Teenage me would never believe how many examples of fat, confident women exist online these days. She would marvel at actresses like Chrissy Metz skyrocketing to fame, and would be so relieved to know that someone with Tess Holliday’s measurements would be considered a supermodel. So much progress has been made since the late ’90s when I was struggling to love my body in a thin-obsessed, fat-shaming society.
The online fat-positive movement helped me transform the way I felt about myself in my late twenties and early thirties. I have curated a really intelligent, interesting feed on my Instagram. I can scroll through and read about intersectionality, fat liberation, how to correct disordered eating patterns and even where to get the cutest plus-size clothes. I don’t feel lonely in my body anymore. It’s something I never imagined possible when I was killing myself trying and failing to become thin for almost three decades.
Unfortunately, outside these spaces where people actually endeavor to understand the science and psychology of body weight, fat-shaming is still in full-swing.
Sharon Osborne publicly stated that she doesn’t believe fat women who say they’re happy in their bodies. Nothing happened.
Then President Donald Trump insulted a man who he believed to be a protester at a rally in New Hampshire by saying, “That guy’s got a serious weight problem. Go home. Start exercising.” Turns out, the man was actually a Trump supporter. Oopsie, DJ.
Remember in 2019 when Bill Maher famously declared on his show, Real Time, that, “Fat-shaming doesn’t need to end. It needs to make a comeback. Some amount of shame is good. We shamed people out of smoking and into wearing seatbelts. We shamed them out of littering and most of them out of racism. Shame is the first step in reform.”
He compared high body weight to the recklessness of not wearing a seatbelt, the selfishness of littering and even the repugnance of racism. And he was allowed to do it. He still has his platform. Nothing happened.
Ask me if I’m surprised.
Of course I’m not. Fat people don’t get the protection of the masses. Even in this era where everyone wants to scream “STOP CANCEL CULTURE!” every time someone loses an opportunity because of something they said or did. Everyone is pissed when a celebrity is held responsible for their racist, sexist, or otherwise vile actions, but nobody cancels anyone for saying hateful shit to fat people. Clearly, people still think we deserve it.
Fat-shaming remains a socially-acceptable form of abuse in our society.
As a fat person, I get my unfair share of direct insults. I’ve heard Shamu jokes. Men leave puke emojis on my IG photos. Other women have commented things like, “Hey, if you’re her husband and you see this, hit me up. You can do better!”
Like many fat people, I’ve experienced weight bias in medical situations. My first C-section left me with emotional wounds that will never fully heal.
Speaking of medical situations, fat people get to endure our own special brand of hell which is the rampant faux concern for our health. Everyone is an armchair physician, diagnosing us with life-threatening illnesses without knowing a thing about us. People want us to believe that they think we are beautiful as we are, but they’re concerned with our health. They pathologize fatness, claiming that there is no way to be fat and in good health.
Meanwhile, when fat people were prioritized for COVID vaccines because COVID can be more severe in high weight people, everyone lost their minds, calling our body size a choice and not a medical condition. I can’t even tell you how many people whined about being “penalized for being healthy.”
None of it makes sense.
And none of it is going away.
The most absurd part of Bill Maher’s little rant a couple years ago is that he thinks fat-shaming needs to “make a comeback.”
Where the hell does he think it went?
I’ve been fat-shamed in person and online since I was six years old, and I can assure you, anti-fat sentiment has never taken a hiatus.
It’s always been here, and it’s still in full-swing in overt and insidious ways.
Bullying, insulting and outright shaming happens to fat children and adults daily in personal and in real life.
But we also get subtle messages about our worthlessness. Ads that promise a thinner or thinner-looking body, portraying fat as the ugliest thing a person can be. Shows and movies that fail to include any fat people at all, even in crowd scenes. Stores that don’t sell any clothing designed to accommodate plus-size bodies. Algorithms that mark fat bodies in bikinis or underwear as obscene but allow thin bodies to show the exact same body parts. People expressing anti-fat sentiments about their thin bodies literally every day, everywhere without anyone even batting an eye.
Fat-shaming is verbal abuse.
And it’s not going to go anywhere until we stop accepting it.
I was probably 11 or 12 when I heard my mom ranting about TV writers creating roles for men that makes it seem like they are dumber than their wives and too stupid or incompetent to properly care for their own children. She was lamenting the fact that it was a joke society hadn’t yet gotten tired of seeing, and wondering when we would all collectively decide that it’s not funny anymore, so Hollywood would have to move on.
From then on, I was always careful not to perpetuate that particular stereotype. I have never bought into the idea that a man can’t be a nurturing, capable parent. I’ve never let myself accept that a male partner should be allowed to act like a child, leaving all the adult responsibilities of a home to his female companion. I don’t consume those stories or support that concept. All it took was an awareness of the problem for me to decide not to be part of it.
That’s why I’m constantly talking about fatness and issues related to living fat in a world designed for thin people. If you don’t live in a fat body, you might not realize how rampant fat-shaming is. You might not recognize how often a fat person is the brunt of a joke, or how common it is for people to express their disdain for fatness. It’s totally possible that you’re not contributing to the solution only because you don’t really recognize the problem. But just like my mom’s rant opened my eyes, I am hopeful that sharing my thoughts might change someone else’s.
I’m not glorifying fatness.
If anything, hearing how often fat people are treated poorly is the opposite of glorification.
I’m not promoting obesity. I am not asking anyone to become fat.
I am glorifying being better. I am promoting setting aside your size biases to be a kind person instead. I am asking you to become the kind of person who thinks about it, then chooses not to make the fat joke or say the mean thing to the fat person.
We can’t let fat-shaming slide because we can’t let any forms of abuse stand in our society. Fat-shaming is verbal abuse, and verbal abuse is violence. Verbal abuse has the potential to damage a person in irreparable ways, and it’s time we open our eyes to that reality. Fat-shaming harms people deeply. Every one of us is obligated to take a stand against fat-shaming in every place, every time we see it, online and in person.