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Understanding and Combating Fatphobia

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10 min

Understanding and Combating Fatphobia

TW. The article discusses topics about obesity, eating disorders, and weight discrimination. Some statements may be triggering, so if you are sensitive to these subjects, read further with care.

She’s fat; I won’t sit with her.” 

He’s obese; he must have so many illnesses.” 

They are bullying me for my weight!

Have you ever heard these or similar statements? If yes, I’m so sorry about it.

Fatphobia is everywhere — in movies and on the streets, at schools, and in fashion magazines. Their statements translate to saying that you are not enough. You’re not skinny enough, not thin enough, not good enough. And I believe it isn’t OK

In this article, I’m going to tell you whether fear of fat people exists, why people like to talk about others’ weight, and how to deal with it. Read further if you have a “fear of getting fat” or blame others who look differently.

What is fatphobia?

Fatphobia is a definition of a fear and stigma against people with larger bodies and obesity. It doesn’t always involve overt shaming and verbal criticism but is more about non-acceptance and discrimination.

The main message fatphobic people can push is that overweight people feel guilty about their size and should change it. Their statements mostly come from stereotypes that some people are worse than others. What’s more, they often believe that all factors that make people gain weight are within our personal control.

Fatphobia VS. Fat shaming

Open TikTok and see another “fat person” dancing in front of the camera in leopard print leggings. “Disgusting!” — someone might think.

Reading the comment section and seeing hundreds of similar comments. “Awful,” “Terrible,” “How dare you?” — someone else might catch themselves on these thoughts.

Sadly, people struggling with weight and health issues can encounter these insensitive remarks. Is it fat shaming? Definitely. This phenomenon is more overt and means direct bullying and hating other people based on their weight.

It doesn’t even matter if the “fat person” weighs 6 lbs more than you. The difference doesn’t matter. Your acceptance of other people’s bodies does.

But what does it mean to be fatphobic? It’s more about the way you think. 

  • Do you agree that clothing size identifies the value of a person?
  • Will you harass someone based on their weight?
  • Do you criticize obese people for the way they look?

Fat shaming is shouting about your position, and fatphobia is judging in silence.

Types of Fat People Phobia

“Fat is not just a description of a body; it is a description of a struggle.” Aubrey Gordon, the author of “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.”

Phobia of fat people can be different, but it’s all about discrimination and sizeism. To deal with its smaller manifestations, we need to learn how to notice it. So, let me provide some examples.

Interpersonal fatphobia

Wow, you’ve gained so much weight!” Doesn’t sound encouraging, right?

Unfortunately, some people consider the word “fat” as “helpful insulting,” and they believe that gaining a few pounds should be the biggest tragedy in your life and you should immediately listen to them. 

Bullying at school, ambiguous comments at work, and even shaming women who have just given birth for weighing more than usual aren’t appropriate. Besides, appearance-based compliments are so puzzling that it’s better to avoid them so as not to offend someone.

Internalized fatphobia

Do you have a fear of “being fat” and think that it’s OK? Actually, it’s not a helpful mindset. And it usually makes you feel even worse about your own self-worth. 

Because of the overall stigma that overweight people are less attractive, many adolescents are getting eating disorders. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, as well as orthorexia and exercise bulimia, can be the consequences of internalized fatphobia.

There’s a huge difference between a desire to be healthier and stronger and self-deprecating questions like, “How to stop being so fat?” Have you crossed this line already?

Systemic fatphobia

It isn’t only about us; it’s about the system itself. In fact, 59% of obese adults in the US reported weight discrimination.

  • Too small seats in public places
  • Lack of big sizes in clothes stores
  • Employment harassment — when a fit body is considered a competitive advantage 
  • Medical bias — when doctors demand that their patients lose weight instead of dealing with a real unrelated issue

Have you ever heard the song “Diet Culture” where Brye sings, “There’s nothing wrong with my body. “Fat” is not a dirty word.”? This is what conscious people are moving to. And I hope the fear of obese people will stop being our reality.

Media fatphobia

Last but not least. Let’s remember Victoria’s Secret Angels — models “perfect” according to clichéd social standards. Over decades, their show was at the peak of popularity. 

And even though now trends are changing and more and more media start showing people of different sizes, fatphobia still exists.

Just think about the film “Identity Thief,” where Sandy Patterson is showcased as a “weird” woman who can’t deal with her life. This is the representation of overweight people that many media still promote. Sadly.

Phobia of Fat — The Origins

Fatphobia is more than just a psychological phenomenon; it’s a cultural thing that happens for several reasons. The demands of society are so high that they harm the mental health of both obese and slim people.

But what was the catalyst for this avalanche? Let’s find out.

Cultural influences

  1. Family and peer influence. “You shouldn’t be different,” “You should look normal; otherwise, we’ll bully you.” I’m sorry if you’ve ever heard such comments. This message many teenagers may have faced for years, which often causes childhood trauma. Thus, it can be difficult for you to appreciate others’ differences, as your loved ones have never appreciated yours. 
  1. Religious and cultural beliefs. What adjectives do you think about when you imagine a person with a fit body? Maybe something like “disciplined” and “motivated”? Many cultures and religions praise slim people for their ability to follow some rules while believing that overweight people lack self-discipline.
  1. Socioeconomic factors. A few centuries ago, obesity was synonymous with being rich. Now, people might consider that you’re poor. In developed countries, if you can’t lose weight, society believes that you lack money for healthy food, fitness, medical treatment, vitamins, etc. Which often isn’t correct, but it doesn’t change the situation.


  1. Laziness. Many people allow themselves to make fatphobic comments as they believe that obese people are lazy. However, it isn’t so. Sometimes, people with excessive weight ask, “Am I lazy or depressed?“—mostly the second one. Gaining weight can result from health problems, genetics, socioeconomic status, etc. Or it can even be a choice that a person has every right not to feel ashamed of. 
  1. Unattractiveness. Why do people hate fat and obese people? Some just consider them unattractive. While there’s nothing wrong with personal preferences, fatphobia, and shaming shouldn’t come to the stage. Don’t you think that it’s a little childish to hate people you don’t like?
  1. Healthcare bias. Did you know that weight has little influence on someone’s specific health conditions? Even though it’s a well-known scientific fact, society still believes that being overweight is equal to having many illnesses. This misconception cultivates a phobia of fat and harms millions of lives. 
  1. Moral judgment. “She can’t keep a healthy diet.” “He quits sports three times a month.” “She should stop eating those sweets.” I know these comments may be hurtful. Besides, this approach to someone’s diet and working out is fatphobic. Some people think that obesity is a result of a lack of willpower. However, in most cases, it’s just a stereotype.
A woman who thinks, "How to stop being so fat?”

When Fatphobia Harms People’s Lives

“You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin, you have to say you want to be healthy. But also, you have to be thin,” Gloria’s monologue from “Barbie.” 

What does fatphobia mean in our daily lives? This phenomenon harms both obese and slim. How? Let’s delve into this.

Define fatphobia’s influence on overweight people

  1. Education. Do you remember an overweight student at school who struggled because of bullying? I believe this happens in most educational institutions globally. Obese people work from hate from the early years of their lives, which, quite often, influences their self-perception.
  1. Work. Recruits and managers often discriminate against overweight employees. Stereotypes state that people with excess weight have less leadership potential and tend to be less successful at work. While it’s not true in most cases, finding work and getting a promotion may become a real challenge.
  1. Relationships. Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin didn’t have problems finding a spouse. However, the reality is a bit different. People with excess weight often deal with hate and unacceptance, which can turn romantic life into a nightmare. What is love for them? It’s more about appreciation and support.
  1. Medicine. Sadly, many unprofessional doctors still believe that weight can be a cause of most problems. They may avoid examining for another reason and misdiagnose people. As a result, these doctors may provide low-quality treatment, which can even worsen the situation.  
  1. Mental health. Imagine that you have struggled with everything highlighted above for years. How will you feel? Probably frustrated, isolated, and overwhelmed. 

“Are fat people ugly”? Of course not. But this is how some parts of society can make them think about themselves.

The Fear of Fat People — Effects on Slim Bodies

Are you ready to discover the other side of the coin? Internalized fatphobia is real; it lives in the heads of most of us. 

You weigh yourself every day. Hit the gym five times a week. Eat boiled chicken and dream about a cheeseburger. You do everything possible to stay slim and hate this routine with all your heart.

Eating disorders and overexercising could be another fat phobia definition. People are so scared of gaining weight that they are ready to torture themselves just to not gain an extra pound. And sadly, this behavior is socially approved.

At the same time, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Knowing this information, it’s likely that putting on weight is not always bad.

4 Tips on how to stop being fatphobic to yourself and others 

If you really want change to happen, if you really want to “help” fat people, you need to understand that shaming an already-shamed population is, well, shameful,” Lindy West, “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.”

Finally, we’ve got here! Body positivity is becoming a 21st-century trend, as well as building nurturing relations with others. Save the tips below to overcome fatphobia and start building a more inclusive world where there’s a place for everyone.

1. Look at your ideas from a different angle

“I am fatphobic,” this confession requires lots of strength and self-awareness. If you’ve already understood it, congrats; the mission was completed successfully.

Now, you need to understand that everything starts from your head. Is fat phobia real? Of course. It’s a representation of your fears and insecurities.

Why do you blame others for being different? Perhaps you don’t allow yourself to be different and go against societal norms. Consider contacting a therapist or trying to improve self-esteem on your own, and you’ll see that others’ appearance doesn’t matter to you anymore.

2. Avoid negative self-talk

This tip supports and empowers the previous one. There are many hurtful things to call fat people, but you better avoid them.

The longer you treat yourself and others with kindness — even inside your head — the less you want to spill something negative onto loved ones and strangers. What’s more, positive thoughts create a ripple effect, fostering better relations.

As a result, you’ll take a step toward understanding human emotions and will use the power of emotional intelligence to make your life better. 

3. Begin by being kind

It’s not only about separate thoughts; it’s about how you appreciate obesity. Change the statement “I hate fat people” to “Everyone deserves empathy and understanding.” You never know what happens in someone’s life, so judging is the worst decision possible. 

Remember that size doesn’t evaluate the person, the character, the intelligence, or how we live. There are dozens of more important things to notice rather than the weight of a stranger in front of you. 

Moreover, be kind to your own body size, too. I believe your body overcomes so many challenges. Be grateful for it.

4. Challenge people around you

Finally, yet importantly. Do you feel ready to answer the question, “What is the fear of fat people, and how can I deal with it?” Then, share your knowledge with others. 

Most of us don’t even understand the influence of diet culture on our daily lives. So, change it! Respectfully but persistently explain to your loved ones that size doesn’t identify people, and it shouldn’t be the reason for sizeism. 

To promote body positivity, you will need to accept and appreciate all body types. Over time, the fear of gaining weight and fatphobia will go away. 

To Sum Up

You’ve done a great job! Now you understand what fatphobia is, its meaning and influence in society, and how we can debunk stereotypes about this phenomenon. If you’ve ever struggled because of fatphobia or experienced fatphobic thoughts, I recommend Breeze tests to assess your mental state and ways to improve it. Take care of your well-being now to feel better in the future.

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC, comments “Fatphobia is a learned behavior that we can’t always help, BUT we can take intentional steps to shift our beliefs and how we perceive people. Challenge yourself regularly by educating yourself on body weight stigma and reading about the stories of people who experience overt fatphobia from health professionals and in social settings. By challenging negative beliefs and attitudes about fatness and embracing body positivity, you can contribute to creating a more inclusive and accepting society for people of all body sizes.”

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC photo

Reviewed by Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC, is a licensed clinical professional counselor. She owns a private practice specializing in anxiety tre...