7 Fat-Related Biases I Hope Are Extinct By The Time My Daughter Is Older
Like a lot of fat people, I avoid going to the doctor unless it's absolutely necessary. This is primarily because of the weight-related biases that affect so much of day-to-day life, including visits to medical practitioners. I know that regardless of whatever symptoms I'm experiencing, nine times out of 10 I will be told to lose weight and come back if the problem does not disappear by the time I'm 80 pounds lighter.
Upon getting pregnant, however, I had to psychologically adjust to biweekly visits with a health practitioner. I had to put up with participating in three three-hour-long gestational diabetes tests, simply because my OB/GYN couldn't believe I'd be OK. I've had to watch the surprised faces of nurses as they tested my blood pressure every few weeks, are met with a reading within perfectly normal range, and re-test me out of the same disbelief. I also had to hear that I wasn't eligible for delivering my daughter at one of the most renowned birthing centers in my area because they only permitted women with BMIs of 35 and below to do so.
Although this has all been infuriating, it has not been surprising. Fat biases and weight stigma show up all around us. That said, I hope that the advancement of fat acceptance dialogue means that by the time my own daughter is older, she won't have to encounter them. Regardless of her own body type or weight throughout her life, I'd prefer not to have to raise her in a world that is quick to belittle, dismiss, and shame people of size. Here are just seven ways it does just that, all of which I hope will become extinct.
Fat people are denied proper healthcare.
It should come as no surprise to most fat people that many doctors are incapable of seeing beyond the fat. Many doctors have simply dismissed or overlooked illnesses as severe as cancer, instead prioritizing a patient's alleged need to lose weight. And research conducted at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in 2013 also revealed that, mirroring medical instructors, many students of medicine maintained a clear anti-obesity bias, meaning "doctors are more likely to assume that obese individuals won't follow treatment plans, and they are less likely to respect obese patients than average-weight patients."
The thing is, B.M.I. has proven time and time again to reveal nothing about a patient's actual health. This means that the scale designed to tell you how fat you are cannot possibly tell you how healthy you are. And yet, the medical community insists on suggesting that we are unworthy of its time, attention, and facilities. And if we do have a health issue? Well, it's our own fault for being so fat, anyway.
Though I worry about what this will mean for my own child should she be fat at any point in her life, I also worry about what this kind of messaging from the people meant to protect, help, and save lives will teach her about the worth of fat human beings.
Few clothing brands and designers make clothes for fat people.
Over the past two years, the idea of "body positivity" has exploded in mainstream culture, which has manifested itself in the celebration of supposedly "inclusive" clothing collections, like both Zendaya and Khloé Kardashian's recent lines. These clothing lines, however, actually only cater to bodies up to a size 22 and 24, respectively.
I get that "progress" in the fashion industry was never going to look like a universal size expansion among all brands and retailers, which would result in every designer creating clothing options for people sizes XXS to 9XL. But I do hope that this proposition don't seem quite as far-fetched to my own kid by the time she's old enough to pick out her own clothes.
I also hope that my daughter doesn't have to be met with headline after headline implying that women's bodies end at a size 22 or 24. What I wish for her is understanding: Understanding that bodies don't necessarily have size limits.
Actors of size are forced to play the punchline, the villain, or the self-loathing sad fatty.
When NBC's This Is Us was released in Sept. 2016, I could feel the collective excitement among fellow fat women as they prepared to watch a series with one of the most visibly fat female protagonists we've had on the big screen in quite some time. And you know what? Chrissy Metz is a damn fine actor and, as a person, a damn fine role model, too.
However, her character's narrative disappointed many, in that it failed to deconstruct the sad-fat-girl narrative so common in television and film. Her character's arc is rooted in self-loathing and body shame. It's a plot line that fat people have grown used to when it comes to many of the fat characters they see onscreen — that is, when they aren't playing the villains, the designated ugly fat friends, or the punchlines.
Metz's role is progressive in that a visibly fat woman is finally in a leading role on a major network, and I applaud her for all that she has done to get to that place. But I want my kid to grow up in a world where it's totally obvious that fat people aren't all self-hating; that not all of them are trying to lose weight; that not all of them are the "baddies" or the "jokes." Fat people are as versatile and magical and unique as anyone else.
Fitness ads are astoundingly sizeist.
I remember the first time I saw a "before and after" fitness ad on television. I was in the third grade, I'd started growing a jiggly belly, and I was already feeling pretty crappy about that fact thanks to a few bullies and "well-meaning" relatives. On the TV, I saw a woman who'd lost over 100 pounds through a diet and fitness program. She was holding up her former fat-pants, and she was telling me that her life had finally truly begun.
It was one of the first moments that'd make me associate fitness with weight loss, that would frame exercise and wellness as forces existing only to make me thinner and not to actually make me well. Bikini-body and beach-body advertisements would always remind me that I was only entitled to enjoy fitness if I was actively trying to "fix" my figure; and that I was only entitled to enjoy my body if I was actively trying to achieve a flat belly and a visible abdomen.
Not only do I hope to raise my child with the awareness that exercise needn't be about weight loss — and that it can, in fact, be an act of love towards one body and self — but I also hope to keep her as far away from the fatphobia largely perpetuated by diet culture and fitness culture at large. This is a breed of fatphobia that chastises fat people for allegedly not working out enough, while mocking them when they do choose to work out. It frames the relationship of fat humans and fitness as a lose-lose situation. And it only further perpetuates the notion of fatness as laughable.
There's an increased likelihood of criminal conviction for fat people.
In 2013, researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found some pretty significant biases against fat female defendants by male jurors. Jurors were asked to rate a lean male, a lean female, an obese male, and an obese female based on how guilty they believed them to be. And according to Yale News, "Male participants rated the obese female defendant guiltier than the lean female defendant, whereas female respondents judged the two female defendants equally regardless of weight."
Should I ever find myself in the position of being a criminal defendant, the fact that my body type could be motivation for conviction is pretty horrifying. But it's indisputable proof of a socioculturally ingrained bias.
That bias is one that I want to keep my daughter far, far away from. Should she ever find herself in any legal trouble, I would never want her weight to be cause for distress and fear.
Legally, speaking, larger people aren't considered a protected class.
During the latest presidential election, a hot topic of debate was Donald Trump's body shaming of former employee Alicia Machado. He had called her "Miss Piggy" after gaining weight and threatened to strip her of her Miss Universe crown should she not lose the weight.
After the news surfaced, Bustle editor Amanda Richards spoke to Kevin Mintzer, a Manhattan-based attorney specializing in sexual harassment and discrimination claims, to find out the legality of Trump's actions. Her findings? “Weight is not a protected class in New York [...] a protected class means that you can’t discriminate on that basis — gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, those are all protected categories under New York law."
Richards added that "the state of Michigan has outlawed employment discrimination based on weight, as have cities like San Francisco and the District of Columbia. Elsewhere, a boss pointing out, criticizing, or even making fun of an employee's weight is not legally considered discrimination."
I have no idea what size my daughter will be, but the idea that discriminating against people of size is legally permissible is disgusting and scary as hell. I plan to teach her that prejudice is prejudice, and that aesthetic-based prejudice of any kind is never OK. But I'll also be counting the days until much of the world realizes the same.
People still use "fat" as an insult.
Perhaps the most obvious form of fat bias to still exist, and that I sincerely yearn to see disappear as my daughter ages, is the sheer framing of fatness as an insult. This pops up constantly — from your slender bestie who chastises herself for "looking fat" in a dress, to the way fat characters are represented on television, to the fact that most 10-year-olds are more afraid of getting fat than of getting cancer.
My daughter will be taught that "fat" is not only a substance needed for survival, but that fat people should never be insulted or humiliated for their bodies. She will be taught that fat can be beautiful. She will be taught that fat is just another characteristic: A neutral descriptor like any other.
I don't know if I'll see these substantial changes go down in my lifetime; I don't even know if my daughter will. But I'm thankful that she'll at least be part of a generation in which size acceptance advocates are never too hard to find. They are always there, and always fighting. And for that reason, I can have hope.