Health and weight can be skewed by fatphobia

Courtesy of i yumnai on Unsplash

Hannah Scott

Weight can often be a factor in people’s bodies and can be one of the most prominent ways people judge health.

This has largely led to those in larger bodies being seen through a stereotypical and negative lens while being judged more harshly than those in socially accepted body types.

As the times have progressed, society is beginning to see views on weight and health shift; however, there is still much improvement needed in the treatment of those who do not fit into societal standards regarding body shape and size. Weight can sometimes be attributed to someone’s health, but through research, it has been found that it may not paint the entire picture.

“Before going into the dietetics field, even I had some of the preconceptions that ‘oh, somebody is larger they must not be healthy, or they must not be making healthy choices,’” said Jessie Glanz, a registered dietician who works with cancer patients.

“But now being in the field and speaking with these people, you sometimes realize that’s just how their body is made up,” Glanz said. “I’ve seen people who are larger but you look at their blood values and you would never know it.”

These ideas of health and wellness can often translate into those seen as healthy being given better treatment than those who are often labeled unhealthy. While many individuals do not have a solid understanding of the elements that work together to create somebody’s overall wellness profile, there seems to be a desire to put people into boxes.

“I feel like most of society links being in a larger body with laziness, weakness and finding less success than those not living in larger bodies,” said Allison Varineau, a senior studying dietetics at Iowa State. “I would define fatphobia as going beyond the normal definition of just disliking plus-sized bodies but including the obsession our world has with being thin and discriminating against those who live in larger bodies.”

Fatphobia is a term that has started gaining more traction on social media, specifically on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where individual users can share their experiences with discriminatory treatment.

Many different instances have been shown, such as larger individuals not being listened to by doctors, being given bad customer service or even having people in their dating life tell them that they need to change how they look for somebody else’s personal preference. However, just like any other idea on social media, there are times when it can become confusing as to what truly is fatphobic behavior.

Videos have circulated around the idea that losing weight to gain a smaller body size is inherently fatphobic, but these conversations are often more nuanced than they seem.

“I believe that wanting to lose weight is not inherently fatphobic,” said Rachel Sharpe, an Iowa State graduate and dietetics intern at Tulane University. “It can become fatphobic if the individual is trying to lose weight to fit into the ‘societal norm’ or because of the fatphobic society. Losing weight should be an individual’s choice out of love for themselves, not for society’s expectations.”

People commonly voice their concerns about weight and appearance constraints that often lead to irresponsible healthcare.

“I would never myself literally tell someone ‘I think you should lose weight,’ as their only option,” said Glanz. “I could discuss it with them among other health aspects within their lives, but I would never want to rule out other things that could be going on as well.”

Throughout western culture in specific, it is often incredibly common to have ideas surrounding getting a “bikini body” for summer or being able to slim down quickly with a new diet or fad lifestyle change.

Though these implemented strategies may sometimes work in the short term, they generally don’t stick and create an even more difficult cycle for those trying to lose weight.

“These messages from diet culture promise a ‘quick fix’ to achieve ‘health and a slim body,’” said Sharpe. “It causes a cycle of shame and self-hate if you are not able to attain the ‘ideal’ body type after following or failing a diet.”

Some individuals are working to quiet fatphobic messages and behaviors and figure out ways to help those in larger bodies feel more comfortable being in the world.

“I think educating people would be the most important step,” said Varineau. “This is one area where I think social media could be helpful with educating others about food, health and wellness. While there is a lot of misleading information, there are also great resources to help educate yourself. This could potentially change some people’s perspectives towards those living in larger bodies.”