Let’s Talk About Fatphobia
Posted by Kristina Agbebiyi
November 30, 2016
Like many femmes, I have an interesting relationship with my body. I’m 5’9, and last time I checked, close to 200 pounds. I now wear size 16 jeans, and usually XL tops. I’m pretty sure my bra size is a 38 DD. Being tall, I feel as though a lot of people expect me to be super thin, and I’m not. I frequently have trouble fitting clothes at what I lovingly refer to as “White Girl Stores.” These stores include American Eagle, Forever 21, and other stores that I probably should not even be attempting to shop at because I’m 22 and about to enter the professional world. I like going to Ann Taylor and splurging on business shirts because that’s where they fit. I’ve lost many pairs of jeans to chub rub, and I honestly just wish that all pants came with a repair kit. I’m very open about the amount of food I eat, and I’m not one of those people who pretends to not be hungry. I totally accept the beauty of fat bodies, and think nothing is wrong with being fat. Actually, nothing is wrong with being fat AND being fat is great. However, despite all of these things, I still won’t refer to myself as “fat.”
I mean, I know some people think I’m fat. My family seemed upset once I weighed more than 10 pounds during childhood. My aunts, kindly reminded me that I had picked up weight last holiday season. I really appreciated this, because ya know, it’s not like I had access to a mirror or a scale during the last year…. Oh yeah, also, some annoying guy on Twitter called me Shamoo (sic), and said my body looked like an upside down snowman last week. So yes, I know that people probably don’t think that I’m the skinniest.
However, I’ve never had to deal with unsolicited comments whenever I eat a large meal in public. People don’t whisper under their breath when I enter an elevator. I have no problem buckling seat belts on public transportation, and I can fit through the aisles on airplanes. People don’t insinuate that I can’t do my job, because of how much I weigh. I’m not taken for lazy, or unmotivated. I might have trouble finding clothes that fit, but you know what? I know within a couple stores, I can find something. People don’t snicker when I walk by. I’m not constantly receiving medical advice when I leave my house. When I go to the doctor and complain of a headache, I’m not told to “just lose weight.” I do not navigate this world as a fat person. I do not experience fatphobia.
You see, this may come to a shock to some of you. But here we go. Individual instances of body-shaming, are not the same as being systematically oppressed in a fatphobic society. As people assigned female at birth, we may frequently deal with comments about our body that make us feel undesirable and unworthy. Because society teaches us that “fat” is inherently bad, a lot of those comments and incidents are rooted in fatphobia. However, that does not mean that we are still living in the world as an actual fat person. We do not get to talk over people who are actually fat, and share our painful stories about how one day we ripped our jeans. We do not get to compare a mean man on Twitter calling us fat, to the actual struggles that fat people face.
When we call ourselves “fat” to gain sympathy, we take away attention from actual fat people who are struggling. We potentially trigger those who have experienced speaking up about “fatphobia,” only to be ignored. We frequently use the word “fat” as a placeholder for “I don’t like my body,” perpetuating the idea that fatness is ugly, bad, or wrong. We are silencing people.
Again, since individual instances of body-shaming are not the same thing as being systematically oppressed in a fatphobic society, we need to stop perpetuating the idea that it “goes both ways.” “Skinny-shaming,” and “skinnyphobia,” are not a thing. Yes, people who are deemed skinny may get teased. They may go through harmful experiences because of their weight. But as a whole, skinny people are not oppressed. Skinny bodies are glorified in the media, and catered to. The body-shaming that skinny people receive is just overall body shaming. In some instances, when people assume that those who are skinny have an eating disorder, it’s also a result of ableism. When we take the shaming of people who are skinny, and give it a name like “skinny-shaming,” not only do we take it out of the overall body-shaming umbrella, we create a false equivalency. We incorrectly assert the idea that “skinny-shaming” and fat-shaming are one in the same, and on the same level. They’re not. Because, only one of these things is real.
It’s hard to love yourself in a society rooted in misogyny, and eurocentric beauty ideals. However, I want to practice a feminism that isn’t just “body-positive,” on paper. If you aren’t fat, yet want to practice a feminism that embraces fat people, working on the ways that you may unknowingly perpetuate fatphobia could be a great start.