In an increasingly “woke” world, it seems like fat-shaming is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. Unlike race, religion or gender identity, body size is fair game for exclusion from hiring, and it is considered socially acceptable to be disgusted or repelled by fat people. In many ways, fatphobia is the last presently accepted prejudice. This hatred is woven deep into our culture, and the damage isn’t limited to overweight and obese people. You may be thinking that you, yourself, could not possibly be fatphobic. However, the sad truth is that, like so many prejudices, fatphobia is insidious and woven into the very foundation of our society.
What is fatphobia?
At its most basic, fatphobia is a fear of fatness. It refers to discrimination, bias and negative stereotypes aimed at fat people and their bodies. Also called weight stigma, the term also refers to the many beliefs, behaviors and attitudes surrounding the anti-fatness culture facing people of higher weight. Fatphobia can be overtly mean (such as public fat-shaming tweets or anti-fat statements from comedians and public figures) or much more subtle (friends and family offering unsolicited weight-loss advice).
The following ideas are a call to action for those looking to truly dismantle fatphobia and fat shaming in their own lives and work towards making the world a more accepting place for people of size. Confronting this ugliness head-on can help us accept ourselves more lovingly, along with strangers and loved ones alike. As someone who has been obese for most of her adult life, this author is here to tell you that one kind person can make a world of difference. Be the change. Start with these simple steps.
How to fight fatphobia and fat shaming
1. Don’t fear the word “fat.” It’s not a slur.
2. Don’t use the word “fat” as a slur. #obviously
3. Listen to your fat friends when they share a lived experience. Respect their preferences regarding how they self-describe: curvy, plus-sized, fluffy or fat (among others).
4. Accept that if you are a “normal” weight, you have thin privilege.
5. Amplify the voices of fat people. Retweet fat activists and share informative think pieces on your social media channels.
6. Understand that fat does not equal inherently unhealthy.
7. Know that there are fat people who exercise regularly—fat does not equal laz.
8. There are plenty of sexy fat people in the world.
9. Despite the three facts above, understand that the world is a hard place for people of size.
10. If you are a medical professional, examine the ample literature concerning the healthcare gap for fat people. Examine your biases, and don’t be too proud to admit your former negative attitude.
11. If you are friends with someone who is overweight, ask if they need an advocate at the doctor’s office.
13. Examine your own attitude. What assumptions do you make automatically when you see a fat person? Someone morbidly obese? An overweight person in a wheelchair or scooter? What do those images make you feel?
14. Go clothes shopping with your heavier loved one, and be empathetic to the lack of fashionable and affordable plus-size clothing. You can generally have one, but not both.
15. Support retailers who carry extended sizing in clothes, especially if they don’t charge more for the same item in plus- vs. straight-sizing.
16. Understand that not all clothing works for people of size.
17. Support your friend or loved one in choosing clothes that make them look and feel great.
18. Don’t couch your fatphobia in “health concerns.” We see right through it. Plus, studies show that weight stigma is actually a driver of the obesity epidemic, so thinly veiled comments really don’t help.
20. Don’t complain about how “fat” you are. It hurts our feelings.
21. While we’re at it, ditch: “You’d be so pretty/handsome if you’d lose weight!”
22. The same goes for backhanded compliments—when you say, “Aww, you have such a pretty face,” we know what is going unsaid.
23. Take a look at the world and see that it is not made for fat people.
24. If you are out for dinner with an overweight loved one, don’t request a booth. That moment of wondering if one is going to fit? Yeah, it sucks.
25. Don’t judge what a fat person eats if it happens not to be a salad. You are not their doctor, and you don’t know what else they ate today.
26. Understand that size is a spectrum, and if you are a “smaller” fat person, people larger than you always get judged more harshly and face more tremendous obstacles. Read up on “health at every size.”
27. Don’t cavalierly offer to become “gym buddies” with your fat loved one. The gym is a frequent site of shame and bullying for people of size. They may prefer to work out in the comfort of home, walk around the block or swim at a community pool.
28. Understand that a fat person faces more barriers to exercising, not the least of which is finding comfortable and supportive plus-size workout clothing. (Forget affordable—it never happens.)
29. Please don’t laugh when you see an overweight person exercising. Your attitude is one of many that could force them back on the couch.
30. Don’t assume that a fat person is weak or unfit.
31. Seriously reconsider the concept of the BMI chart. The BMI measurement doesn’t account for muscle mass, bone structure or gender and/or race differences. It’s time to throw it out as a diagnostic tool.
32. Okay, so maybe a particular fat person is unhealthy. So what?
33. Understand that fatphobia and ableism are intrinsically entwined.
34. Stop equating health with self-worth. People who are unhealthy for whatever reason—including obesity—still deserve to enjoy life, have companionship and access appropriate healthcare.
35. Similarly, understand that fatphobia and racism have a nasty intersection. POC of size—especially Black women—are often at the receiving end of ugly, outdated and generally disgusting stereotypes and assumptions.
36. Understand that fatphobia is rampant in the workplace.
37. Understand that there is a pay gap against fat people, who are often perceived as lazier or less capable than their “normal” coworkers.
38. If you are an employer, carefully examine your biases when a fat person comes for an interview. Do you view them as a candidate equal to someone else? Fight fatphobia by ensuring fair wages and fair hiring practices.
39. Statistically, fat people make a lot less money than their coworkers in equal positions—be open with overweight coworkers if they ask your salary to help create a more equitable workplace.
40. In the workplace, examine how accommodating the space is for fat people. Do all the chairs have arms? Does celebratory swag max out at size XL?
42. While “skinny-shaming” can also be a thing, it’s not equivalent to the experience of fat-shaming, since being thin also carries certain privileges that people with excess weight don’t have access to.
43. Don’t buy into mainstream depictions of beauty. Fat people are not the enemy. The beauty industry has profited off of consumers’ insecurities—primarily those of women—for decades.
44. The same thing goes for the diet industry. Industry leaders know that weight-loss scams like pills, creams, powders and “supplements” don’t work, but they do make a lot of money. Don’t fall for it.
45. If you yourself are on a weight loss journey, great! Please reconsider posting “before” and “after” pictures or share “thinspo” on social media because doing so can make a lot of people feel bad.
46. Let’s talk about weight-loss surgery, or WLS. The “nuclear option” for many fat people is also embroiled in controversy. It can be a great tool, but please help your fat loved one go into it—if they so choose—with eyes wide open.
47. Contrary to popular belief, WLS is not an “easy way out.” The process of getting approved for such a procedure can take years of heartache, with no guaranteed results. Don’t sell it to your loved one as a sort of “magic bullet.”
48. Don’t assume that everyone is trying to lose weight.
49. Stop couching food in terms like “cheating,” “bad for my diet” or “naughty.” Food doesn’t intrinsically possess those values; we assign them.
50. In a romantic relationship, don’t expect a fat person to be grateful because you’ve deemed them worthy of your love or your sexual attention.
51. Understand that fat people have sex and even enjoy it.
52. Don’t put pressure on your partner to lose weight. Feel free to leave if you aren’t attracted to them (that’s your right), but don’t make skinniness a condition of your love.
53. Don’t fat-shame even people you don’t like or know, like politicians or celebrities.
54. Understand that the world is not only unaccepting but actually painful for fat people.
55. Plane seats, roller coasters, waiting room chairs and plenty of everyday furniture pieces were just not made for fat people. Fear of not fitting, fear of breaking, fear of judgment … pain, both physical and mental, hides in plain sight. Know that.
56. If you are seated next to a fat person on a plane, don’t be mad at them—be mad at airlines.
57. On that note, do part of the emotional labor for fat people you know and love. Ask management at work for accessible seats. Ask retailers on social media why they stop sizing at XXL. Call out that restaurant server with a lousy attitude. Be an ally.
58. Consider unfollowing comedians who rely on fat jokes.
59. Don’t give money to moviemakers who utilize sight gags or script lines denigrating fat people. Vote with your wallet.
60. Take aim at writers who use fat as a shorthand for “evil” when it comes to antagonists. Kingpin? Ursula the Sea Witch? Professor Umbridge, anyone?
61. Give your financial support to fat creators on crowdfunding sites like Patreon.
62. Read books on fat liberation and fat acceptance.
63. Understand that fat activists don’t want everyone to be fat. We don’t care what size you are, and that’s the beauty of it! We just want acceptance for all.
64. Patronize brands that celebrate inclusiveness.
65. Don’t coo over celebs like Adele or Rebel Wilson for “looking so much better” now that they’ve lost a ton of weight. Celebrate that they hit their personal goals, but examine your mindset and how you talk about their weight loss journey.
66. If you yourself have been fat at some point in your life and have successfully lost weight, you are at a high risk of projecting old, self-facing hatred and scorn at the overweight and obese. Avoid, “I did it, so why can’t they?”
67. Stop viewing someone’s body size as a moral failing.
68. Understand that laziness is not always—or even usually—the cause of obesity. Many uncontrollable factors can make it much harder for people to lose weight, including medical problems, medications and even heredity.
69. If you are a parent, a fun aunt or any other caregiver of children, watch the way you talk about other people’s bodies. Children pick up on the attitudes of the adults in their lives. Do your part to squash fatphobia in the next generation.
70. Find unique ways to celebrate all the people in your life—fat or thin—in a way that has nothing to do with physical appearance.
71. Refrain from commenting on an acquaintance’s weight loss. You don’t know if it was intentional or wanted.
72. Speak up when you see instances of fatphobic behavior in your environment.
73. Let your fat loved ones know, explicitly, that you love them unconditionally and independent of shape or size.
74. Look in the mirror and examine your attitudes towards your own body. Accepting yourself as you are will make you more disposed towards accepting others.
Everyone shoulders the damage that fatphobia does to self-confidence, thin and heavy alike. Hold those in your life to a higher standard in how they talk about weight, self-love and dieting. In this way, you can be an ally to people living in shame and fear.
- CNBC: “Study finds you’re less likely to get hired if you’re overweight. Here’s how to avoid this bias”
- Frontiers in Psychology: “Stigma in Practice: Barriers to Health for Fat Women”
- BMC Medicine: “How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health”
- Psychology Today: “Is Fat Phobia in Medicine Harming Doctors and Patients?”
- National Eating Disorders Association: “Size Diversity and Health at Every Size”
- Medical News Today: “Why BMI is inaccurate and misleading”
- NPR: “Fat Phobia and Its Racist Past and Present”
- Frontiers in Psychology: “Obesity Discrimination in the Recruitment Process: “You’re Not Hired!””
- Forbes: “The price of obesity: How your salary depends on your weight”
- The Sydney Morning Herald: “Does the body positivity movement actually promote better health?”
- Time: “Legroom on Planes Has Been Shrinking for Years. It’s About to Get Much, Much Worse”