Sized Up

Sized Up
Article by Anna Mollow, appeared in issue Micro/Macro; published in 2013; filed under Activism.
Why fat is a queer and feminist issue.

Image via Shakesville.

Shortly after Barack Obama took office in 2009, first lady Michelle Obama kicked off the national slimming program "Let's Move" and inaugurated an escalation of America's already deeply entrenched "war on obesity," seeming to interpret her husband's campaign messages of "Hope" and "Change" in a manner fortuitous to our country's $60-billion-per-year weight-loss industry. As with the metaphorical wars that came before it (against "drugs" and on "terror"), in the battle against fatness it's difficult to discern the heroes from the villains—or, in terms made famous by the punitive yet highly popular reality TV program, to distinguish the biggest winners from the "biggest losers." Those who soldier on in the war against "obesity" are at times ambiguous about precisely what (pounds of flesh?) or who (fat people captured on television eating fries?) are its intended targets. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" could be the rallying cry for America's fight against the putative vice of fatness. The consistent butt of jokes, a handy icon of "unhealthiness" and loss of self-control, that which we feel we must protect our children from becoming—is "fat" what "queer" was a generation ago?

Ever since radical feminists Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran founded the Fat Underground in 1973, fat activists have worked to make visible the inseparability of homophobia and anti-fat prejudice. Today, a thriving fat and queer community is foregrounding similar intersections. But queer communities more broadly have not yet embraced the cause of fat liberation. "I don't think that, in general, gay and lesbian attitudes about body size make fat people feel accepted," queer fat activist Julia McCrossin remarks.

As an example, she points to weight-loss programs promoted by the Mautner Project (the National Lesbian Health Organization) that are premised on the belief that being fat is unhealthy. This is the first parallel between fat oppression and homophobia: the widely accepted cultural assumption that we're dealing with a dangerous disease.

In 1966, Time magazine described homosexuality as a "pernicious sickness." Today, "a deadly epidemic" is the cliché about "obesity." The terms "obese" and "overweight"—favored by a medical establishment that receives generous endowments from the pharmaceutical industry (makers of weight-loss drugs) and the diet industry (funders of most major studies on "obesity"), and which itself has much to gain from the pathologization of fatness (bariatric surgery is big business)—give the impression that higher-than-average body weight is an illness. But the correlation between body size and health is actually minimal. Risks associated with being "morbidly obese" are no greater than that of being male, and "overweight" people live longer than people of "normal" weight. What's more, the claim that fatness is a health risk ignores a basic principle of statistical analysis: Correlation is not causation. The small differences in life expectancies between average-size and very large people are most likely not caused by being fat but are instead the result of factors correlated with fatness: social stigma, economic discrimination, and the harmful effects of weight-loss dieting and diet drugs.

Conservatives blame the media-hyped "epidemic of obesity" on failures of individual will, while liberals point to McDonald's, high-calorie school lunches, and sedentary jobs. But it's unlikely that any of these factors is making us fat. After all, thin people watch television and eat fast food, too, and fat people have never been proven to consume more calories, or more "junk food," than others. And as numerous excellent books have demonstrated (see Paul Campos's The Diet Myth and Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin for detailed explications of some of the scientific information presented in this article), we are not in the midst of an "epidemic" of fatness. Since 1990, Americans have experienced an average weight gain of about 15 pounds. Hardly cause for alarm, especially since this modest increase in our collective size may be a good thing: A decline in smoking rates could be a factor (quitting smoking typically results in weight gain), as could the increased popularity of weight-lifting and other muscle-building exercise (statistics on "obesity" are based on BMI charts, which classify Matt Damon as "overweight" and Tom Cruise as "obese").

Nor is fatness, as conservatives often claim about homosexuality, a "lifestyle." Body size is determined primarily by genetics, and while diets and exercise programs may produce short-term weight loss, they have a 95 percent failure rate over the long term. Yet like queer people living with hiv or aids, fat people are stigmatized for a condition that is imagined to be their fault. They are hectored by conservatives such as Mike Huckabee, mocked by liberals like Jon Stewart (who, of course, would never dream of making lesbians or gay men the butt of his jokes), harangued about their weight by medical professionals, and subjected to a barrage of advertisements promising "cures" for their supposed disorder.

Does this sound familiar? Remember psychiatry's attempts to cure homosexuality? Our culture's hand-wringing over the "obesity epidemic," its hawking of one breakthrough diet or miracle weight-loss product after another, and its moralistic shaming of those it deems "too fat" are as conducive to self-hatred as "gay conversion therapy." But while the harmful conversion therapy that religious conservatives practice on lgbtq people has rightly been the target of political protest and legal intervention, the medically sanctioned use of weight conversion therapy (a.k.a. dieting) has provoked far less outrage on the Left. Let's Move, as McCrossin observes, is essentially "a child-focused, government-sponsored fat version of conversion therapy." If we would ban the use of gay conversion therapy on children (a practice now condemned by the American Psychiatric Association), then why do we foist similar programs on fat children—subjecting adolescents, most recently, to the humiliation and health risks of vying for the title of the Biggest Loser?

Is it that our collective psyche needs a scapegoat? Perhaps as LGBTQ people are beginning to gain legitimacy, a fill-in must be found, and fat people (along with other "outsiders," such as Muslims, immigrants, the homeless, and the mentally ill) fit the bill. If there is a deeply rooted psychic urge within us all that impels us to make a disempowered "other" the object of our anger and dissatisfactions, then how can we resist acting on this impulse? These are questions we should be asking ourselves; but instead, it seems, we prefer to make psychological pronouncements about fat people's supposed inability to resist their urges. We speak confidently about the causes of overeating (which, we readily assume, fat people must engage in): "emotional eating," "food addiction," fatness as a "shield" against "normal" sexuality, food as a "substitute for love." These pop-psychology explanations are as specious as past theories about "overbearing mothers" and "distant fathers" as the causes of male homosexuality, or "bad experiences with men" as typical precursors to lesbian identity. Yet they have the status of accepted truth, even among many feminists and queer activists. Fat, we have long known, is a feminist issue; but Susie Orbach's bestselling 1978 book of that title has a decidedly fatphobic thesis. Readers are invited to achieve "permanent weight loss" by learning to "conquer compulsive eating." Queer theorist Lauren Berlant also contributes to the stigma of fatness—and perhaps, inadvertently, to race and class prejudice as well—as she worries over "subproletarian Americans" and people of color succumbing to a "slow death" from obesity.

Death, slow or fast, is what we are really afraid of when we obsess about the "obesity epidemic." As the liberal, gay rights–supporting columnist Leonard Pitts puts it, "We are a lard butt nation waddling toward demise." Besides being cruel, this statement is inaccurate: Americans are living longer than ever before. However, Pitts's remark is valuable in that it clarifies the function of the concept of obesity in our culture today. Obesity parallels and intersects with homosexuality, both terms serving as proxies for Americans' anxieties about death, disability, and disease. In discussions of aids, conservative commentators inveigh against the "disease" of homosexuality and call gay male sexuality a "culture of death." According to the right wing, queer sexualities are a threat to our children, a risk to our national security, and a blight on our future. Similar claims are routinely repeated about "obesity," on both the Left and the Right: Fat people are charged with "eating themselves to death," weakening our military, overburdening our healthcare system, and promoting disease among children.

Clearly, the politics of homophobic hate are inseparable from our culture's fear and hatred of fat people. The slur "fat, ugly dyke," used to police women of all sizes and sexual orientations, exemplifies the deeply rooted intersections between fatphobia and homophobia. Sure enough, a new federally funded study plans to determine why lesbian and bisexual women and girls are among the "hardest hit" by the "obesity epidemic."

Queer women are not the first group to be singled out in this way: Disproportionate levels of "obesity" among Latino/a and African-American populations have been the focus of public health interventions for decades. In her chapter in 2009's The Fat Studies Reader, Bianca D. M. Wilson describes what it feels like to hear "fat-is-bad" statements applied to her communities: "I am reminded that I belong to the 'target populations' of fat black or lesbian people.... Their talk about my impending early death due to my body size is juxtaposed with my experiences and work in black gay communities, which demonstrate that there are far greater enemies to the health and well-being of black lesbian and bisexual women than the fat on our bodies, such as violence, poverty, and psychological oppression." Anti-obesity programs directed at people of color and queer women will only exacerbate the problems that Wilson names—by reinforcing anti-fat prejudice, they ensure that these groups will face more violence, economic discrimination, and hostility from mainstream culture. As fat queer Latina activist Margarita Rossi observes in an interview with Julia Horel of Shameless magazine, "Fat hatred is often used to uphold racism, and vice versa."

Anti-racist, feminist, and queer activists must make fat liberation central to our work; we need to explicitly and unequivocally reject the notion that body size is a "lifestyle choice" that can or should be changed. And make no mistake: It is in the interest of people of every size to become fat people's allies. I am a thin woman, and yet my life gives me many reasons to want to fight fat oppression. Like most women, I have spent years in terror of being, or becoming, "too fat" (the same years, not coincidentally, during which I was most afraid of being, or becoming, a lesbian). My partner (and wife-to-be) is a fat woman. My experiences with a chronic illness that is often dismissed as "psychosomatic" have taught me what it is like to be blamed for a physical condition over which I have no control. One day I may be fat myself. And I am tired of oppression of all kinds: I refuse to participate in the mistreatment of an entire group of people simply because the way they look does not conform to hegemonic ideals of "normality."

The war against fat, like efforts to "cure," "convert," or "repair" queer sexualities, will fail. And so—we must make certain—will the war against fat people. If you want to say you were on the right side of this fight when fat liberation becomes mainstream (as it no doubt will), there is much you can do. First, stop dieting. (And if you say you are not dieting but are merely subscribing to a "healthy way to eat," then ask yourself: Would I continue to adhere to my dietary restrictions if I knew they would make me both healthier and 50 pounds fatter?) Desist from all dieting talk: Recognize that remarks like "I'll have to work off these calories at the gym tomorrow" or "Do these pants make me look fat?" are as phobic as fears that the wrong clothing or accessories might make you look queer. Rather than complimenting people for being "petite," "slender," or "svelte," find something else to praise them for instead. Eliminate the words "obese" and "overweight" from your lexicon, and substitute the simple word "fat." Start looking at large people in a new way; notice that fat folks are as beautiful and sexy as anyone else. If previously you have ruled out fat people as potential sexual partners, rule them back in, and rule out fatphobes instead. Discover the fat blogosphere (or the "Fat-O-Sphere," as Kate Harding and Bitch contributor Marianne Kirby call it, in their sexy, scintillating anti-dieting guide). Enjoy blogger Tasha Fierce's reflections on race, sex, and "fatshion," and learn about the unearned advantages of thinness at the This Is Thin Privilege blog. Join a group that fights racism, fatphobia, and queer oppression together (check out NOLOSE or It Gets Fatter). Support the "I stand against weight bullying" campaign, which protests government-sponsored shaming of fat children. Eat a cookie. Or some pie. Skip the "guilt." And spread the word—many people don't know about fatphobia or fat liberation, but once they do, they, like you, will know to do the right thing. 

Anna Mollow has published essays about feminism, queerness, disability, and chronic illness in the Disability Studies Reader, Women's Studies Quarterly, Social Text Online, and other journals. She is the coeditor of Sex and Disability.



220 comments have been made. Post a comment.

large women aren't allowed to have their sexuality

Thanks for the article. I read the comments here from the fatphobic and health concern trolls. While it is true that heavy over weight is a health problem for some, there is an intersection between queer rights and large women. If you are a large woman, and that is officially anything above size 10 in some quarters (remember the fat freakout that fat Lena Dunham would rate sex with a doctor? Fictional sex, mind you).
It is practically illegal for large women to be allowed to have their sexuality in public and what is called fat ranges as low as a size 10 or 12. We have a problem, folks. Not to mention that thing were places that claim how hard it is to hire people will not hire large women..I'm looking at you google, where if you are a woman with a masters in cs never the less are a size 16...forget it.

My partner gained a LOT of

My partner gained a LOT of weight from the age of 9 onwards because her adopted dad (grandfather) molested her hundreds of times until the age of 16 or 17. Why would she be so fat? How dare she be so lazy! Well, for your information, she gained so much weight because her father said that fat women were unattractive (as most men tend to claim, thanks to media making fat women look like slobs and psychos). So she would gain a ton of weight over time. Her mother (grandmother) would get on her case about being fat, she would purge herself (yes she became bulimic over this shit), and then her dad would molest her some more because she lost weight, so she would gain it back.

The comments on this thread are some of the most absolutely disgusting things I've had the misfortune of reading in a long time. Most of the fatphobic remarks are coming from men. Hey, men, thanks for confirming why I'm a lesbian. I'd hate to be judged every time I ate something in front of you.

That said, on the topic of my girlfriend (whose weight stems from years of traumatic abuse) had actually developed thyroid problems as a result of her weight. Not to mention PCOS (which blew out a Fallopian tube), Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, and she lost her gallbladder too. The gallbladder. You know, that thing that filters fat? So over the course of about 10-15 years, her body has made it so that its VERY difficult for her to lose the weight even though losing the weight would help her issues.

And I say, I'd love to see some of the heartless commenters here look my wife-to-be in the face and tell her she deserves her fate because she's a lazy pig. I'd love to see any of you horrible people passing judgements live with her and have empathy, compassion, and patience. Solving her weight problem isn't just as simple as "go on a diet and exercise, you pig." It goes MUCH deeper than that because the minute she starts losing weight, she feels like a target again even though her dad is long since out of the picture.

Maybe before you judge somebody, you open up your narrow mind and figure out WHY they might do something like get so big in the first place.

Oh, but since rape and body image issues are overwhelmingly women's issues, nobody needs to give a damn, right?

Oh, the r-card! The feminist

Oh, the r-card! The feminist knee-jerk topic of choice! I have a theory that any self-identified feminist will compare just about anything to r*pe (I prefer the term sa or sexual assault, but it doesn't have the knee-jerk triggering quality of the word r*pe which is why feminists use it all the time). As a survivor, fuck you for being a typical feminist asshole by dragging r*pe into an argument about fat.

Sexual assault is NOT a "women's issue" but happens to men women and children and yes even republicans, conservatives and bigots. But for most feminists it's just a word they use to support any number of feminist talking points, and they are happy to boost their arguments about in their petty shit throwing matches with their "enemies" by crying that they are doing it for the r*ape victims. Bullshit. Quit exploiting rape survivors to argue about fat acceptance - those two topics aren't even in the same ballpark.

Also, your partners health

Also, your partners health and molestation issues are irrelevant to the topic and simply a bunch of fussy lesbian drama.

Sorry to hear about your

Sorry to hear about your girlfriend and all, but at the end of the day. Like I said in my other comments, fat is matter, matter is not magical, matter is gained by adding matter. Hormone problems, genetics, ect. ect. ect. aside, matter doesn't self replicate. If you gain weight, it's because you've taken in more calories than you can burn. Loosing your gallbladder does not change that, especially since the gallbladder does not "filter fat". It filters nothing, it stores bile which it then secrets into the small intestine. Theoretically the loss of her gallbladder would actually make her loose weight being that bile breaks down lipids (fats) allowing them to be used. Without bile, or high enough amounts of it, many of the lipids one eats would simply pass through the body unused. It's not psychologically healthy to use stuff like this as a crutch or excuse for weight gain because it only cripples and dis-empowers you in the end.

It sounds like her weight issues are almost only psychological. I understand that that presents it's own issues, however, it is something to be worked through, not leaned on. I understand it is more complicated in this case than "eat better, and work out". However, it's not like eating better and working out should be pushed aside just because of emotional scars, or that they wouldn't help. Without physical health, we can never expect to heal ourselves mentally as so many hormones are dictated by their dependence on a healthy body, and the mind is in turn dictated by those hormones. Understanding this instead of just labeling everything as "fatphobia" is step #1. Her case is terrible, however, most people don't have these mental scars to heal. Many people are just simply taking in more calories than they burn, then making excuses for it at the end of the day.


the ridiculousness of the article is only surpassed by the comments. seeing people who would otherwise be rabid sisters-in-arms turn on each other as they deal with the inner conflict of deciding whether they fall on the side of the inarguable benefits of avoiding obesity or extending their "tolerance at all cost" worldview to something as ridiculous as fat activism

Interesting Article

Hi, Anna!

Good article, well-expressed. I plowed through a large portion of the comments thread and was dismayed by the number of ignorant comments which seemed to indicate that people hadn't read or hadn't understood your whole article.

Some of the contentious discussion could perhaps have been avoided if you'd emphasized more strongly the fact that people's weight can indeed be influenced by lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise. Of course, that's implied in your reference to the secondary correlations that cause people to confuse the negative effects of bad diet and lack of exercise with presumed negative effects of obesity. Anyhow, your readers' unclarity on this resulted in a polarized discussion wherein some seemed to be saying that fatness is ENTIRELY genetic while others seemed to be saying that it's ENTIRELY behavioral--both inaccurate, extremist positions (though either could be true in a specific case, I suppose).

But the part of your article that really pushed my buttons is near the end where you say "...notice that fat folks are as beautiful and sexy as anyone else. If previously you have ruled out fat people as potential sexual partners, rule them back in, and rule out fatphobes instead." This seems to presuppose that we can choose what body types appeal to us sexually. That may possibly be true for you, at least to some degree, but it's not true for me and many others. I'd LOVE to be able to offer physical affection to people based on their deservingness without regard for their looks (and I reckon my sex life would be better if others could too!), but unfortunately my hormones dictate otherwise. My best friend is an obese woman who used to have a crush on me, but I was (and am) simply unable to muster any sexual interest in her at all, though we're extremely compatible otherwise. Willy-nilly, through no choice of my own, I'm attracted to thin women, and not at all to fat ones. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING I HAVE ANY CHOICE ABOUT any more than I could choose my sexual orientation. I would never ask a woman to compromise her health for me, and in fact, when I had a girlfriend with anorexic tendencies I urged her to eat more. My sexual/aesthetic preference is NOT a negative judgment on fat people (of which I am one nowadays), any more than my inability to like the taste of asparagus is a negative judgment on it. For you or anyone to enjoin me (and those like me in this respect, which probably includes most people) to make ourselves, through force of will, start being attracted to this or that type of body is not a constructive approach. It seems to subtly pathologize us for our preferences, and will probably result in some people feeling guilty for their preferences, being in denial of them, and/or lying about them for the sake of political correctness.

So I don't support you in prescribing "correct" sexual preferences but, as always, I do support you in educating people about the health realities regarding fatness and in opposing discrimination and abuse against fat folks.

Ted talk - you will cry.

Some obese people are healthy and some thin people are not. Make no assumptions.


As a morbidly obese LGBTQ ally, I was fully expecting to adore this article, not be irritated by it. Yet irritated I was. Mollow does a tremendous disservice to both the queer community and fat people by conflating society's response to the two groups.

Suggestions that "fat people have never been proven to consume more calories...than others", or that "it's unlikely" that ingesting fast foods and working sedentary jobs are contributing to obesity are reflective of a denial that is at best laughable and at worst harmful to those who might believe them. If slim people also eat greasy McDonalds and have office jobs while staying slim, it is usually because they also consume fewer calories overall and hit the gym with greater frequency. I understand that some obese people have hormonal/genetic conditions that dictate their body size, but to suggest that it is almost a roll of the genetic dice for the majority of people whether they will be slim or obese is absurd.

As for comparing the "Let's Move" campaign to conversion therapy, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Getting children of all sizes and shapes to keep active and maintain both physical and mental health is an initiative about as philosophically far from shaming a specific segment of the population about its sexual orientation as promoting accessible education for all is from targeting First Nations people to abandon their cultures and ways of life to adapt to colonial society.

Mollow's argument would be much more compelling if she would admit that some lifestyle choices contribute to excess weight for some people in some cases, and that there actually are some concerns associated with being (especially tremendously) overweight.

Sources please?

Can we please get links to the sources from which the author worked? I'd love to see these studies so that I can judge for myself the validity of (the scientific basis) of this article.

Reality check

The ignorance in this article, and in the comments below is breathtaking. The idea that being overweight is somehow not a choice, and should be compared to homosexuality, or ethnicity in terms of not being able to challenge their validity as a life style is a joke. Furthermore, the idea that the health risks associated with being overweight are simply "beliefs and opinions" held by bribed health care systems is bull.

Fat =/= genes alone. Sorry, but if you've ever taken a university level genetics course you would know that this article is BS. Whether it hurts people's feeling or not does not change the fact that matter is matter. You cannot create matter out of nothing. Fat is there because people PUT it there. Illness or not, pounds won't accumulate without food there to provide that matter. You gain weight when you intake more calories than your body can burn. The body isn't magical. If you're fat, it's because you eat too much, your body can't burn it, and the excess gets stored, and that is a FACT. This is common sense, but reading these comment you'd think that half the people seem to think that fat is some magical self replicating substance, and as such should not be held accountable for it's presence on the body. Stop lying to yourselves, because you're killing yourselves and probably your children in the end.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you aren't born obese, you make yourself obese. Obese people should have to pay more premiums if their illness is linked to their weight in the same way that smokers should have to because it's self inflicted. Tattoo removal service isn't covered at all, and that was a choice. As a health care professional, I can tell you that obese people don't get sub par care, they get care and usually refuse to follow it. Your knees hurt? Well we looked at them, and yes, it's just because you're fat, loose weight. High BP? You're fat, loose weight. Sore back? You're fat, loose weight. Does this sound mean to you? Reality check, that's the cause of your problem. Your hand hurts? Stop slamming it in the car door. It's almost like people think that health care professionals aren't obligated to have to clear red flags before we move onto the simplest solutions, like a person just being fat. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to have to clear through a bunch of lab work, and other tests to find out they're all clear, and yes, the person is just fat? It's a waste of time and money, ESPECIALLY when said person sits down and LIES to your face about their lifestyle, and eating habits. You have no idea why you can't loose weight? How about that family sized pack of M&M's sitting in your purse.

Why should people have to front the bill for people like this? There is a reason why heavy people loose weight in the hospital when they're sick. It's not because the food is bad, it's because the food isn't deep fried, and in family sized portions. Sick or not, your body cannot defy physics by creating matter out of nothing. Being ill still won't "make" you gain weight. Putting food in your mouth, and not burning it off does. The very idea that this is being compared to homophobia, or racism is ridiculous, and that fact that there are no real statistics linked here to prove any of the insane statements about how being obese is apparently healthy just furthers that. Have you ever had to sit through a patient being told that they're loosing their feet because of their diabetes? Being told that they are loosing their body parts because their blood is like maple syrup because they wouldn't stop drinking Pepsi even though they were told they developed diabetes? It's horrible. And while yes, correlation does not prove causation, that boils down to the fact that a good student of science will never say anything is 100% certain, even if it's the case where Jerry happened to break his nose after smashing it into a wall. Or Crystal got type 2 diabetes from eating family sized fast food every day, and sitting around doing nothing.

Obesity is a lifestyle CHOICE as much as getting a tattoo. It's something you have to ACTIVELY and CONSISTENTLY do to yourself. Therefore it is nothing like sexual preference, gender or ethnicity. Please, please don't let this person brainwash you into making excuses for yourself, and allowing yourself to slide down this slippery slope. Obesity kills, it robs you of your energy, happiness and life. It limits you in what you can do, and shortens our already short time on this world. Stop making excuses and trying to self justify by convincing yourself this is some sort of conspiracy against you. It's not. Think about it, obesity kills animals. Drug companies don't make money on fat dogs, yet any vet would tell you if your dog needs to loose weight. We're all animals, and being too thin, or too fat, or any extreme that takes away from the body's natural form is unhealthy.

When did feminist turn so hateful?

Reading these comments has made me lose a lot of faith in the feminist ability to ban together and demand equality for all people. I am saddened and sickened that it has turned into a "fat people choose to be fat" debate instead of an issue about recognizing the right that each person has to be treated with fairness and respect.

Close but not quite

Firstly, I have to say that as with much that has been written around "fat acceptance", I agree with a lot of what is in this article. It goes without saying that our society has an unhealthy obsession with body image, pressuring even those who have healthy bodies to get better abs and thicker arms. And it is true that much of this stems from vested interests in the media, health, and pharmaceutical industries. While I don't believe that there is a conscious conspiracy behind this, there is certainly an alignment of interests that comes together.

However (and this is where the backlash will begin...), I don't believe that being overweight can be compared to homosexuality or race. Or let me rephrase that: it can in terms of the discrimination, but not in terms of its roots. As the divergent and interesting cases posted here show, there is no "root cause" of being "overweight", and there is no necessary, pre-determined outcome to being "overweight". Of course, some people are naturally bigger than others, and can do nothing about it and shouldn't be expected to. Many of these people live long, healthy, active, and happy lives. Other people do make themselves overweight by eating poor foods and not exercising enough (to argue that this is never the case is absurd). Many people suffer terrible health problems because of this. And of course genes play a role as well - some people can eat McDonalds every day and sit on their asses all the time and still fit into an S. Looking at only statistics or only individual cases will never give a true overall picture. Indeed, the very goal of building an "overall picture" of weight and its causes and impacts is probably a false one. The reality is much too complex and fragmented.

My point is that this article falls into the same trap as most of the "anti-fat" articles going around: it assumes that there is a "one-size-fits-all" (if you will....) approach to weight and obesity. To argue that all overweight people are personally responsible for their weight and that their weight will inevitably lead to an early death (probably alone and poor) is insulting, but to argue that it is never in people's hands and will never constitute a health problem and that all health problems we associate with weight are made up by the mad scientists and evil corporations is dangerous and simplistic. This is why comparisons between weight and sexuality are absurd.

It is now accepted by anyone with a brain that homosexuality is not a choice, is not a disease, or a sin, and now it's time for us all to move on to more important things (and of course I applaud the LGBT community in their efforts to combat backward homophobia). The same is not true of weight, and to argue that it is, or that the two should even be in the same category, is simplistic and shows a lack of nuance. It's just not possible to generalize something that is so heavily dependent on individual cases.

Fantastic Article

Easily one of my favourite articles. Thank you for beautifully summarizing the importance of discussing and understanding fat shaming, especially in the context of feminism.


In general, I'm not a commenter, however after taking time to read through the comments below this article I felt absolutely compelled to say something.

Let me first say, that some of your reactions to this subject have been frankly, terrifying.

I was a chubby little girl brought up in a family where my mother and her sisters all had fluctuating weight issues. I knew all about diet plans and calorie counting from a young age. However, I reitterate, I was a chubby, round faced little eight year old who although perfectly healthy and active (my favourite past time was to climb trees - although admittedly once I'd climbed the tree I would sit up there for at least a couple of hours reading!) was not skinny like a lot of my peers at school. And I was bullied, and I watched my mother's yo-yo habits, and I began to feel insecure and unhappy and the fat stigma became ingrained in my young mind.

Growing up with this self loathing was difficult and scary. I felt unsure of myself, I felt unworthy of certain people or things. To be a young girl, only just becoming aware of her potential womanhood is hard enough, add in a constant battle against my body, to be thin, to be beautiful, to fit within societal norms and it wasn't pretty. I suffered abuse throughout my early to mid teenage years about my weight and it hurt. No one ever seemed to consider that maybe I was trying to do something about it.

I remember taking up power-walking when I was 16 (very cool, I know!) and one day during the summer holidays I was really going for it, stomping up this steep, country road, bright red in the face. A car of young guys, around 20 or so pulled about by me and starting shouting fat shaming abuse at me. I just started running and I burst into tears. I thought "They can see that I'm here excercising, they can see that I want to do something about this, yet they still abuse me?".

I'm sorry this is so long but I felt so strongly about this subject that I had to write my story. I do not believe in abuse of any group. I do not believe in the rejection of others based on their physicality. I absolutely will not marginalise anyone. I know what it feels like to be treated badly because of how I look and some of the responses to this article are so cold and judgemental.

Love for all.

So sorry to hear you went

So sorry to hear you went through that. I agree, a lot of these comments are seriously disturbing.

How Fat Acceptance and Feminism Destroyed Each Other

Some of the things mainstream feminsts have said about men are as vile as what Republicans say in private about Blacks and other minorities.

Man haters become feminists same as racists join the KKK.

Fat-shamers are not feminists

Let's suspend reality for a moment and pretend that weight is a system of meritocracy in which all one needs to do is exercise and eat well in order to avoid obesity. Let's see what kind of resources are necessary to eat healthily and exercise regularly.

Eating a Nutritional Diet
-Money to buy fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy. Chips are less expensive and more filling that fruits and veggies. Pop is cheaper than milk. And neither chips nor pop will expire.
-Access to a grocery store that has decent produce. Many inner-city grocery stores have a small, inadequate, or perpetually out-of-date produce section. To be able to drive to a suburban grocery store is a privilege.
-Time and energy to cook/prepare a healthy meal. In single-parent households or households in which the parents work multiple jobs time is a limited resource.
-Knowledge about nutrition. This knowledge is typically passed from parent to child in middle and upper-class families. It is privileged information that is often taken for granted.

Exercising regularly
-Access to workout equipment. Gym memberships are expensive. Home-gym equipment is expensive. Apartments/Condos with communal gyms are expensive.
-Ability to run/play outside safely. Women in any neighborhood may feel unsafe running outside and alone because of the prevalence of sexual assault. However, this fear is likely heightened in areas of higher-crime.
-Knowledge of workout exercises. It is possible to work-out indoors without a gym, however this requires a knowledge of workout exercise sets and of how to avoid injury. Most middle and upper class people gain this knowledge through workout classes, personal training, or participation in sports.
-Time and energy. See above.

Clearly in the game of fitness the cards are stacked against lower-income people. It's unsurprising that words that fat-shamers use such as "lazy" and "free-loading" are often used by classists to describe the poor. Poverty and obesity are interconnected. This is an example of intersectionality, for those commentors who are confused/misinformed as to what intersectionality means.

Now, let's return to reality for a moment and look at other factors besides diet and exercise that affect a person's weight. Obesity is partially influenced by genetic predisposition. Some diseases cause obesity. Certain medications lead to weight-gain. Having a physical disability may make physical exercise impossible. Depression and low-self esteem is linked with obesity as eating can be a coping mechanism. All of these things and more contribute to obesity. So while diet and exercise is important, there are other key factors. Clearly, weight does not function as a true meritocracy but as a system that privileges some groups over others. Sound familiar?

Brilliant article!

This article is an amazing and thorough piece of work. Given how many gay guys are culpable of fat-shaming, misogyny, classism, and lesbophobia with fashion designers like Karl Lagerfeld, for example; the inclusion of the fat activism in the gay rights discourse will help many gay guys, lesbians, queer people and society in general.
At last, I see someone else, besides myself, establishing the analogy between the gay and the fat 'lifestyles' and the scapegoat of these groups of people.
Being a poor fat hispanic lesbian with mental health issues and dyslexia, I find exhausting being the target of hate by one or the combination of two or more characteristics of who I am. The constant rejection of me for being started with my parents and ends with friends, work colleagues not longer ago than last year.
I find very difficult relating to others after all this, but I'll always hope that I'll meet people that will love me for who I am especially that I'll love, accept and respect myself for who I am.
I will fight for women's rights, lesbians' rights, women of colour's rights, mentally ill people's rights, disabled people's rights, fat people's right's, working class people's rights tirelessly until I die.

Your article brought me hope. Thank you

Skinny is not always healthy

When I was 23 I lost a disturbing amount of weight due to Crohn's disease. I felt awful for several years before my disease got bad enough to almost kill me and I was finally diagnosed. Disgustingly to say, I was complemented on my weight loss and was considered attractive.

The meds I was put on gave me thyroid issues and now I am overweight because of that. I am not obese, but I am fat enough be ignored and snickered at. All the healthy eating and exercise is not helping me with this hypothyroid thing that I cannot seem to shake off. Honestly though, I am so much healthier than I was, and I would never want to be as thin as I was before my diagnosis. Ever. Again.