in mine for now
BS: Well, I don’t think Leonard Nimoy’s photos really “advocate” for anything. He liked big ladies. Which is cool. Lots of other guys like skinny ladies. Also cool.
Me: I believe you, FOAF, really I do. I was in your shoes 20 years ago, and I remember how deep those beliefs were. It’s taken me a long, long time to get where I am now, and I think that since you are willing to educate yourself, you’ll evolve as well. Hang in there and remember: “If possible, be kind. It is always possible.” (Dalai Lama)
FriendOfAFriend: Well I might evolve to still disagree
FriendOfAFriend: Hope that’s ok too
Me: That’s fine. Just do it because you did the research and learned the facts yourself, not because you were regurgitating phrases you’ve heard drummed into your head all your life.
Me: And of course you are OK, FOAF. You’re OK right now, right where you are, exactly who you are. We’re just trying to help you see that everyone else is OK too!
FriendOfAFriend: Sent a pm
FOAF did indeed send me a private message, and we talked for another hour about a wide range of things. After our conversation, I’m convinced that she was not indeed trying to troll, but that she was honestly concerned about what she sees as a huge health problem. In her line of work, she’s witnessed some terrible tragedies, and I can see how she would associate deadly conditions with large body size.
As she hinted at early in the conversation, she also has struggled with her own relationship with weight and her body, but she recognizes that it’s a long-term journey and not an easy one. She did acknowledge that some of her phrasing might have been construed as aggressive and while she didn’t exactly apologize for it, she showed me that she respected where I was coming from and honestly wanted to find out why I was saying the things I was trying to express, even though in her mind they ran counter to everything she knows.
Our exchange grew to be a pleasant one, and I genuinely like her. I was surprised when I saw that she offered to “friend” me on Facebook, and after struggling a little bit with whether or not to do it, I accepted her offer. However, by the next morning, she’d read what some of my friends had written about her being a troll, rescinded her friend offer, and deleted all but the first of her comments on this threat. However, she was willing to talk with me a little more, and gave me her permission to publish her words if I concealed her identity.
I do believe she is going to follow up on reading/watching the links I gave her, just as I will follow up on reading something she recommended to me. While we aren’t going to be FB friends, I do believe she is going to take this experience to heart and really think about what we discussed. She’s a compassionate and good woman, who is serving the public in a tough and demanding career. I hope to meet her in person someday, and give her my thanks and encouragement face-to-face.
I’m glad I had this experience (even though I wasn’t necessarily overjoyed about it while it was going on). Several people had asked about it after it was deleted, and with FOAF’s permission, this is what I was able to cobble together from the clips I managed to copy. It’s incomplete, but I think I managed to gather the gist of the conversation, and so am presenting it here on my blog.
Thank you for taking me on this journey, FOAF. I’m hoping that this experience will make me a more compassionate and stronger advocate for my beliefs, and I’m hoping that you will grow into truly appreciating your body, and others’ bodies, for the miraculous things that they are.