Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fat Friends, Skinny Friends

Thanks to the magic of FaceBook, I've been a voyeur to the crash and burn of a long-term friendship between two quasi-friends/strong acquaintances. I know both of them pretty well, but not as well as people who I'd call "true friends". One of these people is sweet, gentle, quiet, and cooperative. The other is nice, but loud, opinionated, and assertive. Both of them love animals, 80's celebrities, taking cruises and late 70's rock music.

During the time I have been friends with them on FaceBook, I've seen dozens of pictures of the two of them smiling together as they attend concerts, conventions, and take vacations together. They write about how happy they were and what a good time they had together. I know they have been friends for well over two decades, possibly more. One of them used to be "best friends" with a third friend, but they bonded and the third wheel was shut out. She was left by the side of the road while they walked hand-in-hand through mutual interests.

One day, one of these two women, the quiet and compliant one, posted a message on FaceBook seeking opinions about a certain situation. In essence, she asked if two people had a falling out and had had a shared hotel room planned for an event, was it her responsibility to make it clear that the plans were off. She capped the request with the fact that the person of whom she was speaking had ended their argument with the statement that their friendship was "over forever."

Given the history these two women have, I guessed that this elementary-school-style speaking about someone who is not named but is clearly known to everyone was the buddy she'd gone on so many entertaining sojourns with. I checked her friends list and, sure enough, they were no longer joined on the social network. I then checked the other party's feed, the aggressive and outspoken one, to see her carp about how people can't expect others to read their minds and they have to make their wishes known. I left them to their grade-school sniping and pondered some deeper issues.

In this scenario, if you were asked to guess which one is fat and which one is a former beauty pageant contestant, which would you assign to each (admittedly vague) character set? There are stereotypes of fat women as brassy, loud, and overbearing, but, in my experience, they are not necessarily like that with friends. In fact, most of the fat women I know are bubbly, compliant, and overtly happy. In my experience, they are more so this when with skinny friends than other fat ones.

One thing I've read again and again from fat women who are wanting to lose weight is how they don't want to be "the fat friend". I ponder what it means to be "the fat friend" to such people. In many cases, it means that you are the one who someone else stands next to to make them look better.

I've also read, with some disgust, that some fat women don't want to have fat friends because they hate the way a posse of big girls "looks". They're afraid of drawing even more attention. They're also ashamed to be with fat friends. This makes me wonder if, in a friendship in which there is a fat girl and a thin girl, and especially when the smaller woman is considered "hot", that the fat girl may feel that she must defer to her friend. That is, she may feel, unconsciously, that she is being granted some special dispensation for being allowed to pal around with thin people.

In my own personal experience, I did not defer to my friend's wishes and tended to be more of an "alpha" female when I was with friends. That being said, I did always care about other people being happy. I was raised to always place myself last. Being fat made this very easy since I so often believed it made everyone "better" than me and their needs were more valuable than mine. Since I lacked value due to my fatness, this was logical.

In the case of my very good friends, it wasn't that my friends necessarily followed me, but rather that they tended not to have many ideas or assert themselves in general. It is likely that most of the women (all thin) who became my friends were also dealing with other self-esteem issues or social problems and that is part of why they were friends with me despite my weight. One of my good friends went to a church-affiliated school, could only wear skirts and dresses, and had to follow relatively strict rules. Another was two years younger than me and had an alcoholic father who beat her mother and threatened his children. My guess is that both of them felt "inferior" for their own reasons and my weight was either not a factor or an equalizing one.

In terms of people who were not my friends in particular, I didn't defer to their wishes, but for those who I wanted to be friends with because they generally seemed like nice people or were interesting, I tended to completely suppress my wishes and tried to anticipate their needs in order to convince them to like me. All of my yearbooks were filled with how "nice" I was. "Nice" was a euphemism for "boring" sometimes, but in my case, it was because I was always trying to get people to like me despite my fat body.

All of this leads me back to the meltdown that occurred between my two quasi-friends. It's my guess that the former failed model/beauty pageant contestant friend is accustomed to everyone wanting her time and attention regardless of what she says or does merely because she is perceived as being quite attractive. On more than one occasion, she has gone out of her way on FaceBook to say things which she knows are offensive to a certain segment of her friends. I know this because she says, "I know this is going to offend some of my friends, but..." Almost certainly unconsciously, she acts only on her own interests and doesn't worry where the chips fall because even if some people run away, others will fall in and replace them. Everyone wants to be buddies with the good-looking girl.

The other pseudo-friend, who probably weighs in the 300 lb. area, has probably been such a "good friend" mainly because she's also "nice". That is to say, she's focused on pleasing others rather than on pleasing herself. Based on their public squabbles, I'm guessing that she finally got tired  of suppressing her wishes and said something which pointed out how selfish she believed her compatriot is.

As a footnote to all of this, I noted with some interest that the third wheel who got kicked to the curb when her best friend (the fat girl) bonded with her new friend (the skinny girl) and has been sitting on the sidelines for the better part of 20 years is now back in the picture. The thin friend is now professing how much she loves the third wheel and they're talking about how good a time they had going to a tea shop together. The third wheel is also quite overweight (probably 230-260 lbs.). Perhaps the skinny friend really does need a "fat friend" to make her feel more attractive, or this is merely coincidence. It presents an interesting dynamic regardless of the reasons.

I can't say for certain that this is a "fat friend/skinny friend" dynamic going on here because regardless of weight, people have basic personalities. Many fat women have stellar esteem and will assert themselves freely. I do, now. I stopped people-pleasing the first time I lost weight and didn't go back to it after I regained because I got tired of having to "prove" something to others in order to gain acceptance. I just accepted that I'd be rejected and everyone be damned. Also, being married to a husband who is almost god-like in his perfection psychologically, I had acceptance from someone who no one could ever surpass. That being said, to this day, I still have to fight not to sublimate my needs to his. It's not because he expects it of me, but rather because I view him as superior to me and his interests as paramount. It's my issue, and I keep working on it.

Getting back to the point, I do believe based on my own feelings in my younger days as well as witnessing the characters of various other fat women, that we don't express ourselves in general because society teaches us that we are not equal. In fact, it instantly devalues us with a glance. To get any value back, we have to prove that we are somehow better than others in other ways. We do that by being super nice, cooperative, generous, fun, and kind, even when it causes us to sacrifice our own needs.