How many times a day do you judge those around you? The people you see at the mall, a supermarket, university, school, work; the judgement never ends, and we are all guilty of doing it. Even if we don’t mean to, we often unintentionally judge those around us; whether it’s about their outfits, the car they’re driving or even the way they walk and talk. For the most part, judging is often a natural instinct, one that we habitually do, especially when seeing strangers. However, there is a difference between instinctively judging someone and continuing to use your judgement to belittle or disrespect them and immediately stopping yourself from treating them any differently based on the shallow judgment you’ve made. One of the prime examples of this, is how people who are labeled as overweight are often judged, and are victims of derogatory remarks and disrespect.
People who are considered ‘fat’ are almost always perceived differently; from their choice of clothing (even if a thin person wears the exact same item of clothing) to medical discrimination and constantly being told that no matter what illness they have loosing weight will help make it go away. Both fatphobia and fat-fetishizing are prominent issues that exist, and the problem with them both is that they are based on preconceived opinions that are not based on actual reason and contribute to the injustice overweight people face. In light of this dominant issue, we’re breaking down what fatphobia and fat-fetishizing are and why they’re a problem.
What is Fatphobia? To put it in simple words, fat-phobia is more than just a case of interpersonal bias, it is the aversion and illogical fear of obesity or people with obesity. In many cases, fat-phobia is bluntly shown in instances of bullying and discrimination, like when someone is blatantly told they shouldn’t be wearing an item of clothing due to their weight. However, society has derived a new discreet attitude with their fat-phobia, one that involves a more subtle attempt to shame, mock and exclude overweight people. The most recent strand of fat-phobia encompasses disguising offensive and hateful opinions with health based concern.
Overweight people fall victim to constantly hearing offensive remarks like ‘Aren’t you worried about your health?’, ‘You should lose some weight and then you’ll feel better’ and ‘I’m only saying this because I care and I’m worried for your health’. Many thin people, who figure they are healthier than those larger than them, think they have a right to consult and approach fat people (sometimes even strangers) about their body size. Not only is it completely absurd to approach and advise someone about what you think their body size means, but it is also very disrespectful and misanthropic.
According to a global ranking of obesity rates, 9 Middle Eastern countries occupy the top 20 spots for the highest rates, yet fat people are still seen as a disgrace and treated as inferiors in our society and many others. It is now very common that people will look at a person with a larger body and instantly assume they can devise their whole story, they can just picture and assume what this person’s eating preferences is like, their habits, their laziness, and their overall unhealthy lifestyle; all from their appearance. Not only is this a very harmful way of thinking but it is also very irrational, we all know that someone being thin doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy, so why should someone being fat mean they are unhealthy? For starters, if you are thinking of why someone is fat, you should never just conclude that it is due to an unhealthy lifestyle. Many people experience issues in their lifetime that affect their weight; whether it’s an eating disorder, a hormone deficiency, insulin resistance, a thyroid issue, depression, or a debilitating disease.
You will never know how healthy a person is just by looking at their body, when you pass a stranger in the street, you don’t know the reason behind why they are fat or thin. The point is this: why a person is fat is none of your business, everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their size.
Now onto fat-fetishizing, another harmful way of dehumanizing people with bigger body sizes. Defined by a sexual attraction to overweight or obese people just for their size and weight, fat fetishism has numerous forms that also include; sexual gratification from the process of gaining or helping others gain body fat, feedism, stuffing and padding. This fetishization is a complex and conflicting subject in the fat activist community, while some parts of it may be flattering to some, the majority of consensus believe it to be offensive and disturbing. The main issue is that fat fetishism primarily reduces fat people to nothing more than just a body, it encourages their partners to view them only as a kink; which is incredibly harmful to them and their esteem because no one should be treated as a sexual object.
According to research done by activists, it is usually the case that men will pursue fat women either because they have imagined a very specific sexual scenario that they want to play out in secret or because they assume that fat women are more maternal and likely to have fewer requests and demands. Pursuing someone for any of these motives is incredibly fetishistic and dehumanizing behavior, so if you identify as someone who has a fat fetish, it’s important to self-reflect; read through the points I have mentioned and ask yourself “Am I a part of the problem?”.
Another interesting point made against fat fetishization, is that it’s even considered a fetish in the first place. We’re all allowed the right to have a ‘type’ or have specific characteristics that we find attractive, so why is it that attraction to fat bodies needs to be labeled as fetish? We think that those with a preference for larger bodies are ‘fetishists’ but that’s only because society has convinced us that it is abnormal to find fat people attractive. Having a preference for people with bigger bodies doesn’t necessarily need to be problematic, as long as there is an understanding and respect between partners beyond sexual desires.
Those who do claim to have a fat fetish, should remember that just like everyone else; plus-size people are all unique snowflakes who will have different traits and want different things, viewing ‘fat’ people as individuals rather than imposing your preconceived notions is the only right way to make a meaningful connection.
Ultimately, it all comes down to representation, as a society we need to change our perceptions and reactions to ‘fat’ people and the idea that people cannot be attracted to someone who is fat and if they are it is just a ‘fetish’. Let’s face it, the dehumanisation of fat bodies is everywhere, from offensive remarks said to the media coverage we see displaying larger bodies cautioning us about obesity. We even see it in the movies and TV shows we watch, it’s no secret that there is very limited representation for larger bodies and even when there is, it is almost always stereotyped to suit the discriminatory media narrative. Whether it’s a thin actor playing a fat role and wearing a fat suit or the fat characters that are often cramped and only serve as a way to portray pity, disgust or make the audience laugh; these fat character stereotypes are incredibly damaging. This stigma around weight is a lot more harmful than many believe it to be, and it often ends in poor mental and physical health, low esteem and medical neglect.
Thankfully, we have reached a point where fat activists are being heard and campaigns against fat-phobia are being seen, in order to help the dangerous prejudice people with larger bodies face; we must stop judging others. We often judge those around us because we lack self-acceptance and self-love. If we could all learn to love ourselves and those around us, the world would become a much more compassionate and nonjudgmental place.