Fat Family Relationships, Amanda Levitt

How do you tell your parents that you’re not dieting anymore? How do you deal with health-trolling? And with loaded power dynamics in all of this, how do we manage these relationships?  Introducing a collaborative blog project on fat family relationships! I’m interested in this project for many reasons, but the biggest reason is personal. I haven’t explicitly told my family about my views or my blog. I’ve made snide remarks, and my mom found a few blogs trolling me, but I haven’t made a stand. For a myriad of reasons I find it easier to take bold stands with friends and stranger, both on line and off, but I can’t seem to get myself to “come out” (eh- don’t like that language, but I’m working with it for the time being) to my family. When I started down this body acceptance path, it was very personal, and I saw no reason to get them involved. As of late, it’s become a real part of who I am and what I do. So much joy in my life comes from the activism I’m doing— I want to share that with them, but I’m scared it’s going to create a big divide and a lot of hurt feelings. I’ve searched for wisdom on this topic, and I haven’t found much.  I’ve written about this before, and I still don’t have solutions. I’m hoping that giving light to others’ stories will inform and inspire me to share and also manage delicate relationships.

Up first is Amanda Levitt, creator of Love Your Body Detroit and blogger at Fat Body Politics.

Set the scene- how old are you? How long have you been involved with fatactivism? In what contexts? In this context, for you, who counts as family?

I’m 26, found fat rights when I was 18, started writing for my blog when I was 20. At 25 I founded Love Your Body Detroit and was in my second year in my undergrad program for Women’s Studies / Sociology. My family mainly consists of my mom; I am the closest to her. My father and his family come next, we have been closer until recently.

Prior to body acceptance, what was your relationship with your body, your family and embodiment?

My body was the main aspect of my identity since I was a child. I was put into beauty pageants when I was 5 for a few years and at the age of 11 was the first time I was told I was fat. That was 6th grade and I spent the whole school year being harassed before going on a trip down to Florida with my father to visit an aunt. While I was on the trip my aunt pulled me aside to tell me how beautiful I would be if I was thin. I knew right away it was a horrible thing to say but it kept coming back and really solidified the idea that all of my harassment the prior year was my fault and there was something that I had been taught was so integral to who I was taken from me. I was no longer pretty because of my fat. By the time I was 18 I had denied my gender since that summer before I turned 12 by dressing in baggy clothes because girls were suppose to be pretty and I didn’t think I could be. I also had a pretty bad amount of social anxiety when it came to eating in public by the time I was finished with high school.

What have you told your family about your involvement in fat activism? When did you tell them? How?

My mom has been around for it all, she had always dieted my whole life but to be honest she never pressured me to lose weight and never tried to put me on a diet. When I did decide to try to she was helpful but didn’t overstep in any ways, that makes me feel lucky. She knew about it from the second I started writing my blog. It took a while to get her to stop telling me she wanted to get healthy aka thin with me but other than that she was told about my involvement.

My father’s family is quite different. For the most part I haven’t told them outright what I am doing with my life. Most of them found out from being my facebook friends. The reaction has been pure silence. Over the years I have gone to family functions and interjected when fat hating comments have been made or told them point blank that I don’t weight myself so I don’t know if I have lost weight and that I don’t really care if I did but otherwise most of it hasn’t been a ‘coming out.’

How did they react?

Because I don’t engage in fat hating comments or conversations I really just feel more and more like the black sheep from the family. Many of my family members have undergone bariatric surgery so the stress between them and myself is even worse. I have had one cousin who is a lot older than me tell me how proud she is of me for the work I am doing, but my aunt who is her mother left the room during the conversation because she acts like this portion of my life doesn’t exist to her.

Other thoughts?

The truth is that with my own family I realize that they care for me in their own way but that doesn’t replace the fact that they deny and ignore an integral part of who I am. I went to a holiday party at the beginning of January that I just felt so out of place at that when I went home I removed all of my family members on my dad’s side from my facebook. My mom’s side has always accepted me for who I am, my body is not the main aspect of my identity in that family so while I don’t tell them everything I am doing with fat rights there isn’t this underlying tension over what I am passionate about. My dad’s side of the family has been the biggest contributor to my feelings of shame over my body and their continued silent disapproval of my own politics is not something I am putting up with anymore.

Any advice?

My advice is to create a space that includes the people who care about you the most.

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