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Writer praised for ‘incredible’ response to individual who ‘fat-shamed’ their girlfriend

‘A lot of people need to read this for a lot of different reasons,’ one person writes

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Thursday 19 January 2023 23:14 GMT
Related: Bride-to-be accuses photographer of fat-shaming her and her fiancé by photoshopping engagement photos

A writer’s thoughtful yet blunt response to a reader, who’d requested advice after telling their girlfriend they were no longer attracted to her because she gained weight, has gone viral for its “compassion and necessary honesty”.

The anonymous individual recently submitted their question to LGBTQ+ online magazine Autostraddle’s You Need Help column, where they wrote about their girlfriend’s recent weight gain, which they said has been causing her “significant distress,” and asked what they should do after informing their girlfriend that they were “less attracted” to her now.

In the post, the individual claimed that they have been “as supportive and loving as humanly possible” as their girlfriend has navigated her feelings about her weight, and that, despite encouraging their partner to change her lifestyle habits, the changes “haven’t really stuck,” as she has “continued to gain weight”.

“I tell her how beautiful she is, how much I love her, and I’ve encouraged her to buy new clothes that she feels good in. She admits to being a chronic overeater and not exercising enough, and so I’ve tried to support her adjusting her lifestyle to be healthier by eating healthier at home together and getting a gym membership. However, old habits die hard and those changes haven’t really stuck,” they wrote, adding that “this has been going on for nine months”.

The reader, who then identified themselves as a “self-proclaimed body positive person,” and revealed that they “follow fat activists on social media” and have “worked hard to fight the fatphobia [they’ve] learned throughout [their] life,” then admitted that the “truth is” they “sometimes miss” the way their partner looked when they first met.

“And I feel completely ashamed of that fact. I feel like a horrible person, and a horrible activist,” they wrote, adding that they have “obviously” not told their girlfriend this because they don’t want her to “feel bad about herself”.

However, according to the individual, who revealed that the couple has been “less intimate” lately, they recently admitted to their girlfriend that they are less attracted to her after she asked “straight up”. “I couldn’t lie to her face, and so I said yes,” they wrote. “Obviously, she was devastated. And now I feel even worse and even more ashamed. I feel like a hypocrite and a horrible person.”

The reader concluded the submission by asking for advice on how to “revive some of that physical attraction,” and for how to be “less of a fatphobic a**hole”.

“And was it wrong for me to be honest about my feelings?” they added.

The request for advice was answered by Autostraddle editor Heather Hogan in a column titled: “You Fat-Shamed Your Beautiful Girlfriend,” in which she offered a candid response to the reader.

In her response, Hogan began by acknowledging that she planned to offer the reader “some real advice,” and not a “fluffy feel-good pep talk”.

“In fact, what I’m going to write isn’t going to make you feel very good at all,” she wrote, adding that the reason she knows that is because their letter was about how they feel about their girlfriend’s weight gain, and not about how their girlfriend feels.

“The reason I know that is because your letter is mostly about how you feel. How your girlfriend’s weight makes you feel about yourself as an activist, how your girlfriend’s weight makes you feel about your struggles as an aspiring fat-positive ally, how you said this really terrible thing to your girlfriend and now you feel ‘ashamed,’ ‘horrible,’ and like an ‘a**hole,’” she wrote. “The only thing I really know about your girlfriend is that she’s gained “a lot of weight” (whatever that means to you) and has gone from distressed to devastated because of your response to it.”

In the candid column, Hogan then pointed out that the reader did not include any details about the “zillion other factors” that contribute to a person’s weight, such as their age, hormones, mental health, genetics, and stress, while they described their girlfriend’s weight gain, and why the oversight constituted a failure to understand or learn “how those things intersect”.

“Really trying to learn about how those things intersect, and figuring out how any of them might have affected your girlfriend, would be a much better use of your time than following fat activists on social media,” Hogan continued.

Hogan then proceeded with her blunt response, as she informed the reader that, had their girlfriend written into the column with the story from her perspective, she would have advised her to end the relationship.

According to Hogan, she would have offered the woman the advice because of what it means that her partner has been thrown “into this kind of tailspin,” where they have found themselves “not only unattracted to her,” but “honour-bound to tell her so,” over something as “inconsequential” as weight.

“It is so inconsequential in the vast tapestry of existence, and if getting fatter over the course of nine short months throws you into this kind of tailspin where you find yourself not only unattracted to her, but you feel honour-bound to tell her so, how are you going to handle it when the really hard stuff happens?” she wrote. “When one of you gets sick or disabled? When one of you becomes consumed by seemingly endless grief after the death of a loved one? When one of you loses your job? When money trouble strikes? When you lose your home? … When your bodies simply get old, the way all bodies do?”

Hogan then proceeded to ask the individual why their girlfriend should trust them with her “future happiness” if something as unimportant as gaining weight is “going to cause you to say something you know will devastate her?”

In addition to acknowledging the immediate impact of the comment on the individual’s girlfriend, Hogan also pointed out the lingering impacts, such as the way it will “affect her perception of herself for the rest of her life”.

“Every time you initiate sex, every time you walk into the bathroom while she’s taking a shower, every time she changes clothes in front of you, every time you now try to tell her something nice about herself, or her makeup, or her outfit, she’s going to have to wrestle with the fact you told her she wasn’t attractive anymore,” Hogan wrote.

As she bluntly addressed the individual’s behaviour, Hogan suggested that the reader’s treatment of their girlfriend may stem from concerns about how they are perceived, and their own insecurities.

Hogan then encouraged the individual to analyse their decision to answer their girlfriend’s question truthfully, even though they knew how hurtful, “cruel,” and devastating it would be.

“And here’s something you need to be extra honest about, because it’s going to reveal something deeply important to you about yourself: You knew it would devastate her, you knew it was cruel, you knew what those fat activists would say about it ... Yet you went ahead and told your girlfriend she isn’t attractive to you anymore. Why? Really, why?” Hogan wrote, before asking: “Did you do the mental calculations in that moment and decide that the shame and hurt you knew you were inflicting on her were worth it, if it got your girlfriend back to the size you want her to be?”

In her response, Hogan also offered some advice for the reader moving forward, with the writer urging them to work on themself. According to Hogan, this would entail trying to understand the factors that go into a person’s weight, learning about “what it’s like to move through the world as a person who isn’t thin,” and “unpacking” their response to their girlfriend.

“If your intimacy is going to be repaired, it’s going to have to start with you doing some really hard work on yourself, and learning to centre your girlfriend’s feelings about her own body,” Hogan wrote. “It’s going to start with you worrying less about how people perceive your activism and more about what’s going on in your girlfriend’s mind and heart.”

Hogan concluded her compassionate yet candid advice by referencing her own recent weight gain, and the impact it has had on her own relationship. According to Hogan, who said that she has gained weight as a result of the pandemic and Long Covid, she and her wife have only grown closer as she has struggled with how her weight has made her feel about herself.

Rather than negatively impact the couple’s relationship, Hogan said her wife has acknowledged the validity of her feelings, while reaffirming “over and over and over” that she loves her.

“The process of making myself so vulnerable about my insecurities, and being met with nothing but affirmation, it healed something inside me I didn’t even know was hurting,” she wrote.

Hogan ended the column by sharing an anecdote about the loving and supportive way her wife reacted to her recent return to biking, adding: “Everyone deserves that. Me, your girlfriend, and all the zillion other people in the world whose weight is just one of the myriad things that will always be in flux in our one wild and precious lives.”

Hogan’s column has since gone viral on Twitter, where it has been liked hundreds of thousands of times, and where countless readers have applauded her “beautiful” and thoughtful response.

“This is one of the best things I’ve read about relationships, ever,” one person tweeted, while another said: “I don’t know how @theheatherhogan managed to offer this advice-seeker firm words without derision AND generosity without coddling AND a deeply personal anecdote about her own lived experience, but she did it - and, as always, she knocked it out of the park.”

Someone else described Hogan’s response as a “healing, gorgeous read,” while noting the column’s ability to “shift things in your brain to make you love yourself more and make the world make sense”.

According to another individual, Hogan did an “incredible job” answering the request for advice with “both compassion and necessary honesty,” while someone else said the response is “clear and bracing and affirms deeper truths about the nature of intimacy and the requisites for truly loving another person”.

“A lot of people need to read this for a lot of different reasons,” one person wrote.

Speaking to The Independent, Hogan said that she had “hoped” the column would resonate with readers of Autostraddle, who she described as a “special” community of people dedicated to keeping the publication “alive,” and to becoming “better people, better partners, better friends, and better activists”.

“Our community is so special. We are an independent queer and trans publication that is primarily funded by our readers,” she explained. “They take keeping us alive, against all odds, so seriously; and we take building a safe community for them just as seriously.

“One of the things that sets our readers apart is that they truly want to be better people, better partners, better friends, better activists - and they know that sometimes you have to ask uncomfortable questions and hear uncomfortable answers to grow and change and live your best life.”

According to Hogan, while writing her response to the question, she worked with the publication’s editors and writers, who helped her provide an “honest answer that gave comfort to people who’ve experienced fatphobia, and accountability to people who have been fatphobic”.

In regards to the writer of the letter, she said she hopes that they and their girlfriend are able to “learn and grow and live happier, more fulfilling lives,” and that, more broadly, she hopes the column helps comfort, empower and encourage people who have suffered from fatphobia, and gives people who perpetuate fatphobia the opportunity to pause and reflect on their behaviours.

As for what it meant to be able to provide the answer, she said it was a “gift to be able to care for the community” in such a way. “In 2023, on this internet, to write for people who WANT to be held accountable so they can make the world better? How amazing is that?” she said.

Hogan also reflected on the reach of the viral column, and her happiness that it has resonated with readers outside of the publication’s community. “The fact that it resonated outside of that core group is gratifying because it means even more people want to interrogate their biases than I realised! Or that they want to encourage other people to interrogate their biases!” she told us, adding: “Any time you can use your words to comfort and challenge people in ways that make the world a little less dark and cold? That’s the best thing about being a writer!”

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