Anti-fat discrimination may be one of the least explored and certainly one of the least challenged prejudices worldwide.There are very few laws against weight discrimination and cultural norms encourage people to covertly discriminate against the overweight.
To some, anti-fat discrimination isn’t discrimination at all — it’s simply a healthy preference for people of a healthy weight. They believe that societal discouragement of overweight and obesity helps people become, and stay, healthier and happier.
This thinking misses the mark: anti-fat discrimination makes weight issues worse as people who feel discriminated become depressed and eat to soothe themselves. In addition, anti-fat discrimination encourages deadlier conditions such as anorexia and bulimia.
But most anti-fat prejudice is subtle and can go unnoticed even by the person with the prejudice. It only shows up as a mild or strong preference for thinner people. This sort of anti-fat prejudice is exhibited by a diverse group of people, from pre-teen children to physicians.
Why People Discriminate
One aspect of the thinking behind anti-fat prejudice is, “Your weight is your responsibility. If you’re overweight you’re lazy and lack self-control. It’s your fault.” Unlike gender, perceived race, and disability, weight is viewed as something that is mostly, if not entirely, under an individual’s control. So why should anyone feel bad about preferring people of a healthier weight?
A larger part of anti-fat prejudice is fear. Fear of being overweight and fear of being shunned for being overweight. This fear is unknowingly turned against other people who are overweight.
Men and Women
Women have it harder than men when it comes to weight discrimination. They are at risk of anti-fat prejudice if they are even moderately overweight, and face prejudice at a lower body mass index — a measure of healthy weight based on an individual’s height and weight. In fact, a man is unlikely to face fat discrimination unless his body mass index puts him at well past clinically obese.
Both men and women discriminate against overweight women. In addition to general weight discrimination, women compete with each other over their weight. An overweight woman is stigmatized or simply ignored. Other times she is pitied — women know that in the Competition of Women being overweight puts you far behind.
Obese women are less likely to date or be in a relationship. Men respond negatively to a potential female date who is overweight. In one instance, more men responded to a dating advertisement where the woman is described as having past drug issues than one where the woman is described as obese.
Clearly being overweight or obese affects a person in multiple areas of life. But have you ever wondered if your own thoughts and actions add to anti-fat discrimination? Many of us, if we are being honest with ourselves, have some form of anti-fat bias.