Lizzo was one of the best artists of 2019, solidified by her multiple Grammy wins this past January. However, the performer has been the target of a slew of anti-fat rhetoric for most of her career up to today, which is an unfortunate reality for many women that look like her.
Black women’s bodies have been policed since the Atlantic Slave Trade, most notably in the case of Saartjie Baartman. Along with other Black people, Baartman was kidnapped from South Africa in the early 1800s and brought to European countries to be paraded around in freak shows as the “Hottentot Venus”. Why did they think she was a freak? She was fat. White audiences marveled in disgust at her wide hips, big butt and large thighs. Black women were dehumanized and called savages in comparison to slim, White women. These ideas of beauty and size have been reinforced over and over again and fat people are still treated poorly around the world.
I would like to give a lot of people the benefit of the doubt and believe that many of the widespread ideologies about fat people remain due to naivety and ignorance. I had only been introduced to fat politics through radical podcasts such as Hella Black, so I’m aware that this is a topic that is gaining more traction through leftist politics. So, I present you with five things you should know about fatphobia to help you understand that fatness is a lot more complicated than a number on a scale.
1. Fatness does not affect beauty.
A person’s ‘beauty’ doesn’t depend on their weight. Like, at all. The idea that being small equals being beautiful derives from White supremacist race science that sought to dehumanize Black people. We have to desperately drop this notion that fat people are not beautiful compared to skinny people. We see it all the time in movies, TV shows and social media. The fat kid is the ugly duckling of the group, or the DUFF (designated ugly fat friend), that gets bullied about their appearance and hates themselves for it. Even when fat people are given roles that are primarily positive, their weight is usually the center of their storyline.
I notice when most people talk about what they want to change about themselves to be more beautiful, their weight is usually the first thing they mention. While people can decide to do what they want with their bodies, the desire to be attractive to others has been the sole or one of the main reasons why so many people go on ‘weight loss journies’ or worse, develop eating disorders. As a society, we have to acknowledge the biases we have against fat people and unlearn how we’re taught to see big people in comparison to thinner folks.
2. Diet culture is a consequence of fatphobia.
The constant bullying, reminders and comments fat people receive have led to a multi-billion dollar diet industry that preys on people, especially women, to find insecurities with their appearance, the things they eat or their decision to stay active or not.
We are constantly bombarded with advertisements on television, social media and in public that persuade us to believe there is something wrong with the way we are living that can be fixed with a new diet or an intensive workout plan. Historically, White women were supposed to practice discipline to keep their bodies slim and to look as ‘lady-like’ as possible in comparison to the fat, Black women who they thought were savages.
But the thing they don’t tell us is that most of the time, the diets that companies and influencers promote don’t work. Even if the customer loses weight, 95% of people gain their weight back within 1 to 5 years. These companies use fatness and the social consequences that come with that to scare people into doing unhelpful things they may not even want to do.
3. Being thin and being healthy are not mutually exclusive.
Another thing diet culture has wrongfully taught us is that being thin is a result of being healthy and vice versa. This is not the case for a lot of people. Slow metabolism rate or illnesses can result in difficulties with losing weight despite partaking in physical activity regularly, eating clean and/or taking health precautions. Thinness should not be the primary goal, overall health should be.
There are folks who smoke cigarettes, eat fast food every day or hardly ever drink water and yet, they’re really thin. Health does not look one way and neither does illness. The human body is extremely complex and looking at one cannot tell you someone’s medical and health history. Ultimately, we should not assume nor judge people about their body shape because it’s their business and not yours.
4. People do not need to be skinny to be respected.
After understanding #3, it is also essential to recognize that no one should have to look a certain way to be respected. People shouldn’t have to lose weight for people to stop abusing them. If a fat person was capable and decided to lose weight, then suddenly you’re going to stop being judgemental? Or are you going to find something else to bully them for?
It costs nothing to be kind. There are many systems of oppression that overlap and body image is one of them. Being a Black woman already has its challenges but as we see with instances in real life and social media, fat Black women like Lizzo are beaten down for their appearance and it’s all rooted in White patriarchal supremacy. We can’t fight racism and sexism without fighting fatphobia too.
5. Being fat doesn’t mean they’re unhappy.
There’s an assumption that fat people, especially fat women, are self-hating and unhappy people because of the way they look.
There are fat people who are beautiful and love their bodies, just as there are skinny people. Don’t give backhanded compliments to a fat person for showing their body, because you're expecting them to hate fatness as much as you do. You wouldn’t feel comfortable showing your body if it looked like that so you’re assuming they are being brave. Let people be happy about their bodies and stop projecting your own fatphobia onto them by assuming they’re miserable. Everyone deserves to love the body that they’re in, no matter what.