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« on: May 04, 2016, 01:34:25 PM »

Until recently I thought that fat phobia was limited to aesthetics, people not being seen as physically desirable and perhaps being fetishised. Since many of the arguments used to encourage fat people to lose weight are about 'health', I did not see it as a bad thing. In fact, I used to weight-police patients in my early years of study. Then I discovered political correctness and I started policing anti-fat language instead. I felt morally superior for such a noble act. I was sure that I was above fat phobia. I would sneer at doctors who attacked patients' weight in the name of 'health'.

Last week I found myself in a situation where I was policing a classmate's disgust of her fat body. My honourable standards could no longer accept her saying such nasty things about fatness, at least not in my presence. I expected her to feel ashamed and see to it that she improves. This was not the case. She was very offended and showed it. Because of her reaction I decided to run the issue by Baba H. Through that reasoning I got a better appreciation of how major an issue fat phobia is. In the hierarchy of struggles I had been working with, fat phobia was down the ladder after the 'real' issues. It came to my attention that for someone who has been facing this for majority of their life, it is a real issue.

The lady called me the day after to explain why she had a strong reaction. She explained to me that it was a sore topic for her as it has been a source of constant rejection. She maintained that she should be allowed to express the source of her pain if she wanted, which was her fat. When I said whatever I said she took it as just another person demonising her for being fat.

Her response and what Baba had said left me in a place of great reflection. It made me think of my experience with colorism. How people's political correctness only worked to mute the conversation. How it is an everyday issue for me, but many people brush off as 'not the real problem'. It is then I realised that being fat in a fat phobic society is an experience I do not have and could therefore not truly appreciate fat phobia. I took it for granted that occupying so many marginalised inter-sectionalities  would make me sensitive to those I do not occupy. I decided to look for writings or discussions on fat phobia and shaming.

I looked at my social media, looking for fat females I follow. They were quite few. I did a search online for names of people who talk about fatness away from inter-sectionalities and found two (light skinned) ladies who talk about their experiences. They pointed out the role of inter-sectionalities and made note of how they cannot speak for dark skinned fat females. I could not find any dark skinned fat females on the social media platforms I follow who talk about their experiences outside racism and sexism.

I have been listening to some of the things the two ladies brought up and the more I listened the more I understood how far from that reality I am. When they spoke of practical challenges like buying clothes I realised how much of a struggle it can be. What made me feel (more) shame is that fat people are blamed for their bodies and therefore the struggles they are met with. Which led me to the next realisation that fatness is primarily seen as a changeable identity. If only people could stop overeating and being lazy, they would lose the excess weight. We have seen it over and over again, after all. Except this is not the case entirely.

In a reasoning last year Baba H made a difference between fatness. He mentioned something to the effect that there is a difference between those who gained weight due to lifestyle habits and those built a certain way. It stuck with me, but I did not understand what it meant then. I, like many, did not accept that there are those who are genetically built to be fat. To me, it was all lifestyle. Even those who are genetically fat can be slim with discipline. This made me think of my stand on skin bleaching- not only do I think it is done out of unreason, I also think it is physiologically pointless. So why am I okay with people fighting against their genome when it comes to size?

I find that knowing the difference between 'lifestyle fatness' and 'genetic fatness' is crucial especially for doctors. Attributing all fatness to lifestyle choices is probably centre at the misdiagnoses of fat people. When we speak about obesity in class or on rounds, we do not necessarily take into consideration other laboratory findings. It is assumed that one cannot be obese and healthy, unless they visibly fit into the social ideas of fit. Even when the lab workup shows no pathologies, the person's weight is going to be mentioned as a possible etiology of their condition. When the lab work does show pathology fatness is assumed to be its cause.

"You'd be so pretty if you lost weight" is something I have heard being said. Since I too thought that fatness is always a changeable identity, I did not find such comments to be problematic. Is it that different from "you'd be so prettier if you were lighter"? If one has been fat most of their lives and continues to hear such comments, then of course fat phobia is as real to them as colorism is to me. A question came to mind; why don't fat people speak up more? Perhaps they do but are met with overwhelming resistance. Or like I did not see colorism as a major issue, perhaps they too do not see it as a major issue. Or as Baba H mentioned to me, fat people can be fat phobic as well.

Where does the hate come from? What about fatness is loathsome? When fatness is a result of habit, why does that bother people? If a person is overeating and/or isn't moving, why are people bothered by that? When a person is eating for emotional reasons, shaming them does not help them make healthier choices. Yet shaming continues.

What does being sensitive to an experience you are not directly affected by mean? In this case, does it mean being aware of stores that sell sizes above Large? 'Liking' pictures of fat people on social media? Not watching one's weight?

Posts: 1266


« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2016, 11:05:57 AM »

Fat phobia is a relatively modern invention in Western society when ideas of sexuality, especially female sexuality was tied to a particular body type. As many of us may be aware, being fat was valued in many non-Western or pre-Western societies for very practical reasons. I am not certain—more so doubtful—that these societies viewed sexuality the way the West currently does, but many of them tied/tie their attraction, especially to females to their big size.

This kind of phobia also developed when, in places like North America and other industrialised countries, there was an increasingly obvious connection between eating or overeating heavily processed fast-foods, weight gain, and health issues. While this connection is valid, along with other factors such as an increase in sedentary lifestyles, there are people who do not engage in gluttony and are quite active that are fat. On the other hand, there are persons who are quite thin who gorge on food, are inactive and suffer with their health. Therefore, while one’s size can indicate one’s consumption patterns, it is not always so.

I think it is a good idea for people to be aware of what and how they consume, especially since the earth has finite resources which are being used to sustain wasteful habits to the economic benefit of a few. For example, vast amounts of land are being deforested to procure beef for fast-food consumption. Further, much of what we eat are either GMO, fed artificial growth hormones, live in unnatural and overcrowded conditions and are abused by their keepers. This kind of education should be fed to ALL and not just people of a certain size.

On an individual level, however, how a person eats—fat, thin or in-between—, even if considered unhealthy (given the general state of ignorance) should not be an excuse to discriminate against them. Their health and mortality, to a large extent, is their personal business. Again, education across the board could help ALL people make better choices.

If one is not fat, just as if one is not dark-skinned black, is not short, or does not have very kinky hair etc., one cannot be at the forefront of these issues and should, instead take on a more supportive role rather than trying to lead other people’s struggles. If one chooses, one can (and should) get as much information as one can about the difficulties of being fat in a society that does not value this body type. What one can do, if better informed, is do the best they can with regards to how they live, eat, stay active etc. and learn that how one is genetically built is not necessarily an indicator of one’s physical health or their character, and has no bearing on their developmental capabilities.
Posts: 434

« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2016, 04:37:42 PM »

Nakandi, I appreciate the comments you presented here likening fat phobia to issues of colorism.

I think part of the hate directed towards people who are fat comes from people who are not happy with themselves using fat persons as a deflection from addressing their own issues. It centers around the general theme that “I might be x or y, but at least I am not fat.” Being fat “bothers” people because it is more easily identifiable as a means to poke at others.

I agree that fat comments can be very abusive and destructive. I also cannot pretend to understand the gravity of such comments having never been fat. I had close family members who I grew up with constantly battle with their weight while I ate my childhood away and stayed slim. That close observation of those struggles made me aware of the diversity of gene expression in size within my own family as well as in wider society.

I’ve had some measure of disappointment at being described as scrawny, nashy, dry, maga bones, boney, lingay, hard and mannish as negative comments about my lean size. Comments like those hurt and bothered me, but not in the long-term, because the frequency with which I was ridiculed was not proportional to comments, looks, stares, attitudes and behaviours I’ve seen fat people receive. Being skinny, even anorexic, is less seen as ugly as being fat. Additionally, people are more likely to be sympathetic to a skinny person who may have associated emotional issues than a fat person with emotional issues. That behaviour is discriminatory and can cause a huge amount of self-hate in persons less informed or lacking in self-awareness.

Aside from being discriminatory, it is also a bullying behaviour or attitude. Society just does not want to acknowledge that a large proportion of people are bullies. Even if people don’t outright comment on someone’s size in person, they do it through comments on websites, through making videos of fat people to highlight particular physical characteristics and through portrayals of fat people in media in unflattering and negative ways. It is through the work done on these websites that I began to understand that the portrayal of size diversity is a conscious choice and takes a lot of work and sensitivity.

Yes, in the past, in non-Western societies, fat was considered beautiful and more desirable, even in European cultures. It is really a weird thing that in so many ways, the majority of society does not manifest itself in media. This is something Mr. H has pointed out to me in the context of body size as well as race and skin colour. Very many black and white people I’ve seen abroad do not look like models and do not fit into size 6 clothing, yet these images are perpetuated as desirable in mainstream media. I think that this is partly related to being exclusivist and elitist, and often used in a divisive manner to show a kind of body-type supremacy. This lifestyle and diet to maintain being so slim is not natural to many people and can actually be quite unhealthy.

There is also a lack of appreciation, not only for the diversity of body size, but that body size naturally increases with age due to metabolic and hormonal changes across the races. There is thus an even greater disparity or lack of accurate representation of this in commercials, even with female actresses and models in their 40s, 50s and 60s. That is partly tied to the idea of age discrimination.

People’s ideas of being socially correct with fatness can come across as awkward, forced and condescending. “Liking” pictures of fat people is not wrong in itself, but should have a context, and should be genuine. I think people who are not above fat phobia can end up trying to come across as being above it through using words, actions and compliments which they do not truly believe. And similar to what Leslie stated, you could watch what you eat making sure to screen for unhealthy options and still be fat because of your genes. I, again, have personally observed this in my own family.

Nakandi, I find it really telling that as someone in the medical profession you note the discrimination that doctors have with size. Most people trust doctors and assume that they use empirical evidence in helping their patients. However, they are just as capable of being discriminatory as the next person. The tremendous impact that the medical fraternity and health "experts" have had and continues to have on dieting, and the range of commercial aspects of weight-loss programmes, exercise programmes, the clothing industry and body image, is truly a huge force to address. It requires a lot of discussion and presentation of experiences from fat persons themselves.