Rethinking Fatness And Fatphobia: 10 Awesome Activists To Follow
Whether you are celebrating or not, it is impossible to escape it in Western countries. It is everywhere you look: Christmas markets, Christmas decorations, Christmas songs (hot take: I have nothing against Mariah Carey but if I hear ‘All I Want for Christmas’ just one more time...). Which leads me to my point: the season of eating well and eating plenty is coming again. And with it, jokes on weight gain, fatness and weight loss. Again. And I am tired of the tsunami of fatphobia that breaks loose on us at the occasion – especially if you add the lockdown parameter.
So, for this year’s Christmas, I decided, f**k fatphobia. Enough is enough. Fat people are worthy. They deserve to be respected, loved, and cherished like any other human being. They deserve health care, flats and to be able to go to the movies, restaurants and anywhere they like. Heck, they have a right to live and to lead their life the way they want too. Like every other human being on this planet. How can we justify treating someone differently because of their weight? This is absurd. You are not a better or worse person because you have more or less body fat. It makes absolutely no sense.
So, here is a little background on fatphobia, fat liberation movements and, most importantly, 10 amazing fat activists to follow, who will change your take on fatness. Because we cannot keep on pretending to be against discriminations when we constantly belittle an entire group of population for their weight. And if you want to come at me with so-called ‘concerns about the health of fat people’, you can go complain somewhere else. Not only is it wrong, it is absolutely none of your business. You do not go around guessing whether or not people are healthy based on how they look (we have literally developed machines entirely devoted to look inside people’s bodies to see if they are alright, but you think you can do that with your eyes only? Ok Superman) and giving unsolicited advice on someone else’s body. Keep your discriminatory comments to yourself.
Fatphobia – What does it mean and where does it come from?
Let us start with a little theoretical background. Not too much, because it is not the main point of the article, but enough because I am tired of people being fatphobic and trying to defend themselves with ‘but I am not scared of fat people’. I cannot believe that we are in 2021 and we still have to explain to people that words like homophobia or fatphobia do not literally mean that you are afraid.
Fatphobia – meaning and examples
Fatphobia refers to the dislike, hatred and oppression inflicted on fat people. Like sexism and other discriminations, it refers to everything discriminatory from comments in movies or unsolicited advice on someone’s health, diet or exercise routine, to unequal access to pay, healthcare and facilities. Several studies have shown that fat people are paid less (LinkedIn, 2020), are seen as less suitable for leadership positions (NCBI, May 2016), have less access to healthcare (NCBI, December 2016) and are generally stigmatized because of their weight (NCBI, April 2019).
Fatphobia is deeply linked to a whole trail of stereotypes, such as that fat people are lazy, have no willpower, eat all the time, etc. These stereotypes are obviously wrong and have no scientific background to them, but we are raised to buy into them. This results in both systemic discrimination, as seen above, and interpersonal discrimination. Interpersonal discrimination is strangers telling you to lose weight to be healthier or prettier, receiving dirty looks when you are eating in public, people making fun of you when you are exercising, coworkers complaining that they look ugly on a picture because they look fat, your aunt commenting that men with big bellies are ugly, and so much more examples from everyday life.
Fatphobia is also presenting lazy, dumb or evil characters as fat and vice-versa ; it is constructing a movie plot around a character needing to lose weight to be deemed attractive; it is picturing fat characters as always eating; it is equating body weight with moral values and intelligence. If you speak French, there is an entire Instagram account, called ‘labandedesgros’ which lists fatphobic comments from movies and series that we too often ignore or dismiss as ‘not so bad’. And yes, your favorites will be there (yes, Buffy too).
NB: some people actually prefer the term ‘anti-fatness’; for this article I have chosen to keep ‘fatphobia', as I think it is more widely known. But other options, i.e. ‘sizeism’, also exist!
The racist history of fatphobia – a little context
Sabrina Strings, sociology professor at the University of California, Irving, has investigated the origins of fatphobia in Western culture (CBS News, October 2020). For her, it is clear that fatphobia is deeply rooted in racism (NPR, July 2020). Just like they started to create differences between men and women, white ‘scientists’ of the mid 18th century started to write on the so-called differences between white and black people (NPR, July 2020). They argued that African people were ‘sensuous’, loving food, drink and sex and, because of this, tended to be fat. On the other hand, they argued that white people were driven by logic rather than emotions (yes, the exact same arguments that served to build sexist discriminations) (NPR, July 2020). This had several (terrible) consequences:
- Fatness was seen in a bad light, as it was associated with excess rather than reason, as well as with black people, who were deemed inferior.
- To better differentiate themselves from black people and thus assert racial superiority, white people were thought to be thinner and encouraged to watch their weight.
- As always in sexist systems, most of the time and attention were devoted to making sure that (white) women followed the recommendation to suit beauty standards established by white men; and more attention was paid to women's weight in general.
- As time went on, black and white populations mixed together, and it was not that easy to tell who was a slave and who was not. Weight thus served as a new parameter to establish racial identity.
And this, kids, is essentially how our fatphobic system was born.
Fat liberation movements – a little context
The earliest documented public denunciation of fatphobia goes back to the 1960s. In 1967, a group of fat people organized a sit-in in Central Park, New York, where they ate and burned diet books, manifesting their right to exist and be fat (Center For Discovery). The same year, Llewelyn Louderback published an article in the Saturday Evening Post, ‘More People Should Be FAT’ (Center For Discovery). The article was a protest against the discrimination faced by his wife for being fat – and it was, also, the first time someone publicly defended fatness in mainstream media.
The 1960s were also an important decade for the fight against fatphobia, as it saw the birth of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) in 1969, a movement still very much active today.
In the 1970s, a collective of radical feminists and lesbians separated from the NAAFA to create The Fat Underground, a radical activist movement to defend fatness (Center For Discovery). And in 1979, Judy Freespirit and Sara Aldebaran published the now famous ‘Fat Liberation Manifesto’:
The 1990s saw the evolution of the Fat Acceptance Movement, as well as the establishment of Fat Studies as a legitimate field of studies in the academic world. Nowadays, the word ‘fatphobia’ is more and more used, and people continue to advocate for fat people’s rights. However, many medical institutions will not bulge from their fatphobic takes and too many doctors refuse to seriously examine fat patients, simply telling them to lose weight instead.
Awesome fat activists to follow
Now that we have established a little context, without further ado, let us browse down our little list of great fat activists to follow!
1. Asher Larmie
Let us start with one of my favorites. Dr Asher Larmie, also known by the username ‘fatdoctoruk’ is a non-binary, weight inclusive general practitioner. As such, they have a solid medical background. I think it is important to underline this, as the majority of medical discourses nowadays tend to be fatphobic. And, because of their positions of authority, people tend to believe them, no question asked.
Asher offers a salutary counter voice, actively speaking for the respect and inclusion of fat people. They often analyze reports and studies linking weight and health issues, explaining where the data is missing and what is problematic in the findings.
If you want to learn to debunk myths on weight and health, it is definitely an account you will want to follow!
2. Sofie Hagen
Sofie Hagen is a non-binary Danish comedian – and they are hilarious. On their Instagram page, they post excerpts of their shows and some of their sketches address fatphobia in a really funny and relatable way. But Sofie does so much more than that: they actively speak against fatphobia and for fat people’s rights.
They also wrote a book, called ‘Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World That Wants to Shrink You’, calling for fat liberation and the right for fat people to be happy. Earlier in September, they posted about fat accessibility on their account, asking theaters to add whether or not they are accessible for fat people on their website.
And I can only recommend watching their Ted Talk on being fat and being happy: it is immensely important and terribly funny.
3. Substantia Jones
Substantia Jones is a queer and unapologetically fat photographer. She is the founder of the photo-activism campaign ‘adipositivity’ (from ‘adipose’, an adjective relating to fat and ‘positivity’). The idea behind is rather simple and yet, so revolutionary she often gets censored: photographing fat, naked and happy people.
If you think about it, when was the last time you saw naked, fat and happy people on social media? Ok, if you are a dedicated follower, you have probably seen Shoog McDaniel’s work or Barbara Butch’ pictures. But other than that? When do you see naked fat people being portrayed in a positive light in the media, and not in the before picture of some before/after weight loss bullshit ads?
Follow her account. It is an act of self-care and activism.
4. Kayden Coleman
Kayden is a black trans advocate, educator and proud seahorse papa. On his account, you will find useful resources and explanations on intersectionality, trans identities, blackness, racism, pregnancy and parenthood. He has also done a very important post on fatphobia, trans identity and blackness and how the three of them intersect. A very valuable addition to the discourse on fatphobia!
But, I will add a TW: Kayden is currently on a fitness journey and has been vocal about his struggle with his body and health issues following his pregnancy. I know that it can be hard for some of us, so if you are uncomfortable seeing people posting photos of their journey, highlighting the evolution of their body, I would not recommend following his account. Nevertheless, I think his post on fatphobia was very important and welcome, because he is talking about a marginalized group whose voice is often silenced. If you want to read the post in its entirety without browsing through his account, you can read it here.
5. Lilly Rose
Lilly Rose is a queer fat punk plus model and musician. She uses her platform to talk about her work and projects, and to post glimpses of her photoshoots.
She captions her pictures with important messages on fat positivity and acceptance, reminding you that bodies are never inappropriate. She also makes quirky and relevant reels about fatphobia. One of my favorite ones goes like this:
‘Making judgments about people’s health based on their weight is fatphobic. But also, if you judge people’s worth based on their health, you SUCK’.
6. Enam Asiama
Enam Asiama is a black fat queer femme model and plus size advocate. She is notably famous for speaking up against Instagram’s censorship of fat bodies.
Her account is an ode to the work, influence and importance of black women. She has, for instance, participated in the ‘Muses’ photoshoot, acknowledging black women influence on beauty, music, fashion, art, sex and comedy.
On top of that, she is also vocal about LGBTQIA+ issues and the need to include fatphobia in queer fights. Browse her account for luminous, gorgeous and glamorous photos. What more do you need?
Ross is a performer, teacher and director of the Cabaret Belfast, a luxurious supper club offering the best of the best of Ireland fine food and entertainers. Ross also happens to be a fat person, as he adds in his bio. If you want to follow a masculine role model wearing makeup, crop tops and just being absolutely fabulous and unapologetic about their body, you came to the right place.
And, cherry on top, Ross is hilarious. I mean, his captions are really funny and often ironic. But they also post more seriously about pronouns and fatphobia. For instance, in February last year, he talked about the lockdown and people’s fatphobia. In particular, people’s fear of getting fat or of ‘looking like [him]’.
All in all, a fun, interesting and very positive account to follow. And we need more fat masculine people wearing crop tops in our lives. Period.
8. Taylor T
Taylor is a Korean influencer and model speaking up against fatphobia in Korea. In particular, she addresses issues of sizes. We all know that sizes are not exactly inclusive in Western countries, but things are not better in Korea. Actually, they might be worse.
I find it also very interesting because, as a white Western person, I am not the most informed on fatphobia in Korea or other Asian countries. For me, Taylor’s account is really coming up to fill a gap in the representation of fat Asian people. Plus, she is really vocal about racism, be it anti-black or anti-asian.
9. Kenzie Brenna
Kenzie Brenna is a Canadian influencer and motivational speaker. She talks a lot about body image and confidence, and especially society’s and peers’ pressure to conform to beauty standards and lose weight. For instance, she underlines how women have internalized these beauty standards and how they perpetuate them by enforcing them on others. And I think it is a very important point.
She also reminds people that they are more than a body or their weight – because women have been taught to relate their worth to beauty for their whole life. But we are much more than that. We are entire people, intelligent, funny, compassionate, kind, sometimes (or, in my case, often) angry. We are not defined by our physical appearance. Kenzie manages to remind us that you can be happy, confident and fat because those are not mutually exclusive, but also that you are worth much more than your body – and also, f***k beauty. You are an incredible human being. Be proud of yourself. Be kind to yourself. This includes allowing yourself to eat and have a healthy relationship to food.
10. Da’Shaun L. Harrison
Da’Shaun is a black, fat, queer and trans theorist and abolitionist. They are also a writer, public speaker and part of the collective behind the podcast ‘Unsolicited: Fatties Talk Back’. The first two episodes, ‘Meet the Fatties!’ and ‘Is Bacon a Fruit?’ are out now if you are interested in a podcast on fatness.
They work on blackness, queerness, gender, fatness and disabilities and their intersection. I think it is very important to underline this, because they are all identity elements that often get ignored, silenced and suppressed; we need to speak about intersectionality more. You can also visit their website, dashaunharrison.com: it is very complete and full of useful resources.
Not to forget that Da’Shaun has a flawless sense of fashion and absolutely gorgeous jewels!
You can also check some fat activist creators that we have featured on BØWIE! They have done some awesome work and it is worth a look:
Fat and lesbian DJ, singer, activist and model, Barbara can do it all. She has also been very vocal about fatphobia in the music industry. As a lesbian DJ, she is particularly active in the queer musical scene.
Shoog McDaniel is a non-binary photographer and fat icon. Their work particularly focuses on fat bodies and nature, creating eerie and beautiful pieces. I highly recommend having a look at their work.
Katy is a UK born and based illustrator. She mostly draws fat babes, in order to create a fat positive narrative for once. She draws all kinds of body types, and often in explicit positions and outfits. Go check out her illustrations!
Amber is a plus size model who has opened her own modeling agency in Australia. Her agency recruits models of every race, gender, shape and ability, as it is set on changing modeling’s current discriminatory standards. Amber also has an Instagram page, that shows raw, unedited bodies. A breath of fresh air among Instagram’s deluge of edited pics!
If you want more resources, I can also recommend you Roxane Gay’s book, ‘Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body’, as well as Da’Shaun Harrison’s ‘Belly Of The Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness’.
Also, if you speak French, you can check Fatfriendly’s Instagram account: it is a tool listing places accessible to fat people.
Finally, a special mention to the Instagram account ‘fat_men_through_history’, which does exactly what the name says: showing you pictures of fat men throughout history – because we always need new more representation.
If you have other recommendations, please share them with us on Instagram! We would love to discover more activists.
Talk to you soon, and do not forget: riots, not diets!
Header credits: craicwithrossy on Instagram