Weight Stigma Awareness Week: My Present

[Content Notice: weight, weight loss, body image]

me, at close to my highest adult weight
Me, at close to my highest adult weight

While I do have a checkered past with the medical establishment, thankfully, about two years ago, I found much better doctors than any of my childhood ones. Sadly, I’ve been unable to find a less fat-hating world in which to live. For that reason, I’ve been restricting my caloric intake for eighteen months and, since January, have been low-carbing. So far, I’ve lost about thirty pounds. I’m not yet “healthy” (where “health” is a euphemism for “thinness”) in the eyes of society (especially here in Southern California) or according to the BMI (I’m still “diagnosed with obesity” every time I got to the doctor), but I’ve noticed some curious changes in my life.

Out in the world of dating and sex, men check me out less furtively than they used to — and sometimes even less-than-furtively. I find myself suddenly placed on a pedestal, with doors opened, chairs pulled, and obstacles pointed out for me. In terms of my weekly errands, store employees who used to ignore me now notice me and ask me if I need help. At the checkout aisle, they scrutinize the expiration date on my coupons and punch cards far less.

The most ridiculous example of this happened the last time I visited a GNC. The smiling, solicitous employee managed, through means I can only guess at, to ring up $50 worth of meal bars and only charge me $20. I walked out with a bag full of portable meals and a head filled with immense confusion (you’d think that far fitter, prettier women than me would visit a store like GNC, right?).

Conservapedia's listing of fat atheists
Conservapedia thinks I’m fat. At least I’m in good company?

I don’t carry myself with more confidence than before, as I still am very much Southern California fat. I don’t dress better; indeed, I paid more attention to the details of my appearance when I was fatter (a coincidence based on time factors). I’m not much happier than I was before, since I’m now uncomfortably aware of my fat rather than resigned to it. The ugly truth is that people see the smaller me as someone deserving better treatment than the bigger me did.

The worst part is that, if asked about it, most people would probably deny it. People don’t like to consider the fact that human beings are prejudiced and act upon those prejudices without a second thought. We often don’t realize what we’re doing, let alone why. People don’t realize that they overlook fat women as much as they do, and so my life in the 180s is different from my life in the 210s.

I do not accept this new state of affairs with anything resembling gratitude or complacency. I cannot forget what I know: Fatter Heina was treated with scorn for no reason other than being bigger than Fat Heina, and she never deserved it. Whether I maintain, regain, or lose more of my weight, I deserve to be treated with common courtesy and decency, as does any other human being.

Weight Stigma Awareness Week: My Present

Weight Stigma Awareness Week: My Past

[Content Notice: body image, weight]

me at 5 years old
I was happy to have cake at home with family. It meant I didn’t have to eat in front of people.

The cruelty regarding my weight started when I was very young and only got worse as I got older. It seemed to me that social interactions were all opportunities for people to be mean to me about something I didn’t know how to manage or control. Before I had learned to count high enough to track my caloric intake, I was certain that, by merely existing in my body, I was asking for poor treatment.

Others’ reminders that I was fat did me no favors not only socially, but also medically. Although I do appreciate the data about the harms of fat stigma — it’s a metaphorical glove by which I can more aristocratically slap the anecdote police — my health history bears witness to how anti-fat stigma can lead to adverse health outcomes.

I knew other women and girls who thought they were fat. Others would tell them that as long as their doctors said that they were healthy, they shouldn’t care. I, on the other hand, was medically overweight, and later, obese. To make matters worse, the ways in which my doctors handled the matter were not quite as professional as you’d imagine. For example, when I was twelve, my doctor pointed out that she, a mother of three who was two inches taller and two decades older than me, weighed twenty pounds less than I did. I needed to get my BMI in order, she chided, while I was still young.

To my relief, moving away from the area a few months later meant that I could I stop seeing Dr. Smug Comparison. To my chagrin, I was to find that other doctors weren’t much better. Even if the doctor didn’t shame me using herself as a counter-example, doctor’s visits were a minefield. I would have to be weighed by a nurse who wouldn’t announce my weight aloud as she did with the other patients my age, then led to a room where the entire conversation would be about my fat body while I shivered in a thin paper gown. As you might expect, incredible amounts of anxiety built up in me in the days leading up to any doctor’s visits.

During one such visit when I was fourteen, I produced a rather high blood pressure reading. Assuming that I must be gulping down copious quantities of unhealthy food, my doctor told me to eat less food, especially the salty kind. If I didn’t shape up, she warned, she’d have to put me on blood pressure medication. That my period had stopped around that time allegedly corroborated that my fat was out of control. I spent a lot of time freaking out about it, obsessively exercising and monitoring my food intake.

doner chips

A few months after that doctor’s visit, I stayed in London for a month. After I returned home, I got my first period in eight months and my follow-up visit yielded a normal blood pressure reading. My doctor briefly praised what she assumed had happened — that I’d lowered my salt intake — before issuing an even-more-frantic version of her usual “lose weight” refrain. This was because, hilariously, I had stopped fretting so much about my body during my trip thanks to the intervention of a sympathetic cousin — and had actually gained weight eating saltier foods than my usual. I found out later that though amenorrhea and high blood pressure can be associated with being overweight, they’re also associated with stress.

More frighteningly, when I was fifteen, anti-fat bias nearly impeded a correct diagnosis for the issue with my right knee. My doctor claimed it must be a minor sprain upon which my overweight body was putting too much pressure. My insistence that I could definitely feel something moving inside my knee led to her reluctantly order a CAT scan. The resulting images clearly depicted symptoms of synovial osteochondromatosis, a rare chronic disease of the cartilage.

This story has a happy ending because I no longer believe doctors to be unquestionable authorities on all things. As an adult, I’ve managed to find excellent doctors, caring medical professionals who I consider part of my team rather than stern figures unhelpfully lecturing me. Sadly, too many others’ stories have quite a different outcome. There are plenty of fat people who avoid going to the doctor to avoid shaming — and the ones who do go can be misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed. I’m sure most doctors mean well and I doubt that there was an intention to harm feelings and health outcomes in the case of even Dr. Smug Comparison. If we actually want fat people to become healthier, though, we need to consider the fact that doctors are people and don’t always behave in the best interests of their patients’ health.

Weight Stigma Awareness Week: My Past

Weight Stigma: Yes, It’s a Thing

[Content Notice: weight loss, weight and body issues]

As I found from various awesome folks I follow, this week is Weight Stigma Awareness Week; people are submitting their personal stories about it. Before I contribute mine, I would like to make a case for weight stigma.

Simply put, it exists.

Every fat kid’s fear: This game.

I’ll leave aside those who insist that fat people just need to “calories-in calories-out” themselves into a more socially-acceptable body type. I’ve found that those types will persist in their belief that people who don’t fit their standards of thinness are eating themselves to a death of teh fats no matter what evidence is available to the contrary (does Amber Riley look like she’s going to die after that vigorous workout?)

The trouble I find with talking about weight stigma is that, like many other forms of societal oppression, its very existence is nigh incessantly denied. There are those who believe that any kind of anti-fat behavior can be explained away by the poor attitude of the fat person in question despite all evidence to the contrary, evidence that points to spreading worldwide stigma. The denialism can go as far as to reject the fact that misused medical tools can be used to discriminate against fat women. Institutionalized, society-wide oppression doesn’t disappear because a fat person decides to, say, smile more and stand up straighter.

Another problem with talking about weight stigma is that thin women sometimes claim that they are as equally discriminated against for their body size. While women of all sizes no doubt have their bodies policed, fat women demonstrably face discrimination of the kind that thin women simply do not face, from the doctor’s office (no, really, there could be a reason besides fat that fat women experience poor health outcomes) to the courtroom (male jurors are more likely to hand a guilty verdict to fat women) to the office (overweight women are paid less). There are countless anecdotal lists containing examples of thin privilege at places such as Dances with Fat and Everyday Feminism. It’s not that fat women win some imaginary competition against thin women in the Oppression Olympics, it’s that we need to pay attention to the harmful ways in which they are discriminated against, ways that are particular to their body type and not simply a product of generalized misogyny.

And no, telling your fat friend you think she’s cute is not a magic solution to fat stigma. In fact, it’s pretty condescending given all that she’s up against.

Fat yoga is A Thing!

Even if you disagree with the research in favor of the idea of Health at Every Size, shaming fat people does nothing at best and, at worst, is associated with weight gain (original study). Even when people lose weight, the stigma isn’t quite eliminated and, indeed, lingers.

It helps no one, least of all fat people, to enforce weight stigma. It’s about time we admitted that fat-shaming isn’t the same as encouraging health, cruelty doesn’t help people to become thinner, and thinness isn’t always the best course for all fat people.

Weight Stigma: Yes, It’s a Thing

How to Stop Patronizing Your Fat Friend: Self-Loathing Edition

Trigger Warning for Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders

So you’ve stopped making the political into the personal when it comes to your fat friend. That’s awesome! Thank you so much for hearing what your fat friend has to say rather than your own internalized assumptions about her feelings.

“But sometimes,” you tentatively begin, “I hear her actually hating on herself. I hear her call herself worthless, ugly, and so on. What should I do then?”


Definitely, definitely don’t tell her to just love herself, ignore the “haters,” or otherwise pretend that your assessment of her attractiveness will make it all okay.

In addition to robbing us of our ability to discuss that which affects us, telling fat women to self-love away anti-fat bias asks quite a lot of us. Are we just supposed to turn ourselves into rubber and all of the fat-haters into glue? Ignore everything that we happen to see or overhear? Pretend that everything that is said to us was never uttered?

I’ve worked my ass off to feel good about myself but I have my down moments. A head-pat that frizzes up my carefully-arranged hair and a “you should give yourself more credit, hun” doesn’t help me in those moments. All the self-given credit in the world won’t change the fact that sizeism is, indeed, A Thing, and that my experiences are real. One person’s individual feelings doesn’t exactly change all of my external experiences.

The relentlessness of the message that fat women are repulsive means that fat women have to grow quite a thick skin in order to be confident at all. To make matters worse, confidence in fat women is often mocked and derided even more than their fatness is. One person’s declaration that a particular fat woman isn’t “actually fat,” that she is “proportional,” that she is worthy and beautiful, won’t magically make all that disappear.


What to do about your fat friend, then?

If she mentions any kind of positive feelings towards her body, you should be damn proud of her. She has managed to resist a pretty incessant message in favor of being happy with herself and living a full life. Direct some kudos her way.

On the flip side, if she mentions anxieties about her body, blaming her for not being confident enough is a rather jerkface move. Think about just how hard she would have to work to never once internalize the message she’s constantly being force-fed. Give her some of that credit you think she isn’t giving herself in her moments of self-hate and refrain from blaming her. Instead, offer the truth: that you feel she’s a worthwhile person and that you’re not sure what you can do to help her feel better, so until she indicates otherwise, you will offer a friendly ear, sympathetic murmurs, and a hug if she wants one.

How to Stop Patronizing Your Fat Friend: Self-Loathing Edition

How to Stop Patronizing Your Fat Friend: Fatphobia Edition

Trigger Warning for Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders

Ah, fat — that charged, overloaded, connotation-carrying word. There is a lot I could say about the word, but for the sake of my point, let us fast-forward past the debates over fat-shaming, Health at Every Size, thin privilege, BMI, and so on. Let us make even more haste as we zoom right past people who simply hate fat people for whatever (or no real) reason.

Oh, and for the love of all that is creamy and delicious, let me acknowledge that I am aware that thin women face incredible amounts of body-shame, body image issues, and lookism as well. My discussing issues related specifically to being a fat woman does not invalidate thin women’s problems and pain. As a lifelong fattie, I simply cannot speak for them.

I want to focus on the well-meaning friends, relatives, and lovers of fat people who, in their haste to reassure the people they care about, can’t see the difference between discussions regarding external reality versus talk about self-image.

Over and over again, well-meaning people take away fat women’s ability to discuss the issues that affect them. Often, when a fat woman dares to mention anti-fat bigotry in society, she is told that she should “accept herself” or some variation of that sentiment thereof. Alternately, she might be told that the person in question finds her attractive. What happens is that the assumption that all fat women need to be cheered up and reassured takes precedence over anything the fat woman in question is actually saying.


Some of the most confident, self-assured ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering are lectured about self-esteem and self-acceptance instead of having their thoughts acknowledged when they speak of anti-fat bias. How incredibly condescending it is to insist that someone is talking about personal sadness when they are describing the reality of their lived experiences. How disappointing it is to the lady in question to find that others’ perceptions of her self-image automatically override the words coming out of her mouth.*

Although I’ve lost a decent amount of weight in the past 18 months, I still firmly qualify as fat, especially here in sunny, superficial Southern California. After years of self-loathing followed by years of working on my self-image issues, I’ve come to a few conclusions, conclusions about which I speak only using the most carefully-curated of words. No matter how much I try to denote exactly what I’m saying, I still get well-meaning but wholly misguided people attempting to soothe me where I needed no comfort in the first place. Worse, their focus on what they perceive to be the issue, i.e. my self-image, robs me of the power to talk about a real issue that affects me, i.e. fat-hate.

I do not think that I am ugly. Au contraire. Why would I spend so much time and effort on buying fun clothing, experimenting with make-up and hair products, and hunting down cute shoes that fit my size 10-11 wide feet — because I think I’m not worth looking at?



There was certainly a time when I thought I wasn’t worth much at all. I shrouded myself in dowdy clothing and applied overly-thick black lines around my eyes, hoping to bring attention to what I thought was my only good feature. That time is well behind me, thank you very much, and I’d like to be treated as the woman I am, not the self-loathing girl I once was.

Though the personal is often political, the political is not always personal.

So if I don’t think I’m ugly, why bring up fat hate? call myself fat or a fattie? mention anti-fat bigotry that has been hurled in my direction?

As good as I feel about myself most of the time, that I don’t live in denial of fat-hate doesn’t mean that I think of myself as unattractive, it means I acknowledge my reality and my lived experiences. I direct attention to society’s hatred of fat people for the exact same reasons that I clamor for attention for unfair discrimination of any kind: in the hopes that people will recognize what they’re doing and, you know, work to change it.

I’m talking not about any perceived ugliness in myself, I’m talking about how ugly society can be.

So, how exactly can you stop patronizing your fat relative, friend, or lover when she speaks of that kind of ugliness? If she mentions society’s shitty treatment of her, you can stop denying her experiences and instead say, “Wow, that is really shitty!” Even better, when you see shitty behavior, you can call it out or at least not participate in it.

* If she is actually hating on herself, that’s a different matter, one to be addressed in a future post.

How to Stop Patronizing Your Fat Friend: Fatphobia Edition