How can three little letters elicit so much emotion? The implicit biases that have been inextricably linked to this adjective are numerous and diverse, but they almost all have one thing in common. The implications conveyed by using the term fat are almost all negative.
Fat began to be an undesirable trait with the most recent set of beauty standards. As thinner and thinner bodies were used for models and actresses, thin became synonymous with beauty and fat with ugly. Media worsened this dichotomy through the creation countless thin protagonists who were smart, funny, a love interest, and strong while large characters were gluttonous, mean, lazy, and pitied.
A common, but largely ignored, phenomenon in medical research followed. Too often, when traits are considered undesirable socially, the medical field turns this implicit bias into a medical problem. (For example, studies on the size of skulls were conducted to ‘prove’ the superiority of the white race.) Being “overweight” was medicalized and studied, their findings correlating higher weights with certain chronic diseases. So these beliefs about being a large person came together in the narrative we have today about fat people: “Overweight” people are too lazy/stupid/careless to eat healthfully and take care of themselves, thus not only are they unattractive, but they are also willfully negligent of their health.
This narrative has led to several forms of discrimination, including fat people being less likely to get hired, having lower salaries, and most counter-intuitively of all, receiving poorer health care. Yet, there is no evidence that larger people are less intelligent, driven, or even inherently unhealthy.
By proudly claiming fat as a description of myself, I’m making a political statement. I’m saying that we can no longer allow fat to be synonymous with those undesirable traits. While I certainly don’t embody every possible positive trait, I am slowly becoming the living proof that fat can’t automatically equate lazy, unintelligent or negligent of health. I hope that as more people join me, society will see that fat people deserve all the same opportunities as thin people to fully enjoy their lives.
1. Andreyeva, Tatiana, Rebecca M. Puhl, and Kelly D. Brownell. "Changes in Perceived Weight Discrimination Among Americans, 1995–1996 Through 2004–2006." Obesity 16.5 (2008): 1129-134. Web.
2. Puhl, Rebecca M., and Chelsea A. Heuer. "The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update." Obesity 17.5 (2009): 941-64. Web.
3. Sabin, Janice A., Maddalena Marini, and Brian A. Nosek. "Implicit and Explicit Anti-Fat Bias among a Large Sample of Medical Doctors by BMI, Race/Ethnicity and Gender." PLoS ONE 7.11 (2012): n. pag. Web.
Ani is a fat activist and Health at Every Size promoter. She is currently pursuing a degree in Dietetics and is working towards the creation of a non-profit to support healthy relationships with food. She is also a geek, yogi, knitter, and lives with her partner and two dogs in Minneapolis.