Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Weightism and Size Acceptance

During the regular 405, I usually do a unit on fatness, weightism and the size acceptance movement in U.S. culture.  I thought I would include some information here for you to peruse to learn more about the fat liberation movement.  At the end of this diary, is the Xtranormal video I made this weekend about the issue of weightism--I hope you enjoy it! -JRR

F-A-T !  : A Basic Primer
·       Fat is being reclaimed as a neutral descriptor of human bodies.  Fat people are reclaiming the word “fat” like some members of the LGBT community have reclaimed the word “queer.”  Words like heavy, zaftig, large, voluptuous etc. are euphemisms that suggest that being fat is wrong or needs to be concealed somehow.
·      Some people in size acceptance communities also use the phrase “People of Size” (POS) to refer to fat folks
·      Fatphobia, sizeism, and weightism are words used to denote fear, hatred and discrimination against fat people
·      Discrimination towards fat people in the workplace, education system, and healthcare system has been clearly documented and is growing rapidly
·       The consequences of size discrimination are real.  They include: medical and psychological effects, wage disparity, hiring and promotion discrimination and lessening of academic options and advancement
·       Obesity is a word used by doctors and others to medicalize fatness.  Health has been weaponized and used as a tool against people of size.
·       Fat acceptance activists believe it is not the person of size that needs to change, but the society in which s/he lives.  Fatphobia needs to be seen as a form of bigotry that is as virulent as any other.
·       The fat acceptance movement, also known as the size acceptance movement, fat liberation movement or fat power, is a grassroots effort to change societal attitudes towards fat people.
·       Fat women are scorned more than fat men due to sexism, misogyny and the way women are so harshly judged based on their appearance. 
·       The Fat Acceptance Movement began in the late 1960s.  William Fabrey declared “fat pride” and formed the National Association to Aid Fat Americans, subsequently renamed the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA).
·       NAAFA is still active today and has a website, annual conference and chapters across the U.S.  See:  http://www.naafaonline.com/dev2/
·       Fat activists assert that 95-98% of diets fail, and that repeated yo-yo dieting has been proven to be potentially hazardous to one’s health, more so than being fat
·       Marilyn Wann is a key activist in the fat liberation movement, and is well known for her foundational fat activism book: Fat!So?:  Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for your Size.
·       Many people in fat-positive communities advocate the movement known as Health At Every Size (HAES). See principles below.
·       The size acceptance movement has a big presence on the world wide web through websites, e-groups, blogs, videos, etc.  Some call this the “fatosphere.”
·       There are also fat burlesque groups, synchronized swimming groups, dance and performance art troupes, etc.
·       Fat Studies is a burgeoning field of inquiry that features many books, articles, panels and researchers.  The Fat Studies Reader was published in 2009.

What Do Fat People Want?

WE WANT fat children to grow up safe from ridicule and physical violence. Such hate crimes rob fat children of their self-esteem and their hope for the future. To this end, we want schools, social service agencies, and courts to recognize, and help alleviate, the socially condoned mistreatment of fat children.
WE WANT to be healthy. We also want people to understand that being healthy does not necessarily mean being thin.
WE WANT doctors who focus on our health and well-being, not on weight loss.
WE WANT doctors to stop pushing dangerous treatments: diets, diet pills, liposuction, and weight-loss surgery. As the New England Journal of Medicine said recently, "The cure for obesity [sic] may be worse than the condition."
WE WANT diagnostic equipment that will accommodate us: MRIs, CAT scans, ultrasound machines, some X-ray machines, etc.
WE WANT health insurance companies to stop denying coverage based on weight.
WE WANT surgeons to stop refusing to operate on us unless we lose weight, just because they do not have the skill, the tools, or the technique to work with large bodies. (Ironically, sometimes the only surgery a fat person can obtain is mutilating weight-loss surgery.)
WE WANT the media to stop quoting inaccurate and spurious statistics about fat mortality rates. This practice only reinforces the prejudice we face.  For example, the oft-quoted figure of 300,000 fat-related deaths in America is based on a study (McGinnis and Foege, JAMA, Nov. 10, 1993) that linked these deaths to sedentary lifestyle and poor diet, not to weight!
WE WANT the FDA to test weight-loss drugs thoroughly for safety before approving them for use by millions of consumers who are all-too-eager for a miracle pill, even when it is life-threatening. Beyond that, we question the value or wisdom of seeking medical cures for social problems in the first place.
WE WANT doctors and health professionals to heed the New England Journal of Medicine's January 1, 1998 editorial, "Losing Weight-An Ill-Fated New Year's Resolution," when it says:
"Doctors should do their part to help end discrimination against overweight [sic] people in schools and workplaces. We should also speak out against the public's excessive infatuation with being thin and the extreme, expensive, and potentially dangerous measures taken to attain that goal. Many Americans are sacrificing their appreciation of one of the great pleasure of life--eating--in an attempt to look like our semi-starved celebrities. Countless numbers of our daughters and increasingly many of our sons are suffering immeasurable torment in fruitless weight-loss schemes and scams, and some are losing their lives."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
We invite people of good conscience to join with us in decrying prejudice against fat people. Help us create a world that celebrates diversity of size!
Created by:
FAT!SO?--the zine for people who don't apologize for their size: (800) OH-FATSO, National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (800) 442-1214, NAAFA Feminist Caucus: (510) 836-1153, SF/Bay Area NAAFA chapter: (510) 524-6470
Basic Principles of Health At Every Size (HAES)

1. Accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes.

2. Recognizing that health and well-being are multi-dimensional and that they include physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual aspects.

3. Promoting all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes.

4. Promoting eating in a manner which balances individual nutritional needs, hunger, satiety, appetite, and pleasure.

5. Promoting individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity, rather than exercise that is focused on a goal of weight loss. 


  1. I just don't understand how people can be so judgmental when it can happen to anyone. It creeps up on people. Just like a disability, one cannot always prevent it.

  2. There was one part of this article I don't understand:
    "Health has been weaponized and used as a tool against people of size"

  3. Reading more I think i understand it... is health reasons being used to victimize against fat people? (I felt very strange using the word fat, just like I would using the word queer. I think its great that people are accepting these words so that others can no longer use them as weapons, but society has taught me that those are not acceptable and it is challenging to change that.

  4. Joanie: What I mean is that "health" is often brandished as a weapon to hurt, wound and humiliate people of size. I don't deny that there may be health problem associated with weight for some people, but even if that is the case, the mode of address must always be one of compassion and encouragement. The hysterical "obesity epidemic" rhetoric is shaming fat people and harming their self-esteem in often insidious ways.

    The struggle with language is a good thing. As a self-identified queer and fat person, I feel comfortable using those words. For people who don't identify with those terms, it may be better to use other words like LGBT or People of Size.

  5. I identify as a fat person too and I am constantly told to "stop it" or "knock it off" by my peers who are not fat because they think I am putting myself down. I don't understand how they don't see that by making a big deal about it they are putting me down more. Negative reinforcement is a dangerous/ accepted tool in this society.