That’s a Fat Lie

Posted on in Healthy Living by Zoë Brian

What Diet Culture Tells Us About Fat People

Fat. We all have it, and some have more than others. Those of us with more have to deal with certain negative stereotypes that society attributes to fat people. This is a result of diet culture, a set of beliefs that equate thinness with goodness, beauty, and health, and claims that being thin is directly tied to a person’s worth. It asserts that thin bodies are ideal in terms of health, attraction, sexuality, and morality, and that fat bodies are the opposite, deserving of oppression and mistreatment. As with rape culture, the insidious nature of diet culture permeates every aspect of our common experience.

Like many millennials, I take issues of social justice very seriously. But even in the most open-minded company of my peers I am still confronted with fat phobia. Anti-fatness is so embedded that it is often not recognized as a bias. Harvard’s Implicit Bias test found that 75% of people showed a preference for thin over fat people. When asked to self-report, 40% of participants said they had no bias about weight. We are subconsciously influenced by diet culture far more than we think.

Addressing these ingrained biases is hard work, requiring an uncomfortable level of vulnerability and self-reflection. Here are three widespread assumptions that are worth another look.

Fat is a bad word.

Fat is a neutral term that has been given a negative connotation. The same way I describe myself as short, brunette, or pale, I describe myself as fat. At which point I am often exhorted, “No! Don’t say that. You are beautiful!” Even with good intention, it assumes that being fat and beautiful are mutually exclusive. I know I’m beautiful. I also know I am fat, and your telling me that I’m not reveals more about your bias than it does my beauty.

When I describe myself as fat, I celebrate myself. It is important for me to own terms and create community around them. I’m a proud member of the chub rub club; the fatmily; the gothiccs. I have a fan that reads “fat bitch” and a pin that says, “Ask me about my fat girl agenda.” I’m not afraid of the word, and I don’t want you to be, either.

Fat is an indication of ill health.

Many people assume that fat people are unhealthy. But we know better—health looks different for every person. There are plenty of fat people who run, practice yoga, lift weights, with ideal cholesterol numbers and great blood pressure. Fat people are continually subjected to scrutiny and commentary about their health from strangers. Assessing someone’s health based on body size is impossible, and probably not your business.

woman in bright clothes

A fat little secret no one tells you is that we can dance, skate, run marathons, hike, and rock climb with the best of them. If you want to know what my body is capable of, you’re going to have to get to know me. And try not to look surprised when I bust into the splits.

All fat people want to be thin/are trying to lose weight.

Diet culture has brainwashed us into believing that thinness is the ultimate goal. Telling someone they have lost weight is considered a compliment, but you might be commenting on something they have no control over. Imagine telling someone they look great as a result of chemotherapy or an eating disorder.

Try focusing your compliments on something other than their body. Praise their character, kindness, or energy, or focus on something that was clearly their choice, like that quirky necklace or those awesome boots. And don’t assume every fat person is unhappy with their body. There are plenty of fat people who feel sexy, beautiful, and happy. We don’t all want to be thin, but we all want to be treated with the same respect.

Does your weight reflect your passions or your interests? Does the number on your scale tell the story of who you really are? Your weight is the least interesting thing about you. So why would you use it to define me? Don’t let diet culture brainwashing get in the way of getting to know an incredible person.

Think about the displeasure, shame, or frustration you may have with your body, and ask yourself why you feel that way. Does the soft belly that protects your organs or provides a comfy headrest for a beloved pet deserve to be treated with disgust? No. Why not embrace your body as it is and thank it for everything it does for you instead?

Diversity in body size is a beautiful and natural thing. Fat is simply another part of being human. When we take the time to examine our assumptions, we will begin to end the mindless war on fat. It’s time to make peace with all of the beautiful bodies in the world, including our own.

Zoë Brian is a queer fat activist, diet culture dropout, and scale smasher from Kansas City, Kansas. She received her BA in biology from Smith College and her MSc in equality studies from University College Dublin. Her thesis — “It’s Not Over ‘til the Fat Lady Sings: Fat Representation in Popular Music Videos From 2008-2018.”

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