One of my most vivid childhood memories was going to Weight Watchers.
I was about 10. I would trudge up a set of attic-like stairs alongside similarly plump women in their 40s. The foods featured such delicious concoctions such as liver pâté and mackerel pudding.
It’s little wonder that rather than lose weight, I learned to sneak food whenever I could. At one point, I was even prescribed amphetamines in an effort to stop my hunger.
I know my parents wanted their best for me, but dieting did nothing more than damage my self-esteem.
Fatphobia is the stigma around people who are in larger bodies. Fatphobia is usually fear-based, with the thought that fat is somehow bad, unhealthy, or a sign of moral weakness. Closely connected is “Diet Culture,” a belief system that values thinness, size, and body shape over well-being. Diet culture is a billion-dollar industry, selling quick-fix diet foods, pills, creams, and even surgeries.
Diet culture also encompasses thin privilege, a world that accommodates thin people and discriminates against people in larger bodies. Look at most airline seats, which are extremely narrow, disparities in health insurance rates, and the difficulty some men and women have shopping in many clothing stores.
Fatphobia seeps into our lives in subtle ways. Maybe you’ve noticed the many jokes coming from the pandemic about the COVID-15. It’s referencing that we might come out of isolation with an extra 15 pounds because of all the eating we’re doing. What’s so subtle and damaging about this form of discrimination is that you don’t even realize it’s there.
I remember a meme on Facebook with several adorable baby girl toddlers dancing around in diapers lifting their shirts to show their developmentally appropriate chubby bellies, and it said, “Me after being released from quarantine.” My first response was, “That’s so cute,” before I caught it and went to, “That’s destructive.”
Fatphobia definitely affects people who are in larger bodies (or who believe they are). It can increase perfectionism, lower self-esteem, and contributes to budding eating disorders.
People in larger bodies are routinely stereotyped and stigmatized. Children begin to buy into this stigma at stunningly young ages. As an eating disorder specialist now, my youngest client was 5 years old and expressed the same fears about gaining weight and becoming “fat” that many of us harbor.
Do you have these fears?
If so, you may be more fatphobic than you realized. The good news: you can change this.
Some ways to combat fatphobia are:
1. Do not comment on your own (or other’s) bodies.
Negative comments, such as suggesting ways to lose weight or “tone-up,” hurt. Compliments can reinforce the thin ideal and promote dieting and eating disorders.
2. Quell the inner judge.
When you find yourself judging your own body, or others, challenge your inner voice. If you are trying to improve body image, you have a better chance of doing that if you are accepting of your own struggles. And you are not walking in someone else’s shoes.
3. Remember that there is no “perfect body.”
It just does not exist, despite the heavily photoshopped images we see online.
4. Challenge “fat jokes.”
If you hear others engaging in stigmatizing comments, say something. Let them know that such comments are disrespectful and harmful.
5. Appreciate your body.
It works hard for you every day. Do things that make your body feel good, like taking a warm bath.
Love yourself, no matter what your weight is. Change will only come from radical self-love and love for others.