Fatphobia and Why We Need to Talk about Thin Privilege
Unfortunately something that unites women and femmes is the constant criticism of our bodies. Our bodies will never be enough as the patriarchy demands that we must take up as little space as possible – to do that, society says we must be thin; it’s easier to control us if we’re focusing on minimising ourselves. Society enforces the idea that being slim is the ultimate goal and the only right way to have a body – any deviance from this is met with disgust. This is a one of the many joyous (read: terrible) symptoms of living and functioning in a patriarchal society. What emerges from this societal obsession with thinness is an insidious oppression that we can no longer ignore – and that is fatphobia.
Fatphobia is defined as the prejudicial hatred of fat people. It is omnipresent in our society. People do not think to question ridiculing or shaming fat people because it has become so normalised in popular culture. It is enforced by the constant erasure of fat bodies in TV and film. On the rare occasion that fat people are represented, their bodies are the butt of the joke. They are always the comic relief, with a poorly developed character arc, the self-deprecating sidekick to the skinny protagonist. The one that will never be the object of desire because they are ‘not beautiful’. These narratives are rarely questioned, because our common understanding is that fatness is meant to be something hilarious, disgusting, or both.
We can also see this online: all you need to do is look at the comments underneath pictures of fat girls online. For example, Sofie Hagen, a fat feminist comedian, recently posted a picture of herself on holiday in Dubai, and the comments ranged from “die, you fat bitch” to “f*cking pig, kill yourself.” Fat hate is everywhere. It is even more intensified if you are a fat black woman; Stephanie Yeboah wrote a fantastic article about this for LAPP, and I urge you all to read it. Even plus size models, who are meant to represent fat women, are slimmer than the fat people who will be buying their clothes, the people they supposedly represent, and these models are often the ‘perfect’ hourglass shape with big boobs and bum that society lauds, i.e., acceptable fat. This goes to show that fatphobia is so prevalent that models who don’t even look slightly like their target market are being hired to represent them, because the fashion world is disgusted by visibly fat people.
And this is just pop culture – fatphobia goes so much deeper than this, to the point where it infiltrates even our health services. A perfect example of this is the story of Roger Logan – a man whose health problems were dismissed because he was told he was “too fat,” who actually turned out to have a 9 stone (that’s 130lb) tumour in his stomach for years. His potentially life-threatening issue was ignored because of his size. Many fat people have reported having problems with their doctors, or being hesitant to visit them, because their problems are reduced to their weight, rather than taken seriously. As there is an assumption that fat people are unhealthy, it’s a social norm for skinnier people to take it upon themselves to play doctor themselves, to ask questions about fat peoples’ health under the guise of concern – when let’s be real, these people would not be saying “I’m just worried about your health” to a skinny person eating a burger. We must remember that health is NOT a size.
It goes even further. Fat people are victims of the ‘fat tax’ – fat people often have to pay more for their clothes. It is even harder for fat people to get jobs compared to skinnier people – a study conducted by Sheffield Hallam University in 2016 found that fat women were less likely to be hired than fat men, and fat people were less likely to get a job because employers believed they were “less physically capable” and “slothful”. In a recent interview with Gabrielle Deydier, a fat woman living in Paris who recently released a book on her experiences of fatphobia, she reported that during a job interview she was told “it’s well known that IQ is inversely proportional to body weight.” Deydier also described an instance where her employers gave her a deadline of 30 days to lose weight, to show she was ‘committed to the job’. When she did not lose weight, she lost her job.
These are just a few examples of just how deep fatphobia goes. It has infiltrated our minds to the point where disgust toward fat people is a societal norm. Fatphobia is the reason why societies across the world are so weight conscious – because we dread the idea of being fat. For many, fat is the worst insult in the world. Fat is not a bad word. Society has weaponised the word ‘fat’, we’ve internalised this fat hate and made fatness our enemy. Fatness is not the enemy – the beauty standards that have been shoved down our throats to limit us are. The idea that one body is better than another is our enemy too. It is ok to be fat. It is normal to be fat. There is nothing wrong with being fat. Fat doesn’t automatically mean ‘unhealthy’, and even if someone is unhealthy, it does not mean that a fat person is undeserving of respect. Our bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that is normal.
As with every instance of oppression, there is a privilege attached. In this case, this is thin privilege. Thin privilege is being able to go to the doctor and have your health problems taken seriously. Thin privilege is seeing your body represented and celebrated everywhere you look. It is eating in public without having to worry whether anyone’s going to ask whether you should be eating that. It is walking into any shop and being able to find clothes in your size. It is not having to think about whether someone will question your ability to do a job based on your size. As with any form of privilege, it is a part of your life that you never think to question. However, we must.
As a UK size 14, I personally have a body type that would be societally classified as ‘chubby’ or *rolls eyes* ‘curvy’. By profession I am an inbetweenie model, as I am on the smaller scale of plus size – not quite straight size, not quite plus size. Although I have experienced small instances of fatphobia in the past, I benefit greatly from and experience thin privilege due to my size. I am constantly trying to unlearn the fatphobia I have internalised, and it is key that we all start to do the same. We have been fed an idea of what a good body and a bad body is by society, and this is tied to so many things – race, gender, ability, sexuality, class, but also fatness. We must start to dismantle and challenge these ideas of what constitutes as a good and bad body. Some incredible fat activists who do this and write about fatphobia include Your Fat Friend, Stephanie Yeboah, Kiva Bay , Ok2BeFat, Ashleigh Shackelford, Leah Vernon and Bethany Rutter. I recommend highly that you follow them, so you can learn more about fatphobia.
Fatphobia is a form of oppression that many of us do not think about, but we must acknowledge it. For too long have we taken fatphobia as a given, but we mustn’t. We have been socially conditioned to be disgusted by fatness and we must challenge the preconceptions we have about fat bodies. We must learn more about fatphobia in order to tackle it and learn to be accepting of ALL bodies, especially those that are oppressed. There is no wrong way to have a body; it is only society that makes us think that way.
Written by Kitty Underhill
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