All people are manipulators. We all want different things, we all have different opinions, we all have different plans, so we manipulate people to try to get our way. A lot of the time, it's harmless. I had a friend in college who would simply tell us what we were going to do that day: ie: We're going to the zoo and then out to Chili's. Most of the time, it was for our own good. The things she told us to do were fun and we might never have thought of them if she hadn't carefully steered us in a certain direction. Occasionally, there was a flop, but for the most part she wanted us (and herself) to be happy.
Some manipulation is used for evil, however. I belonged to a horrible campus religious group where the pastor manipulated all of us to get information to use against us later. If we went in to talk to her about having an eating disorder, she would tell us about the eating disorder she had had. If we went to talk to her about what it was like being black with sickle cell anemia, she'd been black with sickle cell as well (Note: She was most decidedly white). If we were a liberal Christian, so was she, or vis versa and so on and on. She did this to pit us against each other and eventually caused a lot of the people she differed with to leave the group.
A lot of fat shaming is manipulation. Here is an experience I've had with that.
X: Y told me that you need to go on a diet or you're going to die at 30.
When you hear something like that, your first reaction might be to get angry at Y. How dare they say something like that? But before you start plotting the death of Y, take a minute and ask yourself this question: "Why are you telling me this?"
Probably they are telling you for one of three reasons:
1. They may have that opinion themselves and are using Y as a scapegoat. Clues for that one might include accidentally slipping into first person (I... I mean she thinks you will get diabetes, etc), defending this person or using phrases like "I would never say that but..."
2. It could be that person X wants you to be angry with Y. Though you have a right to be angry with person Y, person X is manipulating you. They are taking something that bothers you and either lying about what someone else said or telling you information that you don't need to know to intentionally hurt you. Chances are if person Y really feels that way, they will let you know themselves and you will have the chance to defend yourself then. Clues that this may be the reason include saying things like "doesn't that make you angry?", "that's so typical of Y", or "what are you going to do about it?"
3. Person X might be telling you because they are proud of how they handled this behavior. Clues might include saying "after Y said that, I told him to fuck off" or "I told him that your body is your business" or "I taught her about HAES." While you probably didn't need to know how Y behaving, X may just be seeking your approval, which is mostly harmless.
I mentioned in Tuesday's post that a particular family member of my husbands kept mentioning to me about how many diets she had tried. At first I just tried to watch the TV and ignore her, but then I started to wonder why she was telling me this. When you bring up a diet in front of anyone, but especially in front of a fat person, you have to understand that what you are saying could be seen as a hint. It is possible that Mr. Sprat's grandmother was trying to convince me that I should start thinking about a diet. Or she may have figured that as a fat person I had been on them all myself and was simply trying to commiserate with me about how none of them work. I didn't ask because I didn't think it was worth possible awkwardness during the holidays, but if you find yourself in a situation like that, it might be helpful to simply ask them "why are you telling me this?"
Sometimes people spread rumors or talk about personal experiences because they truly want to process them and have some strong feelings about what has happened. And sometimes they are trying to manipulate you into feeling shame, anger or guilt. Taking a moment to stop and ask yourself and/or the person you are talking to "why are you asking me this" can help you to avoid those negative feelings and understand people's true motivations.