With very few exceptions, we are all a little fatphobic. Every time I say that, I get the same handful of responses. There’s the “Nuh uh! I’m sooooo not fat phobic!!!!!” crowd. You’ve got your, “Fatphobia isn’t even real. You just want to be a victim,” peeps. There’s always a creeper or two that wants all the fat women in the comments to know that they turn him on. (Note to men: That is NOT what fat positive means.)
And then there are the people who actually want to know better and do better. They are honest enough to recognize that our whole culture is built on an ideal of thinness, so the idea that we are all a little biased against fat bodies makes sense. They want to figure out how to start changing their long-held beliefs about fatness. They want to at least hear me out.
I’m only talking to that group today. If you’re not here to listen, or if you think the devil has appointed you his advocate, or if you’re unwilling to have a conversation about an emotionally charged topic, run along. We’re not hosting you here in this respectful space.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get back to it.
Fatphobia. The belief that fat bodies are inferior to thin ones. We’re all guilty of it in one way or another. Even fat people.
I’m fat, and I spend a lot of time talking about being fat. I have spent years working on the way I see and think about fat bodies. But I still have to work hard not to subject myself to impossible body ideals, hold myself to standards that aren’t attainable for me, or compare my body to other fat bodies searching for the ways I might be “more acceptable.”
Since I’m aware of those things, I call them out. I talk them through with someone I trust. I check myself. But internalized fatphobia is still fatphobia — and the fact that I am able to direct hate toward my own fat body in vulnerable moments means that I still have work to do.
I collect a lot of amazing fat positive information from content creators online.
The thread below by Aubrey Gordon is gold. There are incredible, beautiful, intelligent souls putting their knowledge online for all to see, educating us one post at a time. Instagram and TikTok are my faves for a quick dose of fat positivity and education. (Side note: If you enjoy and benefit from a creator’s content, ESPECIALLY if that creator is Black, throw them a couple bucks. They shouldn’t have to work for free.)
Anyway, the sense of community I feel in fat positive online spaces is a healing elixir to my diet-culture damaged soul, and I think everyone could benefit by diving in. But before you do, there are a few things you need to know.
Acknowledge the Fatness Spectrum.
It’s a fact that the fatter the person, the harder it is to live in our thin-obsessed culture. We don’t need to debate that anymore.
There are certain experiences that all fat people are likely to share, like mean people and bullying, emotional discomfort in your body, and frustration with clothing retailers. But some experiences are reserved for people in much larger bodies. When they are sharing their difficulties or advocating for changes that would make the world more accessible to them, they might not resonate with you. Maybe your experience in a mid-size or small-fat body hasn’t opened your eyes to the plight of a much fatter person. That’s okay. It just means it’s your turn to listen.
Don’t talk over a fat person in a fat positive space, especially if you’re not fat.
If you’re fat, don’t talk over a fatter person. If a fat person says they have experienced size discrimination, you don’t get to tell them that they haven’t. When a fat person shares a difficult experience that arose because of their size, you shouldn’t negate that by saying that something similar has happened to you in a thin body. It might be true, but in the very few online and IRL spaces reserved for sharing the fat experience, your role as a smaller-bodied person in fat positive space is to listen, learn and take the information with you so you can create a more inclusive environment in your sphere of influence.
Resist the urge to impose your own limits on what kind or level of fat is acceptable.
Are we hoping to live in a more fat-inclusive world or not? If we are, it does us no good to exclude those at the fattest end of the spectrum. As a fat person who doesn’t have an hourglass shape, I’ve had to watch in frustration as some fat bodies are validated much more frequently than my own. It’s easy to say it’s okay to be fat when you’re looking at Ashley Graham and Hunter McGrady, but people with bodies like Tess Holliday or Chrissy Metz get a lot less love. People like the Slaton sisters and the people featured on TLC’s My 600-lb Life or Too Large get almost no respect at all. It’s important to remember that if we want the world to be kinder to fat bodies, our fat positivity needs to include all fat bodies — not just those whose size or shape puts them in closer proximity to thinness and mainstream beauty ideals.
You’re going to find that you are, in fact, holding some really negative attitudes toward fatness.
It’s uncomfortable. It sucks. You might be disappointed in yourself. But you’ve gotta do it in order to dismantle your anti-fat mindsets.
Do you see fat people and think, “That’s fine for you, but thank God I’m not fat!” Well, that’s fatphobia. You don’t have to want to become fat, and you might not ever be able to change how you feel about it, but you do need to acknowledge that it’s a piece of evidence that proves that you do see thin as superior to fat.
Do you look at Aidy Bryant and see a strong, capable, brilliant beauty, but you look at Tammy Slaton and laugh, feel disgust, or pity her? You still have work to do.
If the largest people among us repulse you or if you don’t feel that they deserve respect, comfort and accessibility, then you are imposing diet culture limits on them. You’ve moved the line of acceptability to encompass some fat bodies, but you’re not acknowledging the complicated needs of other fat bodies, irrespective of their health or your perception thereof.
An obsession with perfect health doesn’t serve anyone.
All fat people aren’t healthy — but we all deserve the same care and respect. All thin people aren’t healthy either. Someone’s ability to attain a state of perfect health is not an indicator of whether they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Saying, “Who cares if you’re fat? You’re perfectly healthy!” isn’t as harmless as it sounds. Even people who are fat and have health problems deserve to be included in our fat positivity. Absolutely perfect health is literally impossible for a lot of people in lots of different bodies, but somehow only fat people are expected to achieve it to “earn our right” to basic respect. It’s weird. It’s gross. We gotta be done with that.
Honestly, it can really be summed up like this: Don’t make fat positive spaces all about you.
Listen ten times more than you interject, and believe the people who are sharing. Fat people aren’t lazy, unmotivated, sedentary eating machines. We are human beings with full lives, and the science of body size is complicated. It’s important for more people to endeavor to understand that, but you can’t learn in a day. You’ll have to be careful not to center your own experiences, even when you’re filled with compassion and you come to some revelations that excite you. Make space to listen to other people’s lived experience, and you’ll be a better friend to the fat people in your life — and a gentler critic of your own body.