Living in a human body is hard, and what about living in a body that is constantly labeled as bad, shameful, and dangerous because of its size? It's a reality for many people, and honestly, all of us have so much deprogramming to do around how we think about fatness. So much so, that here are four truths with links to important resources to get us started. Diet industry, we hope you're listening.
1. Fat is a neutral word. It's our society's judgments that have made it negative.
If you haven't read Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon yet, it's time. The subtitle of this powerful book says it all: "The surprising truth about your weight." Spoiler alert: Fatness isn't a death sentence. It's just one detail of many about the amazing, intricate human body. Your body has a set weight at which it's happiest, healthiest, and functions best. And, that might be a size you've been conditioned to believe is bad.
Why? As our culture became increasingly obsessed with thinness, "fat" has evolved from a physical thing in our bodies (like "bones" or "skin") to one of the most vilified words in the English language. Careers and even entire industries have sprung up around the vilification of fat people. How did this get so out of hand?
2. Fat people live in a hostile world.
We're told, both explicitly and through subtle advertising and marketing, that fat bodies are bad. We're told that they are so bad, they need to be silenced, shut down, and done away with. Sound dramatic? Only until you actually consider the phrase "the war on obesity." If you live in a fat body, you live with a constant barrage of criticisms and critiques. You're told straight-up that you need to lose weight, and you're forced to watch others demonize fatness. From television shows glorifying weight loss at any cost to billboards advertising high-risk weight loss surgeries, the messaging is everywhere. Even offhand comments that aren't intended to harm ("Does this make me look fat?" "I feel fat today.") do so much damage.
It's difficult enough to be a human being in a body navigating the world. But for so many of our friends, lovers, parents, teachers, and children, it's a constant and cruel battle, made harder by everyone around them.
3. "Fat" and "healthy" are not opposing descriptors.
Despite what you've been told since, um, forever, being fat won't make you sick. It won't kill you, and it won't inhibit you from doing the things you love to do. Remember truth no. 1, that fat is a neutral descriptor. With that in mind, consider these questions: Will being blonde shorten your lifespan? Does wearing a size 8 shoe mean you're going to plummet into poor health?
Here's another truth bomb: Your weight has so little to do with your wellness, that the ritual of stepping on the scale at the doctor is as outdated as those decades-old magazines in the waiting room. (In other words: Yeah, you can definitely refuse to get weighed — and it's not even dramatic or weird.)
Here it actually feels silly and counter-productive to give a laundry list of "success story" athletes living in fat bodies. The size of your body has no bearing on your ability to do yoga, run marathons, spike a volleyball like a badass, or literally any other physical activity you enjoy. It's not a miracle to see a fat woman rocking a cute pair of workout leggings. The miracle will be when we stop making her an other, showering her with condescending "praise."
4. Fat people's health is no one's business but their own.
There's a phrase for butting in on other people's medical track records: Concern Trolling. Feminist scholar Melissa Fabello and Linda Bacon describe it in detail in this article for Everyday Feminism, and the meat of the matter is this: Your next-door neighbor's life expectancy or annual check-up is none of your concern.
In the article above, Fabello and Bacon explain that over 50% of our society claims they'd rather be dead than fat. This is a shocking statistic, but it's also one that reveals a hard truth: our society is cruel and hateful toward fat people. No one wants to be despised, no matter what they look like or how much they weigh. So let's consider this alternative and deeper meaning behind faux concern over some stranger's potential for life-threatening disease: Worrying about someone else's fatness is not about their body, but about your fears and self-worth.
If you're ready to continue thinking honestly and productively about this issue, start by journaling or talking about the following questions:
- How have my actions or words contributed to society's fear and hatred of fat bodies?
- If I fear or struggle with living in a fat body, why is that? Are the concerns my own, or do they belong to the culture in which I was raised? How have the two influenced one another over time?
- How can I work to shift fearful and hateful attitudes toward fatness within my own community? Can I accomplish this without being condescending to those living in fat bodies? How do I bring their voices to the table?