Internalized Fat Phobia

Larger bodied people are discriminated against in the workplace, educational environments and even in the medical setting. So, it makes sense that the vast majority of us see fatness (or the appearance thereof) as something to be avoided at all costs. By maintaining these internalized feelings, we are perpetuating the harm done to people in larger bodies and ultimately, to everyone.

By Dr. Lisa Folden, PT, Mom Wellness Coach

Fat phobia is defined as the pathological fear of fatness. Examining this definition might lead you to believe that there’s absolutely no way you might have internalized feelings of fat phobia, right? Well…hold that thought for a second.

 

I’d like you to consider if you have ever thought or said aloud any of the following statements:

  • “I prefer to wear black for the slimming effect.”
  • “Her face is a little too round/fat to pull off short hair.”
  • “Remember, the camera is going to add 10 lbs.”
  • “Let’s retake that picture…this angle just isn’t flattering.”
  • “Wait, hold your stomach in for the photo.”
  • “I can’t wait to lose this baby weight and get my old body back.”
  • “Oh no, I can’t wear horizontal stripes.”

 

If you can identify with anything on this list, chances are you have some internalized fat phobia. But listen, it’s okay. It’s nearly impossible to live in a world like ours without being impacted by diet culture and the resulting fat phobia.

Whether you happen to be in a large body or not, the words that you speak and the thoughts that you think about your body and others’ can wreak havoc on body image, self-esteem, confidence and overall quality of life.

- Dr. Lisa Folden

Sadly, weight stigma is a real thing and people in large bodies or who identify as fat, know it firsthand. Larger bodied people are discriminated against in the workplace, educational environments and even in the medical setting. So, it makes sense that the vast majority of us see fatness (or the appearance thereof) as something to be avoided at all costs.

 

By maintaining these internalized feelings, we are perpetuating the harm done to people in larger bodies and ultimately, to everyone. The longer we maintain these unreasonable fears, the longer we uphold the oppression and discrimination of large bodies and that is not okay.

 

So, what can we do about it?

  1. First, identify the malignant thoughts and statements. You have to recognize them if you are ever going to be able to address them. This part feels ugly, but it is essential in moving forward. 
  2. Next, briefly explore why you might have had that thought or made that statement. I can give you a hint: it’s probably rooted in diet culture but consider specific experiences in your life that may have taught you that being fat or gaining weight is a bad thing. Full disclosure: this step can get deep. It might require some uncomfortable conversations and even some therapy. But that’s all good and it’s worth the work.
  3. Third and last, combat these thoughts or statements whenever they come up. This may mean acknowledging the thought and gently letting it pass as something you know is not true or valid. It may also mean stopping and verbally correcting the statement. And in many cases, it might even require you to stand in direct opposition by physically going against whatever that thought is telling you. In the example above regarding wearing a short haircut, you might decide to get that short cut despite the original feeling that your face is “too round or fat.” Combatting these fat phobic thoughts is taking a stand against them and boldly accepting the unpopular truth that these thoughts are not facts.

The more skilled we become at recognizing fat phobia in our daily lives, the more thorough we can be in lessening its presence and eventually, its impact. Whether you happen to be in a large body or not, the words that you speak and the thoughts that you think about your body and others’ can wreak havoc on body image, self-esteem, confidence and overall quality of life.

 

Here is an unpopular fact: Being fat or in a large body is not a bad thing. It does not automatically deem a person unhealthy, undesirable, lazy, unattractive or less motivated, disciplined, athletic, smart or fit. As a matter of fact, in reality, absolutely nothing can be assumed by a person’s weight or size. There will always be people who happen to exist in larger bodies because the biggest contributor to our weight are factors completely outside of our control (like genetics). Therefore, because we need to hold space for people of varying races, ethnicities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, sizes and more, we will do the world a great service by dismantling fat phobia from the inside out. If we do the work the right way and it catches on, then who knows, maybe one day our grandchildren can live in a world with one less stigma, bias or ‘-ism.’ And I don’t know about you, but that brings me great joy.

Dr. Lisa N. Folden is a licensed physical therapist and mom-focused lifestyle coach. As a movement expert and women’s health advocate, Dr. Lisa works to help busy moms find their ‘healthy.’ The owner of Healthy Phit Physical Therapy & Wellness Consultants in Charlotte, NC, Dr. Folden works with clients recovering from orthopedic and neurological injuries. Additionally, she assists busy moms seeking a healthier lifestyle by guiding their food, exercise and wellness choices through optimal organization, planning strategies and holistic goal setting.
A regular contributor to online and print articles on topics related to health, wellness, self-care, motherhood, pregnancy and pain, Dr. Lisa has had the distinct honor of being featured in Oprah Magazine, Shape Magazine, Livestrong, Bustle and several others.

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