Looking at the past, there is no denying that fat phobia has negatively impacted a large group of people within our population. But what exactly is fatphobia? And how can it be combated?
Fatphobia is the fear and stereotypes surrounding people of larger bodies. It can also be described as the bias towards these individuals.
People who are fatphobic may hold beliefs that those who are in larger bodies are:
- Innately lazy or undisciplined
- Greedy or selfish
- Less deserving of things others may have (e.g. success or love)
- Personally to blame for any health issues they may develop
It is important to note that fatphobia is an institutionalised bias towards fat people. It involves not only individual beliefs and behaviours, but also the community as a whole, and demonstrates how policies and biases have been created to marginalise people in larger bodies.
How Does Fatphobia Affect the Individual?
Like any other form of discrimination, fatphobia holds very serious impacts on the individual. Experiences of fatphobia often lead to an individual developing the belief that the opinions of others are true, leading to an altered view of oneself. Internalised weight bias can affect an individual of any age, gender, size or ethnicity. Research does show however, that this may have a larger impact on those in higher weight brackets, women, and young people.
This internalised bias holds a negative impact on an individual’s mental and physical health, often leading to:
- Larger levels of body dissatisfaction and negative self image
- Higher incidence of depression and anxiety
- Low self-esteem
- Disordered eating
- Avoidance of exercise or physical activity
- Feelings of isolation
How Does Fatphobia Affect the Community?
The impacts of fatphobia are not just specific to the individual, it is a stigma that often impacts the larger community. With a major growth in media outlets the effects of this are being felt more acutely across the wider community. But fatphobia is not something that we are born with, it is something that we learn from our culture and the people around us. This is seen most evidently in the notion of ‘diet culture’, which seems almost impossible to escape in today’s society. Almost everywhere you look, the idea that certain body types make someone more desirable can be seen. In magazine articles, social media posts, advertisements and in discussions, it is implied that thinness equates to a higher level of health, happiness and even superiority. Often, this focus on the beauty ideal creates a divide between society, with people in larger bodies feeling marginalised and shamed for their appearance.
The encouragement to lose weight as a way of gaining social acceptance places a pressure on the individual to spend time, money and energy chasing an ideal of beauty. This in turn, ensures that the companies who push this idea profit off its execution.
In short, the focus on the ideal body not only enforces the idea that thinness equates to beauty and happiness, but it also perpetuates the idea that those in larger bodies are ‘less than’, encouraging the marginalisation of the wider community.
How We Can Combat Fatphobia?
The idea of beginning to combat your thoughts and feelings towards your body may seem daunting at first, but with an open mind, and a bit of practice you will be well on your way towards accepting and loving your body.
Confronting your thoughts and beliefs is the first step to combatting weight bias. By questioning how and why you might feel a certain way towards your body, you are opening up a discussion within yourself into how this internalised bias may be making you feel. Ensure that you are treating yourself with compassion and always speak to yourself with kindness and question all negative thoughts that may creep in. It is important to note that this is not about eliminating negative thoughts altogether, but about beginning to challenge them as they appear. Be patient with yourself and understand that this is just one step towards self acceptance.
By diversifying your feed, you allow yourself to feel represented in your community. It is important to ensure that you are following a range of diverse and real body types. By making an active effort to begin following people of a diverse nature on social media, you allow yourself to be more accepting of both yourself and others.
It is also important to continue to speak up towards fatphobia. Whether you are experiencing the effects of internalised weight bias yourself, or you can see it affecting a loved one, it is important to speak out and ensure that everyone in the community feels valued and supported by those around them.