In 2005, psychology professor and researcher Kelly D. Brownell, along with Rebecca Puhl, Marlene Schwartz, and Leslie Rudd, published a book called Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences and Remedies.
This work raised an idea that in recent years has been taken up by many social movements: although obesity is a health problem, part of its inconveniences are not limited to the physical discomfort it produces. There is an extra discomfort, of a psychological nature, that is produced by a discriminatory bias against overweight people: fatphobia.
What is fatphobia?
The concept of fatphobia serves to designate an automatic and usually unconscious bias that leads to discriminating, objectifying and undervaluing overweight people, especially if these people are women.
Fat people are automatically associated with a lack of self-esteem, difficulties in experiencing sexuality satisfactorily, and the need to attract attention by trying very hard. Definitely, It is understood that these people start with a definitive disadvantage that makes them worth less by not “being able to compete” with the rest. Seen through the glasses of fatphobia, these people are perceived as desperate individuals, who will accept worse treatment, both informal and formal, and who will be willing to be more exploited at work.
It is, in short, a way of thinking that is characterized by making obese people carry a social stigma. This means that it is not part of a clinical picture, as, for example, agoraphobia is. In fatphobia, being overweight is considered an excuse to hold certain people to another moral standard. Somehow, aesthetics dictate the type of ethics that applies to this minority… Because overweight people are a minority, right?
It’s getting easier to be obese
Fatphobia has a paradoxical aspect. Although obese people are considered something strange and with less value because they fall outside of statistical normality, that same statistical normality is increasingly reduced, especially in the case of women.
Although from a medical point of view the standards for what is and what is not obesity have good foundations and are based on scientific knowledge about what a healthy body is like, beyond these specialized and professional environments, being fat is, increasingly more, normal. It is not that women are eating worse and worse, it is that the threshold for what is considered obesity is increasingly lower, it is very easy to cross it.
Even in the world of models, straying slightly from what beauty standards dictate gives rise to conflicts. For example, ask Iskra Lawrence, known especially for her responses to “accusations” about her weight. The fact that even these women have to face these treatments serves to give us an idea of what anonymous women who are as far away from the beauty canon have to endure.
The word “fat” is taboo
Fatphobia has left such a powerful mark on our culture that even the concept it alludes to is taboo. The fashion industry has had to invent a thousand and one neologisms and euphemisms to refer to large sizes and the morphology of women who, from other contexts, are accused of being fat: curvy, plump, plus size… linguistic formulas that seem artificial and that, in a certain way, give greater strength to the term “fat” due to its resounding absence.
That is why certain social movements linked to feminism have decided to start fight fatphobia by reappropriating the term “fat” and displaying it with pride. This is a political strategy that is reminiscent of a psycholinguistics proposal known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and which, put simply, consists of the idea that the way in which language is used shapes the way in which one thinks.
This hypothesis may or may not be true (it currently does not have much empirical support), but beyond this it is possible to imagine that reappropriating that word could be a way of defending oneself from fatphobia by fighting on its own ground. It is clear that the fight for equality involves making these irrational biases disappear, which are psychological but also have social roots, and which only hinder human relationships. And it is also expensive that there is a long way to go.
Defend the possibility that all people can living healthily does not mean stigmatizing those who are different.