Updated: Nov 3, 2022
Let’s take today to unpack a big topic: fatphobia.
Whether or not you’re familiar with weight stigma or the anti-fat bias, you’re probably aware that our culture celebrates and values thinness, while maligning and disparaging fatness.
The reason for this comes down to (untrue) biases people hold, both consciously and subconsciously, about what each kind of body means– and the systems of oppression that create, encourage, and reproduce those biases.
In our culture right now, thin/toned bodies tend to be associated with people who are privileged, wealthy, hard working, motivated, driven, healthy, pure, happy, intelligent, successful, and industrious. These kinds of bodies tend to bring to mind rich people, celebrities, and regular folks with extraordinary discipline, self-control, heaps of energy, and an impressive moral character.
This is the pro-thin bias.
It’s opposite, the anti-fat bias, is basically it’s opposite. In our culture right now, fat bodies tend to be associated with people who are lazy, poor, stupid, unhealthy, unproductive, lethargic, and low class.
The anti-fat bias is often called “fatphobia,” but I generally prefer to call it the anti-fat bias because it’s more accurate.
After all, people aren’t afraid of fat people. They just scorn, disrespect, devalue, and have contempt for fat people, thanks to internalized anti-fat prejudices.
But let’s take a moment to unpack these biases.
Are fat people actually lazier, less disciplined, or less self-controlled than thin people?
Nope, it turns out this perception is actually just more bias and prejudice. If you’re curious to unpack this topic further I recommend books like Anti Diet, The Fuck It Diet, and Body Respect. But now I’ll just say this:
People are fat for all kinds of reasons. (Genes, poverty, a history of dieting, illness, medication, mental health issues, etc.) Some fat people are lazy, and some are disciplined/hard working.
Thin people are thin for all kinds of reasons. (Genes, societal pressure, eating disorders, addiction, illness, medication, medication, etc.) Some thin people are lazy, and some are disciplined/hard working.
If fatness was just the result of laziness, then there would be no fat athletes. But the olympic weight lifting team exists, you feel me? So yeah, that bias is total bunk.
And how about intelligence? Are thin people smarter than fat people?
Umm… again, no. People who exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and eat a nutritious diet do tend to have healthier bodies and brains, leading to a sharper mind, improved memory, and better ability to concentrate. But honestly that has nothing whatsoever to do with weight.
And way more importantly, poverty is correlated with both bigger bodies, and lower intelligence.
So if there is in fact a correlation between big bodies and lower intelligence, there’s zero reason to assume that fatness is the cause of stupidity, but some very compelling evidence to indicate that poverty may be the cause of both.
And what about fat people being less healthy than thin people, and at higher risk for death?
Well first of all, again, people who exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and eat a nutritious diet tend to have healthier bodies than those who don’t. But again, that fact doesn’t mean anything about fat people or thin people, since people of all body sizes can engage in healthy or unhealthy daily habits. (Recommend the books Anti Book or Body Respect to learn more about this!)
Plus, again, there is a correlation between poverty and decreased health outcomes. Which makes sense, but also makes it extremely weird that we keep talking about how unhealthy it is to be fat, when actually it’s much better documented that it’s unhealthy to be poor.
Side note: just imagine how much better off we’d all be now if we had started a war on poverty all those years ago, instead of the utterly pointless and dangerous war on obesity. Ugh.
Anyway, in one final note I just want to introduce the idea that research over the last few years has shown that “overweight” people according to the BMI tend to live longer than people in the “normal” range.
Oh and just FYI, the biggest threat of mortality applies to those who are underweight. These folks actually die at twice the rate of “obese” individuals. (And for the record, “underweight” according to the BMI isn’t really that thin. Unless they’re super muscular, many of your favorite celebrities and influencers are probably technically underweight, and yet people don’t furiously comment on how they need to gain some weight for their health!)
Curious why this research hasn’t spread like wildfire? Wondering why people don’t police the health of thin women on instagram with the same passion they do with fat women?
Well friends… that would be because of the pro-thin and anti-fat biases!
People are so committed to the idea that thinness is superior, they will do epic mental gymnastics to ignore any evidence to the contrary. They just don’t want to hear it. People are so freakin sure this kind of research is wrong, that no matter what the research says, they choose to ignore it.
Plus honestly, this whole “I just care about their health” bullshit around fat people can be pretty quickly debunked. Because as soon as you take a closer look at this perspective, it is immediately revealed to be… you guess it! Fatphobia!
Think about the endless rage and vitriol fat folks get about their “health” from strangers on the internet. Even fat folks who are posting pictures of themselves working out, going for a walk, or eating a freakin salad will end up with comments calling them lazy and unhealthy, and saying shit like “you need to lose weight or you’re going to die.”
By comparison, a thin person could post pictures of herself smoking cigarettes, talking about how sedentary she is, or sharing that her diet consists mostly of McDonalds, chips, pizza, and Mountain Dew. And yet, she’s very unlikely to get a single comment expressing concern about her health. Maybe a little support for self-care with a kind of “you deserve to feel your best!” tone, but nothing even remotely close to vitriol.
It’s also worth mentioning here that weight stigma and the anti-fat bias have been proven to reduce health outcomes for people! Experiencing weight stigma increases a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle, poor self-care, and death.
So, ya know, if health was really the priority here, people would be working to reduce weight stigma and fatphobia instead of trying to reduce obesity. But they’re not, because… why again? Oh yeah. The anti-fat bias.
Whew. Ok. I hope this was a useful little unpacking around why the anti-fat and pro-fat bias are wrong, and that all the links to resources and studies allow you to keep digging and unlearning your own biases.
I don’t have time here to go into all the ways these biases cause harm and are violent toward folks in big bodies, but trust me: this shit is not benign.
Can you get on board with the idea that racism, sexism, or homophobia are dangerous, wrong, violent, and completely fucking unacceptable? If so, great. Then you need to get on board with this one too: the anti-fat bias and weight stigma are dangerous, wrong, violent, and completely fucking acceptable.
That’s it for today folks.
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