Iowa State graduate students starts conversation surrounding fatphobia


“Fatphobia is the fear and dislike of fat people and the stigmatization of individuals with bigger bodies,” according to the Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week website.

Logan Metzger

When people think about discrimination, they may think about racism, sexism or homophobia, but one area of discrimination that is not always talked about is fatphobia, or weight stigma.

“Weight stigma, in general, refers to negative attitudes and behavior made towards fat people; attitudes and behavior mean fat people are not able to participate in everyday society the same way that thinner people are,” according to Gillian Brown, a writer for The Body is Not an Apology (TBINAA), on the TBINAA website. “It is theoretically similar to gender stigmatization affecting people of minority genders, except here it is happening to fat people.”

Fatphobia is, in simplest terms, a dislike of fat people and/or obesity, according to Brown.

“Fatphobia is the fear and dislike of fat people and the stigmatization of individuals with bigger bodies,” according to the Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week (SRH Week) website. “As with any system designed to exclude, shame or oppress people on the basis of shared characteristics or identities, it can be easy to assume that something like fatphobia only exists on an individual level. In reality, it is layers of complex beliefs and institutional systems that treat fat bodies in need of correction and discipline – sometimes through violent means.”

Fatphobia can end up shaming, silencing and “correcting” fat people simply for existing. It feeds the bias, discrimination, disregard and sometimes even hatred that all fat people have to contend with on a daily basis.

There is a wide variety of ways in which both of these social phenomena manifest themselves. According to Brown, here are some common examples:

In employment, fat employees are often seen as lazy, sloppy, disagreeable, less conscientious, et cetera. They tend to be paid less for the same jobs, have lower-paying jobs and are promoted less often than their thinner counterparts.

In education, fat students are often the victims of bullying and are viewed negatively or treated less well by teachers and other educators.

In dating/relationships, fat people are seen as unattractive and disgusting – the sort who are only dated by people who “cannot do any better,” or by people who have a fat fetish, which is also seen in itself as unattractive and disgusting.

In the fashion world, fat bodies are inadequately catered for, with less than half of the main high-street retailers catering for customers above a UK size 16, despite that being the national average in the UK, and fewer still catering for anybody above a UK size 20.

In medicine, fat patients are overwhelmingly viewed in a negative light by doctors, nurses, dieticians, et cetera.

“They are seen as lazy, unintelligent, weak-willed and uncaring about their personal health,” according to Brown. “As a result, they are frequently mistreated, misdiagnosed and flat-out denied medical treatment.”

The SRH Week website stated fatphobia is present in almost all kinds of media that people consume, and it teaches them what kind of body type they should view as valuable and desirable in their culture.

“Fatphobia in the media is a cultural practice that rewards devaluing fat people, and insists on showcasing thin people as the norm and as what is ‘beautiful’ and ‘desirable,’” according to the SRH Week website.

It also plays out on a personal level. This includes personal interactions, conversations or hurtful remarks that, regardless of intentions, enforce certain views about what bodies are good and which are bad.

“For example, policing what someone is eating, complimenting weight loss as inherently always good, telling fat people about their own health as if they don’t know any better or giving unsolicited advice on weight loss, can all stem from fatphobia,” according to the SRH website. “When we presume we know better than what someone else’s body needs as if fat people have not heard the same stereotypes and concerns about their weight hundreds of times before, we are often […] using health as an alibi to shame fat people for being fat.”

Weight stigma and fatphobia have an impact on fat people, as they are the direct victims of both of these phenomena. As well as these immediate consequences, there are the after-effects of constantly being subjected to these stigmatizing attitudes and behaviors.

Brown said some of these effects include higher rates of depression, anxiety and social isolation; a two to three times higher chance of engaging in suicidal thoughts and behaviors; higher rates of engaging in dangerous weight control and binge eating behaviors; lower rates of physical activity; and lower rates of participation in preventative health services.

“Although some of these specific facts might seem surprising to many, there is a general understanding among the populace that fat people have a hard time of it,” according to Brown. “As well as causing fat people to suffer, weight stigma and fatphobia also cause thin people to be afraid of becoming fat, thereby increasing the pressure to stay thin at any and all costs.”

People may question if fatphobia exists on the Iowa State campus, but research has been done into this question.

Amanda Arp, graduate student in English, and Cassidy Boe, an Iowa State alumna, conducted a study titled “Improving the Plus-Sized Student Experience in Higher Education” where they interviewed Iowa State students about their experience at Iowa State.

“Based on research I and my research partner Cassidy Boe have done of the perceptions of fat students on campus, I can say that fatphobia and weight-based stigma do exist on campus, but not in highly prevalent ways,” Arp said.

Arp said there are many ways that people can combat fatphobia.

“To help combat internalized fatphobia, I would recommend that people question any negative assumptions or opinions they have about fat individuals,” Arp said. “People can also follow body positive social media influencers, like fat activist, Amy Pence Brown, musical artist, Lizzo, and plus-sized model, Tess Holliday. I would also recommend reading more content from body positive and fat positive resources, such as The Fat Studies journal or FabUplus magazine. If anyone has Hulu, they could also watch ‘Shrill,’ a comedy based on the memoir, ‘Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman,’ by Lindy West.”