2020 is hindsight, so let’s look back at it. The 90’s and 00’s: the time of Fat Monica on Friends, “heroin chic” and a burgeoning diet culture with the sudden hysteria surrounding the so-called Obesity Epidemic. Even before social media, fat-shaming was omnipresent and inescapable. It was in the tabloids at the store, on TV and movies, weaponized in our lexicon, and in the endless pulsation of crash diets from Atkins to Jenny Craig. At the time, it seemed like an ordinary and intuitive part of life.
Now in the age of social media, body acceptance, body positivity and self-love have emerged as movements countering the stigma of fat. But the damage is done; fat is a bastion of legalized discrimination (alongside being transgender) in America that is almost universally justified for being rooted in health “concerns;” fatness is mocked, derided and erased in every corner of society; it is something most of us actively fear and devote great time and effort to diminish. It’s woven into our beauty standards, our culture, our sense of worth, and our immense collective and individual shame.
Almost 80 percent of adults in America qualify as “overweight.” The vast majority of figures in Hollywood who affirm our beauty standards are incredibly thin. Most of us won’t ever meet those standards, but we remain attached to developing “beach bodies,” devouring weight loss journey porn and shaming ourselves and our peers for failing to meet these arbitrary and unrealistic standards.
Fat-shaming is beneficial for absolutely no one. It is a product of and engine for a system that profits on self-hatred and the fallacy that we can spend more money or work our way into becoming worthy and lovable. A great deal of unnecessary suffering results from internalizing and projecting the belief that fat is inherently bad and/or ugly.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Life is too short to spend it piling on shame and guilt for having the audacity to exist as we are. It’s time for us to introspect and create a more loving society that allows us to feel good and safe and worthy in the bodies that we have. So, let’s dive into six considerations that will contextualize how and why we must get rid of fat-shaming.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
1. Fat-shaming is not about “health concerns”
Common first line of defense for fat-shaming: It’s okay to make derogatory comments about people when it’s done out of “concern for their health,” right? Wrong. So incredibly wrong. There are three main components to debunking this specious reasoning: 1) “Healthy” is relative and looks different for different people, 2) Fat-shaming itself is the most dangerous detractor for health and wellbeing, and 3) It’s ignorant, cruel and unproductive to single out fat out of “concerns” for public health without interrogating the broader system.
THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO BE “HEALTHY”
“Healthy” is a loaded word. Health is an extremely subjective concept — sure, we can probably agree that alive is “healthier” than dead, but we also still can’t even come to a conclusion about whether or not butter is healthy. The pendulum swingeth for carbs and fats and the “right” amount of sleep and exercise you should get, medicines and supplements you should take and so on. The only certainty in this whirlpool of wellness warnings is change, although you wouldn’t know it by the way we latch onto new “scientific breakthroughs” such as the keto diet as if their unequivocal success was some primordial truth that we’ve suddenly remembered.
The point is, “healthy” is relative and different for every body. Even the standard by which we have come to officially define fatness, the BMI, is derived from research conducted on predominantly white, male bodies. This contributes to what the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) refers to as “Poodle Science” in a lovely video they made. Basically, we’re projecting poodle body size standards onto all the diverse breeds of dog. And it’s pretty ridiculous to base Great Dane and pug body and health standards on the proportions and needs of a poodle.
The CDC reports that almost 80% of adults and approximately one-third of children in the US qualify as clinically overweight or obese. While this certainly sounds like data that could ring all the alarms of an “epidemic,” there’s a lot more that meets the eye. Aside from the arbitrary and biased standards upon which the standard of “normal” was conceived, the word “fat” itself tends to a elicit a fervently negative response (more on that later) — so much so, that few people can grok the notion that you can be fat and healthy at the same time!
Many studies have verified that the lowest risks of all types of mortality (including heart-related mortality) is found in people considered overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) — as in, there was a 12 percent lower risk of death in overweight people than those with “normal” weight (BMI between 20 and 24.9). The highest risk of mortality was found in underweight patients (with BMI under 20). There wasn’t even a clear increased risk of heart-related mortality until people reached a BMI above 35.
There are so many fat people who are active, strong, and healthy, despite the misconception that fatness is the consequence of poor personal choices and/or laziness. And for those who still reject the reality that fat can be healthy, know that there hasn’t ever been a long-term study that examined fat people who lost weight from dieting, comparing weight and health outcomes to people who have always been thin. So if your solution to alleged “health concerns” about fat people is that they lose weight so they can eventually meet your criteria for healthy and then be worthy of basic human dignity and respect, you should go back to the drawing board or mind your own business.
What’s wrong here? Many things. For one, we exist in a culture that so vehemently worships thinness (see this reflected in runways and advertisements literally everywhere) that we register it as the pinnacle of “health” without considering that there’s more than meets the eye. This isn’t only detrimental to the legions of non-overweight people with anorexia and bulimia, it’s harmful to the disproportionately high number of overweight people with those same eating disorders that the general public can’t “see” and therefore disbelieves. And it’s also toxic to the rest of a society that so deeply internalizes and projects the idea that fat=evil that almost half of 3- to 6- year old girls are worried about being fat.
Modern society so flagrantly and incessantly reinforces fat-shaming that we are conditioning ourselves, our peers and our children to fundamentally hate ourselves when we don’t fit the ideal “health” and beauty standard. And this has extremely dangerous consequences.
FAT-SHAMING IS THE GREATEST DANGER
The gravest threat to public health is fat-shaming itself. Publicly and casually shaming fat is a very normal, and deeply institutionalized part of our culture. In every state except Michigan, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against fat people. Fat people are ostracized, ignored and condemned by doctors, family, friends and peers alike, excluded from media representation (aside from appearing as headless torsos on news stories about fat or exploited for humor at their expense), and, if you happen to also be a womxn, a transgender person, disabled and/or person of color, largely stripped of any political and cultural power.
Fat-shaming doesn’t facilitate weight loss, either. In fact, a litany of studies show it does the exact opposite — “when people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.” And that can cause profound physical and mental health issues among fat people, who are constantly being told that their bodies are wrong, and that they aren’t worthy of love, let alone basic respect and dignity, until they become smaller.
As referenced above, fat people have higher risk of anorexia and bulimia, but that is rarely addressed by healthcare professionals who can’t see past BMI. In her wonderful manifesto, You Have the Right to Remain Fat, fat activist Virgie Tovar recounts disturbing encounters with a doctor as a teenager after losing weight with an eating disorder:
“I went to my family’s doctor to show off my new body. Dr. McCole always tried to incentivize my weight loss by telling me that when I got thin he would let me date one of his sons. I used to laugh when he said that, slightly humiliated but still wanting to earn the right to make his sons love me. As I sat on the exam table, he congratulated me on my lowered weight. He did not ask me how I lost the weight. He did not ask me what I was or wasn’t eating. It didn’t matter. Literally no one seemed to care. He believed, like most, that when a fat woman — or girl — loses weight it’s always positive no matter how the loss happened.”
Tovar’s story is far from unique. As Michael Hobbes reported last year in a Huffington Post article about obesity, “doctors have shorter appointments with fat patients and show less emotional rapport in the minutes they do have. Negative words — ‘noncompliant,’ ‘overindulgent,’ ‘weak willed’ — pop up in their medical histories with higher frequency. In one study, researchers presented doctors with case histories of patients suffering from migraines. With everything else being equal, the doctors reported that the patients who were also classified as fat had a worse attitude and were less likely to follow their advice. And that’s when they see fat patients at all: In 2011, the Sun-Sentinel polled OB-GYNs in South Florida and discovered that 14 percent had barred all new patients weighing more than 200 pounds.”
The outcome of this ubiquitous conduct is that higher-weight patients are more likely to avoid doctors — and this can be lethal. Multiple studies have shown that fat women are at higher risk of dying from breast and cervical cancers than non-fat women, in part due to their reluctance to interact with doctors. Furthermore, as Hobbes reports, “thin women [with eating disorders]… take around three years to get into treatment, while [overweight] participants spent an average of 13 and a half years waiting for their disorders to be addressed.”
Shame and stigma perpetuate conditions that actively endanger fat people in medical contexts, but it extends far beyond that. They also have a harder time finding work, make less money, (especially if they’re women, but more on that later) and again, have low job stability since they are not federally protected against discrimination.
This is one form of discrimination that we have allowed to fester in the open; a study analyzing Harvard implicit and explicit bias test results from 2007 to 2016 showed improvement or neutrality in reported bias across all categories (race, sexuality, age, disability and skin tone) except for body weight, which increased 15%. And this enjoys bipartisan support — even [neo]liberal darlings like smug asshole Bill Maher gleefully champion fat-shaming.
The prevalence of diet culture is a testament to how we all recognize (and consciously or unconsciously perpetuate) the reality that stigmatizing fat isn’t at all about health — it’s about having “acceptable” bodies in order to be deemed worthy of existing.
CAPITALISM (AND FAT-SHAMING) ARE BAD FOR PUBLIC HEALTH
We’ll explore further below, but if your concerns are about public health, then you can’t neglect how mental health and belonging factor into wellbeing; bullying a group of people into isolation and harm based on “concerns” that the visible part of them that you don’t like may cause them to live a few years less than others hardly seems beneficent.
If your concern is sincerely rooted in public health, you should be focused on building compassion, community, and fostering inclusivity for people of all sizes, genders, races and abilities. You should be questioning how and why the systems and institutions you belong to perpetuate fat-shaming (we’ll come back to this later). And you should definitely be interrogating if and how the alleged “health concerns” propounded by fat-shaming — usually some babble about fat impeding longevity, and/or contempt at the obtuse preoccupation that fatness costs taxpayers too much money — actually stand to improve individual and collective health and wellbeing, as such “compassionate” concerns would suggest.
2. Fat is not inherently bad or ugly
An essential part of confronting fat-shaming is addressing the assumption that fat is inherently “bad” or “ugly” — it’s NOT. Beauty and morality are both entirely abstract constructs; the meaning we attach to them is produced by the environments we were raised in and move through. Human nature has a clear tendency to create and abide by beauty and morality in our surroundings, and that’s not a bad thing. What’s bad and unnecessary (and I believe unnatural, which we’ll discuss in #6) is when we invoke these arbitrary standards as justification for harming ourselves and anyone who doesn’t conform to them.
Just as the Bechdel Test shows how little substantive representation women receive in movies and media, a paltry 2% of media images of women feature plus size bodies. A recent study found that only 11 percent of fat people depicted in news reports wore professional clothing; almost 60 percent were literally headless torsos. We’re surrounded at all hours of the day with images that extol the virtue of thinness — magazine covers, billboards, Instagram and TV ads, and all of the idle chatter from peers, coworkers, and loved ones lamenting weight gain and celebrating the loss of it. It is literally impossible to avoid if you live in society.
The average adult consumes 15.5 hours of media per day. The human brain can process up to 400 billion bits of information a second, but we are consciously aware of only about 2,000 bits a second. That is a lot of processing and internalizing of all kinds of messages that we may or may not *consciously* or intentionally believe. The sheer magnitude of thinness presented as beautiful and aspirational in our media, particularly when juxtaposed with the limited contexts in which we see fatness (mainly blurred faces in fearmongering news stories about fat epidemics, as sources of laughter, and/or features of before-and-after diet porn selling the slimming scam of the moment) reinforces a core belief in the ugliness and unworthiness of fat bodies. But that still doesn’t make it true or necessary.
Changing beauty standards and conceptions of goodness are part and parcel to time and human existence; just as togas and hoop skirts came and went, so too did slavery and Prohibition. It is entirely possible to shift cultural attitudes about what is good and beautiful. As Tovar notes in her book, “in parts of Mauritania and Niger, fat rolls and stretch marks are considered the height of feminine beauty.” There is nothing fixed or permanent about beauty and morality. But changing these constructs requires an open and discerning look at what motivates defensive reactions in challenging the status quo.
3. Who gets to take up space? (Hint: not women, people of color, trans people, etc.)
Change may be the nature of existence, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that many of us like it — even when it stands to directly benefit us. Remember how most adults in America are overweight? Seems strange then that most of Hollywood (the people who appear in media that we regard as “admirable” or #goals) looks like Gwyneth Paltrow.
Representation doesn’t just have the effect of making us feel included, it can directly influence our self-esteem and the ways we imagine ourselves existing in the world. And this isn’t just about Hollywood. This applies to all avenues of life that reinforce political, economic and cultural power.
Governor Chris Christie, like Donald Trump, is a fat white man who has committed several crimes and maintained public office. How many politicians who are fat women, with or without multiple scandals, can you name? In fact, how many fat actresses can you name who aren’t comedians? Fat femme singers other than the goddess Lizzo or Adele? Stories with fat femme protagonists? This is not to undermine the profound pressures and pains that are inflicted onto ALL fat bodies in a fatphobic society; it is to highlight the various intersections of identity that can amplify those pressures and pains in certain populations more than others. “Overweight” characterizes most of the US population, so there’s going to be a lot of different experiences. The question to ask in relation to this is, literally and figuratively, who gets to take up space?
The answer clearly isn’t fat women and femmes. This isn’t surprising, given how little space “normal” sized womxn are allowed to take up. Gender is one of many factors that can amplify the severity of marginalization if you’re fat in America. Race, ability, sexuality, class, age, religion, etc. can also compound layers of oppression. A study from 2012 showed that black women are more likely to become depressed from internalizing weight stigma than white women. Black and Hispanic teens also have significantly higher rates of bulimia. When you exist in a society that is constantly trying to disempower and erase you, it takes a serious mental and physical toll.
Coming back to political representation for a moment (the branch of society that creates and legislates on some of the greatest matters affecting economics and culture) — the history of representation in US governors is a revealing microcosm of who really gets the power to take up (and create and change) space.
The United States has had over 2300 governors in its history. Only 44 of those have been women, 26 have been people of color, 6 of those have been disabled, 2 have been openly gay or lesbian, and 0 have been openly transgender. When you consider how recently legalized discrimination was overturned for most of these groups (and how it continues to proliferate across the spectrum for each of them, the worst of which being the extant legality of openly discriminating against transgender people — surely a contributing factor in 50% of transgender youth having attempted suicide), these disturbing numbers add up.
Women constitute about 50% of the US population, and people of color almost 30%. When the numbers are as grotesquely distorted as they are with regards to power and representation in America, there’s a reason: control. You can’t maintain a system as violently stratified as capitalism without maintaining control over who “belongs” and who does not.
4. Capitalism is the only winner in fat-shaming
The indoctrination that fat is “wrong” is so entrenched, so personal and so painful, it can be difficult to conceive of any other meaning. Consider for a moment a few statistics to frame the colossal force you’re up against when you attempt some form of body acceptance:
- The weight loss industry in America reached a record $72 billion as of early 2019
- Fashion in the US is a $250 billion+ per year industry
- Beauty was an almost $19 billion industry in 2018
- $500 billion is spent worldwide on advertising each year
POOR NUTRITION IS NOT ABOUT POOR PERSONAL DECISIONS
Americans love the personal choice canard — it’s the foundation of neoliberalism, also expressed as “The American Dream,” wherein you can simply choose to be whatever you want to be. You can be rich, poor, healthy, unhealthy, beautiful, ugly, industrious or lazy. “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps” is so ingrained in our culture, that individual choices are always culpable, and it’s heresy (or further evidence of alleged laziness) to suggest that institutions may contribute to or even be the root cause of injustice. Ironic, of course, given the fundamental design of capitalism is to keep some people suffering so that others can become wealthy and powerful.
Many people look at fatness and have some thought process along the lines of, “If only you put down the McDonald’s, you wouldn’t look like that.” And make no mistake, these are thoughts that are nonchalantly and vituperatively vocalized to fat people all the time. Hypothetically, even if fat people did become and/or stay fat by eating McDonald’s (which, by the way, fatness can be attributed in large part to genetics, medical conditions, and many other factors that are none of your business), consider the context in which fast food is likely to be consumed.
An estimated 39.7 million Americans live in poverty. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, and about 1.3 million Americans are making less than that. Many people work multiple jobs just to survive and provide for their families. Economic inequality is the worst it’s been in 50 years, and it’s growing. Jeff Bezos makes $4,474,885 an hour. That’s roughly 157 times the median annual worker pay at Amazon of $28,466. It’s all well and good if you can afford the luxury of buying organic food, paying for exercise classes and having childcare and/or domestic support while you juggle the life of “having it all,” but that’s simply not accessible to most Americans. Fast food is just that — it’s quick for people who are struggling in this vitriolic economy/society, and it staves off hunger and death.
There’s also a phenomenon called “food deserts” impacting around 23.5 million Americans, meaning it is virtually impossible to find fresh, nutritious food. These so-called deserts are characteristic of highly impoverished areas — including cities. And surprise! They disproportionately affect people of color. Sometimes fast food is the only way to feed oneself and one’s family.
Eric Holt-Giménez explores the broken food system (as well as how it relates to poverty, neoliberalism, animal torture and climate change) in his brilliant book, A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism. The gist is, mass agriculture (which allows McDonald’s, Subway, Walmart and the other handful of large-scale food suppliers and retailers, chemical and seed giants and mass agribusinesses in America to scale production at low cost) actually does have deleterious effects on public health. But public policy (ranging from deregulation begetting dangerous monopolies and oligopolies like Monsanto, to the infiltration of Big Food into government, to disproportionate subsidization of highly caloric foods like corn for addictive low-cost foods pumped with high-fructose corn syrup) favors a globalized neoliberal agenda, which is fancy jargon for — keep you hamstrung but insatiably spending money no matter the cost.
While you can pour blame onto individuals for not choosing whole wheat bread at Subway instead of white bread after 12 hours of working a laborious job making under minimum wage, it doesn’t mean you should. You’re better served directing your disapproval at the system itself, which deliberately upholds cycles of malnutrition so that fast food and big agro CEOs can get rich on the backs of poor people everywhere. The system benefits from the same people who are victimized by income inequality/corporatocracy internalizing the belief that the poor are entirely to blame for these issues.
CAPITALISM PROFITS FROM SELF-LOATHING
Capitalism is an economic model that is based on endless growth. How do you keep the economy growing? You keep people buying things. If people bought only what they needed, the economy would never grow; the key to successful capitalism is manufacturing “needs” so that people continue buying things they don’t actually need. What’s the best way to get people to buy something they don’t need but feel like they do? Convince them that they are incomplete or inadequate, under the premise that buying new products or ideas will “fix” them. This is precisely how diet culture works.
Remember, the combined worth of the diet, fashion and beauty industries is almost $350 billion per year — more than the GDP of most countries on earth. These are the corporate monoliths that perpetuate much of what forms societal beauty standards (and increasingly global beauty standards as Western culture, including white supremacy, spreads throughout the world in a globalized and hyper-connected world). And if you don’t fit in, well, there’s something you can buy to fix that — Botox, a new wardrobe, skin whitening cream, weight loss tea or liposuction, to name a few. Behold, the American dream!
Part of the absurdity of this cycle of voracious “you aren’t good enough, so spend money to fix yourself” cycle is that diets largely don’t even work. Millions of people tuned in for the pornographic fatphobia circus known as The Biggest Loser. And despite studies showing that not only did the vast majority of contestants regain all of the weight they lost — some gained even more than they began with (recall above that no study has shown that dieting is effective long-term) — the voyeuristic desire to witness people become smaller in seemingly magical “transformations” persists.
CDC data showed almost half of adults in America attempted to lose weight within the calendar year from 2013–2016. A 2014 Gallup Poll showed that 45% of Americans worry about their weight “all” or “some of the time,” which is significantly higher than the 34% who reported this level of worry in 1990. Fat-shaming is directly correlated with higher sales across the industries that promise to “correct” the sin of having a large body.
2015 Playmate of the Year Dani Mathers was sentenced after fat-shaming a 70 year-old woman at her gym by posting a Snapchat of the unsuspecting naked woman’s body with the caption “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.” Had she not un-consensually taken the photo of the woman naked, this would likely just be another perfectly ordinary blip in the infinite sea of fat-shaming by “model” citizens and public figures. These are the people who sell us products and ideas as an effective corollary of self-loathing.
In her book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf writes “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in history. A quietly mad population is a tractable one.” When we believe ourselves to be inherently wrong or bad in our own bodies, we don’t question the relics and residue of mass media that reinforce our self-hatred, and thus can’t regulate or diminish these violent sales pitches.
5. Fat-shaming is about power, fear and projection
We’ve established that fat-shaming is not about compassionate health concerns. We’ve addressed how capitalism and intersectional identities factor into fat-shaming. But why do we fat-shame? It’s hard to disrupt toxic patterns if we don’t acknowledge them and understand the basis for their existence in the first place. The answer is complex, but also quite simple: We’re afraid of losing control, so we project our fear onto others.
Capitalism, along with its bedfellows racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, ageism and so on, is entirely about power and control. Mass consumption is the paragon of Western society, but we simultaneously hold a collective guilt or disdain for our insatiable consumerism. Part of this shows up in our projection of anger and “wrongness” onto bodies because we perceive them as products of out-of-control consumption (and in turn, we blame them for our own fears of consuming beyond control, or depriving ourselves of real joy).
Fat bodies conjure more than just internal struggles with accumulation and self-control; above all, I believe the hatred projected onto fat bodies comes from our fears of death. The same beauty industry that endlessly shames fatness is also built on a Peter Pan-esque terror about aging. These are related. American media and culture are shrouded in messages about fat being inferior, “unhealthy” and contributing to early death; these messages goad us towards diets and beliefs that we have full agency over our beauty, health and mortality. We don’t.
Death is the only guarantee in life. American society is so panicked by death (because it is beyond our control, no matter how much money or fame we possess) that we deeply repress it and ignore it. We warehouse older people out of sight and take extreme measures to make it look as if we never age (and perpetually celebrate those who manage this well). We rejoice when celebrities who have given birth emerge from disconcertingly tiny margins of time showing off their “snapback” bodies — as though this transformation was accessible or even advisable for a normal person.
For all our painful and overwhelmingly futile efforts to stave off death, we fall victim to cycles of self-blame and self-hatred in light of conditions that we believe either reflect or contribute to declining health. Think of this as the tension between the reptilian, survival area of our brains and our meaning-, reason- and connection-focused neocortex. This cognitive dissonance is what we project onto fat bodies. It is imperative that we stop violently projecting moral values onto others’ bodies due to personal fears of being out of control, not fitting in and/or dying.
As Ragen Chastain writes, “Health is multi-dimensional and includes things within and outside of our control including genetics, environment, access, and behaviors. Health is not an obligation, nor is it a barometer of worthiness. Nobody owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behavior,” and those who aren’t interested in health are not better or worse people than those who are interested in health. Prioritization of health and the path that someone chooses to get there are intensely personal and not anybody else’s business. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not health or healthy habit dependent. People who have health issues should be given options for care and accommodation as they wish, not judged or asked to prove that their health issues are not their fault.”
6. “You can have radical self-love because you already are radical self-love”
Fat-shaming harms everyone. Ashleigh Shackelford writes in Teen Vogue, “We become terrified of what it would mean for us to be fat because we understand fundamentally how poorly fat people are treated. We transpose that bigotry onto the fat itself, rather than placing the blame where it belongs: on the culture that created and promotes injustice and fat hatred.” We don’t need to function this way. And I don’t believe that it’s in our nature to deliberately cause harm in this manner.
Yes, we all die. But every single body that exists is also a miracle and a gift — regardless of size, shape, race, ability, longevity, gender, sexuality — in the scheme of the Earth’s 4.5 billion years, our tiny slivers of life are precious. That our bodies breathe and metabolize energy in harmony with the Earth is astounding. From the beating of our hearts to the ability to laugh to the senses that enable us to experience meaning through art, connection and nature, we are infinitely beautiful and fortunate.
What an unnecessary tragedy to spend so much of our lives believing there is something wrong with us; that we’re unworthy of love because our bodies don’t look the way a traumatized culture said they “should.” In her groundbreaking book The Body Is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor writes that “you can have radical self-love because you already are radical self-love.” You were born as a perfect expression of life and love, and whether your BMI is 20 or 40, you still are a perfect expression of love. Right now — not after you lose 20 pounds.
The Buddha said “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Self-love is only a radical concept because it contradicts everything we’re socialized to believe about ourselves from a society that profits from our self-hatred. But it is our birthright to feel safe and content and loved in our own bodies, and it is always possible for us to come back to that.
As we learn to unconditionally love our own bodies, we become less susceptible to toxic societal beauty standards and more unconditionally accepting and loving towards all bodies. It is not fat that is “bad,” it’s the conditioning that has led us to believe that any part of us perceived as “flawed” makes us unworthy of dignity and love. No one, nothing is “perfect,” and that is part of the beauty of life. We can still be motivated, intentional and productive beings and accept ourselves and each other as we are.
Reflect on how your choices as a consumer, your language and the way you regard yourself perpetuate these cycles of fat-shaming. Ask yourself what it would feel like if you didn’t carry the baggage of conditionally loving yourself only when you achieved weight goals — imagine and feel it as if it were true. Try surrounding yourself with voices of fat activists and people advocating for a radical form of love, acceptance and change rather than those of people who reaffirm that something is “wrong” with you if you don’t perfectly conform to the white supremacist, patriarchal, ableist status quo.
Stop using “fat” when you mean “bad” or “ugly.” And don’t ignore it either — like colorblindness, that doesn’t work. It’s a descriptor, and like reconciling racism, part of the solution to cultivating justice is in making peace with our differences. Sonya Renee Taylor writes that when we make peace with that, as well as with not needing to understand everyone and everything, and making peace with ourselves, we create the truly liberated and loving society that we deserve. It all starts within.
Resources for further learning and self-love:
Books and zines:
- Virgie Tovar’s “You Have the Right to Remain Fat”
- Sonya Renee Taylor’s “The Body is Not an Apology”
- Roxanne Gay’s “Hunger”
- Adrienne Maree Brown’s “Pleasure Activism”
- Shooglet’s “Bodies Like Oceans” zine
Fat-positive/radical self-love Instagram handles to follow:
Websites/writers to follow: