Reactions to the image of model Tess Holliday on the covering of Cosmopolitan this month indicate fat discrimination is as nasty as ever. Want to avoid it? Heres a simple guide
As a 115 kg( 18 st) girl who refuses to diet, unapologetically wears short shorts and eats tiramisu, I have experienced and witnessed a lot of fatphobia. This is a form of intolerance that equates fatness with ugliness, inferiority and perversion. In my new volume You Have the Right to Remain Fat, I talk a lot about how being fat has shaped my life, how fatphobia has multiple dimensions and how it does not just move outward- from us to others. It moves inward- from our culture to ourselves.
Researchers who study stigma have found it often leads to depression and anxiety, as well as decreased access to employment, friendship, romantic opportunities and a sense that one is not welcome in the wider culture. Fatphobia has manifested itself in unexpected styles in my own life. I’ve found, for instance, that men often approach me with an interest in starting a private sexual relationship but not a public romance, and that it has been harder to find jobs with opportunities for promotion because employers associate fatness with laziness. I argue for the right of every person- regardless of their size- to live a life free from discrimination.
Here are 10 of the most common instances of fatphobia that personally affect me and many others- with some advice about how to combat them.
1.’ Wow, haven’t you lost weight !’
I remember going to the family doctor when I was 11, having expend the summer starving myself. I’d merely feed toast and lettuce and exerted two to three hours a day in the hope I could expend my final year of primary school free from constant pester. When the doctor find me he did not ask how a child had lost weight so rapidly or express alarm that I might be sick. He congratulated me, told me to keep up the good work and said if I lost more weight I might be able to date one of his sons. One female I worked with told me she had developed a drug habit in order to maintain her low weight, and had never received more compliments than at the height of her craving. Weight loss is always considered positive , no matter how it’s achieved.” You’ve lost weight !” seems innocuous, but it actually makes an uncomfortable sense that people are surveilling and judging your body.
Make it a rule not to use language that focuses on your own or others’ weight. We have no idea what someone is going through, whether they are dealing with body shame or trying to heal from an eating disorder. When we stop using this kind of language wholly, we create an environment in which people of all sizes can coexist without a sense of weight surveillance.
2. Selfies taken from above
The religious avoidance of the double chin in selfies- with the camera always held 20 cms above the photographer’s head, with the face tilted just so- sends a constant message about who and what is worth documenting.
Try documenting yourself at different slants. Remember you are photographing a special emotion or an important moment, and that you are trying to capture a two-dimensional image of a complex person.
3. Tiny seats in restaurants
Many fat people have anxiety about seating at restaurants. Will there be kiosks where the space between the table and the seat is fixed? Will the chairs be wobbly little metal ones held up by the furniture equivalent of tube cleansers? This anxiety leads to many fat people opting out of social dining situations.
The restrictive sizing of seating- and this applies strongly to desks in classrooms too- is an example of what’s called structural fatphobia. It is not a person hurting another person immediately. It is what happens when we make structures based on presumptions about which bodies belong in which places.
If you’re going for dinner with a fat friend, check images of the restaurant’s interior got to make sure there are sturdy chairs without armrests, and non-stationary tables and chairs if cramped booths are the main seating option.