The Fat Girl's Guide to Surviving Social Situations with Skinny Friends
Posted by Angela in Getting Real
Not feeling like "the fat friend" all comes down to attitude

A funny thing happened when I began brainstorming for this week's Guide. I asked several of my fat-girl friends (FGF) what stressful situations they've encountered while out with thinner friends. The outpouring of ideas was great! They hit me with suggestion after suggestion, while I raced to get everything down. After telling them how awesome their lists were, I turned to the flip side of the question and asked how they've dealt with these challenges.

And. . . *crickets*

Okay, ladies, you've made yourselves clear. We have lots of insecurities and challenges when it comes to socializing with our skinny friends, and not a lot of ideas for how to deal. Hopefully, some of this week's tips will help turn that around.

Scenario #1: Dining out

This topic definitely struck a nerve with my FGF posse. It seems when dining with skinny friends, we can feel embarrassed about squeezing between tables to take a seat. We worry about ordering without our friends commenting on (or just thinking to themselves) whether we are/aren't/should be trying to lose weight. And when our dining partner wants to sit in a too-small booth, some of us squeeze into a space where we're uncomfortable while others feel shame or embarrassment upon insisting on a table.

It's worth noting that many of us wouldn't think twice about these situations if we were out to dinner with overweight friends. Think about it: When you meet up with a fat-girl friend for dinner, do you feel embarrassed about requesting a seating arrangement that makes you comfortable? I don't. I feel completely comfortable speaking up for my needs and just requesting a table (or a chair without arms) when the host seats us. I also notice that I think about what I order and how I eat it in a completely different way when I'm with thinner vs. overweight friends. I'm more self-conscious with skinny friends; I eat slower, more deliberately, lest they think to themselves, "Well no wonder she's fat. . ."

So maybe the answer is to approach meals with friends -- big and small -- the same way. From a place of confidence, strength and openness. Offer to make the reservations at a restaurant that has food choices you feel good about. Simply tell your friend you're more comfortable at a table. Or ask if she minds scooting into the chair that has to be reached by slithering next to another pair of diners. And if someone comments on your food in any way that makes you uncomfortable (even if they're trying to be supportive), it's okay to be polite but firm. "I'd rather catch up than talk about food," or "I'm just ordering what feels right today" should be enough to end the questioning clearly and directly.

And in instances where none of the above suggestions sound like winners, try my best friend's idea: "Skip the meal entirely and plan a non-food-related activity, instead."

Scenario #2: Movies, concerts and sporting events

Ah, stadium seating. Always a wild card when it comes to bigger bodies finding a comfortable (or even tolerable) fit. While most newer theaters have made their chairs roomier and included armrests that can be raised, the default for most arenas and stadiums is still fixed armrests on narrow seats (Anyone who has ever attended a Cubs game or an event at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena can vouch for their examples as confined spaces). Another good example is floor seating at some concerts, which consists of those little, armless, plastic folding chairs. As one of my friends said, "What do you do when you feel awkward about bleeding into your smaller friend's seat?"

First of all, some of these situations offer ways to be proactive. Be the one to select where you sit in a movie theater, and pick a seat on an aisle where you can raise the armrest or lean toward the aisle if you feel squished. Or swallow your pride and simply ask your friend if s/he minds that you raise the armrest between you. I can almost guarantee that this is a bigger deal in our heads than it is for those we hang out with, so don't be shy about asking for what you need to be comfortable.

Similar suggestions apply when choosing seating for a sporting event or concert; aisle seats always allow a little extra breathing room, although they might also include a fixed armrest even if others within the aisle raise. If you luck out and end up with an extra seat next to you, ask your friend if s/he'd mind you sitting next to the empty.

Beyond these little (and sometimes obvious) fixes, there aren't any magic solutions here. If your body's bigger than the tiny seats, you're likely to spill a bit into one direction or another. This is a classic case of mind over matter. Rather than being embarrassed about whether you're in your friend's space, remind yourself that you're both out enjoying your favorite band/team/actor and your friend wants to be there with you. Really, what's a little hip rubbing between friends? So much better to have the body contact there than with the creepy guy next to you with his chest painted in the team's colors.

I'd like to throw out a key "don't" here, too: avoid the temptation to make self-deprecating or outright negative remarks when in these situations. It's fine to keep it light, but there's no need to tear yourself down in order to make yourself heard. People come in many shapes and sizes - that's just part of life - and we each have a right to be comfortable and treated with dignity and respect wherever we go, and trusted and true friends will get behind that 100%.

Scenario #3: Girls' Night Out

Whether it's a bachelorette party or just a night out with the girls after a long work week, the GNO can be a double-edged sword for fat girls unless it's approached in just the right way. On the plus side: Hello? Great times with your good friends! On the down side: Potential body image doubts raising their heads when faced with cute clubbing clothes or while perching on tiny-seated bar stools.

The best defense here is to put your most fabulous foot forward. Choose an outfit that makes you feel confident, sexy or drop-dead gorgeous. Play up your favorite asset with a top that flatters your cleavage, make up some seriously sultry eyes, or bust out your hottest pair of heels. This isn't about comparing yourself to other friends -- or party-goers -- of different sizes; it's about looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, "Damn, I'm hot!"

Once you look the part, it's easier to feel the confidence -- fake it 'til you make it, right? There are other small things you can do to make the night more comfortable. Offer to cruise direct the activities and choose a restaurant or bar that has seating and a layout that doesn't put you on edge. Ask if you can reserve a table or a large booth for your group, then make sure to claim a comfortable seat upon arrival. And if the activities involved aren't necessarily your thing (dancing, karaoke, etc.), you can either be the supportive one who cheers the others on while holding down the fort, or you can do the FGG thing and make a conscious choice to step outside the comfort zone and try something new for just one night. Get up and dance to your favorite song (no one is watching you, anyway -- they're all too busy with their own groove!) or hop on the mic with your BFF for a duet (trust us, no one expects karaoke to sound amazing).

The key is to keep yourself in the moment. Remind yourself that this is your chance to let loose and enjoy work-free, kids-free, responsibility-free bonding time with your friends. How often does that come around? And why in the world would you want to pass that up or talk yourself out of enjoying it?

Scenario #4: The shopping trip

For some fat girls I know (myself included), shopping can be a very emotional experience. Under the best circumstances, it can be tough to keep a positive attitude as you come face-to-face (-to-face, if there are three-way mirrors involved) with your body and the areas you feel less-than-confident about. But when a thin friend suggests shopping together, a whole new set of challenges come to light. Will it be embarrassing to tell her you can't wear anything from her favorite store? Will trying on outfits together make you focus on your body in a negative way?

First and foremost, let's get real for a moment: Your friend knows you're overweight, so going to a traditional-sizes store with her won't suddenly "out" you as a fat girl. She may not have a clue about what size jeans you wear or how you envy her ability to pull off pencil skirts, but she knows you're not supermodel-skinny. . . because she sees you. In addition to knowing that you're hilarious/sarcastic/a terrible driver/whip-smart/loyal/great at playing the drums on Rock Band, she also knows you're overweight. And you know what? She doesn't care. I truly believe that coming to terms with this fact is the key to maintaining open, healthy and supportive relationships with our skinny friends. And I say that from a "do as I say, not as I do" place -- because God knows I'm still working on it myself.

So when your friend wants you to help blow her paycheck at Nordstrom, take the invitation at face value -- she wants to spend time with you and she trusts you to help pick clothes that make her look her best. You can approach the situation from standpoint of fabulous personal shopper (keeping the focus on her purchases, and maybe just trying on some knock-out accessories for yourself), or you can suggest hitting a few stores that sell the clothes you love, as well. I'll admit right now that it's been years since I've dragged a "skinny" friend into Lane Bryant, but I'm wondering as I write this what's taken me so long. Some of the most supportive and "Ang positive" people in my life are those who wear a size 6 or 10. They're among the first to remind me of my best attributes (both physical and otherwise) when I'm feeling down, and they're huge champions of me leading a confident, happy life.

Isn't that really the bottom line? Our friends are our friends for a reason. They love us. They want the best for us. And they don't care if we wear a size 2 or a 22, as long as we're happy and healthy and we've got their back just as strong as they have ours. One of my dearest friends from high school -- someone I've known for almost 20 years -- recently thanked me for sharing my honest feelings about her wedding in a recent FGG post about being a bridesmaid. She said that article and this site have opened her eyes to some of the experiences by (and views about) overweight women that she never knew existed. I'm wondering why it took me 20 years to open up to this wonderful woman in my life, and I challenge each of you to take the smallest, single baby step this week to do something similar in your own lives.

How have you made peace with hanging out with friends of all sizes? Tell us about your logistical tips -- or Jedi mind tricks -- in comments.