Fatphobia: Totally Real and Totally Damaging
Originally Published: March 7, 2016
Revised: April 13, 2016
A lot of people think that fatphobia—a dislike or hatred towards those who are overweight or obese—is a made up thing created by whiny fatties who want special treatment. But that can’t be farther from the truth because, if one thing is for certain, it’s that our society expects everyone to be thin. Most supermodels are underweight, there’s always a new diet trend floating around, and there are thousands of exercise products that claim they will help you shed the pounds in no time. But not everyone can fit into that ideal of being at or under a size six.
That’s where fatphobia comes into play: When you are overweight, your community can be hostile toward you. This hostility isn’t hidden either. Every day, I see another body-shaming picture on Facebook or a tweet that makes fun of fat people. Every day, I hear someone say something along the lines of, “She’s too fat to wear that.” And every day, fat-shaming insults get slung at fat people, and this has negative effects on those who are shamed.
When Your Family Isn’t Supportive
My family members have always been very critical and sometimes downright rude about my weight. When I was growing up, regularly hearing comments like, “Boys don’t like fat girls,” and “Don’t you want to be able to fit in your clothes?” was common. Being on the receiving end of offensive remarks isn’t just annoying; eventually those body-negative messages get internalized and it makes a dent in any confidence you may have. And internalized they did become. Those remarks from my family are the reason why I’m so self-conscious about a lot of things, like eating in public and going clothes shopping.
I know that I’m not alone on this My-Family-Makes-Me-Feel-Like-Crap-About-My-Weight train.
“In middle school, my family would tease me about my fat, and I lost confidence,” says Genesis Martinez, a 16-year-old from Las Vegas. “But once I entered high school, I blocked everyone out from that; at times it still brings memories, but I try to ignore it.”
Fat-shaming most likely isn’t going to be a thing that ends any time soon, but realizing that a lot of it is bull did make it easier for me to handle.
When Doctors Are Part of the Problem
Healthcare professionals care for the health of their patients above anything else, right? But for a lot of overweight teens, their doctors put more emphasis on weight loss than anything else. One specific example of this comes from 18-year-old Sabrina Coulbourn, of Bridgeton, NJ.
“I was diagnosed with five disorders: ADHD, dyslexia, sleep paralysis, anxiety and an enlarged heart. They discovered this when I had a panic attack over the summer. My doctor had been too busy focusing on the weight conditions I had under control to notice my other health problems.”
I’m not trying to say that it’s unnecessary for doctors to focus on their patients’ weights, seeing as obesity can lead to increased risk of several health problems, but focusing on weight above all else when it isn’t the patient’s biggest health issue benefits no one.
When it’s so obvious that your doctor only cares about your weight, going to him or her to receive medical help can become anxiety-inducing, to the point of not wanting to go to the doctor at all. That is harmful in a number of ways, as it can stop teens from getting important healthcare treatments they need, like tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
How Fatphobia in Relationships Hurts
Familial relationships aren’t the only ones that are affected by fatphobia. Romantic relationships can be hindered by it too.
“Fat shaming has affected me in the sense that I don’t think I have as much of a chance at dating; not just for my race but for not being thin,” says 17-year-old D’Andra Moore of Millville, NJ.
That feeling of “How can anyone possibly be attracted to me?” is very common in overweight teens and other teens with low self–esteem. And when someone does come along and shows interest in us, a lot of overweight teens feel like we need to do anything to hold on to this other person. That “anything” can include putting up with abuse, from name-calling to unwanted sexual advances.
However, that isn’t true for all teenagers who carry extra weight. I ask 17-year-old Shelton Richeson from Clifton Forge, VA if he has ever allowed a partner to treat him badly because of internalized fat shame. Here is what he says.
“No, and the reason is that if someone were to treat me badly like that, I would stop talking to them. I wouldn’t let their negativity affect my lifestyle and my happiness.”
We should all be thinking along the lines of Shelton here, but not all of us do. Having internalized fat shame is never one’s own fault, but there are ways that we can lessen its hold on our lives and decisions.
So what can we do to stop internalized fatphobia from hurting us?
Learning to Love Thy Self
Everyone deserves to be able to love the body they were born with. But when you don’t fit in society’s ideal of beauty, loving yourself can be really difficult. I know from personal experience that the journey to self-love is very treacherous, and sometimes it can feel never-ending. Here’s a list of some things that I did to become more confident with my body. I hope that they can help any of my other chubby buddies out there.
- I realized that my body did a lot for me and deserved to be appreciated for all its hard work. Our bodies let us smile, laugh, eat delicious foods, participate in activities that we love and so much more. How could something that does all that be bad?
- I recognized that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While yes, those eyes are definitely influenced by our society, that doesn’t mean that everyone would find me a disgusting, fat slob. No matter what size you are, there will always be someone that finds you attractive.
- I followed plus-sized models on social media. About 99.9 percent of the people on the big screen or in magazines are stick-thin. Seeing other body types for a change not only normalized those bodies in my mind but showed how beautiful those bodies can be. Tess Holliday is my personal favorite plus-sized model.
Fat-shaming most likely isn’t going to be a thing that ends any time soon, but realizing that a lot of it is bull did make it easier for me to handle. I think that this quote from Ryan Crabtree, 18, of Bridgeton NJ, says what I feel best:
“When I was younger, I thought I couldn’t possibly be ‘cool’ or have many friends at all because I was deemed unattractive. I now know that this is ridiculous and I’m beautiful and anyone that thinks otherwise isn’t worth befriending.”
Well said, Ryan!
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