Auntie SparkNotes: My Fat Friend Needs to Change Her Life
I have this friend, let's call her Sarah, who I have been friends with since we were freshman in college (we are now both juniors). She's a sweet girl but not very healthy. She's obese, has poor eating/sleeping habits and uses her asthma as an excuse. And I was totally okay with this. Her life, her choices and all that. Every once in a while I would suggest something small she could do, but never pushed it. Everything was fine and we became like sisters. And then 8 months ago she began dating a mutual friend who we will call Tom. Tom is a great guy. Funny, supportive, smart and everything. I was happy for her. But then she got clingy. Over the summer, all she would talk about was how much she missed him. All she would do is sit on a couch, watch Netflix and miss him. It wasn't healthy. But I ignored it because I was busy working and figured it would get better when school started.
And then the semester started and that's when things went downhill. He basically moved into her room (which is against the rules but whatever) because she couldn't be away from him. They spend all their time sitting in her room, roaming the internet and not leaving. When they do eat (which is generally once, MAYBE twice a day) it's pizza or fast food. It's gotten to the point where he can't hang out with his friends without her there. If he leaves, she follows. And if the girls are doing something, she won't go without him there. They both have gained a lot of weight, and trust me Auntie, she didn't have the weight to gain. She's getting sick a lot more too and I just know that her choices are literally killing her. I have basically stopped talking to her because it is physically painful for me to see her!
What do I do Auntie? Should I break my vow of silence and approach her? If I do, I know she's going to get defensive and claim there's nothing wrong when it's so obvious that there is. We graduate in 2 years and I am almost positive that no school districts will hire her. They don't want teachers who are obese asthmatics with abnormal sleep cycles. On top of all that, she's never had a job and lives in jeans and t-shirts. She needs to make serious changes in her life but is so stubborn and I'm just so lost. Please Auntie, tell me what to do. Is it time to approach her? And if so, how can I tell her that she needs to wake up and smell reality in a way that she can hear?
Are you kidding? Your friend is fat, Sparkler, not stupid. She doesn't need you to tell her what her body looks like—and if you're looking for permission to go tell this poor girl that she's an obese, indolent, unhireable loser, then you're not gonna get it from me.
Instead, I hope you'll take a step back, take a deep breath, and take a long, hard look at your feelings about fat people. Look at the way you open your letter by proclaiming yourself "okay" with Sarah's weight, health, and exercise habits, as if you were entitled to determine the acceptability of another person's body. And I'm still trying to wrap my head around the circular non-logic by which you've declared her fatness to be both a symptom of and a diagnosis for everything that's wrong with her life... including things that nobody, including you, could possibly know or predict. You do realize that have absolutely no knowledge about the connection between Sarah's obesity and her health, her relationship, her psyche, or her career? You are not her doctor, her employer, or her therapist, and most importantly, you are not Sarah.
What you are, apparently, is a person so fixated on Sarah's fat body that you no longer see the person who lives in it. Try this: imagine for a second that your friend isn't fat. I mean, a 20-year-old who spends too much time on the internet, dresses like a slug, lives on pizza and fast food, has yet to get a job, doesn't take great care of herself, and is unhealthily attached to her significant other: is there any college student who doesn't go through a period like this at some point in their undergrad lives? Without the boogieman of obesity to pin all your dire predictions on, would you be judging her like this? Would you have even noticed?
And y'know, maybe Sarah is making choices that will eventually cause her pain. Maybe her lethargy and clinginess are signs of something wrong, and not just normal college angst. And maybe she could use a caring friend right now to help her through a hard time.
But darling, I hope you can appreciate that you are not that friend. You're not in a place to offer help, not when you've spent your entire relationship giving her unsolicited weight loss advice; not when you see her as fat first, and a person second; not when you claim that her medical issues are just "an excuse" to be lazy; not when you've stopped speaking to her (!!!) because you can't stand to look at her flab.
What you can do, and what I hope you'll do, is this: leave Sarah alone until you can be a better friend to her, beginning with the part where you accept and acknowledge that her body is none of your business. Ditch the fat=bad=fat equation, and cultivate a better understanding of the many factors that contribute to the size and shape of a person's body. And whenever you do talk to your friend again, do not presume to know more about her weight, her health, or her future than she does. Ask her how she's doing. Listen to her answer. She's the only one who knows it. Let her be the judge of her happiness, and recognize her authority to decide when and if she needs to change her life. That respect, and that autonomy, is no less than any of us deserve.