FAT Bias


I’m someone who lives in a thin body. Most people likely assume that I am thin because I eat the right things, or do “sufficient” exercise. But the reality is that I’m most likely thin because of my genetics – because my body is predetermined to be relatively small. I’m not doing the “right” things, I just happen to have this body. And like most women (and people of all genders, really!), I’ve struggled with my relationship with food at times – it’s hard not to when we live in a society that is constantly telling us we are too big, no matter how small we get. However, I need to acknowledge that it was MUCH easier for me to stop dieting and recover from disordered eating because my body is socially acceptable. I would never say that stopping dieting or recovering from an eating disorder is easy for anyone, but it’s made significantly harder when someone is living in a larger body and is receiving stigma from their doctor, their family, society as a whole. Indeed, they are often celebrated for the same behaviours that would be labelled as disordered in someone in a smaller body. 

Weight stigma and fatphobia is everywhere in our society. People who have larger bodies (you will see I avoid words like “obese” and “overweight,” because they are in and of themselves stigmatizing) are hired less, get paid less, get worse healthcare, are stared at, judged, and thought of as “unhealthy,” lazy, and stupid. And as I addressed in the podcast, we know that there are relationships between being of a higher weight and various health outcomes, but we have no definitive proof that being in a larger body causes those health outcomes. We also know that living with the stress of stigma and bias has negative impacts on peoples’ health. Is it possible that weight bias and fatphobia is the real issue here, rather than having a larger body size in and of itself? 

Can I also address the fact that if you’re someone who has a larger body and you’ve been trying to diet and lose weight for a long time and it’s not working, it’s not your fault?! Our bodies are really smart and want to keep us at a place that is comfortable for us, and when we try and force our bodies to be smaller, they fight back. When people diet, the most likely outcome is that they regain the weight and again, THAT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Your diet failed you, you didn’t fail your diet or “fall off the wagon.” Your body just did what it has been adapted to do. If you are interested in improving your health, the best way to do that is to focus on behaviours you can control, like eating in ways that make you feel good and moving your body in ways you enjoy, rather than your weight, which is not as controllable as we’ve been led to believe.

I also want to address this whole thing about health. I can argue until I am blue in the face that fat people can be healthy (which they can!), but sometimes talking about health masks the real issue, which is that people of all sizes deserve respect and fair treatment, regardless of their health status. I think it is also an unfortunate reality that I sometimes get taken more seriously than my larger-bodied peers when I talk about these things because I’m thin, which unfortunately in this fatphobic world, lends me a certain amount of credibility. I am not saying anything new that fat activists haven’t been saying for decades, but yet I am believed while they are brushed aside. So really, this is a social justice issue, an issue of fat people being marginalized and treated terribly, which yes, has lasting impacts on peoples’ health. So if we really cared about peoples’ health, we would stop judging them for their body size and stop making assumptions about their eating habits. 

There are so many more things I could have said in the podcast episode and probably that I could say here, but I will leave it there and hope that what I said challenges you to re-think what you think you know about weight and health. 

If you’re interested in something a bit more academic with references, I wrote a short literature review that you can find here. And if you want to read a really long, kind of boring document, my thesis that I mentioned briefly on the show is here. Plus, here are some great, accessible resources if you’re interested in learning more about this topic (some of which I mentioned in the podcast):

Feel free to follow me on Instagram too – I re-share lots of posts from fat activists and non-diet dietitians in my stories! 

Snack Labs Inc.