I’ve been learning a lot in my Women and Gender Studies class (I’m even considering a minor in it, yay!) but I’ve also been exposed to controversial, uncomfortable issues. I think this is one of the greatest takeaways: feminism is uncomfortable. The most important things in life usually are.
I expected to learn a lot about body acceptance, but I was also introduced to more complex issues, like fatphobia.
Fatphobia is similar to sexism, racism, classism and ageism. It is a form of discrimination that can be part of an intersectional framework, limiting an individual’s opportunities and life happiness.
I never considered myself fat-phobic, and I bet most people would cringe at the idea of disliking someone simply for having a greater gravitational pull towards the earth. But I’ve discovered that fatphobia is so entrenched in society, we can participate in it without even being aware.
No matter what sort of body you had, have or will have, there is no excuse to contribute to fatphobia. It’s time to be more conscious about what type of energy we put into this world.
Understand the Vocab
I know political correctness gets a little chaotic sometimes. Although it can seem tedious, I always have to remind myself of the power of language (and at the same time, I don’t condemn myself if I slip up sometimes).
The danger of using language is when it comes from a place of ignorance. Sometimes that ignorance is not simply a lack of knowledge, but a lack of knowledge combined with a society that attempts to manipulate language. Here’s an example…what do you think of when you hear the word “fat?”
Lazy? Heart disease? Ugly? Something you don’t want to be?
Although hard to admit, we have some seriously negative connotations around the word “fat.” The media promotes a horrible dichotomy between skinny and fat (just like male and female, which is totally not valid.)
The media has transformed a simple adjective into a word to fear, to judge (and most importantly), to discriminate against. Maybe you aren’t convinced, but think about how often we say to our friends, “You look so skinny in that dress!” as some sort of twisted compliment. Or even worse, when a friend says they “look” fat, we may respond, “No way! You totally don’t!”
Whoa. Hold on a minute.
We just condemned and insulted all the people that are fat.
And I use the word “fat” to describe a body type embraced by the fat community, not as an insult. It is corrupt society that distorted this word into an insult. The fat community has embraced this word, in a similar way as the queer community (but we have to remember that it is up to the minority group to choose their language/identifiers, not those in privileged positions, such as myself, which I will get to more later.)
So, although your intention may be to say to your friend, “You are beautiful.” Why is that synonymous with “you are not fat”? We have to change the conversation.
Change the Conversation
There’s a difference between losing weight for “health” reasons (although check out this article on how weight gain does not necessarily mean poor health) and seeing weight-loss as beauty-gain.
With an “obesity epidemic” and spreading concerns about health, it can be easy to get caught up in conversations about body shapes and sizes. You do not have to be slim to be healthy (or even muscular). “I lost so much weight, I look great” can be replaced with, “I really focused on my health and feel good in my body right now.”
Yeah, yeah, I can’t help complimenting my girlfriends on some superficial things (I’m totally guilty of this) but a little shift to deeper compliments can really make a difference.
Recognize Thin Privilege
One of the most interesting things I learned in Women’s Studies is how important it is for me to recognize my own white privilege (and also other factors such as my gender, race, sexual orientation, age and class.) In order to see all of the factors that influence someone’s life, we have to recognize our own position within the world.
The division between “thin” and “fat” is arbitrary, but people have vastly different experiences when divided into this binary. Which makes it real and meaningful.
Of course, we could identify people in scientific terms (BMI charts, overweight/obese definitions from the scientific community etc) but I’m also learning how socially constructed the medical world is, and how we shouldn’t be so quick to hold it up as the “right” way.
Wherever you imagine yourself to be on this “spectrum,” you have access to different opportunities than someone who may be “bigger/smaller” than you. There’s millions of micro aggressions that exist to discriminate against fat people (in the workplace, in families and peer groups.) The more I think about it the more I am stunned by how shallow this type of society is.
Here’s where body positivity ties in. I am a total supporter of body positivity, although there are some valid criticisms of the way it has been used. In particular, sometimes we need to practice body-neutrality (not caring what your body looks like now or in the future, no expectations, just total acceptance at every stage of our lives.)
What I really needed to learn though is that the body positivity movement was not initially created by someone like me (I mean someone with the body shape I currently have.) It was created by the fat community, and in order to uphold the body positive movement, we must put these people at the forefront of it. Which leads me to…
Respect for All Bodies
In order to combat fatphobia, we need to not only stop discriminating, but accept, support, and love ALL bodies. This means trans bodies, fat bodies, slim bodies, muscular bodies, non-abled-bodied people, queer bodies, asexual bodies, the list goes on.
What’s amazing is how diverse we are. We all have the ability (and deserve) to act, make change and love ourselves within our different body shapes/sizes/colours. It’s time to see the beauty in every single person, not because of their body but because of who they are. It’s time to let go of skinny-shaming, fatphobia and all forms of body hate.
A revolution is uncomfortable, not impossible.
Some helpful resources:
Melissa Fabello (Feminism, Body Image, Sexuality)
The featured image is artwork from flickr by Ludovico Sinz