Photo credit: Representationmatters.me
TW/CW: This post mentions the “o”-word and I have done my best to not link to the offending articles. Please feel free to contact me directly if you’d like me to share specific links. Also, I’d like to acknowledge that as someone in a thin body, my goal with this post is not to centre myself as someone who speaks for fat people (I use “fat” as a neutral descriptor in the context of fat activism here), but to use my privileges as a health professional in a thin, able body to reach those who may not be reached otherwise. I welcome your feedback directly to me, or in the comments below.
A couple months ago, I was listening to an episode of Dietitians Unplugged where they interviewed Bevin Branlandingham, the creator of Fat Kid Dance Party. In the episode, Bevin talked about while her classes were technically “kid-accessible”, as in, children can attend them, they weren’t exactly “kid-friendly” in that the songs that she used often contained explicit language or had mature themes. This subtle yet important difference got me thinking about how it might apply in terms of fat bodies.
Last week was World Obesity Day, with the theme of “End Weight Stigma”. It’s a bit ironic, given that the concept of obesity is stigmatizing in and of itself, but I do have to give credit to obesity specialists and researchers for giving visibility to the issue of weight stigma and for making efforts to reduce it by acknowledging that weight isn’t a matter of personal responsibility and creating spaces that are more fat-accessible. In fact, if it weren’t for this work, I don’t know if I would’ve adopted a weight-inclusive approach when I did.
Increasing fat-accessibility is a step forward, but is it enough? People-first language (i.e. saying “person with obesity” vs. “obese person”) may seem kinder, but still locates the “problem” in a person’s size/fatness, and frames it as something to be “fixed”. Wider chairs, larger medical equipment and nicer staff may make people more likely to go to their doctor, but mean nothing if they’re only offered largely ineffective “treatments” that target their weight/fatness instead of their actual health concerns. Fat people shouldn’t have to prove that they’re in good health, or play the role of the “good fatty” (i.e. someone who is making an effort to take care of their health/lose weight) in order to have value or be taken seriously.
Just as Bevin’s “kid-friendliness” goes beyond just being “kid-accessible”. As a health provider, I believe that ending weight stigma needs to go beyond fat-accessibility. To me, fat-friendliness is accepting bodies at any size, at any health status, as they are right now, as well as accepting their capacity for change (or lack thereof). It’s respecting people’s autonomy to choose what they want to do to and for their bodies. It’s not ignoring weight, but being able to place it in context and make space for it, instead of trying to make it go away. This short definition probably doesn’t capture all that fat-friendliness is and can be, and I hope that one day all spaces are not only fat-friendly, but are friendly to all.