As I found from various awesome folks I follow, this week is Weight Stigma Awareness Week; people are submitting their personal stories about it. Before I contribute mine, I would like to make a case for weight stigma.
Simply put, it exists.
I’ll leave aside those who insist that fat people just need to “calories-in calories-out” themselves into a more socially-acceptable body type. I’ve found that those types will persist in their belief that people who don’t fit their standards of thinness are eating themselves to a death of teh fats no matter what evidence is available to the contrary (does Amber Riley look like she’s going to die after that vigorous workout?)
The trouble I find with talking about weight stigma is that, like many other forms of societal oppression, its very existence is nigh incessantly denied. There are those who believe that any kind of anti-fat behavior can be explained away by the poor attitude of the fat person in question despite all evidence to the contrary, evidence that points to spreading worldwide stigma. The denialism can go as far as to reject the fact that misused medical tools can be used to discriminate against fat women. Institutionalized, society-wide oppression doesn’t disappear because a fat person decides to, say, smile more and stand up straighter.
Another problem with talking about weight stigma is that thin women sometimes claim that they are as equally discriminated against for their body size. While women of all sizes no doubt have their bodies policed, fat women demonstrably face discrimination of the kind that thin women simply do not face, from the doctor’s office (no, really, there could be a reason besides fat that fat women experience poor health outcomes) to the courtroom (male jurors are more likely to hand a guilty verdict to fat women) to the office (overweight women are paid less). There are countless anecdotal lists containing examples of thin privilege at places such as Dances with Fat and Everyday Feminism. It’s not that fat women win some imaginary competition against thin women in the Oppression Olympics, it’s that we need to pay attention to the harmful ways in which they are discriminated against, ways that are particular to their body type and not simply a product of generalized misogyny.
Even if you disagree with the research in favor of the idea of Health at Every Size, shaming fat people does nothing at best and, at worst, is associated with weight gain (original study). Even when people lose weight, the stigma isn’t quite eliminated and, indeed, lingers.
It helps no one, least of all fat people, to enforce weight stigma. It’s about time we admitted that fat-shaming isn’t the same as encouraging health, cruelty doesn’t help people to become thinner, and thinness isn’t always the best course for all fat people.