Updated: Sep 22, 2022
It's shockingly mainstream to be anti-fat.
TW: Fatphobia, eating disorders
Fatphobia is a language most speak fluently; a language that we have been taught all our life. Perhaps one of our earliest lessons too. From early childhood I recall hearing older family members say their new year’s resolution was to lose weight for years on end. I remember my mother saying the dress would be perfect on her if she only cut some weight from around her stomach. And when I once said that my goal for the year was to gain weight… I remember being made fun of and people offering me excessive food just for banter… or perhaps they just associated fatness with greed? Like how dare you wish to be fat?
When I grew fatter, the comments became more frequent too. And they were very colorful when my stomach finally made her cameo. Everywhere I went, I was met with advice for what to do to maintain weight or "cut down a bit."
You don’t let that bad thing called weight find you!
All of this led me into a pattern of disordered eating and I was obsessed with maintaining a certain shape. It doesn’t help that I grew up in the era of diet culture being glorified on entertainment spaces such as America’s top model… a show that was built on the pillars of anti-fatness. The more I see clips from it now, the sadder I feel for fat babies who saw themselves from that lens for years on end. Diets were normalized, and being fat was something to fix. Or if not, you needed to have fat distributed around your body in an hourglass shape; and if you didn’t meet that threshold then you were to be punished and shamed for it.
My body hasn’t been my own for years.
I am patronized by so many people who think being fat is a punishment; something I must be ashamed of… something I need to shed to be acceptable… something I must work towards not becoming. There is always ready advice for me on how to lose weight, a diet/tea to get on, clothes to wear that hide my rolls and recently, an assortment of surgical procedures I can get to get “quick” results.
For the most part, we see fatphobia as something that just evokes some emotion; another thing people are angry about. The reality is, fatphobia impacts my overall wellness. It actually poses a direct threat to my life as someone who has had to interact with the medical industry.
In the medical context, It is often hidden behind a mask of care and concern which makes it so hard to push back. For some people, accessing healthcare is an easy peasy thing; walk to the hospital, have your vitals checked, see the doctor and get meds. As a fat woman, this is not a luxury I have. I have to mentally and emotionally prepare to go to a hospital, plan out conversations in my head where I try to explain to the doctor that my sore throat has nothing to do with my weight.
As a black, fat woman…the healthcare has failed me; so much that it failed to recognize my illnesses because I was fat. Fatphobia has stolen years and joy from my life because the doctors couldn’t look past their weight bias lenses to listen to my symptoms. I have endometriosis and for 12 years of my “period life”, I have been undiagnosed despite showing so many of the symptoms associated with the condition. All the doctors had to offer as a solution to my extremely painful cramps was OTC painkillers and a sprinkle of “lose weight.” It was always about my weight. No one was listening to me as I recounted how weak my toes would feel because my entire lower body was in pain. Or how I needed to overdose on painkillers to feel a bit functional during my period. For the longest time I even thought it was normal to have abdominal distension during your period… now I know that was an endo belly. They promised that things would be easier if I lost weight. One particular doctor told me that it was normal for people my age who were that size to have painful cramps. So yikes… a penance for being fat.
And the thing is, fatphobia isn’t always as blatant. Sometimes it’s the subtle “why would a big person like you fear needles? Or in my case, medics ignoring my requests for a small needle because I am fat then acting brand new when my veins collapse. Or the lab technician making a joke about how hard my veins are to find because I am fat (in this era of vein finders.. But go on). Finding someone who doesn't disrespect, patronize or is equipped to treat me is hard. This has made “Doctor shopping” as a fat person quite a gamble. It has taken me 12 years to find a doctor who listened and intervened. But you know what sucks… 12 years of not being listened to means progression in the severity of my condition. I am on painkillers for half the month, and in hospital for injections during the period. I am also paying a steep price (literally) for being fat because the insurance that my workplace provides is run dry quickly by the frequent hospital runs. This means that I have to foot the cost for treatment by cash or get another insurance cover. Perhaps better and earlier management of my condition would have reduced the harm; but now I will never know.
Sometimes, when I am lucky, I do get great healthcare providers. Problem is… they are few and far between and it’s not always possible to be treated by them. This means that almost all hospital trips are a violent negotiation about my humanness and whether I am deserving of care. It is a case of being passed through a system that gatekeeps my wellbeing and is backed by outdated antiblack, antifat metrics that I will never match up to (BMI enters chat). Metrics that are used to determine my worth, sometimes exclude me from accessing some forms of healthcare (hey, family planning pills); metrics that have made me avoid health services as they come at the cost of my overall wellbeing. I know I am not an isolated case… this is the story of so many fat people.
The healthcare system is just the tip of the iceberg… Fatphobia is alive everywhere.
Even within our own bodies where we have been taught to hate fatness. There is little consequence to causing harm to fat people because fatphobia has corrupted us into dehumanizing people with bigger bodies. Society has acquiesced to the treatment of fat people as humans of a lower value. As disposable. Systems and enterprises are sustained by fatphobia… it’s shockingly mainstream and acceptable to be anti-fat.
Like any caste system, it is important to realize that fatphobia is just a sociologization. It is not grounded in any real truth and now is the time to dream up new worlds where fat people are free, loved, and well.