Fear of Weight Gain in a Fatphobic Society
Fear of Weight Gain
Our society fears weight gain and it's almost always associated with negative emotions and the stigma of being unhealthy. Yet, when others notice we have lost weight or look smaller we get complimented and praised for how we look. This praise - while often not meant to cause harm, can lead to further disordered eating behaviors, negative body image, and even eating disorders.
With this generalized fear and shame around weight gain, we often internalize it and feel guilty and shameful of ourselves. This can lead to some undesired behaviors such as binging, purging. This feeling often worsens when we gain weight back after losing a significant amount and being complimented. The compliments stop and you become hyperaware of how your body looks and feels because of it.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it - living in a large/fat body (use whatever terminology you feel comfortable with) in our society sucks sometimes, even when the research shows that gaining weight and being in a larger body is NOT inherently "unhealthy".
Many people in larger bodies have decreased or similar mortality rates in studies compared to normal weight/BMI counterparts. With these studies being readily available and showing that anyone of any size can be healthy - our world still fights against it. Weight stigma also leads to avoidance of healthcare, increased risk of disordered eating behaviors, and higher risk of mental health concerns. Weight neutral or weight inclusive approaches to healthcare are less likely to avoid healthcare and are likely to have more improved health markers such as lower cholesterol and less risk of disordered eating behaviors.
Despite a large portion of the population being in a larger body our world was made for small people. Think of airplanes, concerts, office chairs, available clothing sizes. It's all made for smaller bodied people so it makes sense that we would want to make ourselves smaller. Not only this - but the people in these places make them quite unaccommodating too. Asking for a seatbelt extender on an airplane might get an eyeroll from the flight attendant, doctors tell you to lose weight without actually hearing your concerns, shopping for clothing might bring up negative emotions when nothing is in your size, and family and friends might make hurtful comments trying to motivate you to lose weight. All of this falls under the terminology of weight stigma and fatphobia.
Until our external environment becomes more accommodating to people of all body sizes - people in larger bodies will face harm and discrimination. People in smaller bodies will often fear the treatment they will receive if they gain too much weight. It's all really shitty and there are a lot of systemic issues that need to be fixed around this. While this seems overwhelming and complicated (it is), there are things we can do in our personal lives to reduce our internalized weight stigma (aka our own beliefs about our weight and body) and treat other people with respect and kindness regardless of what their body looks like.
Tips for Body Kindness and Unlearning Your Biases
1. Be kind to your body no matter what it looks like. Your body keeps you doing the things you love. We can take care if it and be kind no matter our size or the number on the scale. Navigate bad body image days with kindness and compassion for yourself. This might be the hardest to do on this list, but it is the most rewarding once you can implement it.
2. Don't comment on other bodies. People's bodies are their business. Weight gain or loss can happen for a number of reasons and aren't inherently good or bad. You don't know what someone is going through or why their body is changing, so don't make comments that could harm them.
3. Find a new physician, therapist, dietitian. If any of your providers comment on your body and blatantly ignore the symptoms or other life factors that are going on with you - it might be time to search for a new one that is more weight inclusive and doesn't ignore your concerns. This can go for friends or acquaintances in your life too. If they constantly are bringing up your body or shaming you it might be time to let that relationship go.
4. Do the work to unlearn your biases. We all have biases. It's part of being human. It's how you handle those biases that is important. Do the work to unlearn your fatphobia by learning about it's roots and how it is harmful. Learning directly from fat creators and writers via their books, articles, podcasts, or social media are great too.
Resources For Unlearning Fatphobia
Book: What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat - Aubrey Gordon
Book: Fearing The Black Body - Sabrina Strings
Article: It's Okay To Be Fat - Brandy L. Schillace
Podcast: Maintenance Phase
Social Media: Whitney Trotter, RD
Social Media: Natalie @ BodyPosiBarre
Organization: Association for Size Diversity and Health