Is Fatphobia the Opposite of Skinny-Shaming?

OURSOC~1In a social media conversation, a fat person posted about fatphobia and received this response from a thin person:

I’ve never really heard of fatphobia to be honest.
I can tell you from the other side of the fence is pretty awful. When you’re thin (in my case underweight) people just randomly ask me awful questions….
OMG, you’re so skinny! Do you eat?
You should gain weight. You’d look better
Sigh, I would never talk about a person’s body like that.
So is fatphobia like the opposite of me?
I’m sure this person was not ill-intentioned, but this is an excellent example of harmful behavior that is driven by privilege (in this case thin privilege.) This person has never heard of fatphobia (despite living in a world that is literally built on it) and instead of, say, Googling to learn more about the oppression they had not previously been aware of, or even asking for education, they’ve decided their best move is to try to shift the conversation to their experience as a thin person, and reframe the concept of fatphobia as something that happens in relation to them. I’m sure that this person didn’t mean to be harmful, but one of the ways that we can become more competent in dismantling oppression is to realize that centering ourselves in the discussion of other people’s oppression is wrong, and that working to educate ourselves is the way to go.

Now to answer the question Is fatphobia the opposite of thin-shaming? No, it’s not.

While thin-shaming is wrong, and harmful, fat-shaming (including being asked rude questions) is just one component of fatphobia/weight stigma (which includes the shame, stigma, bullying, and systemic oppression that fat people experience.) Our society is not built to accommodate fat people, meaning that fat people literally live in a different world than thin people – with greater oppression happening to those with larger bodies and those with multiple oppressions.
A few examples:
Fat people have many fewer options when it comes to clothes, and our options are often more expensive (including because they aren’t sold in stores so we have to pay for shipping both ways to try them on.) This affects not just our ability to develop a personal style, but our ability to dress appropriately for situations from job interviews to red carpets.
Thin people have an expectation that they will be given accommodated by seats wherever they go – whether it’s at a restaurant, on a rollercoaster, at a wedding or funeral, on a plane etc. Not only do businesses often fail to accommodate fat people, but they often then blame fat people and force us to pay twice as much for the same service (for example, a trip from point A to point B in a seat that accommodates us.)
Fat people often find it impossible to get ethical, evidence-based healthcare because our practitioners are so distracted by their stereotypes about our body size, and so committed to forcing our bodies to look different (even if they kill us in the process) that they fail to treat our actual health issues.
Fat people are hired less and paid less than our thin counterparts. A study by Jennifer Shinall, at Vanderbilt found that heavy women earned $9,000 less than their average-weight counterparts; very heavy women earned $19,000 less, Very thin women, on the other hand, earned $22,000 more than those who were merely average.
And that’s just the tip of a very large, very harmful iceberg. I’ll mention that weight stigma harms people of all sizes since it drives unhealthy thoughts and behaviors around the fear of becoming fat, though the harm it does to fat people would be enough to dedicate resources to dismantle it. Fatphobia is real and it deserves entire conversations that are not diluted or derailed by the experiences of thin people.
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10 thoughts on “Is Fatphobia the Opposite of Skinny-Shaming?

  1. No, it isn’t. Thin-shaming is just another blip on the spectrum of policing women’s bodies and ascribing moral/ethical/personal/political associations to them. No, being thin doesn’t mean a person never eats any more than being fat means you over eat. Good luck getting society to dump these long worn out, deeply cherished assumptions.

    For me personally… I don’t trust anyone who writes “sigh” in their comment. I seems to say ‘oh me oh my, is this really a thing, blah blah blah’.

    “Is this a thing? Fatphobia?” My God is this a trick question? How can any woman grow up in any given western society and not get the gist that being even a ‘little fat, plump, heavy, bigger than some’ is the nadir of human-woman existence? You can’t just have been sick that week, missed the lecture, never come across… I think it was a troll trying to get someone to respond negatively to them so they could be offended by something they read on the internet…

  2. 1. Skinny-shaming is objectively wrong. Anyone who skinny-shames you is a great big bag of dicks.


    2. Skinny-shaming is not the same as fat-shaming. Fatphobia is systematic, ingrained, and unilateral in a way skinny-shaming is not. There is simply no equivalent of the War on Obesity for skinny people.


    3. Most skinny-shaming actually springs from fatphobia and fatphobic concepts. Fatphobes need skinny people to be the exception that proves the rule so the fat people can be the rule. If the Rule is that fat people make ourselves fat with gluttony and sloth, the exception that proves the rule must be a skinny person who made themselves skinny doing the opposite of those things. Otherwise the whole good-biocitizen worldview falls apart.

    Ragen even blogged about a few examples of this: Linda Kelsey’s “fat girls eating chips on trains” editorial and Lizzie Cernick’s revisionist history of fat acceptance. Both of these articles say grotesque things about skinny people, but they both say those things with the stated objective of ultimately harming fat people. Quoting myself here – skinny-shaming doesn’t come from a world that hates skinny as much as fat, but a world that hates fat so much it’s willing to go through skinny to get to fat.

    1. Whoa. OMG Lady R. Genius! “Hates fat so much, it goes through skinny to get to fat!” Run for office, write books, start a religion! My God you are brilliant!

      1. It’s like how a lot of the awful stereotypes about men actually come from a place of misogyny; the stereotype that dads are bumbling and children are better off with even the most incompetent mother comes from the misogynist belief women only exist to have and tend children and are therefore “hardwired” to be good at it; the stereotype that f-on-m assault “isn’t that serious” comes from the misogynist belief women are weak and bad at everything, therefore their “attempts” at violence are too clumsy, cute, and ineffectual to actually hurt anyone; the stereotype that men should be big and ripped comes from the misogynist belief to be small and soft is to be feminine and to be feminine is to be bad, etc.

        In the same way, a lot of the awful stereotypes about skinny people come from a place of fatphobia. The stereotype that skinny people who say they’re sick are just faking for attention comes from the fatphobic belief sickness is born from the impiety of fat people and therefore exclusively torments fat people; the stereotype that skinny people are vain and shallow comes from the fatphobic belief that people “choose” their bodies, intended to condemn fat people for “choosing” to be fat but causing the unintentional splash damage of suggesting skinny people “choose” their “elite” bodies for the same reason a guy having a mid-life crisis buys a Bugatti; the stereotype that skinny people don’t eat cheeseburgers stems from the fatphobic belief burgers and fries are all fat people eat, all the time, and that we instead need to “eat a salad.” If fatphobia disappeared tomorrow, most skinny-shaming- at least this kind of skinny-shaming- would disappear with it. I truly believe that.

        1. And it’s so casually constant. How men call other men “ladies” when they want to be truly demeaning. “Come on ladies.” “Let’s get going girls…”

          These things are not hard wired, they are ground in over a lifetime… And everybody suffers from them, no matter who the initial target is.

  3. My impression is that *very* thin women– women who are thinner than is considered attractive– are up against the same sort of medical neglect that fat women get. Their weight gets more attention than their actual symptoms.

    1. Especially if the actual symptom is the obsessive desire to not ever be fat. Like that is a bad thing!

    2. And don’t forget all the fun a skinny person with a “fat person disease” like hypertension, type-2 diabetes, or a thyroid disorder can expect to have while seeking treatment. “I don’t care what your symptoms and family history are, we don’t need to test you for type-2 diabetes. Type-2 diabetes is a cosmic punishment for being fat, and you’re not fat, so there’s no way you have it. Now knock off all that sweating and passing out, you’re obviously faking it for attention.”

      Then again, that can still be traced back to fatphobia and the fatphobic belief that a thin person is automatically a physically healthy person, perhaps even *literally immune* to physical disease, therefore anything wrong with them must be wrong in their heads. They’re “anorexic” or they’re “nervous” or they’re “factitious and attention-seeking,” because that 265/140 bp can’t POSSIBLY be hypertension. Only the fatties get THAT.

  4. I think that thin people just want to make the point that they are thin, i.e., after a comment “supporting” health at every size, “Just so you know, I am a size 2”.

  5. Thank you Ragen! As always, you save me the work of figuring out WHY this is so wrong-headed.

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