Fighting fat-phobia matters. For so many reasons other than body image.

Lately, it seems like fat acceptance has been slowly but surely making headway into our larger cultural consciousness. It’s been about 7 or 8 years since I first became aware of the movement, and I’ve seen a sea change in the general awareness of the fact that fat isn’t a bad thing, that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and they all deserve respect.

But as the messages of FA have become more popular, they’ve also been diluted. So, so much of the cultural discourse about fat bodies focuses on body image: on the personal, interior journeys of fat people (mostly women) to accept themselves.

I’m not denying that body image is important. Accepting one’s body can be life-changing in so many ways, and everyone deserves the chance to begin that journey. Everyone deserves to know that their body is ok just how it is. Developing a good relationship with one’s body–or at least a detente in the war against it–can be an important step in developing the firm emotional grounding needed for further activism.

But body image should be one of many things we work on, not the be-all-and-end-all of fighting fat-phobia. Fat-phobia matters not just because it leads many people to hate, starve, and become alienated from their bodies, but because it enforces structural discrimination that affects fat people regardless of whether they love their bodies.

There are countless ways that this discrimination plays out: everything from charging fat people extra for plane tickets, to a lack of availability of clothing in plus sizes, to prejudice in health care that often has dire consequences. One that I find particularly terrifying, as a fat person partnered with another fat person who might someday have fat children, is the way that governments police parents of fat kids.

I just read an article about a couple in the UK who were arrested on suspicion of child neglect because their 11-year old son weighs 15 stone (210 lb) at 5’1″. This isn’t the first time I’ve read about something like this (caution: not all links are from fat-pos sites, read at your own risk), and it makes me so angry I don’t even have words.

Because of fat hatred, parents can have their children taken away from them. I wish I had words for how fucked-up this is, but all I have right now is a strong urge to scream.

This is one of the many, many reasons why I fight. I want to live in a world where no one has to worry about losing their children for any reason other then actual abuse or neglect. I want to live in a world where fatness is seen not as evidence of bad parenting, but as a natural variation in body shapes (and in some cases, a symptom of underlying medical problems, which are also not the parents’ fault).  I want to live in a world where no one faces discrimination or policing for their body size or their children’s body size.

I will keep shouting from the (virtual) rooftops: fat-phobia has real-life consequences. It harms people in ways that go far beyond body image, and therefore our conversations need to go far beyond body image.

Fat acceptance, fat activism, fat justice–whatever you want to call this movement–isn’t just about body love. It’s about breaking down structures that harm and kill fat people. It’s about working toward a fair and just world for people of all body sizes. Are you in?

13 thoughts on “Fighting fat-phobia matters. For so many reasons other than body image.

  1. I am so sad that poor boy and his family are being demonised in this way. What the hell is the world coming to? Too true we need to fight fat-phobia more than ever.

  2. Yup, this is why I focus mostly on our right to live our lives in dignity and respect, without fear of discrimination or vilification. Body image is useful and helpful, but it’s not the core of the matter.

  3. YES, another manifesto. 😉

    I appreciate this distinction, as if all is ever focused on is self-love, then not only are those other issues being ignored, but also there is a lot of pressure on far people to love ourselves, lest we be “bad representations”. x.x

    I really wish more people would understand that fat people, and any marginalized people in general, are not at fault for our own oppression. I see this kind of blame all the time in social justice, and it SUCKS

    I am SO in

    • YES YES! Self-love is great but it should not be a requirement. Sometimes it’s not easy to love one’s body, and that’s ok. Agreed so much about the way that some people confuse “empowering oppressed people” (good) with “if oppressed people can’t get over the shit society has thrown at them, it’s their fault” (not so good).

  4. I wish I hadn’t read some of the links. The tragedy of taking children from their parents, and the permanent emotional damage it ill do to them knowing they were taken away because their body was “wrong” and they didn’t “work hard enough” to change it. Tragic.

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