A Letter About Food and Judgment

[Content Note: Food, fat, body, and choice policing; disordered eating; privilege.]

Dear You:

I will not judge you for what you eat.

I won't judge you for the things you choose to eat—or the things you eat because you have no choice—or in what quantity you eat them.

I won't judge you for why you eat the things you do, or how much of them you eat.

I won't judge you negatively—nor will I judge you positively. I won't assess your character on your diet, or where you procure food, or how you procure it. I won't judge you negatively for using food stamps, and I won't judge you positively for buying organic, or artisanal, or farm fresh. These things don't tell me anything about you—besides, perhaps, how many financial resources and access you have or lack. And I won't judge you for that, either.

I might, however, if I'm being totally honest, judge you if you brag incessantly about buying organic, or artisanal, or farm fresh, or "clean," or even "healthy," in a way that is wholly intended to convey that it's superior, that it makes you superior, without even the merest hint of awareness that such bravado is indicative of privilege.

I won't judge you based on what your body looks like, or make conclusions about your eating habits based on your appearance. I won't presume to know anything about your health.

I won't judge your dietary choices, because I don't know a thing about your individual dietary needs. I won't judge you favorably if you are a vegetarian or vegan (although I may judge you unfavorably if you use your own choices to shame and demean people who don't make the same ones), and I won't judge you unfavorably if you are not a vegetarian or vegan, because I know too many people whose bodies can't be sustained that way. Did you know that there are people who can't eat dairy and nuts and cruciferous vegetables? Some of them find it difficult to survive without meat proteins.

I won't judge the amount I see you eating, if I have the pleasure of dining with you, or the groceries in your cart, or your order at a restaurant. I won't judge you if you have dessert. I won't judge you if you pass on dessert, either.

I won't presume that what's best for me and my body is necessarily the best for you and your body, or that what works for me will work for you, because we are different people with different needs, and I respect that you know yourself better than I do. I respect you as an authority on your own life.

I will never offer you unsolicited advice about food, or your health, or your appearance. (Although I would love to trade recipes with you, if you're interested!) I will never comment on your weight—not that it is too much, and not that it is too little, and not that you look like you've gained weight, and not that you look like you've lost weight.

I will never treat weight loss as a reason to compliment you, because I don't know why you've lost weight, or if you even wanted to, or if maybe you're sick. And because you looked great to me before and you look great to me now.

I will not judge you if you are a "good fatty," or even a "good" thin person, who can afford to buy and prepare and eat the foods we mark as healthy (even though there is no universal thing, owing to food allergies and the like) and who is able and has the time and opportunity to exercise. I will not judge you if you're "bad," either.

I will not judge you if you have disordered eating. I will not judge you if you overeat, by your own definition, for emotional reasons. (Nor if you undereat, by your own definition, for emotional reasons.) I will listen if you need someone to talk to about that, and I won't judge you.

I will listen from here to eternity and back again to someone who wants to honestly discuss their emotional realities, but I will not listen to you berate yourself about your eating habits or your appearance, and I will not listen to you talk endlessly about your calorie consumption, and I will not listen to any other manner of "diet talk," and I will not respond when you are fishing for compliments by putting yourself down, and I will not keep quiet when you tell me that you "feel fat," and I will not tell you whether you look fat in those jeans.

And I won't listen to you talk shit about other people's eating habits or bodies. And I won't let you do it to me.

But if you want to talk about your personal insecurities, or the cultural pressures that reinforce those insecurities, or the family dynamics that contributed to those insecurities, or the trauma which is inextricably attached to them, or the bullying you survived, or the totally amazing experience you just had of wearing a bathing suit in public for the first time in years, or the tattoo you're getting to celebrate finishing your first triathlon after being told your whole life that fat people can't can't shouldn't aren't can't, I will talk with you as long as you need, and I will grieve with you and be joyful with you.

And I won't judge you.

This letter is to anyone who reads it, and this letter is to myself—the one person at whom I still levy judgments I would never aim at anyone else.

With warm acceptance,

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