Fat-shaming is real, and it’s a problem. But because we live in a culture that values thinness and mocks and demonizes fatness, we’re surrounded by language and imagery that promotes those values. The shaming of fatness and, by extension, fat people is so ingrained in our society that it often goes unnoticed. Fat-shaming isn’t always as obvious as telling a fat person that they’re gross. It can be much more subtle than that, and there are ways you’re accidentally fat-shaming people without even knowing it.
I’m a thin person. This means that, not only do I have thin privilege, but I don’t have to deal with fat-shaming on a regular basis. But as a person with thin privilege, I need to use that privilege to be an ally to fat people. Fat people face marginalization and oppression for their size. As a result of this marginalization, they may feel shame or self-hatred, suffer from depression or anxiety, or have health problems — as a result of lacking access to non-judgmental medical care, not from being fat.
Just because I don’t experience the effects of fat-shaming first hand doesn’t mean that it’s not my problem. It’s on all of us to try to eliminate fat-shaming from our vocabulary. It’s the first step towards eradicating it from the world at-large. Here are nine ways you are accidentally fat-shaming people around you, and what you can do about it.
1. Equating Thinness With Beauty
Statements like, “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!” send the message that fat and beauty cannot co-exist. And that’s just untrue. In fact, fat people are both fat and beautiful.
2. Criticizing Your Own Weight
Looking at your own body and saying, “Ugh, I’m so fat!” may feel like you’re just shaming yourself, but in fact, that kind of commentary shames everyone. It sends the message that you believe it’s bad if you are fat, which further indicates that you’re not OK with fatness in general. How do you think your friend, who is bigger than you, feels when you talk about how fat you are?
3. Making It About Feelings
Fat is not a feeling. It’s a body size. And when someone says they “feel fat,” they’re usually feeling something else, like insecure, sad, or frustrated. When we equate feeling bad with feeling fat, we imply that fatness itself is inherently bad.
4. Setting Arbitrary Conditions About “Acceptable Fatness”
“Being thick is fine, but no one should be 200/300/400+ pounds, you know?” Someone’s weight is not an indicator of their moral goodness, and who are we to dictate what is an “acceptable” weight?
5. Dictating What Kind of Clothing Someone Looks Good In
She can’t pull that outfit off. Wow, they’re so brave for wearing that dress!“That top is not flattering on her. The implication that certain people should have to hide or distort their body for other people’s comfort is crap.
6. Concern-Trolling About Someone’s Health
You cannot tell how healthy or unhealthy someone is based on their size. Acting like you’re just concerned about someone’s well-being is still fat-shaming them. Fat people can be healthy. Skinny people can be unhealthy. Period.
7. Asking Someone If They Lost Weight
While asking someone if they’ve lost weight might seem complimentary, it’s actually a subtle form of fat-shaming. It implies that someone can only look good if they lose weight. It also doesn’t take into consideration that some people lose weight because they have an eating disorder or some other medical condition. They may be losing weight because they’re sick, which is the opposite of great.
8. Talking About Your Diet/Weight Loss Goals
Diet talk can be incredibly triggering for people, and it sends the message that your body (and other people’s bodies) isn’t good enough the way it is.
9. Patting Someone On The Back For The Activities They Engage In
I didn’t know fat people could do yoga! That’s so cool. All bodies are good, and size does not determine ability. Fat people can be fit. Fat people can dance, do yoga, and run marathons.
So how can you stop fat-shaming? The first step is to have compassion yourself. You live in a world where this kind of mentality is reinforced all day, everyday, by pop culture, media, and medical providers alike. You may make mistakes, and that’s okay. What’s important is what you do after you make the mistake. Apologize, make it right, and try to do better moving forward.
Next, try to have compassion for the people around you. Recognize that fat-shaming can be triggering for many people, including people with eating disorders who may not look fat. Speak up when you hear other people using fat-shaming language, recognize your privilege, and treat others the way you would want to be treated yourself.