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Fat Is Not a Bad Word: Fatphobia 101

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McMaster chapter.

CW: This story features discussions on weight.

“Oh no, I look so fat in that picture” 

“You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!!” 

“Wow, have you lost weight?!?!” 

“Is your body summer-ready?” 

“Ugh, I’m so out of shape!” 

You’re probably very familiar with all these comments. As a society, this kind of language is universal, and used on a daily; whether you’re at work, home, school, the gym, or the doctor. We don’t think twice about it. Oftentimes we sprinkle it in with a wry smile or nervous laughter for good measure. But there’s one thing that these comments all have in common: they are built on the belief that occupying a bigger, fatter body is something to be ashamed of and that it is perfectly okay for people to enforce this belief on others. This weight stigma is formally known as fatphobia: a fear of and disdain for fatness and fat people. This sounds extreme, and a lot of people may argue that comments such as those previously mentioned are harmless jokes, but the truth is that fatphobia negatively impacts everyone, whether you are fat or not. If you’re curious about what fatphobia looks like, you need only browse the fatphobic definitions of fatphobia on Urban Dictionary

As a fat person writing this article, I must preface this by telling you that I still battle with internalized fatphobia and am in no way immune to the world of diet culture and weight discrimination. As a result, I’ve had very low points regarding my body image. From being called “brave” for wearing a string bikini, to the confused look I receive upon telling people that I’ve played soccer my whole life and exercise regularly, to receiving unsolicited praise when I noticeably lose weight. It is comments and situations like these that reinforce the idea that beautiful people are exclusively thin (or slim thick, another problematic beauty standard). This glorification of thinness often stems from the societal belief that a person’s outward appearance is the largest indicator of health. A person with less body fat is automatically viewed as healthier than someone with more body fat. Fatness is often viewed as a sign of “letting one’s body go”, a lack of exercise, and laziness. But the truth is that you simply cannot know the state of a person’s health by simply looking at them; basic science proves that body fat percentage alone does not determine someone’s health or fitness. There are many other factors that determine another person’s health (mental health, metabolic health, access to health services, etc.)—and frankly, none of those factors are your business! Instead, focus on more important things like being kind! And if you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up, simply apologize and move on. 

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve put an emphasis on educating and surrounding myself with anti-diet culture and body-positive content. In that time, I have grown to love my body day by day. I’m developing a deep sense of gratitude for my body’s strength and beauty. This self-love ebbs and flows just as my weight naturally fluctuates day to day. But my perception of health has shifted from how my body looks to how my body feels, and ultimately recognizing body movement and exercise as a joy and privilege, instead of a punishment for not fitting into a certain body type.  

If this article resonated with you, I encourage you to check out some of my favourite content creators like Danielle Burnett whose catchphrase is “big girls who run”, Elizabeth the curvy surfer girl who shreds waves like a baddie, or Ella Mintram who is a super freaking cool personal coach on all things fitness. Here’s to loving ALL bodies at ALL times! 😊 

Julianna is a final year Mechanical Engineering Student at McMaster. She is a struggling student by day and a singer/poet/foodie by night. If she had it her way she would be laying on a beach on Lake Huron, soaking up some rays and reading a good book. You may find her daydreaming about bread, obsessing over her housemate’s Breville toaster oven, or listening to her carefully curated monthly playlist in her spare time.