Fatphobia Is Very Real
Even the privilege of accurate representation is one that overweight people are often denied. In most mainstream media, overweight characters are often portrayed as lazy and undisciplined and relegated to the sidelines of stories. Characters who express sexual attraction to overweight people are often mocked, and overweight protagonists and romantic leads are few and far between.
Overweight people may even find it hard to simply buy a piece of flattering clothing. Despite the fact that the average size of the American woman is now a 16-18, clothing choices are severely limited for all sizes 12 and above. Even though it would mean more business for them, many stores still refuse to cater to fat people because they think that overweight people being seen wearing their clothes would be "bad for their image."Fatphobia is also common in the medical world. Two out of three overweight people report being stigmatized for their weight by their doctors, and over half of a sample of primary care doctors questioned described obese patients as "awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment."These assumptions can have disastrous consequences when doctors assume that all health problems experienced by overweight patients are due to their fatness instead of evaluating and treating these patients properly. These patients may then experience years of unnecessary suffering and even death when their physicians overlook progressive illnesses like cancer. Making matters worse are cruel and stigmatizing public health campaigns that portray being fat as a moral and personal failing rather than the complicated mental and physical health issue it is. Many of the most fatphobic people and institutions use "health" as excuse to justify their blatant hatred and mistreatment of fat people.
Now, I'm in no way saying that there is no correlation between obesity and various health problems. I'm saying that we have just as little right to discriminate against people based on their health status as we do based on the way they look! While there are undoubtedly sizes that put people at a greater risk for certain health complications, there is no size at which anyone deserves disrespect.Perhaps the worst thing about fat-shaming is that though it can have severe and pervasive psychological effects, it doesn't even help people lose weight. Instead, stress only worsens the physiological dysregulation often associated with obesity.Over 70 percent of overweight people in one study reported coping with weight stigma by overeating and refusing to diet. Another study showed that internalized weight stigma decreased people's odds of experiencing and maintaining weight loss.Internalized fatphobia can also increase the odds that an overweight person will adopt a disordered and doomed-to-failure crash diet rather than a sustainable and healthy plan. Meanwhile, movements like Health At Every Size that encourage followers to adopt healthier habits and eat more mindfully without seeing weight loss as a be-all end-all can sometimes end up helping people get thinner!Fatphobia can also have unfortunate effects in the work place. One study found that ten percent of women and five percent of men had experienced work-related discrimination because of their weight, while another found that 45 percent of employers were less inclined to recruit a fat candidate.This effect is independent of the one that attractiveness alone usually has on hiring practices, and it is more evident for women than it is for men. However, while laws forbidding discrimation on the basis of ability, sex, and race are on the books, firing or failing to hire someone because of what they weigh is still technically legal in 49 states!These issues are only the tip of the iceberg; fatphobia can show up pretty much anywhere. For example, teachers have been found to have lower expectations of fat students, male jurors were more likely to find obese women guilty, and overweight candidates are less likely to make it onto our ballots or be elected.
I wish that our culture aimed more energy at debunking the negative stereotypes surrounding fat people, making the world more accessible to people of every weight, and helping larger people to feel better about themselves as they are. However, it might not be realistic to sit around waiting for the world to change. Unfortunately, the easiest way to avoid experiencing the effects of fatphobia firsthand might be to change your size.