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New York Times column sparks backlash over suggestion people limit time with ‘obese’ or ‘depressed’ friends

‘This piece really wants y’all to stop hanging out with your fat friends so you don’t catch the fat,’ author Roxane Gay writes

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Friday 04 June 2021 18:59 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A New York Times column about post-pandemic friendships has sparked outrage on social media after seeming to imply that people should reconsider relationships with friends who are “depressed” or “obese”.

In the article, titled: “How to Rearrange Your Post-Pandemic ‘Friendscape,’” author Kate Murphy notes that the pandemic allowed us to focus and prioritise those we “allowed in our orbit”.

Now that pandemic restrictions are easing, Murphy implored people to think more closely about those who they re-allow into their lives, writing: “The pandemic shook us out of our social ruts, and now we have an opportunity to choose which relationships we wish to resurrect and which are better left dormant.”

When it comes to “foreground friends,” those who you are closest to, she explains that “foreground friends are the ones who have the most profound impact on your health and well-being, for good or ill,” before suggesting that this means it can be beneficial to distance oneself from friends who are obese, depressed, or engage in vices such as smoking.

“Indeed, depressed friends make it more likely you’ll be depressed, obese friends make it more likely you’ll become obese, and friends who smoke or drink a lot make it more likely you’ll do the same,” she writes, linking to various studies to back up her suggestion.

Alternatively, Murphy suggested that the “reverse is also true,” adding that: “You will be more studious, kind and enterprising if you consort with studious, kind and enterprising people.”

However, according to Murphy, she doesn’t mean to imply that “you should abandon friends when they are having a hard time,” but rather suggests that individuals be mindful of the time they spend with such friends - as “your friends’ prevailing moods, values and behaviours are likely to become your own”.

On Twitter, the column has been met with backlash, with many criticising Murphy and the newspaper over the suggestion that people should reconsider friendships because of such things as weight or mental health struggles.

“The NYT is really out here telling you to dump your fat friends or friends with mental illness and it says a lot about where America is right now,” one person tweeted.

Another said: “THIS IS SO OUT OF TOUCH. Cutting off friendships due to people being obese or depressed is such a disgusting concept to spread.”

“I was on board with this article (so many ‘friendships’ can just be based on proximity/convenience and the pandemic has made me realise who in my life matters most) until they said ‘if your friend is depressed and fat, you might catch the fat depression so cut them out,’” someone else tweeted.

The column also prompted a response from New York Times best-selling author Roxane Gay, who tweeted: “This piece really wants y’all to stop hanging out with your fat friends so you don’t catch the fat.”

Gay’s tweet, which has been liked more than 4,000 times, prompted renewed criticism for the article, while others jokingly offering to take on friendships with people who had been cut out of their friends’ lives on the advice of the article.

“I’m here for fellow fat and depressed people who want to be friends, since we are apparently unsuitable for friendship with other humans,” one person tweeted, while another sarcastically said: “Shout out to all of the brave people who are friends with me despite my obesity. You are the true heroes.”

As for the other, more valid, reasons Murphy gives for narrowing one’s friendship circle, the columnist suggested cutting friends from your foreground who “don’t seem genuinely pleased when something good happens to you and show a glint of schadenfreude when things go wrong,” as well as any individuals who “are boastful, self-righteous, fault-finding or prickly in conversation - or they always shift the conversation back to themselves”.

“And steer well clear of anyone who doesn’t defend you when someone else maligns you, or worse, piles on,” she added.

The Independent has contacted The New York Times for comment.

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