Intentional Weight Loss and Fatphobia

Let me preface this by stating that I am an average, “healthy” weight and considered thin by society – I have thin privilege, and do not in any way speak for the fat community. This is just me discussing my own thoughts and opinions, and I would love to hear (and encourage you to share) your thoughts on this subject.

Is intentional weight loss inherently fatphobic?

My short answer is: no, not necessarily.

Not always purposely, at least.

Is there a relationship between intentional weight loss and fatphobia?

I’m sure someone who lost weight doesn’t necessarily think you need to lose weight or think any less of you for not actively losing weight or being fat. I know for a fact there are a ton of fitness and health nuts who do feel this way, but I don’t think that being someone who lost weight or is losing weight automatically means someone feels this way.

I think that the relationship between people going through weight loss journeys and fatphobia is far more complicated and complex than yes or no – it is unique to individuals and their reasons for losing weight in the first place.

I think there are three main reasons people lose weight, and all three are rooted back to fatphobia, but not all three necessarily mean the person losing weight is fatphobic.

1. Someone may lose weight because they don’t want to be fat, don’t like being fat, don’t like fat or fatness, etc. They may impose their thoughts on others, give out unsolicited dieting advice, and promote the idea that weight loss or thinness equals worthiness, attractiveness, etc.

In this first case, the person is the Offender: they are practicing fatphobia, viewing fatness negatively.

2. Someone may lose weight because society is telling them they should be losing weight, that they should not be fat, to not be happy if they are fat, that happiness, worthiness, and attractiveness only come with thinness / loss of weight, etc.

In this second case, the person is the Victim: it’s not necessarily their own fatphobia that is resulting in the weight loss, but rather society’s fatphobia telling them to lose weight. They might think fat people are great and even be body positive, but are not immune to the fatphobia plaguing our society causing them to hate themselves, not necessarily fat people. They may link their own self worth to their own bodies because they know society (and most of the people living in our society) do, all while not practicing the same mindset with other people around them.

Of course, the reasons can overlap and one can be both the Offender and Victim of fatphobia. The binary of offender and victim gets blurred here – one can be the cause of the other’s occurrence, they can work together in a person’s life, but at the end of the day, they both perpetuate fatphobia.

Regardless of whether or not the individual is losing weight because of their own fatphobia or society’s fatphobia, the desire to lose weight is 100% rooted in our fatphobic, diet centric society – resulting in fatphobia as a cause but not necessarily a trait that the individual possesses.

Now the third reason – someone may lose weight for the “health benefits” – which raises the question of what exactly is health / healthiness? If you’re losing weight for health benefits, how could that possibly be fatphobic, right? Easy: our society’s picture of “health” is inherently fatphobic itself. Overweight does not necessarily equal unhealthy, just as not overweight does not necessarily equal healthy. Regardless of someone’s health status, people are still people — humans that deserve respect, love, and life. Does someone who is unhealthy as in has a disease — like cancer for example — deserve to be shamed, bullied, and disrespected just because they are sick? No, right? Then why do the circumstances change when said “disease” is obesity (which, in my opinion, isn’t a damn disease)?

Intentional weight loss, even when done “healthily,” can have some serious negative side effects. In a society so fatphobic, shows like “The Biggest Loser” exist, promoting and celebrating weight loss – supposedly healthily. However, some contestants have left the show with eating disorders.

Kai Hibbard, for example, is discussed in the following article: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/biggest-loser-contestant-kai-hibbard-eating-disorder/story?id=11012666

“I had no idea I had a problem,” Hibbard told ABCNews.com. “When you spend four months surrounded by people who are all doing this to themselves, even if intellectually it seems wrong, you don’t realize. You just think if they’re doing it, I’m doing it.”

Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor of medicine at Northwestern’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said that the praise contestants get on reality shows when they do drop the weight just feeds into an unhealthy mentality about food and exercise.

“[Hibbard] represents a group of individuals who develop eating disorders during a competition to lose weight because psychologically they are getting so much praise and admiration from other people that they’ll do anything to sustain their weight,” said Kushner.

“If I’m going to accept praise and gratitude for being part of something that really inspires people, I also have to accept responsibility for people who struggle,” she said. “People come to me and say they can’t lose weight as fast as they saw me do it [on the show] and that they’ve become bulimic or anorexic.”

Not only can intentional weight loss result in eating disorders, but the celebration of it can result in observers developing eating disorders, as well.

Is weight loss a fair trade for the emotional and mental torment? Now, of course not everyone who loses weight or goes on a diet ends up with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, not fad diets, and should be treated and talked about as such. But even without developing an eating disorder, those who participate in intentional weight loss may be unable to ever view their bodies, food, eating, and weight in the same way – because our bodies have natural weight set points, intentional weight loss must be just that: intentional, most likely for the rest of one’s life.

When your weight loss journey is celebrated but promoting and triggering unhealthiness, who is actually benefitting? Fatphobia is benefitting. It’s gaining strength and entering the minds of more and more people.

So is it okay to talk about your intentional weight loss? It’s more about how and when you talk about it than anything else.

Talking about and posting about your weight loss is tempting. I get it. You’re proud, because let’s face it, it’s hard to lose weight.

“When my friends post update pictures on their weight loss journeys, I want to feel happy for them, but I can’t help feel like the posts are a little insensitive.” – Emmanuel Paradela

What we need to work on is how and when we talk about intentional weight loss. When you are posting your before and after photos, think about how your fat friends will feel. What are you telling them? What do you want to tell them? If you aren’t intending on telling them “you are inferior because you are fat” or “you should lose weight” to their face, why would you make a post and/or promote something that inadvertently tells them that? Think about how you are wording your post:

Ask yourself: what exactly am I celebrating? Are you celebrating your weight loss (maybe you are – in which case, scroll back up and reread) or are you celebrating your newfound self love? If so, why post a before and after of your body, but instead post a before and after of your smile? You lost weight. You found happiness. That’s what you should highlight: what you found. Encourage others to love themselves, rather than lose weight – because not everyone gains happiness from weight loss. I know I didn’t. Maybe what it takes for someone to find happiness and love themselves is a new hobby, a new tattoo, a haircut, a career change, or buying a dog. Try not to suggest that the only path to happiness, self love, and self worth is weight loss, because that’s what’s problematic — how you view and talk about your intentional weight loss, not the weight loss itself.

I’m not saying to never lose weight. Do what you want to do – if it makes you happy and you are doing it healthily, go for it. I will always support someone doing something to benefit them, so long as it is not harming them or anyone else in any way. Pay attention to how you talk about it, when you talk about it, and try to think about why you’re doing it, what you’re getting out of it, and what exactly it is that you are promoting and celebrating. I’ll always support self love and happiness over all else, and you should too.

Image credit: (1) (2) (3)

Author: Melissa Martini

A 22 year old feminist writer exploring body image and eating disorder recovery through poetry and blog posts.

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