Thursday, 14 June 2018

Are You Fatphobic?

Be honest. When you saw that photo above...was your first thought somehow related to the shape and size of my body?

I'd bet for the vast majority of you, it was.

Maybe you noticed how much bigger I look without clothes, maybe you thought I don't look as big as you imagined I might. Maybe you internally remarked on how much weight I've gained, maybe you wondered what size clothes I wear, maybe you wondered what I weigh. Maybe you just thought I was brave for sharing a photo like this at my size. Maybe you thought I had no right at all to share it and repulse society with my less-than-desirable body.

Whatever thought you had - whether a positive or negative one - I'd hazard a guess that weight played a part in it somewhere.

And I also bet that you're now thinking "Well so what?! That doesn't make me fatphobic!"

And you may well be right. Noticing that somebody is fat doesn't necessarily make you fatphobic. It's just a fact, after all. I AM fat.

But have you ever stopped to think about WHY we notice and pay so much attention to someones body size and weight? WHY it's such an immediate focus of our attention?

Ok...maybe it's because I'm standing in my underwear. Which is not something I post often, and not something you'd expect to see. Maybe your first thoughts wouldn't have been about my size if I hadn't been in my underwear.

But for a lot of still would have been.
And out of those people, a large percentage would no doubt claim that their reason for thinking immediately about my size was one of concern. That it came from a good place. That they worry for the health and wellbeing of fat people like me and THAT is why they notice it, and why some of them even feel the need to remark on it.

After all, how often do you hear people talking about the "Obesity crisis" or showing their before weight loss pictures without declaring how "disgusted" they are by the "before" image....or commenting on how "big" a particular celebrity has gotten, or the size of someone's thighs or passing comment on the food choices of a fat person.

And they'll insist that isn't the same thing as Fatphobia...but honestly, I disagree.

I started my first diet when I was 12 years old.

I wasn't even overweight.

In fact I'd always been teased at school for being a "skinny melink", whatever that is. But I wanted to feel like a grown up lady. And in my experience, diets were what grown up ladies did.

My mum was always trying to lose weight. I don't remember when I first heard her declare herself "too fat" for certain outfits, but it was something that I remember feeling aware of from quite a young age.

My aunt used to run a Slimming World group just around the corner from where I lived, and I loved going around to help out. I'd sit on the desk, helping to take the payments and count up the money while my aunt led the group. I thought it was great fun...I loved listening in to the women's gossip, and feeling like a part of something meant for grown ups.

But as I sat there week after week, watching those women stand on the scales one after the other - jubilant in their success when they'd lost another pound, and looking miserable and defeated when they'd gained one...I realised that weight was about a lot more than a number on the scale. It was about success and worth.

If you lost weight, you were celebrated, you were applauded, you were sometimes even given a basket of fruit and a certificate for being the most successful person in the group!!

If you didn't lose weight...well you still got a half hearted sympathetic clap, but you were commiserated. Told how to do better next week.

And that's fair enough of was a weight loss group! I wouldn't expect anything else from it.

But I've come to realise that sitting there in that group is where some of my first ideas around body image came from. Slimmer=Better, Slimmer = More Successful. Slimmer = More acceptable.

Winners are slimmer.

Throughout the years, that message has been reinforced to me - and really, to all of us - in many different forms.

When magazines choose only the most slender and perfect of stars for their cover pages. When Hollywood casts only the slender and most beautiful actresses into lead roles unless they specifically require a larger person...then Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson are drafted in but you can guarantee their large builds will be referenced at least once or twice during the movie, usually as the butt of a joke.

There are even whole magazine pages and TV shows dedicated to telling larger women how to dress in order to be more palatable to society.

Don't wear horizontal stripes, avoid bold prints, wear darker colours what you can to appear slimmer.

The message is everywhere and it's unmistakable.

You MUST be thinner! And if you happen not to be, then you MUST HIDE YOUR BODY as much as you can. Don't offend people with your overly visible frame. Hide it away! Conceal it.

Try this pill! Try this juice! Join this exercise class! If they don't work,then this surgery group! Do whatever it takes, but you MUST BE SMALLER.

If you happen to be a larger person who isn't working toward a weight loss goal, then you are of course an open target for all manner of insults.

You're crippling the NHS! You're costing the country money! You're going to die sooner! You're probably living on nothing but rubbish, it MUST be your fault! You're probably going to pass this flaw on to your children too! You MUST TRY HARDER to fit into the standard of beauty that society has set for you.

Society is ALLOWED to judge you, because you are FAT.

And FAT is an unacceptable thing to be.

Nobody truly cares about why you're fat (of course, they like to think they already know why) They just care that you ARE.

And the awkward truth is...for the vast majority of people, fat people are offensive to look at.

But the thing is...we're not born thinking that certain body types are repugnant while others are desirable.

We're not born with a built-in yearning to be a particular body type, or desire to starve and punish our bodies into submission until we achieve that figure.

We're conditioned to feel the way we do about body shapes and sizes by the society we live in.

Which is why in other countries, desirable body shapes look very different. And why a little over a hundred years ago, larger body shapes were on trend. It's all about the attitudes we're brought up around, and the images we're exposed to.

The society we live in now is a fatphobic one. Something which you may not realise unless you happen to be a fat person yourself.

I've seen the development of fatphobia with my own eyes, happening very close to home.

My own three children are very young - all under 6. I've always been very conscious of the language I use around them when it comes to describing physical appearances, and I've always been very conscious of not bringing up my own insecurities around weight or food within earshot of them.

Lately I've shown them various clips and photographs from the internet - showing all different shapes and sizes of people. Including some clips of some larger people dancing - clips that had attracted all sorts of disgusting and abusive comments from people based on the size of the person.

My children watched these clips and never once mentioned the size or appearance of the person in them. They commented only on their dancing, or their facial expressions. Making comments like "She a good dancer" or "that lady looks happy".

I then showed the same clips to my 10 year old niece. Only slightly older, but already far more exposed to societies beauty standards - and her comments were very different. She focused immediately on the persons size.

Sadly I didn't find this at all surprising. I saw the change happening in her myself - she started to comment on my weight when she was around 7 years old, so I'm probably not far off it happening with my own children. It'll be interesting to see how that even with my own conscious parenting, they are constantly exposed to idealistic beauty standards in TV and music videos.

I can't help but worry for them. My nieces in particular, as females are almost certainly judged more harshly on their willingness to conform to beauty standards than males are. I worry about how harshly they'll judge their own bodies as they grow up, and also how fatphobic they've already become at such a young age.

One of my nieces recently told me that she didn't like the pop star Meghan Trainor any more, and when I asked why...she simply said "because she's fat".

In her young mind, her opinion that a person was fat was a completely valid reason to dislike and dismiss her.

I tried to press the subject and discuss Meghan's talent, her style, and even talk about WHY my niece felt that being fat was such an unacceptable thing to be but of can only get so far in a conversation with a 10 year old before you hit a wall.

And it's not her fault...she is just a child. A child who has had a beauty standard thrust upon her by society.

And many of us can truly say we've never taken a dislike to someone because they're not visually pleasing to us?

I know I certainly did when I was younger.

And I know PLENTY of people who are very free and easy with their harsh judgements of fat people in our society.

Stop and think about many people in your own life have made fatphobic comments or judgements?

How often do you see people talk about a situation, only to casually refer to someone as a "fat bitch"? When the situation they're discussing has absolutely nothing to do with that persons size, but yet they've felt the need to bring it up anyway.

A few months back, I saw a conversation take place online between two friends of mine...they were discussing a visit one of them had made to a fast food restaurant.

She commented on the number of overweight children she'd seen there....and how she blamed the parents for taking them to eat in fast food restaurants because that was clearly the reason they were so overweight.

The other friend then replied with a comment about how she wasn't surprised because "when you look at the size of the parents, it's obvious why the kids are so overweight"...they then went on to openly discuss how they'd sat and watched fat people at restaurants such as this and judged their food choices. Watched what drinks they chose, watched how much food they ate...and talked about how "angry" it made them.

The fact that they were admitting to eating the same foods in the very same fast food restaurants with their own children was apparently irrelevant.

I can only assume that because these people are thin they therefore think themselves superior to the fat people they were so openly judging. That they think their thin bodies give them some sort of moral or health based high ground to judge from.

They seemed to see nothing at all wrong with publicly discussing their willingness to judge other people based on nothing but their body size and their knowledge of ONE meal they'd eaten.

They had no way of knowing whether these peoples weight was linked to any medical causes. They had no way of knowing whether they were dieters who'd already lost a huge amount of weight and were celebrating with a treat. They had no way of knowing whether this was a family who were eating out as a one off because of a mitigating circumstance or a family bereavement. They had no way of knowing whether this was actually something they eat every day....and even if that WAS the case, they STILL had absolutely no right to sit and judge another human beings right to eat what they want, where they want to.

A person's weight is not an indicator of their right to be treated with respect, nor of their right to make their own choices in life.

You absolutely do NOT have the right to sit in a restaurant and cast your judgemental eye over somebody else purely because you weigh less than them.

Funnily enough, I found myself in that same fast food chain only a few weeks later with my own children.

It's not somewhere we usually go. In actual fact I hate eating out with the children because of my awareness of judgemental people like these, but on that particular day we'd been on a car journey from hell.

We'd broken down on route, we were running way behind schedule and the boys were way overdue for their dinner. Our original plans had gone out of the window. And the nearest place to eat that could sit us was this pizza chain.

So we went in. And the whole time I was there, all I could think about was that conversation I'd witnessed online.

I felt so sick with worry that people were watching what I ate, judging my food choices,  posting on Facebook to discuss ME as the fat person sitting in a fast food restaurant making bad food choices for my children that I couldn't stand to order anything. I went hungry, instead.

And honestly, this is a problem I experience often as a fat person.

I spend most of my time in public worrying about whether or not I'm offending other people. Worrying about whether or not anybody will pass an unkind comment about my appearance. Feeling as though they somehow have a right to do that because my existence as a fat person is so offensive to others.

And that ok?

Do I deserve to have to live that way purely because I weigh more than you'd like me to?

Should I have to lose weight in order to receive the same respect and freedom of choice afforded to thinner people?

And if you're the kind of person who wants to make a comment about my health being your main concern, then consider this - mental health problems are fast becoming one of the biggest killers in our society.

So if you're so very concerned about the health of fat people, why are you so unconcerned by contributing negatively toward their mental health by passing your comments and judgements?

In my experience, we are indeed an extremely fatphobic society.

And it's time we all took a long hard look at ourselves, because there is more than one way to be ugly.

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