Fat Stigma & Acceptance

Another really fascinating part of school last week was a presentation on fat studies, fat stigma, and fat acceptance.

Here are my notes from class (a lot of it is verbatim from the presentation slides; contact me if you want the reference):

-Fat studies: interdisciplinary; primary focus on identification/elimination of bias based on body weight, shape and size; deconstructs and critiques research related to weight and obesity; challenges cultural and political meanings ascribed to the fat body; challenges medical models that pathologize fat and prescribe weight-loss as a means of attaining health; weight/size bias combined with oppression based on other areas of difference such as gender, race, social class, and sexual identity

-Fat bias in the dominant culture:

  • Research related to systemic fat/size discrimination is less common, but no less valid, than findings that continue to report ongoing oppression in race and gender
  • Discrimination evident in hiring, wages, promotion, employment termination, delays in obtaining necessary healthcare, ability to obtain health care coverage, acceptance to college, parental financial support for college
  • Similar pattern of discrimination (but more research needed) in public accommodations, jury selection, housing, adoption, representation of overweight participants in research
  • Stereotypes of people perceived as overweight: lazy, less conscientious, less competent, sloppy, disagreeable, emotionally unstable, slower, poor attendance records, stupid, and worthless
    • These stereotypes are based simply on appearance or perception and are unrelated to actual health

-Dominant culture belief that being fat is a moral choice related to a lack of discipline: if fat people simply ate less and exercised more, they would lose weight and thus not have to experience the stigma and shame of being fat

-Losing/regaining weight can be more physically damaging to people than remaining at higher weights

-Counselors must challenge their own biases and assumptions about fat clients and presumptions of weight loss to promote genuine emotional and physical health, regardless of size

-Health at Every Size: a fast-growing approach that work to separate the issue of size and health

-Fatosphere: fat blogosphere

-My main question at the end of the presentation was: how do fat studies address the issues of food desserts, cheap unhealthy food, and the intersection of those with class and SES? What about the politics of safe public spaces, gentrification, etc?

This is a fabulous article I ran across the next day after my class; I love it:

Let’s Talk About Thin Privilege

Fatness brings up a lot of emotions for me. My mom gave my sister and I a lot of training around the “right” body shape and size, even while also trying to help us love our bodies “no matter what.” From my public health education, I have been acculturated to medicalize bodies: obesity=bad for health. I have my own body image stuff, which has been at times both exacerbated and soothed by comparing myself to movie stars, models in magazines, my friends, stripping, and being in an open relationship (and being more exposed to naked bodies). 

J and I have had a number of conversations, and sometimes with other people, that attempt to delineate the difference between discrimination against certain body types/shapes/sizes and preference/attraction/chemistry. There is clearly a difference to me and it feels quite different. However, I have seen the two conflated very unattractively in open spaces. For instance, I know that our swingers’ clubs attract a wide variety of people, and I am glad that the spaces are relatively inclusive. But when I meet people who disparage fat people and their presence at our clubs and then cloak that sentiment in “well I don’t want to go somewhere where I’m just not attracted to the people,” my social (in)justice radar goes nuts. Just say it: you don’t like fat people. Or, when J and I were socializing with a couple at a club, J asked the guy if he and his partner have a “type.” He responded simply with “thin people.” Why? I’m guessing because, for him, “thin people” connotes other positive qualities: good, healthy, smart, hardworking, etc. 

Want to test your own implicit attitudes toward fat people and thin people? Take the Implicit Association Test! You can take the test on myriad other categories of people, too. My own results: moderate preference for thin people. (I wonder when they’ll add a category for alternative relationship structures?)

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