Inclusive Language Series: Fatphobia & Diet Culture

Fatphobia (n.): Refers to the fear, aversion, or discrimination against people of size.

“Fat” isn’t a bad word. In fact, it’s a term that’s being reclaimed by people who identify as fat to challenge the predominant use of the word in mostly negative contexts. Fat people are choosing to use the word proudly like any other descriptor, accurately and neutrally. Please keep in mind that although the word is being reclaimed, it is still a word that is often used as an insult. As a result, some people may not feel comfortable with the word, in which case you should use descriptors that are more acceptable to the person you are referencing, such as “person of size” or “plus-size”.

Flawed societal beauty standards and photoshopped images often create unrealistic beauty standards that exclude the majority of the population. The following interaction highlights the seemingly small associations that people make between weight and beauty. “Ughh, I’ve gained so much weight since coming to college!” “Awww, don’t say that about yourself, you’re beautiful.” Someone could jokingly respond by saying, “I said I’m fat, not ugly” and laugh it off, but often, the association between being fat and unattractive is hurtful.

We also have to recognize how environments are created and maintained to exclude fat bodies. If fat people need to travel long distances, they are required to face the unpleasant reality of flying on airplanes. This often requires them to purchase a second seat or ask for belt extensions which subjects them to judgment and financial constraints. Also, consider restaurants or other public venues that don’t have chairs large enough to support fat bodies or that are so tightly packed they are impossible to maneuver. Or entering a clothing store and not being able to find clothing that is made for your body type. Being fat can also result in having accessibility needs, such as access to an elevator or not being able to walk long distances. However, not all fat bodies have accessibility needs, as plus-size bodies can also be strong bodies.

Fatphobia doesn’t only impact fat people. The fear that society has about being fat, or becoming fat leads people down a path of strict dieting and exercise regimes. People use the guise of fitness when really their main goal is to do everything in their power to avoid being fat. For some, it seems to be one of their biggest fears and we need to ask why? For folks who can’t answer that question, a likely answer is that deep down people recognize the inherent privileges that come with being a thin person in today’s society.

It’s entirely okay to eat nutritious foods and engage in exercise to support a healthy and strong body. Keep in mind that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and all bodies are deserving of respect. In most contexts, it is inappropriate to comment about someone else’s body, especially when doing so is disguised as being concerned for someone’s health and wellbeing. Equating weight loss with health is dangerous. People can lose weight for a variety of different reasons, and sometimes those reasons are a result of things like eating disorders or other illnesses.

Upcoming Holidays and Observances

  • November 20, Transgender Day of Awareness: Memorializes those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.
  • November 23, Thanksgiving Day: Following a 19th century tradition, it commemorates the Pilgrims’ harvest feast in the autumn of 1621. It is considered by some to be a “national day of mourning,” in recognition of the conquest of Native Americans by colonists.
  • November 24, Native American Heritage Day: Held annually on the Friday after Thanksgiving, encourages Americans of all backgrounds to observe and honor Native Americans through appropriate ceremonies and activities. The law establishing the day was signed by President George W. Bush in 2008.
  • November 26, Feast of Christ the King: A Catholic holiday established to thank God for the gift of time and a rededication to the Christian faith.
  • November 26, Day of the Covenant | Bahá’í: Day of the Covenant is a festival observed to commemorate Bahá’u’lláh’s appointment of His son, Abdu’l-Baha, as His successor.