Almost all of us have witnessed at one point or another a fat person being mistreated, whether it be a child being bullied on the schoolyard or a passenger shouting about how they have no room in their airplane row as a fat traveler tries to squeeze into the seat next to them. Most likely, someone would intervene for a child, which is good because in a 2010 study in Florida, it was found that 50% of 3-6-year-olds were anxious about their weight. The less frequent outcome is an adult sticking up verbally for their fat peer, although sympathetic eye contact may be made or the choice to “ignore” the occurrence of a public fat-shaming in order to spare the fat person further embarrassment. We understand that there are risks to getting involved. You never know how far someone’s rage will go. Yet, this is precisely why we wish our thin friends would say something. Our size does not spare us from being harmed. And having an ally in a situation where an aggressor is openly sharing their hateful thoughts would most likely de-escalate the hot spot a fat is in.
This does require a more progressive way of thinking, like having the wild idea that no matter what size you are, everyone deserves basic human dignity and respect. This may be hard to reconcile, especially since having fat bias is the norm in this country, as research has shown us. When you push aside these tendencies and help one of these fat sisters out by speaking up, the validation means the world to us.
A blatant remark isn’t the only method used to undermine plus-size people — subtle, more passive comments can be extremely hurtful as well. Sometimes the things that come out of a straight sized person’s mouth may be well intended, but frankly, fat activists are sick of hearing them. Let’s start with the word “fat.”
Fat isn’t a bad word, it’s not a swear word, nor is it a feeling. It’s a descriptive word. You either are, or you aren’t. It is a word that can be used to identify the shape of someone’s body. Just like Eva is a blonde, and Kathy has green eyes, we are both fat. No hurt feelings here, just the facts ma’am. We have started using it as such to take the sting out of its use as an insult. When we do, there is no need to say, “Oh stop, you are not!” because we are. Consequently, when our thin friends say “I feel fat,” it inherently has a negative connotation, indicating that fat is bad. It also is a bit of a microaggression that, if left unchecked, will have your fat friends feeling like they should make some new friends who don’t make them feel bad about their bodies. So, let us help you navigate the next time you might be “feeling fat.” There are definitely other turns of phrase you can use to describe the actual feeling you might be having; like for instance, you might “feel bloated,” or your clothes might “feel tighter” than normal. Those are actual feelings you can have, but let’s toss the “I feel fat!” to the wayside . . . mm-kay?
Other overused ice-breakers meant to find common ground socially that make a fat person feel like an outsider are, “You look great. Have you lost weight?” or “You dance great for a someone your size!” or “How did you snag such a catch?” as if we, being the size we are, could never be “caught.” We realize these are common ways of chatting people up and can be hard to self-regulate, but shifting the collective consciousness away from fatphobia can begin in using small steps during these passing moments.
If you made it through this far without getting your back up, then perhaps you may consider being a fat ally! Just as seeing the mistreatment of your LGBTQ friends, your friends of color and your disabled friends makes you want to do more for them, fat people — specifically fat women — are a marginalized group fighting for rights as well. Being an ally can mean putting your money where your mouth is, and not shopping at places who openly fat shame, like Lululemon, or Abercrombie & Fitch to name a couple. It means letting your favorite restaurant that only has chairs with arms know that they need to remedy that so your fat friends can join you. It might mean speaking up at work when they suggest some weight loss competition with messaging that indicates that thin is good, and fat is bad.
If you leave this article questioning your own opinions about size and get honest about what kind of body bias you may have, that is a step in the right direction, and we are grateful for it.
Actor/influencers Kathy Deitch and Eva Tingley spearheaded PlusThis!, the multimedia brand which features pop-culture, fashion, debates regarding food and health and the societal negativity and stereotypes that surround women who dare to take up a little bit of space. The duo broadcasts live every Thursday at 6 pm PT from Universal Broadcasting Network and simultaneously across several platforms including Facebook Live and YouTube Live.
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