Most of us know someone who has shown an interest in reducing their body fat, under the false assumption that doing so would improve their health. It’s a common aspiration in today’s society to desire to avoid being called “fat,” whether that means getting a “bikini figure” or having a flat stomach. However, one aspect of weight control may not get the consideration it deserves. Aiming for a certain weight or body shape may seem like a healthy pursuit at first, but for some individuals, the fear of becoming that size (known as “fatphobia”) may motivate very harmful behaviors that do more damage than good to their physical and emotional well-being.
According to the Boston Medical Center, fat prejudice is “bias towards those who are overweight, whether it be subconscious or overt, based on an assumption of guilt or immorality. The Western cultural view of being overweight or obese is quite negative.” Those advocating a health-focused, body-positive perspective have recently made and called out in the mainstream media, particularly on various social media platforms, the inherent connection between fatphobia or having an “anti-fat” mentality and other forms of systemic oppression, such as racism, classism, and misogyny. We went to a few diet and nutrition experts to gain more information on this divisive issue and to get to the bottom of what fatphobia is and how it may negatively affect your health regardless of your size.
What exactly is the meaning of the term “Fatphobia”?
Fatphobia is an “internalized dread of fatness,” according to Sarah Anzlovar, MS, RD, LDN, certified intuitive eating counselor and dietitian for parents at Sarah Gold Nutrition, LLC, and a contributor to Eat This, Not That!
Therefore, one should not be frightened of gaining weight in order to suffer from fatphobia. Instead, the word implies a bias towards those who look to have more fat than is considered healthy. This line may be drawn anywhere; sometimes prejudice is shown more openly, and other times it shows itself in the form of subtler microaggressions.
Connections between fatphobia and weight prejudice
Unfortunately, people’s unfavorable attitudes regarding being overweight have consequences beyond the person who holds these views and believes them. Because of its close relationship to weight prejudice, fatphobia may have serious, widespread consequences for many individuals in our society.
Christine Byrne, RDN, an expert on eating disorders, defines weight prejudice as “bias towards obese individuals together with the assumption that being fat is a moral failing or reflective of a lack of personal responsibility.” Although variables like genetics, socioeconomic status, and the environment all have a part in the onset of obesity, modern society has accepted the negative view that fat people are lazy, irresponsible, and lack self-discipline.
Research and meta-analysis published in Obesity reveal that even medical professionals are subject to unconscious prejudice based on body size. To be more specific, many people working in the medical field, including doctors, nurses, dietitians, psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, podiatrists, and exercise physiologists, have implicit and/or explicit weight-biased attitudes toward people who were considered obese.
Stigma associated with being overweight has allegedly grown by two-thirds in the last decade, making it an increasingly pressing issue. Researchers have shown that those who are stigmatized because of their weight have negative effects on their physical and mental health.
You can tell a lot more about someone’s health than just their weight
Many doctors routinely assess their patient’s health by taking their weight and height and dividing by the square root of that number to get a BMI. The BMI result is then used to categorize individuals as either underweight, normal weight, overweight, or very overweight.
According to Harris-Pincus, there are problems with relying only on the body mass index (BMI) since it is not a “use data from Met Life insurance tables from the 1930s and 1940s. It’s not founded on evidence, and it ignores important disparities in physical characteristics across sexes and races.”
And, as Byrne pointed out, the BMI “despite the fact that it was never intended to do so, is routinely used by the medical establishment to determine a patient’s state of health. That’s an issue because it puts too much emphasis on the correlation between body mass and health risks.” Besides the fact that BMI does not tell us whether or not someone is overweight due to fat or muscle, it also provides no information regarding the state of their internal health.
Byrne argues that “it is just as conceivable to be slim and in bad health as it is to be big and in excellent health.”
Byrne and Harris-Pincus are in agreement that additional health indicators should be included since they provide a more complete picture of an individual’s health. Some indices of health, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels, do not take weight into consideration. Byrne adds that other, often-overlooked factors, such as having access to health care, having access to fresh food, being socially connected, living in a good environment, not being overly stressed, getting enough quality sleep, and having favorable genetics, all play significant roles in determining an individual’s health.
To sum up
While many of us have been conditioned by diet culture to assume that emulating the bodies of Hollywood stars is the best way to ensure optimal health, there is no such evidence. Obesity is a risk factor for several health problems, including but not limited to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and premature mortality; nevertheless, it is not the primary factor in determining a person’s health status. In spite of a higher-than-ideal body mass index, one may be in perfect health.
Reasons including heredity and environment, both of which are beyond a person’s control, may have an influence, therefore being overweight is not always an indicator of motivation, lack of willpower, or other factors.
Whether it comes from a doctor, a friend, or an inner monologue, hearing weight prejudice or fatphobia may have devastating effects on a person’s mental and physical health. As well as contributing to mental health problems including melancholy and anxiety, poor self-esteem, eating disorders, and inactivity, fat shaming has also been related to physical health problems like obesity.
Furthermore, even if someone is naturally slender, being subjected to weight prejudice and discrimination increases the likelihood that they will acquire weight and become obese. They also have a higher risk of dying for any reason, independent of their BMI (BMI). Anxiety, melancholy, unhappiness with one’s body image, and a lack of self-esteem may all be exacerbated by weight stigma.