We are all living in a culture where fatphobia and weight stigma are the norm. Many of us live in countries where our governments spend millions, even billions of dollars to wage war on fat people, a huge part of which is to convince everyone (including fat people) to stereotype, stigmatize, and oppress fat people. So if we have negative views about larger bodies, that wouldn’t exactly be a galloping shock.
In order to counteract this, we need to always be doing our own work around weight stigma (internalized or otherwise.) It’s important to mention here that the more privilege we have, the more responsibility we have to do this work, and when it comes to weight, privilege is relative. I have less privilege than someone who weighs less than me, and more privilege than someone who weighs more than me. This includes privilege in terms of everyday interactions (like how likely it is that a doctor will want me to amputate my stomach to address a problem that thinner people would be given a far less risky intervention for) as well as things like whether the airline or movie theater will try to charge me double for the same product, or if I’ll be able to fit in the roller coast etc.
Here are three questions to help you get started:
Do I engage in negative body talk?
If so, stop. Stop engaging in negative body talk of any kind – whether it’s overt (“she’s way too thin, she needs to eat a sandwich” or “at that weight he’s obviously not healthy”) or subtle and said as if it’s a “compliment” (“She has the perfect body, we hate he,” or “you lost weight- you look so good”) We can choose to never put someone else down to make us feel better: Even if they’ll never know, it still usually ends up effecting us negatively in the end. Talking badly about someone else’s body is just never the way to go. No, not even in the situation you’re thinking of right now.
How do I feel about bodies of different sizes?
This can start by asking yourself something like “What assumptions do I make about people based on their body size?” but we weight stigma is intersectional so we can use this opportunity to also address things like healthism, ableism, racism.
Racism is structural and underlies everything in our society, and Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size have always had issues with racism and lack of representation, so these intersections are everywhere. If you are not a Person of Color, seek out and read what People of Color are writing on the subject. Some places to start are this piece by Sonya Renee Taylor (and The Body Is Not An Apology in general,) this one by Ashleigh Shackelford, and this one by Donyae Coles.
Ableism is something like feeling more judgment or negativity about a fat person using a mobility device than a fat person who runs 5ks. Or judging a fat person who uses the escalator or elevator instead of the stairs. Again, please seek out and read what disabled people/people with disabilities are writing about this. You can start with this post from ThisIsAbleism and this piece by Renee Martin.
Healthism can look like feeling differently about a fat person who doesn’t engage in what you consider “healthy habits” than about a fat person who does. (Beware good fatty/bad fatty thinking.)
If you find yourself saying “It’s ok to be fat as long as…” stop talking and click here immediately.
It’s also helpful to look at other cultural issues – do you think a thin woman who can eat a ton of food is awesome and sexy, but a fat woman who eats the same food is disgusting and lacks self-control. Do you see a thin man in sweats as “laid back” but a fat man dressed the same as a “slob?”
Become aware of your thoughts. Again, we live in a society that is sizeist, ableist, healthist, racist and more, so if you have these thoughts it’s not surprising, it’s also no excuse. Resist the urge to get caught up in feeling guilty about it (since that doesn’t help anyone) and move right on to fixing the problem.
Again, the first step here is to become aware of your thoughts. Then challenge them – ask yourself where you got this idea, recognize that other people’s bodies are yours for the judging. Consider creating a slideshow for yourself with pictures of bodies about which you currently have judgments. Go through this slideshow at least once a day and challenge your judgments, preconceived notions and prejudices.
How do I feel about the concept of weight gain for myself?
I was once in a conversation with a therapist who works in eating disorder treatment. It went like this:
Her: I really appreciate your work. Teaching my higher weight clients to love their bodies is such an important part of my work and I recommend your blog all the time.
Me: Thanks, I’m really happy to be able to support the work that you are doing.
Her: And I have to say, I’m so impressed by you. I don’t think I could ever be happy at your size.
Y’all, I literally heard a record scratch in my head. This is complicated. On the surface, it can be difficult to be excited about the idea of joining an oppressed group, but the problem with fatphobia is fatphobia – and not fat bodies, and so the idea that someone doesn’t want to be fat(ter) than they are is still an element of fatphobia (with possible shades of ableism and healthism) It’s something that we need to work on if we are truly doing self-work around our own fatphobia (including and especially if you are a thin person, especially if you are doing Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size work.) Not to mention that body sizes can change over time for lots of different reasons.
Here again, the exercises above – like the slideshow – can help you to get over some of your issues with fatphobia. Then just spend some time meditating on the idea of living your best life in a fat body – as negative ideas come up, challenge them and if they are rooted in fatphobia, ableism, healthism or other marginalizations let that help you get even more angry that these oppressions exist, and more committed to dismantling them.
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