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Fatphobia and Desirability: Treating People like Humans Regardless of Size

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Throughout what feels like my entire life, I have always had my weight fluctuate. But, for a greater portion of my life I was always the big or fat friend, especially in comparison to my thin friends. I grew accustomed to it, and of course my self-esteem (or lack thereof) took a hit because for the longest time I didn’t fit the beauty standard, so I was the ugly fat friend up until high school. I embarrassingly played basketball for one season in high school and quickly realized sports were not and never were my thing, but I also was thinner than I had been before. That led to my first “thing” with a guy at my high school. But what this confirmed was that in order for people to view me as desirable and like-able, I needed to be thin, or at least thinner than I was.

It’s no secret that beauty standards and the ideal standard for beauty is incredibly westernized, which only added to the lack of desirability I had as I was not blonde, thin and blue eyed and in a town full of white people, that essentially made me unlikable. But what the beauty standard also upholds, besides the idea of white superiority, is fatphobia. Just like our society has internalized and embedded racism in almost every way, fatphobia is as engrained into us. Fatphobia refers to an irrational fear or discrimination of people who are fat. What this means is that our society has developed into viewing fat people as “gross”, “lazy” and “less than” people who are thinner.

Fatphobia is embedded into our system by having seats on public transportation, fair rides, seats at games, etc. all the size to “fit an average person.” But what this does is exclude and belittle fat people by having them think that by not fitting into a seat that is supposed to be a standard size, they aren’t normal. This alienation then results in fat people internalizing that they are not like everyone else. That they are an “other”. The same can be said about how public settings such as crosswalks, campuses and buildings are not suitable for many disabled people. Obviously, one’s size does not compare to being disabled, but our society is set up in a way that if you are not able bodied, just like if you aren’t thin, you struggle getting around and or participating in activities. Regardless of someone’s abilities or size, they still have every right to participate in things and live their daily life like everyone else.

Now, the argument about this topic always goes back to the same thing: “well if they struggle so much then they should lose weight” or “the reason things are a ‘standard’ size is that no one should be bigger than that. Its unhealthy.” But what that argument is failing to acknowledge is that no one should have to make such a change in order to be viewed as a human being or to go around living their daily lives. People’s sizes should not determine how they’re treated, or their career, academic and romantic opportunities. But unfortunately, it does.

Many women (and men) who are fat talk about how they have to disclose this information to people they meet online in order for them to avoid being harassed and downright disrespected, which is insane. The fact that people have to disclose something as silly as their weight or clothing size in order to ensure the person will know and treat them with the respect they deserve is terrible and honestly humiliating. Because it tells people that if they don’t fit what society views as desirable, they’re screwed and that’s on them.

Another thing the argument of “just lose weight” fails to acknowledge is that many people are overweight and they’re perfectly healthy. Over the course of the pandemic and staying/working from home for 19 months, I gained weight. I’m now the biggest I have ever been, but I’ve seen my doctor for regular checkups and had bloodwork done for a mysterious stomach illness I had over the summer and I’m perfectly healthy. Of course, my doctor suggested I do lose weight for the simple fact that in my family, there is already a high chance of developing diabetes and high blood pressure on my mom’s side, but my doctor was not concerned. My bloodwork came back, and all my levels were normal. Besides weighing a little more than people my height and age, I’m overall healthy with albeit a decently severe iron deficiency (which is ironic as people would think that as a fat person, I would be getting more than enough of minerals and vitamins since I must spend my day eating.)

Not only can overweight people be perfectly healthy, but many have underlying health conditions that make it hard and almost impossible to lose weight regardless of if they eat healthy and exercise daily. Many overweight individuals lead a healthy lifestyle and others an “unhealthy” lifestyle, just like thin people. But society has conditioned us to make assumptions about people based on physical appearances. Lizzo herself is a prime example of someone who leads a healthy lifestyle with daily exercise but is still a plus sized individual, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Despite the fact that Lizzo leads a vegan diet and exercises daily, as do many other plus sized individuals, they are still dehumanized for their physical appearance. Unfortunately, that’s the case for pretty much every plus sized individual. I have been on both ends of the scales and can attest to the fact that people and society itself treat plus sized individuals like garbage, simply because they are bigger, and it’s honestly frustrating and sad.

During my senior year in high school, I got really into working out daily and as a result, I lost a decent amount of weight and dropped two sizes in both bottoms and tops. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t considered the fat friend as much. I say “as much” because I was still a mid-sized girl with curves, so I wasn’t exactly Kendall Jenner’s body type. But, in losing that weight I noticed how people, especially men, treated me differently. I was sexualized more often but I also noticed people were much friendlier to me than people had ever been to me my entire life. Socializing and making new friends at the community college I was at was easier than it had ever been. No longer was I easily ignored, and I felt like people took me seriously.

Fast-forward to coming to UW my freshman year and I managed to keep the weight off relatively fine until late winter quarter and the infamous freshmen 15 caught up to me. I gained a little of the weight back and essentially went back to the size I was before senior year a couple months into the pandemic. During the rest of the pandemic and online school, I was also working remotely and hardly left my house because well, we were (and still are) in the middle of a pandemic. Naturally, I started gaining weight as I lived in an apartment and hardly left my room let alone my apartment. I have parents with pre-existing conditions that would make them more vulnerable if they got COVID-19. The same goes for my two younger brothers, so leaving my house for something other than grocery shopping or visiting my family seemed selfish and unnecessary.

In staying home because of the pandemic, I realized just how burnt-out I was and how much I was pushing myself on the daily by working almost full time and going to school. So, naturally I took this time to relax and embrace my inner home body because it was a nice break from our daily interactions within our capitalistic society that makes us overwork ourselves. Because I started gaining weight, I also started hearing comments from my own family about it, and this isn’t uncommon for plus sized individuals. My dad, who I’m pretty close with, while looking at old pictures from my high school graduation, started to tell me I should start working out more so I can “look as pretty as I did then.” His comment honestly hurt a lot, because not only am I having that internal battle on a daily basis, but now my own father was telling me that in order to be beautiful I had to be skinnier.

With COVID-19 protocols loosening up and my whole family being vaccinated, I started actually leaving my apartment more. I wasn’t going out to restaurants or parties or anything, but I was actually not hesitating as much to go to the store and even go to the mall so I could actually try on clothes, because plus size clothing is NEVER accurate in its sizing. Trying to clothe myself in a way that makes me feel comfortable and confident is now even harder, and not just because I’m a lot more insecure about my looks, but also because most clothing stores don’t care to be accurate about sizing for plus sized individuals and it all just ends up looking weird on my body. Not only is sizing f*cked up, but stores tend to carry very distasteful options for plus sized individuals, as if we, just like thinner people, can’t possibly care about looking somewhat fashionable. These things both contribute to the dehumanization and erasure of fat people because it excludes us from the rest of the general population and makes us feel like because of our weight, we don’t deserve to have clothing that fits us well and is stylish.

Now that we’re back to school and I’m actually out socializing with the rest of the world, I realize just how differently I’m treated simply because I’m now a bigger size. Now it’s back to being easily ignored, subtle comments about my weight and overall different treatment. As a person of color, despite the fact that I do benefit from being lighter skinned, I still have experiences with microaggressions, and now being a fat person includes microaggressions based on my weight and my ethnicity. I started a new job and we all had to pick up our work shirts we ordered and when I received mine, I had a full-time staff member come up to me and say, “Hey if that doesn’t fit, we have bigger sizes available in case you don’t fit into that.” While I’m sure they meant no harm with that, or at least I’d like to think they didn’t, I was very certain I was probably the only one who was asked that. Of course, only the fat girl was told that if her shirt didn’t fit there’s bigger ones available. Joke’s on them though because it’s actually a size too big for me as it was unisex sizing, so it’s long and baggy on me.

I’ve also noticed that despite the fact that Seattle public transportation is always pretty packed, no one has sat next to me on buses or light rails. While it could be that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and they may just want to social distance, I know that’s not the case because all of us are packed into a bus or light rail and usually if there is any open seat, people jump to grab it. Interestingly enough as a commuter student, I’ve had no one do that in the weeks I’ve been commuting to campus. Why? Well because no one wants to sit next to the fat girl who is probably taking up space in the seat next to them too.

I’m currently in a relationship and have been for nine months now, and while I know my boyfriend loves me regardless of my size and weight gain throughout our relationship, it seems as though society and people can’t come to terms with the fact that plus sized individuals can indeed be in happy relationships, and its f*cking stupid. When talking to students or people and if the subject of relationships comes up and I mention I am in one, people look visibly shocked. Obviously, it’s not always as apparent but I’ve had many people look me up and down after I say something about my boyfriend, as if no one should want to be with me because I’m bigger.

As a person of color, I’ve navigated my way through life and society trying to ignore and overcome institutionalized racism, and now this is another barrier I’m facing. The bias and hate towards people who are bigger is dehumanizing and unnecessary. I’ve struggled with my self-esteem (thank you depression) for pretty much my entire life, regardless of the size I was. But now being a plus size woman of color, I realize just how uncommon it is for people to be actively fighting against fatphobia embedded into our society. It’s disheartening, annoying, and it honestly pisses me off.

Plus, sized individuals are all still incredibly capable and amazing people, just like everyone else, so why are we always getting comments and being treated differently because of our size? Because society has told us that if we don’t fit into the norm, then we simply aren’t a part of society either and aren’t as welcome. Well, I’m just as capable, intelligent and beautiful as I was before. Something I try to remind myself is that people’s physical appearance is just that, their physical appearance. It cannot tell me anything about that person other than what they look like physically, and that is not a complete version of the person. If we only pay attention to someone’s physical aspects, then we are disregarding their mind, their soul, and everything else that makes them uniquely them.

So, as you go along the rest of the year on campus and see friends and classmates you haven’t seen in almost two years, remind yourself that physical appearance is not the only thing a person has going for themselves. To my fellow plus sized folks, I know it’s hard and I know its sh*tty, but you’re no less of a human being because of your size. We all bring different things to the table, and we cannot disregard people simply because they’re bigger.

marina martinez

Washington '22

Marina is a senior at the UW and is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Writing. Marina is a Washington native and is passionate about all things social justice, defeating the patriarchy, and writing. In her free time, she loves binge-watching tv shows, scrolling through tik tok, thrift shopping and napping.
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