Fat is not new. In fact, I would wager, that no current state of humanity is new; there have always been LGBTQ people, nonbinary people, tall people, short people, and yes, fat people. In recent years, thanks to the tireless work of fat and body activists, the realities of living while fat have become a trending topic and one of those realities that is impossible to escape is fat phobia.
Best defined (IMHO) as “an abnormal and irrational fear of being fat, or of being around fat people,” fat phobia goes much deeper than just outward physical appearance or social media taunts. Fat phobia stops us from getting hired, prohibits our access to certain reproductive technology and it even kills us. Suffice to say, fat phobia has far-reaching consequences that any fat person can tell you that we grapple with everyday. And this isn’t new information; studies around fat phobia can be traced back as far as the early 1990s. And that’s why in the year of our Lord Stacey Abrams, 2021, I am not explaining fat phobia to you.
Why the declaration now? Well, it mostly stems from a lifetime of having to explain, and defend, my fat existence to virtual strangers, both on the internet and in real life. But the tipping point was a particularly vexing Clubhouse (ugh, yes) room that happened earlier this week. Let me set the stage: a thin man opened a room under the guise to “better understand” the issues facing fat people. Now, if being Black, fat and a woman has taught me ANYTHING, it’s that people who don’t look like you and cannot relate to your struggles probably should no be leading these discussions. I quickly realized this man simply did not have the range, but rather than admit he was out of his depth, he forged ahead. And that’s when I got pissed.
fat phobia is forcing fat women to defend our fatness to strangers
In that room, on that stage, there were fat women, like myself, being open to the discussion and sharing their lived experiences. But it became apparent pretty quickly that he was not listening, and never had any intention to listen. What was blatant fat phobia was coined as “blind spots” (and don’t get me started on the Mcdonald’s commentary) and a thin woman on the stage hid her fat phobia under guise of concern for the female members of her family, who, she shared, “were fat themselves” (the fat equivalent of, “oh yea, I have a Black friend”). That is a Trojan horse I learned to spot years ago. From my understanding, towards the end, the moderator began kicking fat people out of the room, apparently tired of hearing our fat voices challenge him.
Now, at this point, you might be thinking to yourself, hey, he might have had good intentions, maybe he really was interested. And I challenge, you — what was he interested in, exactly? My fat body is not a zoo or the 9th wonder of the world, so why the morbid “curiosity?” What did he seek to gain from engaging in this discussion that he could not gain from going to Google? Because not only are there dozens of studies on fat phobia, there are fat people who write about their experiences, extensively (me included). I can’t speak for others, but my writing isn’t geared towards explaining my fatness to thin people, quite the opposite, it is there to help foster community for other fat people. Just like I don’t live my Black life with the intent of the white gaze, I do not wake up everyday thinking about thin people. Anything he wanted to learn, he could have easily learned via his Googles.
We have been telling people to lose weight for decades. What ends up happening is that they either don’t lose the weight, or they sometimes do lose the weight and then frequently gain it back. So first off, it could be more harmful to tell people to lose weight in the long run. And then in addition to that, there are the psychological effects of telling people that their bodies are wrong…that their bodies are inherently unhealthy. This type of fat stigma also leads to worse health outcomes.
Not doing the emotional labour for you, friend
The thing is, my life isn’t a performance, I am not “brave” for existing and I am not here to teach you about the ways I am marginalized. The onus is not on me to help you understand the ways misogyny, fat phobia and racism have a profound and continuous impact on my life. And even if I were to take on that emotional and intellectual labour, how can I be sure you’re even genuine? If you are, then you’ll take the time to self-educate as much as possible before you ask me. Besides, don’t you think that between dealing with oppression while trying to make a living AND stay hydrated keeps me busy enough?
So, pick up a book, read a study, hell, go to Twitter, just know: I am no longer explaining fat phobia to you.