Alice Sullivan is a teacher and writer based in Prague. She writes about mental health, intersectional feminism, and travel.
2021 is here and social media feeds everywhere are filled with New Year's resolutions. If you want to be healthier, that is a positive thing. But why are we so obsessed with weight loss? We are taught from a young age that being fat is a bad thing, but that's simply not true.
Health Concern Can Be Toxic
It is important to remember that size is not synonymous with health. Fat people can be healthy. Skinny people can be unhealthy. And vice versa, of course. Regardless of how you view someone else's healthy, why do you feel like it is your business? Everyone's health is their own responsibility.
You can't shame a fat person into becoming skinny. That really isn't how it works. Fatphobic bullying often leads to binge-eating and results in much unhealthier habits than that person may have had beforehand. Also, this bullying often comes from a place of insecurity, as diet culture teaches us that being fat is the worst possibility.
It is really inappropriate to comment on someone else's weight anyway. You don't know what their lifestyle is from looking at them. There may be health conditions or medications causing weight gain. These comments can be triggering for people with eating disorders and it isn't helpful for anyone. You may think that it is a compliment to point out weight loss, but please just don't. It can be triggering for people with eating disorders and it isn't helpful for anyone.
Diets Always Fail
Restrictive diets are harmful. The goal is always to be skinny, not healthy. Having your unhealthy methods praised due to weight loss can create further problems. These diets promote eating a smaller number of calories or banning certain food groups completely, which can encourage an unhealthy relationship with food.
Stopping yourself from eating is just going to make you hungrier more often and result in the failure of your diet. Binge-eating can be a severe issue, regardless of your size. As a teenager, the constant switching between starving myself and binging when I was upset has definitely shaped my relationship with food.
I recently read a book called "The F*ck It Diet" about unlearning the things that diet culture has taught you and teaching yourself to eat what you want when you want. Even the simple act of training yourself to eat when you are hungry can be challenging after years of restrictions and constant dieting.
If you do not eat enough food, it changes your metabolic rate. This affects your energy balance and can cause fatigue. A reduced-calorie diet also impacts the number of nutrients you get. Lacking nutrients can result in hair loss, sleep issues, and constipation. The Fuck It Diet talks about how restrictive eating causes your body to go into survival mode and binge afterwards anyway, which is why diets never work.
If you are reading this and wondering what is wrong with promoting healthy eating, there is nothing wrong with that. The problems come from societal views of fat people. There is a different standard that fat people are held to, which is incredibly unfair.
This could be a stranger commenting "Good for you" while you are simply trying to exercise in public. This could be a judgemental stare when you walk into a fast-food restaurant as a fat person. This could be social media comments telling you that "You are so brave!" just for posting a picture of yourself existing as a fat person. Meanwhile, skinny people take part in TikTok trends showing all the junk food they eat in a day with much less backlash.
My experiences as a fat person are different from many others. I have the privilege of being a size that is usually stocked in standard clothing stores. I am a UK size 18, so I don't often have problems (although the options from specific plus-size brands are often horrendous).
My experiences involve being too anxious to eat in public because no matter what you ate, there would be comments. If I ate a salad, people would laugh at the fat girl eating salad (because that is obviously ridiculous). If I ate chips, people would laugh at the fat girl eating junk food.
As a dancer for most of my childhood, many people commented on my weight loss and were praising me (despite my unhealthy habits that led to me fainting multiple times). I loved dancing, but it was a constant source of anxiety and self-hatred about my size. I was constantly comparing myself to skinnier girls and I even noticed myself becoming more successful in competition as I lost weight.
I also have the privilege of being a white woman. Fatphobia stems from racism, as it was considered undesirable to have features that black women had and a thin body type was idolized. You can read about this more in "Fearing The Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fatphobia" by Sabrina Strings.
Fatphobia is a huge issue and goes hand in hand with many other systems of oppression, particularly racism. I read a very informative article about how fatphobia is upheld by white supremacy and I would definitely recommend reading it. We need to consider our behaviour and our privilege while we consider discrimination.
One of the most significant ways fatphobia harms fat people is in the medical field. A fat person going to the doctor for an issue unrelated to their size is often told to lose weight and come back. This can result in serious health problems being ignored for years. There was a really good discussion about this on the podcast Maintenance Phase where they discuss stigma against fat people and treatment from medical professions.
The media has always portrayed fat people as lazy or greedy. Fat people are never the centre of the story, always the fat best friend or the mother. When fat people are in the spotlight and successful, there are cries that we are "glorifying obesity". It is incredibly disheartening when you are just trying to live your life.
People truly believe that you have less worth as a fat person and any positivity is encouraging "unhealthiness", which we already established isn't always the case when a person is fat. This can even go into the workplace where some people refuse to hire fat people, due to these stereotypes of laziness.
Overall, I feel like the idea of making life difficult for fat people to motivate weight loss is more unhealthy than skinny people assume fat people are. Taking responsibility for your own health can happen at any size and does not always equal weight loss. So when you think about posting your 2021 New Years Resolution weight loss goals or talking about how your weight gain makes you feel disgusting, think about how your fat friends might feel. Maybe, just don't.
© 2021 Alice Sullivan