Dear Abby indulges in some fat-shaming in her latest advice column

Dear Abby’s Jeanne Phillips is normally pretty progressive. People love to pass around her pro-gay responses to homophobic letters, and often those responses have become popular Internet memes. Unfortunately, her last response is woefully narrow-minded and depressingly conventional.

The letter written by someone dubbed as “Offended Daughter in Chicago” writes: “DEAR ABBY: I’m a 24-year-old plus-sized woman (60 or 70 pounds overweight), but very comfortable in my own skin. When swimming in public, I wear a one-piece bathing suit because it doesn’t attract a lot of attention. When I’m home, I have a bikini top and shorts I prefer to wear. This is because I don’t like being covered up like it was in the 1950s, and I feel good when my curves are properly accentuated. When I go back to see my family and swim, I wear a bikini top and black shorts. Recently, my mother said, “When the family comes over, you can’t wear that. It makes people uncomfortable.” I was shocked, and we had a huge argument. Most of my cousins are fine with my attire, as are my aunts. Only Mom has a problem with it. I asked if she’d feel the same about a large man swimming without a T-shirt. She said it’s different for women. Am I wrong for wanting to be comfortable in my childhood home? Mom should be proud to have a daughter who accepts herself as she is. Who is wrong here? — OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO”

Instead of affirming the writer’s right to be who she is, as well as criticize her mother’s obvious issues with weight, Abbey writes, “You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else’s home, that person’s wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home. While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.”

While I don’t know the letter writer’s story or her health history, I find it interesting that the onus is placed on the mother rather than the daughter who seems to be fine with her own body. And though Abby’s assertion that the host’s comfort is most important (which is correct), she doesn’t make any mention that the mom is wrong in trying to fat-shame her daughter. Instead of congratulating the young woman for being okay with her body, Abby chimes that the letter writer should be “less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.” And though Abby is right to think the woman should be concerned about her health, she’s assuming that the lady hasn’t already spoken with her doctor. Again, people of size are often criticized in public – slammed even – but the criticism is often covered up by faux medical concern.

Abby’s an agony aunt, and she should’ve simply written – “It’s terrible that your mother’s so close-minded about your weight, and it’s wonderful that you have confidence, despite society’s ongoing war against women who look like you. Dress to appease your mother, but know that you’re right and she’s wrong.”



Filed under commentary, Writing

2 responses to “Dear Abby indulges in some fat-shaming in her latest advice column

  1. Everyone is taking this letter WAY to personally. If you are going to stop reading an persons advice every time it does not agree with you, you should never have started reading it in the first place. I felt her advice was good and showed concern for the writer. I don’t know why everyone is saying Abby “fat shamed” her. She did not call her a pig or disgusting or anything. She simply expressed concern for a young women who admitted to having a weight issue. Obesity is a serious growing problem in the United States. I have worked with many seniors who have weight issues and are miserable dealing with all of the difficulties of living day to day. Many do not have diabetes or other such issues. They struggle with simply standing up to take their pants down to use the toilet (not always making it in time before their bladder relieves itself), simply get out of bed to get dressed, and other day to day activities. Many have expressed remorse for staying they weight they were when they were young instead of taking the opportunity to lose weight. I cannot begin to tell you how many of them suffer from extreme depression and have told me they wish they were dead. It is a miserable existence. While this lady may be comfortable in her own skin now she probably won’t be when her body is older and not able to carry her weight any more, forcing her to use a wheelchair. Dear Abby was only expressing concern for this young woman’s future and people should stop harassing her for it! P.S. I am not thin myself. I am around 15 pounds overweight and in the past have been embarrassed when my parents have encouraged me to be healthy. It is through working at my current job I have come to see how right they are! Good for you Dear Abby for simply speaking the truth about a difficult situation!!!!!!!

    • thecrowdedbookshelf

      Thanks for the reply and thanks for reading –
      Just to be clear – the letter writer’s mother wasn’t concerned about the woman’s health – but she was worried about the aesthetics of a larger woman in a bathing suit. When pressed if a heavy man was in a bathing suit, the mother said “it’s different for women” (and the mom’s right – it’s different for women because women are under worse pressure to look “fit and thin”). Health and thinness are two different/separate issues – if the mother approached her daughter in a more holistic way and was approaching it as a health issue, then maybe I’d still be on board – but the mom’s issue was that her daughter didn’t look “good” in a bathing suit. That’s simply fat-shaming, and it’s wrong.

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