Fatphobia, weight stigma, and weight-based oppression are not in our heads – they are real and fat people experience them constantly in everything from fashion, to travel, to working out, to medical care and more. The more fat we are, the more oppression we experience and things are even worse for those who are part of multiple marginalized groups.
One of the things that we can do to combat this is to make sure that we’re always putting the problem where it belongs – which is on fatphobia and not on our fat bodies. This is a skill that can take some practice, especially since internalized fatphobia can often make blaming our bodies a nearly automatic subconscious response to experiencing fatphobia. here is a three-step approach to shifting things to make sure you are putting the problem where it belongs.
Acknowledge the Fatphobia (or weight stigma, or whatever word works for you – I’m using fatphobia in general here to mean any situation in which fat people cannot expect to receive the same treatment, accommodations as thin people)
State What’s Happening, Putting The Blame Where It Belongs (on fatphobia, not your body)
Choose Next Steps
Let’s look at some examples:
You want to go on a trip but you realize that the size of the plane seats means you’ll need two seats.
This is fatphobia. The airline industry is extremely fatphobic.
They knew fat people existed when the built the planes and yet they choose not to accommodate us. The airline sells travel from point A to point B, and that travel requires a seat that accommodates the passenger. I only want what thin people are already getting which is travel from place to place in a seat that fits me.
Consider the alternatives, perhaps you can fly Southwest (the only airline who gives passengers as many seats as they need.) Perhaps you can go by train or car or another method of transportation. You may choose to buy the second seat. You may choose to contact the airline and complain. Whatever you decide is a valid choice. While this has become your problem it is definitely not your fault.
Your doctor ignores your symptoms, doesn’t listen to anything you say, and just keeps pushing weight loss
“This is fatphobia. Weight stigma is rampant in the medical community.”
I deserve compassionate, evidence-based care. This isn’t it. Weight loss isn’t evidence-based medicine, and the most likely outcome is weight gain. This doctor is committing malpractice and putting me in danger.
You might decide to try another doctor. You might ask this doctor to respect your wishes as the patient and/or discuss the evidence basis of his claims (I’ve created some free cards to help you to that, they are currently available in English and French) You might ask your doctor what they would prescribe to a thin patient with your health issues. If you are in a situation where that’s not possible you might lie to your doctor and tell him that you’ll attempt weight loss, then ask him to please address your health issues with the other available options in the meantime. Again, whatever you decide is valid, you should never have been put into this situation in the first place.
Your friend or family member makes a negative comment about your body/suggests that you should lose weight etc.
This is fatphobia – in a fatphobic society, these comments are seen as acceptable.
The person talking to me has been duped by fatphobia and they are visiting their bigotry on me. I don’t have to agree with them, center their feelings, or be ok with them talking to me like this.
Your response here will take a lot into account, including the way that your family/friendship works, if you are relying on this person etc. I wrote a post giving some simple steps for boundary setting and some sample response, you can find that here.
You are sitting on a chair and it breaks
This is fatphobia, I should be able to expect chairs to work for me in the same way they work for thin people.
It sucks that this place didn’t want to bother to get chairs that actually accommodate everyone.
This one can be rough because the urge to self-blame can be so strong. You can say something like “Shoddy ass chairs” in whatever tone you like (angry, laughing etc.) You can decide to leave, you can loudly asked for a better-constructed chair. You can leave. You can ask the people with you to advocate for you. And remember that you have every right to be upset, because this situation is upsetting, but you didn’t do anything wrong.
Fatphobia is not our fault, though it very often becomes our problem. Reminding ourselves that fatphobia, and not our bodies, is the problem can help us to handle these situations in ways that honor our bodies and keep us in the best possible mental space.
If you have other scenarios please feel free to leave them in the comments.
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