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How Anti-Fat Bias Can Create Poor Mental Health Outcomes 

Studies are finding that “obesity” is not what creates poor health outcomes. They are discovering that focusing on weight and body size is the cause of damage to people’s emotional and physical health.
** (The term “Fat” used in this article is being used as a descriptive term and not in a pejorative sense. The fat activist movement and community are reclaiming the word “fat.”
 
More studies are finding that “obesity” is not what creates poor health outcomes. They are discovering that focusing on weight and body size is the cause of damage to people’s emotional and physical health. Fear-mongering about people’s bodies is contributing to a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease. It also harms mental health as it puts fat people in a position to be bullied or contributes to eating disorders

Analyzing Implicit Biases Against Fat People 

Analyzing Implicit Biases Against Fat People. 
 
Recently, Harvard researchers looked at 4.4 million results of their implicit association test. This online quiz aims to determine implicit biases against various communities. 
 
For most groups, implicit bias either dropped or remained neutral in almost every category between 2007 and 2016. However, bias against fat people was the only category that shifted away further from neutral attitudes. Implicit and explicit attitudes based on sexuality, race, skin tone, disability, and age, remained the same or got better. On the other hand, implicit bias according to body weight increased 15 percent in less than ten years. In essence, anti-fat biases are continuing to rise.

How Does Weight Stigma Harm Fat People?

2012 metastudy in Obesity: A Research Journal showed that fat people experience weight stigma from many different people. According to the study, fat people were discriminated against most being by family (72%). 60% of weight stigma came from friends and 47% from spouses. Fat discrimination has proven to have detrimental consequences on people’s wellbeing. People who experience anti-fat biases are 2.5 times as likely to gain significant amounts of weight.
 
A 2018 opinion piece in BMC Medicine proved that anti-fat bias drives the so-called obesity epidemic forward. They reviewed and cited 70 different studies to come up with their findings.  
 
One study concluded that stigma is a “known enemy.” It determined that it has created suffering on groups vulnerable to disease. 

Why Does Health Stigma Happen?

Health stigma happens when people are believed to be blamed for their health conditions. The authors said that even though evidence points to obesity being a result of biological, social, and environmental conditions, long-term challenges of losing weight and negative attitudes about fat people are the culprits for their weight persisting. In other words, weight stigma threatens a person’s physical and emotional health. 

The other issue with anti-fat biases is that the health care a person receives will be less quality and result in “obesity intervention efforts,” like dangerous gastric bypass surgeries. These surgeries can often be pushed onto patients, even if they went to see the doctor for an issue unrelated to their weight. 

A Scene from Shrill Season 3

Here is a scene at the doctors from the Season 3 Trailer of Shrill that captures this experience. This show does an excellent job at addressing issues in fat activism in general. 

All in all, weight stigma creates poor health outcomes for fat people and can be deadly.

What Can You Do as an Ally to Fight Against Anti-Fat Bias?

Anti-racist, intersectional feminist, and LGBTQ+ activists must make fat liberation a part of their work.  

The first step you can take is by refusing to speak about diet talk. We need to remove comments from our vocabulary like “I’ll have to work off these calories at the gym tomorrow” or “does this shirt make me look fat?”

Do not comment on people’s physiques are give them “compliments” for looking slimmer. You can also stop using the words “obese” and “overweight” and use the reclaimed word “fat.”

Resources for Fat Allies

Your Fat Friend, Aubrey Gordon provides an excellent example of what this type of activism can look like. Here is an excerpt from her Medium article. 

How to Support Your Fat Friends, as a Straight Size Person

“A thin friend asks me out to happy hour at one of her favorite restaurants. When I arrive, I notice that most of the seating is made up of booths: tables bolted to the floor, hard church pews fixed to the ground. I feel myself deflate as I realize that this whole place was designed for thinner bodies, thoughtlessly exiling bodies like mine. I wonder if I should tell my friend that I am not feeling well, if I should suggest another place, if I should confess that I will not fit.

When the server arrives to seat us, he confidently leads us to a booth before my friend pipes up.

“I noticed a table over there,” she says brightly, pointing to a free-standing table and movable chairs in the corner, still piled with the last party’s plates. “Can we take that instead?”

The server nods and crisply pivots, seating us at our new table. When we take our seats, my friend shakes her head. “I don’t know who those booths are made for,” she says, rolling her eyes, “but it’s not anybody I know.”

I feel my breath deepen and my shoulders loosen. We drink and talk for hours. Laughter and conversation both come more easily and, unexpectedly, I find myself able to relax, relate, and just beThis simple act of friendship — making sure that where we sit can accommodate both of us — is a rare relief, and its value is not lost on me. My friend does not call attention to my body, does not explain her actions, and does not expect accolades for her understanding. She simply noticed, took action, and saved me the hot and blinding spotlight of advocating for my aberrant body, if only for one evening.

For her, this moment is a fleeting one. For me, it is monumental.”

How Else Thin Allies Can Help with Anti-fat Bias

If you are or are wanting to be a fat ally and are looking for more resources, Aubrey Gordon’s articles are some of the best out there, and her book What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat is essential reading.

For fat activists who have thin privilege, it is essential to show up to support fat people, have empathy, and stand up against injustice. Thin allies can also talk to others about fat politics and proactively bring up fat activism into conversations.

Good fat allies also listen and pay attention, and believe their fat counterparts in the discrimination and hate the experience. However, listening and learning is only part of the activism; they must take action to look after the wellbeing of fat people. 

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Billie Olsen

AUTHOR: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.