On the life changing youtube channel Surviving Narcissism, Dr. Les Carter uses a psychology equation to explain how covert narcissism and gaslighting result in victims of emotional abuse experiencing anxiety. As a survivor of such abuse I’ve been following his channel in an effort to identify when I’m experiencing behavior that is harmful to me. Because of the nature of manipulation and social conditioning some of us can go years, even lifetimes not knowing that we were experiencing abuse. Gaslighting makes us question our realities and when loved ones are gaslighting us it makes it even more difficult to identify. Why would the people we love the most in the world terrorize us in this way? It’s such a hard question to ask, it almost makes finding the answers impossible.
Another subject that I have recently been immersed in is fat acceptance. As I’ve been filling my world with fat activism via social media follows and consuming as much literature as possible I can’t help but notice the similarity between the way that covert narcissism materializes and the way fat acceptance is attacked.
Dr. Les Carter makes the distinction between overt narcissism and covert narcissism by noting that overt narcissism doesn’t fear being identified but covert narcissism maintains power by hiding. Covert narcissism uses gaslighting to create anxiety to maintain dominance.
Fatphobia uses fat bodies to substantiate notions of inferiority to maintain supremacy. The abuse of fat bodies feeds the bigoted ego and privilege makes bigots treat fat people like narcissistic supply.
To remain untouchable covert fatphobia is constantly rebranding. By constantly changing its presentation covert fatphobia allows people with anti-fat bias to do harm without being held accountable. I’ve experienced it quite a bit in my lifetime and when I look closely at narcissistic abuse and covert fatphobia — I can’t help but make the comparison.
Covert Fatphobia+ Gaslighting = Narcissitic Abuse
In his video Psychotherapist Dr. Les Carter points out 6 ways the covert narcissist uses gaslighting to create anxiety. What I will do for you is use these 6 ways of gaslighting to explain how covert fatphobia uses gaslighting to create confusion similar to narcissistic abuse.
- The use of intermittent reinforcement — With overt fatphobia we are able to process clear messages of anti-fat bias. Through a consistent pattern of behavior, we learn exactly how people feel about fatness. With that knowledge we expect certain treatment. Intermittent reinforcement of fatphobia is inconsistent and involves mixed messaging that confuses us. One may experience this type of gaslighting when their bodies, presentation and behavior are praised by a person but that same person also displays anti-fat bias and/or fails to interrupt messages that perpetuate weight stigma. Their behavior may fluctuate from doing harm to you to not stopping others from doing harm to you and this may occur while they are intermittently affirming your fat body. They don’t want you to know how they really feel about fat bodies so they give you a mixed bag of backhanded compliments, silence and praise. It’s a way to protect the power of privilege without being held accountable for the use of privilege and power to do harm.
2. May entice you to get personal information only to use it against you at a later time — I once was spending time with my grandfather and telling him about how much I loved my little sister and telling him stories about all the funny things she was doing at the time. He listened intently and acted like he was enjoying himself only to later turn it into a conversation about how I needed to lose weight so that I wouldn’t die at an early age and leave my sister by herself. I was about 12 or 13 years old. I cried and he smiled. “That’s good” is what he said as my eyes filled with tears. I can still remember how stunned and confused I was. This is also a type of concern trolling. It’s covert fatphobia pretending to care and doing harm simultaneously. This type of abuse may also include people learning about eating habits, eating disorders, disabilities and level of physical activity in an effort to deploy covert fatphobic gaslighting and ableism. They enjoy gaining insight into your life but only for the purpose of using your openness to manipulate your mind and your emotions.
3. Telling true lies — This kind of gaslighting involves true statements with large gaps unaddressed. Again, the nature of covert fatphobia is to remain undetected. Telling true lies is how we discuss diet and exercise in an effort to ambiguously impose weight loss. It’s language play that codes words as to depoliticize weight loss. Instead of weight loss we call it “getting healthy” when we know for sure that health can look many ways and that weight loss isn’t always healthy. We hop on work out machines to “be more active” and then measure our activity by the calories we burned. Sweetie. It’s lying by omission. It’s before and after pictures with long captions about how much better we feel now that we’ve improved our ability to do x, y and z without discussing how society rewards the performance of weight loss and smaller bodies. Girl, the social capital. We don’t talk about it because we have a need to disguise how desperately we are trying to not be fat. It’s disingenuous and these weight loss — ahem — wellness gurus are gaslighting us when they only talk about working out and going plant based to have more energy. Like, everyone wants to have more energy but most of us make this kind of “lifestyle change” to lose weight. Tell the whole truth, Sis.
4. Forcing your feelings and actions into their logical grid — Because images of thin people seek to encourage us to bend the knee to diet culture and lose weight, covert fatphobia asserts that images of fat people do the same thing. This is honestly fatphobia’s g spot:[insert the sounds of heaven’s gate opening] the mythhhh of glorrrrrifying obeeeeesity. Oh how they love to say that everything a fat person does is glorifying obesity. Fat bodies do not possess that kind of privilege. There is no system that rewards bodies getting fat in fact fat people are punished for even being seen. Attacking fat acceptance and fat visibility is so powerful that people hide their fat bodies and don’t live the lives they want to live because of the way fat people are treated. Our world is flooded with fatphobic messaging. Images of fat people are merely interruptions and even still — we are manipulated into thinking that those interruptions are attempts to convince people that they should be fat. No matter how much we clarify our intentions people have no problem casually weaponizing our bodies and our experiences.
5. Barring you from confrontation — “But I only date fat girls! My mom is fat! I left all those heart eye emojis on your Facebook posts. I’m not fatphobic! “. By presenting you with all their good deeds and attributes covert fatphobia treats you like it’s impossible to give mixed signals. It’s textbook moral licensing and people can most certainly perform fat acceptance while still being fatphobic AF. It’s an invalidation of a valid critique. It’s a switch of hands. Covert fatphobia loves playing the victim by making you feel indebted. A liar. A scammer. A messy bitch who lives for drama. Select all and drag it to the trash.
6. Seeming available but you really don’t know them — Maybe your friend is generally agreeable and happy to validate your thoughts about fat acceptance in conversation but this friend may also act completely different in mixed company. I noticed that some of my friends were more fatphobic than I initially realized. When I was around my friends and their friends — the friends of friends, sometimes the fatphobia just JUMPED OUT. My otherwise fat positive friends would get around their other friends and they would act completely different. They’d start by using “have you lost weight?” as a compliment and then fall right into the trite rituals of fatphobia — fat shaming and body policing the night away. They’d just go on and on and it was so weird because had I not been around my friend’s friends I may not have ever met the not so fat friendly side of my friends. It’s a lonely feeling, feeling like there are limits to when folks take me into consideration but even in our sweetest relationships covert fatphobia knows how to remain unclocked and bitter to the core.
Though it’s sometimes subtle and often undetected covert fatphobia is toxic. The more we familiarize ourselves with how it works the more we will be able to identify it and manage our expectations accordingly. We cannot escape anti-fat bias. It’s everywhere. Some of us confront our bias daily while others pretend to have none at all. The big problem with covert fatphobia using gaslighting is the meeting of conflict with denial.
All of us are problematic but it’s important that we are willing correct our behavior. If you find yourself perpetually frustrated and confused in a relationship it might be the result of you experiencing gaslighting. Try trusting your feelings when they convince you to doubt them. Your feelings are valid and in healthy relationships the people we interact with should make every effort to acknowledge that validity.