How to support fat women in the time of Trump.

This month has been an especially taxing time to be a woman in America.

We watch coverage of the presidential race and see thin women talk about being called “not my first choice” and “Miss Piggy.” It is outrageous, and it is visceral.

A wave of shame washes over us. The memory of a stranger’s hands on our skin sends an electric charge through our legs, willing us to run. Blood rushes to our cheeks as we try to figure out where we would fit on a bleak one-to-10 scale. Would he call me a one? A zero? Would he reach back into negative numbers? Who else thinks about us, about me, in such reductive terms?


As a woman, this wondering is all too familiar. Often, it is forced upon us, a biting reminder of the simple mathematics of femininity — that appearance only and always equals worth. It impacts every woman.

Photo by Maddie McGarvey/Getty Images.

But this televised bullying frequently targets women based on their weight.

It made Miss Universe into “Miss Piggy,” one of many women singled out for gaining weight. So many women have been called fat these last few months and so few are.

Those of us who are fat know that this kind of name-calling is just the beginning. It is only the tip of the iceberg that has struck our shared ship. Fat women have seen the craggy mass beneath the surface, its sharp edges cutting us down to size every day.

It is horrifying that a man running to lead a nation would talk about women this way. But to fat women, it is not surprising.

As a fat woman, I know that Trump is only the tip of the iceberg, the most visible part of a massive monolith of attitudes toward fat people. Humiliation of fat women happens daily, publicly, hidden beneath a waterline that can only be traversed by having a body within shouting distance of acceptability.

We feel the jagged edges of that iceberg in fat jokes in movies. (Whole careers have been built on pratfalls and fat suits.) We feel its cut when strangers give unsolicited diet mandates at the grocery store or when colleagues offer gym memberships to fat co-workers.

We have become accustomed to the rush of blood in our cheeks when our bodies are so readily commented upon — by anyone, in any venue. The stomach that drops like a faulty elevator. The hollow echo of friends’ laughter at cruel fat jokes. The thudding heartbeat when a family member insists “she shouldn’t be wearing that” about another fat stranger.

Image from iStock.

The way fat women are talked about is terrible. The way we’re treated is worse.

We know the sinking feeling of "grab them by the p***y." Because some fat women have been and, upon reporting our assaults, have been met with disbelief  — who would want you? The horrifying logic of who would rape a fat woman is so ubiquitous some of us never report at all. Others of us haven’t been assaulted and somehow feel invisible in a culture that conflates groping and rape with affirmation. All kinds of women are sexually assaulted. Fat women are told we’re too disposable to be raped, even after it’s happened.

We didn’t start with a presidential candidate who felt comfortable, all on his own, to comment on women’s bodies. He has seen  —  as so many of us have  —  the aggressive, prescriptive, dismissive fate that befalls women who dare to gain weight. He’s got the backing of a whole culture that demonizes all women, yes, and fat women in particular.

The comments about starting a diet or joining a gym, the unchecked bullying, the harsh jokes and slurs hurled at fat women  —  all of that softens the ground for this kind of public abuse. It comes from all sides:  movies, politics, family, friends, workplaces, doctors. It’s only from below that we can see the enormity of that slow, massive iceberg. It’s only from close-up that we can see its razor sharp edges, only from experience that we can know how deeply it cuts.

Thin women are under immense pressure not to fall from the iceberg into the frigid waters below. For fat women, it is not a cliff to fall from, it is a boulder to be pinned under. You may not feel sure-footed  —  you may feel your feet slip from time to time, may just be breathing at the surface  —  but you are breathing. Fat women are drowning. And we’re drowning with or without a bombastic fat-shamer on television each day.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

We don’t just need you to dispose of the noisiest bully. We need you to challenge the culture that created him.

You have the key to the oxygen we need. You can chip away at the heavy, hurtful iceberg. You can interrupt others when they call fat people names or pass judgments on their health, relationships, appearance, or value. You can talk to family members who offer unsolicited advice on dieting, exercise, fashion, or health. You can stop seeing movies with actors in fat suits, stop listening to comedians who target fat people.

You can ask better of those around you. You can do better for yourself and for the women you know. Because targeting women for their weight hurts all of us.

None of us owes anyone access to the bodies we have —  to touch them, to change them, to criticize them, to cut them down to size. You don’t owe strangers, pundits, or politicians your desirability. Your body is not a debt to be paid, not a problem to solve or an albatross to carry. Your body is yours.

All you need to do is have the body you have, keep yourself safe, and build the momentum of your own goodness. Feel it whirring away inside you. Fuel its engine. Remember who you are, regardless of the body you have.

You have the extraordinary strength of character that only comes from living in a culture that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge you, much less affirm you. You have an unparalleled ability to empathize and to know just how essential empathy is. You know the difference between the abundance of love and the mirage of desire. You know that desire leaves you with less; you know how to give the kind of love that makes us all whole.

You have the extraordinary love of friends, family, and partners — many of whom are learning to love you in their actions as they love you in their hearts.

It’s going to take all of our warmth to melt this iceberg. Thankfully, all of our hearts are furnaces. Now let’s get to the hard work of firing them up.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.
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Dr. David McPhee offers advice for talking to someone living in a different time in their head.

Few things are more difficult than watching a loved one's grip on reality slipping away. Dementia can be brutal for families and caregivers, and knowing how to handle the various stages can be tricky to figure out.

The Alzheimer's Association offers tips for communicating in the early, middle and late stages of the disease, as dementia manifests differently as the disease progresses. The Family Caregiver Alliance also offers advice for talking to someone with various forms and phases of dementia. Some communication tips deal with confusion, agitation and other challenging behaviors that can come along with losing one's memory, and those tips are incredibly important. But what about when the person is seemingly living in a different time, immersed in their memories of the past, unaware of what has happened since then?

Psychologist David McPhee shared some advice with a person on Quora who asked, "How do I answer my dad with dementia when he talks about his mom and dad being alive? Do I go along with it or tell him they have passed away?"

McPhee wrote:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!