51 Ways to Make the World Less Hostile to Fat People

First, learn that "fat" isn't a negative adjective.

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Jul 16 2018, 4:21pm

Model and activist Jewelz, who has made waves advocating on social media that the word "fat" should be reclaimed as a non-negative adjective, and who started the hashtag #IGot99ProblemsButMyFatAintOne. Photo by Lauren Bridle / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images. 

Hey, feeling like you want to be a decent person? Awesome! Let’s talk about fatphobia.

Yes, I’m talking to you, my non-fat friends. I’m inviting you to educate yourself about the experiences of fat people as we move through the world, and to challenge you to be our ally in creating a utopia of fat acceptance.

Sure, maybe you don't directly ridicule fat people and you really like Melissa McCarthy. That must be enough, right? Wrong. Fatphobia is fundamentally built into our societal structures and sits on a foundation of racism and colonization that’s the perfect base for privileging thinness. Fatphobia is built into our day-to-day lives—the clothes we wear; the healthcare we receive; the TV shows we watch—and it's going to take all of us unlearning our preconceptions, behaviors, and language to make space for all bodies in our world. Here’s 51 easy ways to start.

1. Learn to cope with the word “fat.” We fatties refer to ourselves in lots of different ways. Some people prefer “plus-size,” “bigger,” “curvy,” or “person of size,” but plenty of us describe ourselves as “fat”—and it’s not self-deprecating.

2. If someone refers to themselves as “fat,” don’t fall over yourself trying to correct them. Instead, ask yourself why you’ve attached a negative value to the word.

3. Consider that we might actually like our bodies. Yes, really. Imagine that.

4. Understand that diets don’t work and are the evil child of capitalism and body-shaming culture. Over 95 percent of people who lose weight through dieting put the weight back on within five years. If diets worked, the diet industry would be financially unsustainable.

5. Learn about the damage that yo-yo dieting does to the body. Here’s the CliffsNotes version: It does much more damage than happily staying the size you are.

6. STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR DIET. If you want to lose weight, fine, you do you. But understand how damaging it is for us to constantly hear how unwanted and unacceptable fat bodies are.

7. More specifically, stop talking about your diet at meal times. It can take years to detach the feeling of shame from food, and hearing people talk about “syns,” “cheating,” and “naughty” food while we’re literally trying to eat can be massively triggering.

8. Refrain from giving a fat person unsolicited advice about weight loss. Even if it totally worked for you, even if you think you’re being helpful, even if that person is related to you. STOP THIS.

9. Don’t call yourself fat if you’re widely considered to be slim or ‘average’-sized by most people. “I feel so fat today” is not equal to living in a fat body every day.

10. If you want to compliment a fat person on what they’re wearing, avoid saying it’s “flattering.” “Flattering” means, “Your clothes are hiding the bit of your body that society doesn’t like.” Just tell them they look great!

11. Watch out for pity in your response to fat people. We don’t need your pity. We need your acceptance and your action to help other thin people get there, too.

12. Stop fetishizing fat bodies. Don’t expect fat folk to be grateful because you deem them fuckable. We’re people.

13. Don’t desexualize us, either. Fat people are plenty hot and are having great sex, thank you very much. All shapes and sizes of people have sex—there's nothing you can do about that, and it's weird and telling if you're put out by it.

14. Understand that fat women get harassed and assaulted, too. Even if fat bodies don’t do it for you, remember that sexual assault is about power, not attraction. The fear of being ridiculed or disbelieved for speaking out about assault is often heightened for fat women.

15. Remember that eating disorders affect fat people, too.

16. Understand that “fat” and “unhealthy” are not the same thing.

17. Stop commenting on others' weight under the guise of “concern” about their medical health. Are you my doctor? No? Your opinion isn’t necessary here.

18. Never ever, ever, ever pressure your partner to lose weight. Believing in bodily autonomy for your partner extends to supporting them in the choices they make about their body, shape, and size.

19. If you care that much about what other people eat, donate your time and money to organizations that campaign for affordable, nutritional food in poor communities.

20. Critically examine the information you’re given about fatness. Investigate who is sharing the material and question what they might have to gain from it.

21. Erase the words “obesity epidemic” from your vocabulary. Demonization of fat bodies is a classic scapegoating tool employed by governments. When they talk about the "obesity epidemic," they’re using coded language to get you to blame systematic societal problems (poverty, crime, climate change) on poor communities and communities of color. You’re smarter than that.

22. Learn about how the medical community treats fat bodies. As one example of very many, fat people are routinely denied kidney transplants unless they lose weight, even though they experience the same level of success with a donor kidneys as thin people do. We are consistently disbelieved and misdiagnosed because doctors cannot see past our fatness. We are often denied health insurance.

23. While you’re at it, read up on how BMI has been widely debunked as an inaccurate and misleading measure for health.

24. If you are a doctor, stop prescribing weight loss as a remedy. Got depression? Try losing some weight. Heartburn? Go on a diet. Broken toe? Maybe cut down on the takeout. Come on—this is ridiculous. Do your job better.

25. Learn to criticize people without referencing their weight. There are enough things to criticize Trump for without bringing his body into it. Making jokes about his weight doesn’t hurt him—it hurts the nice, everyday fat person just trying to get on with their life.

26. Make sure your allyship extends to all fat people, not just small fat folks, not just white fat folks, and not just able-bodied fat folks.

27. Know that skinny-shaming is not a thing. Ridiculing someone for being “too” slim is unacceptable, but it comes from a very different place than fatphobia. Thinness is seen as desirable by society and people, particularly women, are attacked only when their size begins to shine a light on the toxic fetishization of thinness. Fat people, however, are shamed for any deviation from the “acceptable” size and, more often than not, held in contempt for being that size. Concern trolling exists in the lives of thin people too, but discrimination against fat people is systematic and pervasive and damaging to entire communities.

28. Understand the link between capitalism and fatphobia. For instance, the companies that profit from the hard marketing of indulgent food at Christmas are often the same ones selling diet products in the New Year.

29. Sometimes, you’re going to sit next to a fat person on a plane. You’ll cope. I can guarantee that person is far more physically uncomfortable than you are.

30. Find out about the physical pain endured by not only fat people on planes, but on rollercoasters, in theater seats, on massage tables, and other size-specific areas. Then, contact your airline to ask them why they scrimp on their seat sizes. Leave positive TripAdvisor reviews for restaurants with sturdy chairs. Encourage your office manager to purchase accessible seats for your workplace (no arm rests, please). We need you to be doing this labor, too.

31. Also, make sure your guest towels are the biggest size they have in the shop. Don’t make me scoot around your house in a towel that leaves me half naked.

33. Learn about the pay gap and employment bias faced by fat people. Yes, this is a very real thing.

34. Stop assuming that fat people are lazy. Catch yourself when that bias creeps into your mind.

35. Put your money into art that showcases fat people as romantic leads. Hamilton in London, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and the upcoming remake of Little Shop of Horrors have managed it, and many more should take their lead—and be supported by audiences when they do.

36. Call out your favorite authors when they only write about fat characters as a shortcut to make you dislike them. (I’m looking at you, J.K. Rowling.)

37. Call out your favorite comedian when they resort to fatphobic jokes.

38. And actors wearing fat suits for comedy effect? Absolutely nope.

39. Read critical thinking about fatness by fat writers: Cat Pausé, Kivan Bay, Roxane Gay, Sofie Hagen. These people, and loads more, do great work pulling apart the common misconceptions about fatness. They’re not just doing that work for fat folks. Thin people need to read it, too.

40. Fund critical analysis through Patreon, crowdfunding sites, and direct donations to research institutes. There’s hardly any cash in fat research…I wonder why.

41. Never forget that fatphobia has its roots in racism and white supremacy. In the early 1800s, colonialist “scientists” used fatness as one of the markers for social hierarchies, with fatness as one of the “uncivilized” characteristics attributed to the Black and indigenous people placed at the bottom of this scale.

42. If you have children, be cognizant of how you talk about food around them. Many women, in particular, cite comments from their mothers as instigating factors in their shame around food. Teach your kids that their, and others', bodies aren't something to apologize for.

43. Understand that there are different kinds of fat bodies. Not all fat people have hourglass figures or carry their weight in societally acceptable places.

44. Listen to the stories of fat people. We will experience problems in our daily lives that you won’t know anything about. Some of this may sound alien or unlikely to you, but believe these stories and let them inform how you treat people.

45. And telling us, “Well you could just lose weight” is not ok. Heard of victim blaming? Yeah, this is it.

46. Call out your friends, family members, and co-workers when they fat-shame people in front of you. Remember that your silence gives them permission to keep doing this.

47. Don’t expect every fat person to respond the same way to harassment. Fat positivity is complex. It involves years of undoing internalized shame and, often, the misogyny, racism, classism, and ableism that's linked to that, too. Some days, your fat friend will be angry and ready to take on the world, other days, she’ll feel shit and sad about it.

48. Don’t leave it to fat folk to call out fat-shaming—the emotional labor of defending yourself is exhausting. We need you to also send the message that it’s unacceptable.

49. Report fatphobia on online platforms. More of us need to do this if we want Facebook and Twitter to take it seriously.

50. Okay, sometimes you’re going to accidentally assume that someone is pregnant. You probably shouldn’t go around pointing out (or, fucking hell, touching) every pregnant belly you see, but, once in a while, you might mistakenly offer your seat to someone who isn’t pregnant, and is just carrying weight on their stomach. There’s no perfect way to respond to this, but please remember that, in this situation, your feelings do not matter. Take your lead from the person you’ve affected, and don’t make it their job to make you feel better on top of their having to process it to begin with.

51. And lastly, never forget that if you’re not advocating for fat women and non-binary people, then your feminism isn’t intersectional. Because—and say it with me now: Fat-shaming and diet culture are tools of the patriarchy!