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Understanding Fatphobia, Fat-Shaming, and Eating Disorders

Fatphobia and fat shaming are two forms of weight discrimination and prejudice that often take a huge toll on one’s mental health and overall well-being.

Unfortunately, fatphobia and fat shaming have become so deeply ingrained in our society and continually perpetuated by diet culture. Whether it’s in social groups, healthcare settings, or in one’s own mental health, these normalized anti-fat attitudes often have detrimental impacts on people living in larger bodies. Luckily, in recent years, many have addressed fatphobia’s harmful effects and begun to normalize the wide range of body shapes and sizes – including our recovery team.

Let’s take a closer look at the nuances between fatphobia and fat shaming, the effects they can have for people in larger bodies, and how they may contribute to disordered eating.

Fatphobia vs. Fat Shaming: What’s The Difference?

Fatphobia and fat shaming are closely tied issues that encompass people’s negative attitudes or actions toward body shape and size, whether it’s toward oneself or another person. With diet culture continually pushing unattainable body standards, it’s crucial to address how these harmful attitudes manifest in our lives and impact our well-being.

Fatphobia

Fatphobia is an abnormal and irrational fear of being fat or being around fat people, and it encompasses societal prejudice, bias, and discrimination against people perceived as overweight. 

This form of weight discrimination is rooted in the negative stereotypes and body standards pushed by diet culture that equate thinness with health, attractiveness, and moral virtue, while falsely associating larger bodies with laziness, lack of self-discipline, and moral failure. Harmful stereotypes such as these perpetuate misinformation about the complex factors that influence body size and general health.

Some key ways we see fatphobia and its negative consequences include:

  • Social stigma: Fatphobia may lead to the social exclusion of individuals with larger bodies
  • Discrimination: Weight discrimination may occur in the workplace, healthcare settings, and educational institutions, impacting opportunities for employment, education, and quality healthcare
  • Body dissatisfaction: Constant exposure to societal beauty standards that prioritize thinness may contribute to poor body image
  • Health disparities: Fatphobia may contribute to health disparities, as people who experience weight discrimination may be less likely to seek medical care
  • Internalized guilt and shame: People who internalize fatphobic beliefs may have feelings of shame, guilt, or self-blame for their body size, which may negatively affect their mental health and overall well-being

Importantly, fatphobia intersects with other forms of discrimination, such as sexism, racism, and classism. For instance, women, people of color, and individuals of lower socioeconomic backgrounds may face compounded challenges due to overlapping forms of prejudice.

Addressing fatphobia involves challenging and dismantling these harmful fatphobic stereotypes and developing a more nuanced understanding of health in order to foster a society that values and respects all body shapes and sizes.

Fat Shaming

Fat shaming is the act of judging or humiliating someone based on their size, shape, or weight, typically by making harsh, negative comments to criticize or stigmatize someone based on their body size or appearance. Due to harmful body standards pushed by diet culture, many people with larger bodies have experienced some sort of weight discrimination or fat shaming in their lives.

Fat shaming may come from a variety of contexts including social circles, family, employers, educators, and internalizing from oneself. It can even occur in healthcare settings, partly due to the flawed BMI scale that equates body weight with overall health.

However, fatphobic attitudes and behaviors are not limited to any certain group, as diet culture has flooded social media with unhelpful diet-ridden content. A 2021 study found that repeated exposure to “thin-ideal” body standards, for women over 18 years of age, in the media most often resulted in increased body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem.

How Fatphobia and Fat Shaming Relate to Eating Disorders

All types of weight discrimination – including fatphobia and fat shaming – are connected with the development of disordered eating. Consistent exposure to fatphobic attitudes and experiences of fat shaming can lead to extreme body dissatisfaction, especially when also exposed to unattainable body standards from the media and elsewhere. 

Long periods of body dissatisfaction, due to anti-fat attitudes, may drive individuals toward unhealthy dieting practices in order to conform to societal expectations of thinness. Studies find that childhood bullying related to weight are directly connected to restrictive eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Moreover, pressures to achieve a certain body shape or lose weight rapidly may also cause individuals to have increased stress levels which has been connected with binge eating episodes. This, combined with repeated exposure to weight-stigmatizing comments, may result in the development of binge eating disorder.

Looking for more weight-inclusive information about eating disorder treatment and recovery? Check out our RecoVERY Community for actionable recovery insights, community support, and daily psychoeducation.

How to Combat Fatphobia and Fat Shaming

Thanks to various body positivity movements that promote the diversity of all body shapes and sizes, there has been a growing awareness of the harmful effects of fatphobia and fat shaming in recent years. However, due to faulty media representation and a lack of adequate weight-inclusive research and education, anti-fat attitudes are still prevalent.

Here are our tips for combating the harmful effects of fatphobia and fat shaming:

  • Cultivate self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness you’d offer a friend, and acknowledge that no body size is superior to another.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Remind yourself that your worth is not defined by your size or appearance and that you are deserving of respect and kindness.
  • Limit media exposure: Be mindful of media and content that perpetuate harmful beauty standards, and unfollow sources that promote unrealistic body ideals that negatively impact your self-esteem.
  • Focus on health: Shift your focus from appearance onto health by emphasizing joyful movement, adequate sleep, and balanced nutrition without fixating on weight or body size.
  • Educate others: When comfortable, educate others by sharing your experience, correcting misconceptions, and advocating for a more inclusive and compassionate perspective on body image.

Remember that combating the effects of fatphobia is a process, and it’s okay to seek support along the way. Building resilience and self-acceptance takes time, but with consistent effort and the right mindset, individuals can navigate and overcome fat shaming and fatphobia’s effects.

Help Is Within Reach

Weight discrimination is an extremely prevalent issue, especially with the continued rise of diet culture. Especially for those living in larger bodies, fatphobic attitudes can have detrimental effects to one’s mental health and well-being – including the development of disordered eating thoughts and behaviors.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder or a negative relationship with food, don’t wait to seek help. Schedule a free consultation to learn how VERY can support you along your recovery journey.