We’re afraid of cellulite, flab, love handles, belly pooches, muffin tops, and flabby arms. We automatically associate ‘fatness’ with these though they can be found in bodies of all sizes and shapes. We are taught that being overweight is a moral failing, a weakness, and something extremely shameful. And we’re treating fat people with hatred and intolerance.
Fatphobia is a term for this system of oppressions. A system that propagates that fat people are not attractive. A system that stops fat people from getting jobs and even making friends. A system where fat people cannot access proper health care. A system where fat people have their own section on YouTube under comedy. A system that tells everyone that our self-worth is largely dependent on body size, and that those who are too big (who decides that?) are worthless.
Fat, like everything else, is a social construct. The term was invented by people, and so it is open to debate. For the purposes of this article, I will try to reclaim the word fat as empowering; something totally different than what society thinks it is. It is a word we cannot fear. All our lives we’re conditioned to think that ‘fat’ is gross; why?
“I think the media has morphed [our] ideas and perception of what is actually realistic and what they portray as being realistic.” Randi Fogelbaum, Director of the McGill Eating Disorder Program, told The Daily.
“[We have] this distant ideal, [of] how people should look but it’s fixed up and photoshopped. Media affects how we think about body image.”
Fogelbaum, who has been working with the McGill Eating Disorder Program – a part of McGill Health Services – for seven years, believes that worrying too much about diet only creates more problems. This fixation increases the risk of not only eating disorders, but also of being dangerously overweight.
Instead, she thinks that every person has a “set point” of what their weight should be. It’s when people try to control their set point that problems arise. “Size doesn’t mean anything about health,” Fogelbaum insisted.
Health Services includes a multi-disciplinary team approach that gives individual attention to each case they are presented with. While they specialize in anxiety, depression, and mood disorders, they insist that they can help anyone with anything they are struggling with. This approach of unconditional help is what proves to be the most effective. There are ‘thin’ people who eat poorly and don’t exercise, and there are ‘fat’ people who treat their bodies very well. Ultimately, your weight is not necessarily an indication of your overall health. The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement has been fighting to prove that people can be healthy regardless of size. Their website proudly states, “People are tired of diets, tired of feeling like failures, and tired of being scared of food. They are excited to find a paradigm that respects the diversity of human bodies and starts from the very basic premise that they can trust themselves—a paradigm that respects pleasure rather than denial.”
Having fat can actually positively impact your life and increase lifespan by a few years. It has been proven that certain fluctuations in weight can cause health risks for some individuals, but even minor weight fluctuations are heavily criticized and looked down upon.
People are plagued with this idea that if we shame fat people enough, they’ll lose the weight. But, as Fogelbaum put it, “If someone criticizes, attacks, or has unrealistic expectations, it [just] creates more problems.” Making people feel bad about their weight and shaming them is not giving help, and it is surely not constructive.
Ragen Chastain, dancer, writer, speaker, and, most importantly, self-identified fat person and fat activist, has developed a cult following with a simple mantra, “Everybody of every size should be treated with respect.”
Chastain, who has won three National Dance Championships, still believes learning to love herself is her greatest accomplishment. She champions the idea that everybody deserves respect and that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not contingent on size.
“A lot of my ‘normal weight’ friends complain about having trouble finding the time to exercise. Imagine how much harder that is when carving out time to exercise also means carving out time to be ridiculed and humiliated,” Chastain told The Daily.
Although the parameters of someone’s size are largely genetically determined, people still insist on scapegoating fat people, and perpetuating fat discrimination.
The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), as part of its anti-ableist mandate, considers it vital to support people of all genders who have encountered fatphobia, struggled with eating disorders, or faced harassment because of body issues.
Too often, complaints of sexual harassment and attacks on overweight citizens fall on deaf ears. SACOMSS provides a non-judgmental and confidential service that anybody is welcomed and encouraged to use.
School Schmool, a planner pblished by QPIRG McGill and Concordia, addresses the issue of fat phobia and the importance of “[allowing] the focus of fatphobia to be shifted from aesthetics to health, [because] there’s nothing left to reap from the ‘being fat is unhealthy’ phase.” If that happens, it’ll allow people to focus on something else: accepting everyone regardless of the shape of their bodies.