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No Ifs, Ands, or Buts

September 24, 2012
by
The But Rule

All this week we will be celebrating National Weight Stigma Awareness Week, as discussed by Dr. Deah earlier this month.

I want to talk about The But Rule. Longtime followers of my blog may think that I have misspelled butt because they are familiar with my journey to accept my big, ol’ booty as part of who I am. Not an irrational assumption considering I have written extensively about my transition from self-loathing to self-acceptance and how it is possible to reject the seemingly ludicrous (now) mindset that if I had a smaller butt, my life would magically transform into the greatest life EVER!  But they would be mistaken because today I really do want to talk about buts.

“I am really sorry, but…”

“I am wonderful, but…”

“You are totally awesome, but…”

Along with THE PHRASE, one of the rules I live by is, “Be aware of what comes after the but.”

The But Rule isn’t a catchy phrase or a quotable snippet like, “I before E except after C” but it rings as true and in my opinion, are words to live by.

Here’s what I mean.

Imagine a time in your life when a friend, lover, or family member, apologized to you. Chances are the apology didn’t begin and end with, “I am so sorry.”  Most likely the apology went more like, “I am so sorry, but I was really angry” or “I am so sorry, but you brought up the subject” or “I apologize, but you need to own your side of it as well.”

If they had stopped at “sorry” it would have been a pure, unadulterated apology, but they didn’t because everything they said after the but is really the message they wanted or needed you to know.

Frequently, the same holds true with compliments:

  • “You look beautiful, but you could stand to lose a few pounds.”
  • “She played that piece wonderfully, but she messed up that one arpeggio.”
  • “He is amazing, but he is too short.”

And sadly, sometimes the violator of The But Rule is ourselves.  How often do we look in the mirror and say, “Great outfit, but it makes my butt look big?”

ALL RULES HAVE EXCEPTIONS, BUT...

Most of the time if you look at the words after the but those are the true intentions of the statement, and they frequently neutralize the words that came before. I am guessing that most of us know how diluted an apology immediately becomes when someone continues after the words “I’m sorry,” and starts justifying their mistake. In the moment it is the apology we need, not the excuse. The excuse is usually there to convince the other person that what they did was really okay.  It diffuses the apology.  And when The But Rule is used in conjunction with a compliment it transforms simple praise into an objective or goal for improvement.

I think it’s important to pay attention to words.  Granted, that’s coming from a word nerd and it is a recurring theme in my writing, so I won’t rehash that thesis here, BUT I will say that words have meaning. Words have power. And the placement of words also makes a difference.

  • “She’s great at her job. but she’s too fat to be the face of the company.”
  • “She’s healthy, but she needs to lose the weight.”
  • “He’s brilliant, but he’s fat.”

Do you see how the stigmatization of the person’s body eradicates the positivity of the rest of the statement?  The audience is left with the secondary image in their minds not the first.  It may seem subtle or petty, but I really believe it to be true.

Weight Stigma Awareness Week starts today. This is a time to increase awareness about how we use language and actions to discriminate against people of size, so let’s try an experiment. Throughout the week pay attention to how you, and others, use the word but and see if you notice The But Rule.  If you do, how is it impacting the effectiveness or authenticity of the communication?  How are you or the person you are speaking with reacting to what is being said? What is the impact on your self-esteem if you qualify your positive self-statements with the word but?  Can you point out The But Rule to someone who is unaware of its existence? I would love to hear about your experiences.

And be sure to click here for other ways to get involved with Weight Stigma Awareness Week.

Til next time!
Dr. Deah

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    September 24, 2012 10:36 am

    Great post! I encountered something similar just last week when I commented on a MedPage Today article (it was about some states cracking down on Medicare/Medicaid authorizations for wheelchairs/power chairs/mobility scooters for the disabled). I had said that even if I needed a power chair to navigate my house, I couldn’t use one because our house is too small (and we can’t afford to move, with the reasons listed). I also had said that it was too expensive to remodel our house to make it handicapped accessible for a power chair that would handle my weight. Another person commented and said that power chairs for the disabled were fine, but if weight was the reason a power chair/mobility scooter was necessary, then maybe mental health professionals and dietary specialists needed to do an intervention instead – totally ignoring the fact that most fat people have probably gotten that way from precisely those interventions, ignoring the fact that those interventions fail most of the time for most of the people who try them, and ignoring the fact that denying a person a power chair simply because they’re fat is just absolutely the best way to assure someone they have an adequate quality of life (never mind the fact that Medicare could give a rat’s ass if you can navigate the outside world without a power chair/mobility scooter – as long as you can navigate inside your house, you aren’t getting one).
    Seriously, there are times when I want to take those buts and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine on the people who toss them out so blithely.

  2. September 24, 2012 11:35 am

    I hear ya!

  3. Lizbeth permalink
    September 24, 2012 1:12 pm

    loved this one, Deah! “Non-apology” (apologies) are a pet peeve of mine to begin with, and so is the rhetorical device of prefacing a criticism with (weak, and soon forgotten) praise. I’ll use this column for talking points. Thanks.

  4. September 24, 2012 1:45 pm

    Great post, Deah! I often discount my accomplishments because of my weight. I really need to work on celebrate the awesome things I have done and the awesome person that I am.

  5. September 24, 2012 2:46 pm

    Perfect post! I’ve been aware of the “buts” lately as a parent. It seems every compliment is followed by the “but” of why things could have even been better! I’m aware of it and working on it!

  6. September 24, 2012 6:06 pm

    I used to get from family friends…”You’d be so pretty if you’d just lose weight.”…if can be used instead of but

    • September 24, 2012 7:00 pm

      Yup Janet, that’s why the title of the blog is no ifs and or buts…if is another one. Thanks for writing!

  7. Amy permalink
    September 24, 2012 7:45 pm

    Say what you mean, mean what you say and there is no but about that!! The intention of the statement needs to be pure or it just does not count for much, You state everything with such clarity and simplicity, loved it!!!

  8. September 24, 2012 9:07 pm

    Thanks Amy! So glad you liked the post!

  9. September 28, 2012 11:05 pm

    Love this! I especially love how you mention that what’s AFTER the “BUT” is what people REALLY want to say. And I’ve been guilty of it, too! I totally related to the music one. I’m practicing more acceptance of EVERYTHING. And it starts with the self – the more I accept who I am and what I’m like, the easier it become to stop seeing the flaws in others.

    • Deah Schwartz permalink
      September 29, 2012 12:24 am

      Thank you Shannon. Changes take time and like music, they take practice. But…the time is going to pass anyway so why not keep trying? Thank you for your supportive comment!

      Sent from my iPhone Warmly, Dr. Deah http://www.drdeah.com

  10. October 9, 2012 11:08 am

    This is exactly right. You can’t apologize with a big but in your hand. It just doesn’t work that way. Great post, Deah.

    Peace,
    Shannon

  11. October 9, 2012 5:28 pm

    Thanks Shannon!!!

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