Fatphobia, the fear or hatred of fatness, is a form of discrimination that is deeply ingrained in our society. It not only affects individuals who are larger in size but also perpetuates ableist beliefs that harm people with disabilities. Think that sounds like a load of “woke” nonsense?
We are taught that health is the moral standard and thinness is in direct correlation with how much effort you put in (puritanical inherited judgement… anyone?).
So what Is Fatphobia? It is arguably not the fear the name would suggest (though perhaps it is…). Fatphobia is a form of discrimination that is rooted in societal beliefs that conflates thinness with health, beauty, and success. This discrimination can take many forms, from teasing and bullying to exclusion and employment discrimination. If you have underlying assumptions that fat people are just lazy, you’ve fallen prey to this. And if you like to think of yourself as not falling for this kind of stuff, think about the idea of you putting on weight. How does that make you feel? What would you say to yourself? What would you say about yourself? What would you fear? This is a keyway or noticing where we have internalised this messaging.
So why am I out here with the bold claim that fatphobia is ableist?
When you equate thinness with morality and conflate thinness with health, the result is that people who do not fit into socially acceptable body sizes are blamed for their own ill health. It is almost like we are shirking our responsibility to be thin, and therefore, any ailments are our own fault. Blame culture and health is a terrible mix. And you may be thinking, “No one actually thinks like this.” But how often have you heard, “Well, as long as they are healthy…”? Well, what if you are not?
Fatphobia is ableist because it assumes that all bodies should be one particular size or shame and that bodies that deviate from this norm are inferior. This belief is harmful not only to people who are fat but also to people with disabilities who may have larger bodies as a result of their condition. And also, my love, to you, if we are all hoping to live to a ripe old age where our bodies begin to fail us. Fatphobia perpetuates the belief that being thin is the only acceptable body type and that anyone who is not thin is lazy, unhealthy, or lacks self-control. (Can anyone taste a little patriarchal capitalist judgment in all of this?)
Fatphobia perpetuates the idea that you should reduce the amount you eat and exercise more. You will note it never has an end goal. It is just do more and eat less. While some people may say, this does not apply to disabled people, that they have some get out of jail free card because “poor them”, what this insinuates is that they are in the wrong type of bodies and if they happened to be in different ones, they should still redirect their energy and focus towards controlling their unruly bodies.
My body is not here to be controlled. It is a reckless teenager who wants to fight against the conditioning, which says it must be tiny and work in appropriate ways. And I have tried to control it in all of the ways we are taught. But genetics and science show that the old calories in vs calories out (also available in new flashy gym bunny expensive yoga leggings flavour) is unsustainable and inaccurate. But the message is more pervasive than the facts.
So what can we do about it? Embracing body diversity is an important step in combating fatphobia and ableism. When we recognise that all bodies are valuable and deserving of respect, we create a more inclusive and accepting society. This can lead to improved mental health outcomes, as people are able to feel better about their bodies without fear of stigma or discrimination. We know this in theory, but how many of you surround yourself (even if on social media – especially on social media) with body types that just fit what you are comfortable with?
A way to expand, test and neutralise some of the more pervasive messaging about diverse bodies to restock your social media cupboard with a whole load of different bodies. Find the idea of being fat repellent? Go follow a whole load of fat people. Have a fear of a double chin? Go and follow people with a load of different face shapes. Hung up on the shape of your nose? Look up a load of people with shapes, shades, sizes and angles of noses. You get the idea. Your brain has the ability to rewire itself by making what you see feel more familiar and more safe. So the more you neutralise different bodies, the less frightened you will be of your own.
And, of course, you are not really scared of your body; you are scared of the shit you will say to yourself about your body (and then, probably, the shit you will give yourself for the shit you just said not aligning with your politics).
Additionally, embracing body diversity can lead to improved physical health outcomes. When we focus on health as a holistic concept, rather than equating it with thinness, we are able to support people in achieving health goals that are meaningful and sustainable for them. This can result in improved health outcomes for people of all body sizes and abilities.
We all want to have some ideal working body which looks like a dream (see also Photoshop), but in truth, I think most of us are seeking that because of the societal privilege it would grant us. It would make things easier, and life would feel a bit more like a breeze. But in truth, rather than us skimming off the cream for ourselves, I believe, in our hearts, what most of us want is a world where more people in a wider range of bodies can feel safe and respected. And we have the chance to build that world. And it really does begin with the way we treat ourselves.
We all want someone to blame. I get it. I wouldn't crave the way we treat fat people, either. But demonising us isn't the problem. The prejudice is. And you have a role to play in how we change this. We all do.
· Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Body respect: What conventional health books get wrong, leave out, and just plain fail to understand about weight. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.
· Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2009). The stigma of obesity: A review and update. Obesity, 17(5), 941-964.
· Hsieh, C. H., Satcher, D. S., & Kizer, K. W. (2015). Improving health equity through action on the social determinants of health. Public Health Reports, 130(2_suppl), 1-4.
*I believe “Woke” is a synonym for “not being an arsehole.”