The dangerous, lasting impact fatphobia has on women

Stereotypes, trolling and faux health concern plagues those who defy normative beauty conventions

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photography Flush Art

‘Fat’ is the first thing someone says when they want to insult you. It is the worst thing a woman could be, the benchmark from which every body is judged in our proximity to. It is viciously thrown out by playground bullies to self-conscious children, spat at women who defy normative beauty conventions, and is held as synonymous with disgust, laziness, and nauseating unattractiveness. Fatphobia perpetuates stereotypes about fat people — that we are lazy, selfish, greedy — that are upsetting at best, and dangerous at worst.

Like everything, fatphobia is gendered, radicalised and classed. It’s no coincidence that fat people who bear the brunt of abuse are fat women, and working class and fat women of colour are often the target of the lazy/selfish fat woman trope. It is not uncommon for fat women to avoid seeking medical treatment where possible because they are afraid of the treatment they’ll receive from medical staff. The vast majority of fat women I know have had at least one, and usually many, health complaints dismissed due to their weight, as if losing weight will automatically cure everything from ear infections to fibromyalgia. Fatness is one of the determining factors in deciding a person’s worth in society — we are constantly sold the myth that if we just lost weight, all of our problems would be solved.

Faux health ‘concern’ can describe the actions of strangers who seem to think that it’s their duty to tell fat women we need to lose weight for our health. Brazen with a self-righteousness usually reserved for the vegans of Twitter, most of these people appear to think that we’re hearing we are fat for the very first time. The one thing these strangers never seem to think about is the impact this has on our mental health. When your mere existence is seen as a public health crisis, navigating the world is exhausting. Unsurprisingly, being told over and over again that you’re a selfish, disgusting, awful piece of trash gets to you, especially when we already live in a world which holds women to unachievable high standards of acceptability. How a person feels about their body has a massive impact on self-esteem and general mental-wellbeing, and fat people are far more likely to be bullied and victimised because of our weight.  

Fat people are more likely to face prejudicial attitudes from doctors and nurses, children are less likely to want fat children to be their friends, people still think fat people are lucky if someone wants to date them, and being a fat woman has a negative impact on our employment opportunities.

“You don’t get to claim the title of body positive if you refuse to acknowledge the link between poor mental health and concern trolling”

Existing as a fat woman is fucking hard. I worry about eating dessert or ‘unhealthy’ food in public incase people stare at me. Wearing any kind of figure-hugging dress makes me anxious as hell. I don’t shop for clothes in person anymore — the whispers from shop assistants aren’t worth it. I ask for a seat on the tube and know my body will be scrutinised before I awkwardly tell the person and the entire carriage that I need it because I’m disabled. I worry every time I get on an aeroplane that I won’t be able to buckle the seatbelt. People often would rather stand on the bus than sit next to me. I’ve been told to keep old clothes because one day I might want to fit back into them, as if most of those clothes don’t signify a time where my eating disorder ruined my adolescence.

I try to wear, eat and act how I want, but the pit of anxiety in my stomach never goes away. I am never unaware of my body and how others react to it. It makes me feel like shit. And as someone on the smaller end of the fat spectrum, I have it considerably better than most other fat women.

I’ve had people tell me to kill myself, that I’m so unattractive and hideous no one could ever love me, and comparatively to lots of people I know, I’ve had it pretty easy. Without the support and community of fat women online, I would never have reached a point where I feel able to write about this publicly, with the knowledge that I will probably be targeted online for doing so. I have seen the mental health of friends torn to shreds by strangers on the internet and I have seen fat women slip back into dangerous eating disorder behaviours as a result, but never have I ever seen any health-concerned stranger talk about how this relates to our mental health.

You don’t get to claim the title of body positive if you refuse to acknowledge the link between poor mental health and concern trolling. You don’t get to tell fat women you care about our health when you ignore and dismiss the impact that institutional fatphobia has on our mental health.

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