CW: discussion of fatphobia
We exist in a culture that hates bodies. All bodies, really, but fat bodies especially. We are told to aspire to shapes only achieved through full-time celebrity regimes and photoshop, and told to fear shapes that a significant portion of the population has.
This makes it hard to love our fat bodies, but it also makes it hard to be kind to thin bodies. Indeed, people are often violent to their own bodies through diets or worse means in order to escape their own internalised fatphobia. And if you are fat, it’s much worse. Medical neglect, reduced job prospects, and casual cruelty, to name just a few.
But though fatphobia is serving nobody and making nearly everyone’s lives worse in some capacity, it’s hard to unlearn that bias, no matter what your body shape.
So what can you do to combat that?
Well, I don’t have all the answers, but I can share some of the things that have helped me.
Consume and create fat positive art
There are loads of wonderful artists creating art that lovingly depicts fat bodies. Not fetishising them, just featuring them.
Across all media, thin people are not just the majority, they are the sole shape of any protagonist or any desirable character. Consuming art that doesn’t villainize fat bodies, whether that be on paper, TV, or in fiction, is a huge part of beginning to see fat people not only as normal, but as the heroes of their own stories.
There are loads of wonderful artists creating art that lovingly depicts fat bodies. Not fetishising them, just featuring them. I think this is so important for thin people but also important for fat people. So much easier to love your own body when you have first learned to love others that look like you.
For this, I recommend filling your social media with fat artists. Follow them on twitter, follow them on Tumblr. Encourage your artist friends to make fat positive art. Follow fat models, fat cosplayers, fat actors. Fill your world with fat beauty. And if you are a creator yourself, contribute more fat beauty to it.
Notice and acknowledge Fat Beauty
Instead of trying to literally minimize the fat people you encounter, take in what is attractive and loveable about them.
One of the most devastating things fat people hear from people who claim to support them is ‘You’re not fat!’ in tones of horror. This is not the rallying cry you think it is, and I’ll talk more about that at a later date. But simply: we are told that fatness is terrible, and that if we have redeeming qualities, we must not really be fat.
Instead of trying to literally minimize the fat people you encounter, take in what is attractive and loveable about them. About their smiles, their shapes, their fashion. And damn you, compliment them! Fat people, we need to do this for each other as well. Few people recieve fewer compliments than a fat person and that can be crushing. Having gone from a UK size 6 at my thinnest to a UK size 26, I can tell you it is a significant difference.
Compliment your fat friends and family. More, even, than you do your thin friends, because I guarantee that your fat friends need to hear it more and hear it far, far less. And if you are fat yourself, allow yourself to acknowledge the days where you know you look good. Allow yourself to enjoy that.
Wear and keep clothes that fit
wear what makes you happy, not what you think you ought to be wearing
Wherever possible. Fat and thin people alike attempt to squeeze themselves into too-small clothing, whether because they have outgrown them and are hoping (often futilely) to fit them again one day, or else because they are resistant to wearing a larger size to due internalised fatphobia. (People who cannot afford clothes that fit: you are excluded from this.)
Clothes that are the right size for you are more comfortable, and can give you more confidence than a smaller label size ever will. Clothes sizing is inconsistent and abitrary anyway; wear what makes you happy, not what you think you ought to be wearing. Your size and shape are not only valid, they are beautiful, and I encourage you to acknowledge that by wearing clothes made for someone of your size and shape.
So many people keep or even buy ‘goal outfits’, an act of self-harm so casually spun as self-actualisation that it renders me speechless. More on diet and weight loss culture below …
Do not engage in diet culture (referring to non-medical dieting, here)
Diet culture is utterly inseparable from fatphobia.
Ah, that sticking point for so many people. The words nobody wants to hear. Diet culture is utterly inseparable from fatphobia. It exists to profit from it. And you engage in it because you fear becoming fat, or you are trying to become thin, even though study after study has shown that dieting does not lead to sustainable weight loss for the vast majority of people and causes unhealthy yo-yoing in weight.
But let’s ignore the (lack of) efficacy of dieting. Because when you diet with the goal of weight management (again, excluding medical reasons here, particularly because many fat people are denied medical treatment unless they diet) you are signalling that you think Fat is Wrong. You are taking actions to cement that in your own mind and life, and you are hurting every fat person you know.
If your focus is health, focus on health. Focus on excercise, focus on healthy eating, not calorie counting, not no-carbs, not fasting. Focus on getting enough energy to live and think and breathe. Funnily enough, weight has very little to do with it.
Weight-loss culture, BMIs, the whole lot of it — it’s fatphobic as hell, and you are only going to get more fatphobic through participating in it.
Do not applaud weight loss
‘Have you lost weight? You look amazing!’
This is rooted in fatphobia, but it also creates other evils, such as eating disorders. At any point in my life where I lost weight, no matter how thin I was at the time, I was immediately greeted by everyone I knew with ‘Have you lost weight? You look amazing!’
I feel that I shouldn’t have to explain how that is harmful to the person you are saying it to, and to any fat person who hears it, but it seems that I should. By applauding weight loss, you are reinforcing that fatter = worse. You are harming that person’s perception of how they looked prior to this weight loss — you are insulting their previous weight under the guise of applauding their new one. It is deeply, deeply messed-up and can lead to powerful mental health issues.
Thinness is not virtue. It is not inherently better or worse than fatness, and does not deserve praise. It is merely a different body type. You will find that it is easier to love your own body, too, once you stop trying to track and rate the value of those around you.
Focus on strength
Perhaps you can take pride in that fat people seem built for survival
All the talking points on fatness are negative, and much of it is also wrong. That doesn’t change the fact that a barrage of negativity is harmful to the image of fat people. You can show your love (for others, and for yourself) by talking about the benefits of fatness.
This can vary from person to person but some examples are that fat people are often significantly stronger due to carrying more weight. Indeed, even people who specifically or professionally aim for strength (see: Olympic weightlifters) have builds that tend much more toward fat than thin.
Another might be softness. Fat people are much curvier and much softer to the touch. For those who enjoy hugs, who could be better? I know I became my cat’s preferred lap (and belly) when I became fat.
Fat people have lower centres of gravity and are much harder to budge. We take up space, which for someone who always shrank down as much as possible (like me), is freeing. Perhaps you can sit more comfortably fat than a thin person might. Perhaps you can take pride in that fat people seem built for survival — our bodies are extremely efficient at extracting energy from food.
Fat is not just beautiful and natural, it is strong, and I think we need to remember that.
And if fatness is beautiful, and natural, and strong, then there is nothing to fear, no matter what your body type. You are free to love yourself even if you change.
- Follow creators of fat positive art so that you can internalise fat beauty.
- Compliment fat people (including yourself) to counteract fatphobia and support the fat people in your life.
- Wear clothing that fits! Comfort and confidence mean more than a size label ever will.
- Don’t diet and don’t weight watch (excluding medical reasons), because it is not doing you any good and it is doing a lot of people a lot of harm.
- Don’t applaud weight loss because it’s promotes unhealthy eating, negative body image, and also it’s incredibly rude.
- Highlight and talk about the benefits of fatness
A few links off the top of my head:
Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong — the article I recommend to everyone to begin to grapple with fatphobia, body positivity, and what it actually means to be fat
Sergle — artist who does lots of very beautiful fat art and also just realistic thin body art
Mean Fat Girl — Fat Activist and creator
Comments are disabled because talking about fatness always brings assholes out of the woodwork, but you can find me on Mastodon and on Twitter. I am, however, not interested in debating you. If you disagree, read the article I linked you, digest it, and then if you’re still angry at me for making this post go complain about it somewhere I won’t see it. That’s just basic decency.
Image by Pezibear from Pixabay.