Stop hating fat people, being afraid of getting fat, talking about people being “too fat” and all forms of fatphobia

We must look carefully at our society’s deep hatred of fat on a personal, societal and political level. We must question ourselves as a society when we openly and loudly criticize 70% of our population. In a society in which it is socially acceptable to ridicule and complain about people who live in larger bodies, how could our children not develop eating disorders?

Eating disorders are more than fear of fat

Eating disorders have their roots deep in the psyche. They are typically built upon genetic, temperamental, experiential, societal and other factors. Often we see them in conjunction with Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But before therapists can work on the deep underlying factors of an eating disorder, they often have to help us deal with the most prominent issues of eating disorders, specifically: an obsession with body size. This is obvious with people who suffer from anorexia, but it is also present in those who have bulimia and binge eating disorder, neither of which is consistently associated with low body weight.

Most people who have eating disorders are afraid of fat

Many of us who have eating disorders consider society’s prescription of the “perfect body” to be a major driving force behind our disordered eating. With the media focus in the last decade on the “obesity epidemic,” fatphobia has become an acceptable form of discrimination against a significant portion of our population. Almost everyone feels they are justified in shaming people who live in larger bodies.

Headlines scream at us constantly:

  • The Growing Toll of our ever-expanding waistlines (New York Times)
  • Obesity epidemic at new high, costs $150B a year, hurts military recruiting (Washington Examiner)
  • As America’s waistline expands, costs soar (Reuters)
  • Nearly half of America’s overweight people don’t realize they’re overweight (Washington Post)

People think obesity is a personal failure

Obesity is frequently perceived as a preventable disease brought on by people who gorge themselves on fast food and candy and never exercise. Obesity is seen as something we must “eradicate” and “end forever,” even though, throughout history, and throughout the world, there have always been people who are in larger bodies.

 

 

Science has different things to say about obesity than the headlines suggest

Despite all the headlines and everything we believe we “know” about obesity as an “epidemic,” the scientific research suggests that we know very little about the cause of rising human weight, or its direct link to disease and death.

  • People who are overweight or moderately obese live at least as long as normal weight people, and often longer [1, 2, 3, 4].
  • Pooled data for over 350,000 subjects from 26 studies and found overweight to be associated with greater longevity than normal weight [5].
  • Data in the elderly (among whom more than 70 percent of all deaths occur) found no evidence of excess mortality associated with overweight [6].
  • When socioeconomic and other risk factors are controlled for, obesity is not a significant risk factor for mortality; and… for those 55 or older, both overweight and obesity confer a significant decreased risk of mortality.” [7]

Fatphobic headlines get more clicks

The media gains more click-throughs (which is directly linked to revenue income) when they publish articles with a fat bias. Moderate headlines and articles that present a nuanced look at fat do not garner as many clicks/revenue.

The media flagrantly appeals to our fear of fat, and makes gross assumptions, extrapolations and correlations about weight. Headlines are built to draw eyeballs, and rarely reflect the scientific data accurately.

swimsuit models over the years (1)

Even as our waistlines have expanded, the media’s presentation of what is “beautiful” has changed dramatically.

Images of thin, emaciated women and bulked-up, lean men get more clicks than those of people living in average or larger bodies.

When the media drives our perception, and the media is driven by clicks, we must acknowledge irresponsible behavior in relation to fat bias.

Obesity can be linked to the diet industry

The diet industry tells us that each individual is personally responsible for their body weight and has the ability to change it. But remember that the diet industry is a money-making machine that only survives if people continue to gain weight and repeatedly pursue weight loss.

“The first thing is that you can’t believe anything that [the diet industry says]. And that’s by definition, because their job isn’t to tell you the truth — it’s to make money. And they’re allowed to lie,” says Traci Mann, Ph.D., author of Secrets from the Eating Lab, in an interview with the Washington Post.

In fact, for all of the yelling about sedentary lifestyles and fast food consumption, the greatest correlative factor for increased weight may be the size of the diet industry, which has ballooned from $10 billion in 1985 to almost $70 billion in 2012.

The diet industry growth

While the diet industry is seven times larger than it was in 1985, our BMI has increased from 129.9 in 1960 to 152.1 in 2010 (17%). And eating disorders have steadily increased – in both women and men – at the same time.

Hmmm … let’s think about that.

There is no proven cause for obesity

It may surprise you to know this, but even though we all assume that obesity is driven by eating too much and exercising too little, there is no evidence for those factors as being the cause of weight gain.

  • People who have higher BMIs do not eat more calories than people who have average* BMIs.
  • People who have higher BMIs do not exercise less than people who have average* BMIs.

*Given that 70% of the population is “above average” BMI, the word “average” is not actually accurate.

There is no proven cure for obesity

Even if we did agree with the idea that obesity is the worst thing ever, we do not have a cure for obesity. In 95% of cases, people who have lost weight on a diet have regained the weight plus more within two years (UCLA).

Diets are not a cure for obesity, and they have tremendous potential to cause harm. With no proven “cause” or “cure” for obesity, the vitriol our society places on people who are living in larger bodies is irresponsible and cruel. 

 

This is known as discrimination

Depending on your political affiliation, you may believe the enemy is the alt-right, Donald Trump, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, etc. The only hatred we universally share is the hatred of fat and obesity.

People who live in larger bodies are openly accused of overeating, not exercising, being morally suspect, intellectually inferior, physically disgusting and taking money out of our pockets.

There is a word for this: discrimination.

How fatphobia leads to eating disorders

This agreement to vilify the majority of citizens in our society leads parents to inadvertently hurt their children in a desperate attempt to save them from being “overweight.”

Parents put their children on diets, both openly and surreptitiously. If they accept their child’s “high” body weight, they are attacked in articles like this one: Parents’ Denial Fuels Childhood Obesity Epidemic (New York Times).

The pressure for parents to control their children’s weight is high, and it negatively impacts a child’s self-perception.

And this is how fatphobia feeds the development of eating disorders. The hatred of one’s body is virtually unrecognizable from the hatred of one’s self. And when we hate ourselves, we turn our hatred on our bodies and starve them. Starvation often leads to bingeing and, for some of us, purging.

Eating disorders are about much more than weight, but we cannot ignore fatphobia as a significant contributing factor in their development. It is at our peril that parents ignore society’s hatred of fat, and we must curb our instinct to judge and ridicule people who live in larger bodies.

Fatphobia discriminates against 70% of our population


Two_Whole_Cakes_CWe recommend the book Two Whole Cakes, by Lesley Kinzel. It is a short and easy read that quickly and without apology explains what it’s like to live in a larger body in our society. The best part is that it’s written from a place of power, not victimhood. Lesley writes about the political, financial, emotional, and spiritual struggles resulting from America’s obsession with weight.

Also consider reviewing: Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Nutrition Journal, 2011

And read: Why diets don’t actually work, according to a researcher who has studied them for decades


[1] Flegal KM, Graubard BI, Williamson DF, Gail MH: Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. JAMA. 2005, 293: 1861-1867. 10.1001/jama.293.15.1861.

[2] Durazo-Arvizu R, McGee D, Cooper R, Liao Y, Luke A: Mortality and optimal body mass index in a sample of the US population. Am J Epidemiol. 1998, 147: 739-749.

[3] Troiano R, Frongillo E, Sobal J, Levitsky D: The relationship between body weight and mortality: A quantitative analysis of combined information from existing studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1996, 20: 63-75.

[4] Flegal K, Graubard B, Williamson D, Gail M: Supplement: Response to “Can Fat Be Fit”. Sci Am. 2008, 297: 5-6.

[5] McGee DL: Body mass index and mortality: a meta-analysis based on person-level data from twenty-six observational studies. Ann Epidemiol. 2005, 15: 87-97. 10.1016/j.annepidem.2004.05.012.

[6] Janssen I, Mark AE: Elevated body mass index and mortality risk in the elderly. Obes Rev. 2007, 8: 41-59. 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00248.x.

[7] Lantz PM, Golberstein E, House JS, Morenoff J: Socioeconomic and behavioral risk factors for mortality in a national 19-year prospective study of U.S. adults. Soc Sci Med. 2010, 70: 1558-1566. 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.02.003.

[8] Berrington de Gonzalez A, Hartge P, Cerhan JR, Flint AJ, Hannan L, MacInnis RJ, Moore SC, Tobias GS, Anton-Culver H, Freeman LB, et al: Body-mass index and mortality among 1.46 million white adults. N Engl J Med. 2010, 363: 2211-2219. 10.1056/NEJMoa1000367.

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