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Fatphobia is a term that has been garnering widespread mainstream attention in recent times. It is a form of bigotry that enforces a bias towards skinnier individuals rather than people with larger physiques. This word encapsulates the general masses’ unduly stigmatisation of paunchy bodies, and it is hugely unfortunate that this negative ideology has been ingrained amongst us.
Fatphobia can manifest itself through a variety of ways, but the most common form is found on the internet, where the incessant spewing of hateful messages criticising one’s body image and informing them to correct themselves have become regrettably commonplace. More often than not, these unwelcome comments are usually delivered in a malicious manner that has the potential to deal irreparable damage to one’s mental wellbeing. Furthermore, fatphobia is also prominent in our everyday lives, for example in public spaces where it has become almost customary to make spiteful comments about a person’s body. Alas, these are just some examples of fatphobic actions that have become unfortunately normalised in today’s society.
In days of yore, large bodies were not always portrayed in such a negative light as they are today. In some past societies, a portly stature was considered a symbol of wealth and an indication of one’s higher social status. This was because it showed that the person could afford food and was well fed without having to deal with monetary struggles. However, with the rise of diet culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, trends such as ‘heroin chic’ and extreme thinness became the social ideal of beauty.
In fact, this led to a drastic shift in one’s mindset as skinnier body figures became a representation of the upper class as this demonstrated the mindfulness of a person in regards to matters such as diet, whilst possessing the means to afford various exercises and organic materials that give them the perfect body. In contrast, nowadays, large people are perceived as people who have “given up on themselves”, which in turn leads to the assumption that they simply do not put as much effort compared to their slenderer counterparts in taking care of their bodies. As a result, diet culture has further solidified this negative perception towards larger people while simultaneously advocating for bodies that promote the concept of thinness. For this reason, people with a larger body size have been belittled and criticised ever since.
Medical discrimination in the plus-sized community is extremely prevalent. In a myriad of cases, plus-sized individuals who go in for regular doctor appointments to address a health concern are routinely overlooked. More often than not, it is immediately assumed that the health concern was caused due to their weight. Medical professionals regularly focus on how the person can lose weight or emphasise that they need to lose weight, likely at the expense of performing important tests that could provide a meaningful diagnosis. Doctors may even fail to acknowledge the initial concern faced by the patient because of their fixation on the patient’s weight. These culmination of events could leave a potentially alarming underlying medical condition unnoticed which may be life threatening.
Fatphobia can also act as an underlying discriminating factor that further adds to other forms of prejudice such as racism, misogyny, or homophobia. Curvy people who belong to more than one marginalised group face a higher risk of being abused. For instance, plus-sized people of colour may face both medical inequality and a wage gap that can affect their quality of life and deprive them of basic human needs. In addition, plus-sized women are more likely to become victims of the wage gap largely as employers take their size into account and assume that they do not work as hard. Therefore, their salary is lowered accordingly. Although we must not overlook the severity of the fatphobic experience in men, it can argued that due to society’s obsession with the way women generally look and the beauty standards demanded of them, fatphobia and body discrimination take a heavier toll on the female population.
Moreover, fatphobia is a great downer to individuals as a whole. The constant ridicule and unequal treatment just because of a person’s body size can be detrimental to their mental health and self-esteem. People who face fatphobia can suffer from depression and anxiety because of their weight. This sentiment stems from the feeling of being unworthy of their body and constantly thinking about how they are perceived by others can be all too consuming which can lead to severe mental illness. When these people get fed up with the criticism, some may attempt to take matters into their own hands and resort to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating as a coping mechanism, leading to an extremely unhealthy relationship with food.
All in all, fatphobia is in no way a method of ‘preventing obesity’ or an excuse to show that you care about another individual’s health. It is simply intolerance that can cause widespread consequences to an individual. A person’s body is their personal space and should not be subjected to unsolicited opinions. Furthermore, defending the basic human rights of plus-sized individuals is often confused with promoting obesity, which is truly not the case. It is simply about supporting the individuals who face injustices every day because of their body size.