Sometimes, the common ways we fat shame are totally obvious to spot. When stores hide their size 10 and 12 garments in the back of brick and mortar locations in unfolded piles? Well, that’s pretty straightforward. But what about the not-so-obvious examples of weight-based shame? The subtle fat-phobic commentary that sneaks into our daily lives, often undetected. The truth is, many folks often fat shame themselves or those around them without even realizing the long-term damage we're doing to our physical and mental wellbeing along the way.
To break it down, fat shaming is the process of humiliating, mocking, or making critical comments about someone (or oneself) based on perceived or visible fatness. From my experiences, people of all sizes, shapes, backgrounds, and genders are guilty of partaking in it. Not only does this type of micro-aggression hurt feelings, but it also perpetuates the idea that it is anyone's right — even a stranger's — to tell another person what to do with their body.
Unfortunately, fat shaming is so ingrained in our society and seen as "just the way it is" that we frequently fail to recognize it in its many sneaky forms. I'll admit that, regardless of being plus size, I'm guilty of several of these myself. But I'm working every day to overcome harmful thinking and replace it with positivity.
If you, too, want to recognize and put an end to the common ways we fat shame, here are 11 of the most common ways we perpetuate fat-phobia.
1. We Allow Fear Of "Looking Fat" To Live In Our Minds
I wanted to kick off the list with this one, because it's both extremely damaging and extremely subtle. Before I embarked on a body positive journey, my own reflection was my enemy and I didn't even realize it.
Photos, mirrors, dressing rooms: I avoided all of them like the plague. When I did catch an unexpected glimpse of myself in a window reflection or elsewhere, I had unknowingly taught myself to hate what I saw. I'd subconsciously fat shame myself, and I tried my hardest to be invisible.
Plenty of women, in particular, avoid their reflection for fear that they will "look fat." Of course, not everyone doing this actually is fat. But by allowing this "fear" to live on, we continue to spread the messaging that being/looking fat is inherently wrong.
2. We Tell Fat People How Brave They Are
When we do step out of our comfort zones and start embracing our bodies, we often begin to encounter a whole new myriad of issues. One of the most confusing forms of fat shaming, IMO, is that of the unintentional variety. It can happen when someone is unknowingly projecting their own insecurities onto you, causing you to feel doubt over your body positivity as a result.
The following phrases are rooted in subtle fat shaming, and I'd love to retire them forever:
"I wish I had the confidence to wear that."
"You are so brave for wearing that."
When these phrases are uttered by a non-fat person to a fat one, the implication is that there is something odd about what the fat person is wearing. I'd love to press fast forward to a world where my wearing a crop top or a two-piece swimsuit isn't viewed as an accomplishment. If you like my outfit, please just tell me that I look great, and call it a day at that.
3. We Use Phrases Like "Tummy Controlling," "Figure Flattering," & "Problem Areas"
Years of mainstream media have slowly trained many of us to believe that our bodies should look a certain way. To achieve this "ideal," we often resort to slimmers, shapers, and certain cuts of clothing. We sprinkle these phrases into our everyday conversations, failing to think about the message we're conveying: That our bodies/figures/tummies are a problem to be solved. As a fashion blogger, I have to make a conscious effort to stay away from this kind of phrasing myself.
These turns of phrase, and others like them, indicate that we should be hiding certain parts of our bodies or that we should be ashamed of them. The truth is, your stomach, rolls, or wobbles are not entities that need to be controlled or "flattered" by continuous use of black-on-black clothing and A-line silhouettes.
4. We Reduce Plus Size Beauty To Above-The-Shoulders
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I had a pretty face, I could go on a mega vacation. It's great that you like my face. I'm pretty fond of it as well. But these "compliments" always seem to come attached to an unspoken catch: The suggestion that my face may be pretty, but my body, as a whole, is not. Thanks, but no thanks.
P.S. To the magazines that think they are being "bold" and "progressive" for featuring plus size women (like Melissa McCarthy, Adele, or Rebel Wilson) on their covers, only to include photos of their faces, please understand: Our faces are beautiful, yes, but so are our fat bodies.
5. We Act Surprised When A Fat Person Can Run, Walk, Bike, Or Achieve Any Sort Of Physical Fitness Level
When I was freelancing in 2015, I told a colleague that I hit my Fitbit goal of 10,000 steps almost every day, and she actually asked to see my app for proof. Oftentimes, when a person discovers that a fat individual can run faster than they can, lift more weight than they do, or exercise more frequently than they exercise, they just about lose their minds. It simply doesn't feed into the myth that fat equals lazy.
6. We Treat Weight Loss As The Pinnacle Of Achievement
There are a few things I've done in my life that I'm proud of: I put myself through undergrad on academic and music scholarships. I've landed a couple of impressive jobs. I got married to an amazing guy. But what have I gotten the most compliments and praise for? The times I've lost a few pounds. When you lose any amount of weight as a fat person, you're suddenly a shining example, a success story, and a goddess to be worshipped.
I'm not saying that losing weight by personal choice and preference is something to be shamed. I'm just saying that maybe we could also support each other on, you know, important non-weight-related life events.
7. We Equate The Word "Fat" To Being An Insult
The next time you hear someone say, "Ughhhhh, I feel so fat," you should call them out on it. "Fat" is not an emotion. It is not a bad thing. It is not a feeling for thin people to vocalize when what they really mean is, "I feel ugly," or, "I don't think this dress fits me comfortably." Unless you are a fat person saying this because you dig the sight of your arm rolls in that spaghetti strap dress, you are treating the word — and the act of being fat — as an insult. And that is, in fact, insulting.
8. We Tell Fat People Not To Call Themselves Fat Or That They Aren't Actually Fat
When you tell me, "You're not fat, you're beautiful," or any variation of that, you're implying that fat means ugly. Or that my fat means I should hate myself.
I can assure you that there are plenty of plus size humans living very fulfilling lives and loving themselves just the way they are. The words "fat" and "beautiful" are not mutually exclusive, and encouraging me to dismiss what my body really looks like isn't going to help me feel better about it. If your fat friend calls themselves fat, please consider saying something like, "Sure, and you're also stunning."
If a thin person, on the other hand, calls themselves fat, well, perhaps take the opportunity to explain that it's unfair to the actual fat people of the world to have their body types coopted for personal insult.
9. We Assume That People With Lumps & Rolls Must Want To Go On A Diet
I can't tell you the number of times someone has casually mentioned Weight Watchers, low carb, paleo, gluten free, Advocare, or any of the other diets out there to me. Like, complete strangers have found me on Instagram to try to sell me fat free wraps. It's assumed that because I am a size 18, I must be on a diet or want to go on one. Needless to say, this gets old fast.
Unless someone specifically talks to you about their weight loss goals, please don't assume it's something everyone would want.
10. We Question Whether A Fat & Happy Person Is Actually Fat & Happy
It seems very sad to me that so many folks out there don't understand that one's size doesn't have to have any bearing on one's happiness. It is possible to be fat and confident; to be fat and happy. Why anyone would wish for somebody to be unhappy, depressed, angry, or destructive is beyond me.
11. We Practically Pull Out A Thesaurus To Avoid Using The Word "Fat"
This is one that I struggled with for a long time. I used to avoid using the word "fat" at any cost, whether I was referring to myself or others. I had it set in my mind that fat had a bad connotation, so I was instead curvy, chubby, fluffy, or plus size. Never fat.
These days, I'm doing my best to realize that it's OK to describe myself with the F-word. It's not an insult, and it's not self-deprecating. It's no different from saying that I'm short, or that I have brown eyes. If ever we're going to de-stigmatize being fat, we need to utilize the word as the neutral, or even positive, descriptor that it can be.
If you remember just one thing from this article, I hope it's that we need to tear down the idea that "fat" is an inherently bad thing, and that fat people are inherently worthy of your disapproval. To put it simply, it's time that we stand together, educate others, and take this word back.
Images: Sarah-Jane Morales; Courtesy Instagrammers