*Hint: It’s not to hunch over to show a stomach fold on Instagram while all your thin friends talk about how brave and inspiring you are.
If that came across a bit grouchy, then let me preface this by saying that I want us ALL to feel comfortable and safe in our bodies. In a fatphobic society, no one wins! Thin people are doing everything they can to avoid being fat while fat people know that no one wants to look like them. But the thing is, thin people struggling with body image still have equal access to employment, medical care, travel, and clothes while fat people face systemic oppression and continue to be excluded and dehumanized every single day. Body positivity goes far beyond liking what you see in the mirror. It’s about working to ensure that the most marginalized have access.
Here is a great article that talks about the harm of fatphobia in our healthcare system.
If you’ve lived your life in a smaller body, you may be unaware of the weight stigma that people in larger bodies face on a daily basis. For example, people in larger bodies may be afraid of going to a restaurant for fear of being unable to fit in a booth or because they may get yelled at or abused for… eating. Fat people often avoid going to the doctor as their medical complaints are often ignored and instead of getting help for symptoms, they’re told to lose weight. Many doctors have expressed repulsion at touching fat patients! People in larger bodies can’t even get clothes for their bodies which is so dehumanizing and makes it really hard to appear the way they’d like to appear for job interviews, let alone in life in general.
If these things bother you, here are 3 things you can do to show up for your fat friends.
- Stop talking about how fat you are.
Stop talking about your diet, stop talking about how much weight you want to lose, stop talking about how gross you are for eating dessert. Because there is no way to tear down your body without letting the fat people in your life know that you’re doing everything you can to avoid looking like them. Of course, people struggle with body dysmorphia at any size. But there are ways to discuss feeling uncomfortable in your body (though it’s helpful to ask for consent first) in a way that doesn’t reinforce out loud that fatness repulses you.
I also want to be clear that even if you say, “But I’m referring to ME. This has nothing to do with anyone else! I’d never think this about others.” It really doesn’t matter. This kind of language continues to reinforce that fatness is the worst thing in the world and it is really harmful to those in larger bodies.
2. Similarly, start working on unlearning fatphobia.
We’ve all grown up in a culture that is invested in teaching us that our bodies are problems in need of fixing. The diet industry is $70 billion dollars! Instead of saying that you’re not fatphobic, look at the ways that fat bias shows up in your life and work on unlearning what we’ve been taught since we were babies. Start following a diverse group of people on social media that look like you and that don’t look like you. That will help you normalize all kinds of bodies and it’s essential. Read up on diet culture and the history of anti-fatness. Speak up when you hear someone being attacked for their size.
3. Speak up
Every time you’re shopping for clothes request that the brands expand their size range, whether they go to a 12 or a 26. People in larger bodies have just 3% of the options that are available to straight sizes but once we hit a 26-28, the available options in TOTAL are about 8-10 stores. If they’re not your style and you hate them, too bad. And that’s not okay! Let’s speak up and demand that brands expand their size ranges.
And when you see brands only posting thin people on their social media, again – speak up. Ask for more diversity. We need thin people to be speaking up too. We need people to be making more noise.
I also want to acknowledge my own privileges here, as I would describe my body as small fat. I haven’t experienced the same systemic oppression that people in mid and super fat bodies face and I think it’s important to name that here.
I also use the word fat here intentionally. We live in a world that has weaponized the word fat and turned it into a dirty curse word. But so many people have worked on reclaiming fat as a neutral descriptor, just like tall or short.