estimated reading time ~5 minutes
Real talk: Our deeply fat-hating, fatphobic culture isn’t going to heal itself. And as valuable as the tireless work of fat activists is, it’s also not enough to create the inclusive, body-affirming world we dream of. We need straight-sized allies to actively work with us to change the status quo.
Why should you be an ally to fat liberation? Well, obviously, it supports the dignity, safety, and joy of fat folks, who currently live in a very hostile world. That’ll be enough for many of you!
But if you need more convincing, consider this: It benefits you, too. Not just if you one day become fat (which you may or may not). Not just if you love someone who’s fat (which you may do already). But you, as you are right now, benefit from fat liberation.
Fat liberation benefits everyone. It helps us all heal from body dysmorphia and learn to befriend our bodies. It points the way to medical care free of fatphobic bias and based in evidence, realistic lifestyle habits, and careful diagnostics– not a cure-all prescription of “just lose weight”. It expands (or dismantles!) beauty standards, which are currently dangerous and harmful. It measures our worth by more meaningful standards than inches and pounds.
But being an ally is more than shouting “YAS QUEEN!” at a Lizzo video or taking “no fatties” out of your dating profile. Here are a few radical ways that you can show true allyship to fat folks:
- When you’re going out with fat friends, scope out the venue yourself. Does the restaurant have seating that’s comfortable for your friends? Are the aisles in the space too crowded for a fat person to walk without bumping anything? Does the amusement park have weight restrictions on its rides? Make sure the place you want to go is a place that will accommodate your friends of all sizes, and let them know you did the work so they don’t have to.
- Stop sharing thirst traps of thin celebrities. Or, at least, include as many thirst traps of bigger folks as smaller ones. It sends a message when the only people you’re publicly drooling over are thin or ripped.
- Refuse to be weighed at your physicals. You have that right! What’s more, there’s no medical reason for the average person to get a routine weigh-in— and a lot of reasons why it’s actually harmful. Tell your doctor that you’re aware that routine weigh-ins perpetuate the anti-fat bias that lead to serious medical conditions going undiagnosed in fat people, and ask them to stop the practice. (Note: Some insurance companies do require doctors to address weight in order to get reimbursed, but fat-friendly doctors will find loopholes like, “Your insurance company says I’m supposed to talk to you about your weight. I think I just have.”)
- Stop equating exercise and dieting with morality. Treating your “punishing” workouts as a moral victory, bragging about “clean” eating, talking about how guilty you feel for eating “sinful” foods– all of these contribute to the fatphobic rhetoric about fat people being lazy, bad, and irresponsible. Of course, that rhetoric is also rooted in the assumption that fat people get fat by never exercising and always eating “junk” food, which is simply not true [CW: use of the o-slur and some other potentially triggering language], so check your language for assumptions that exercising and eating nutritious foods are a thin thing.
- Don’t go to social events that aren’t fat-inclusive. You might not realize it, but many places like nightclubs, pool parties, spas, and wellness events specifically try to limit attendance to thinner, more mainstream-attractive people as part of their branding and marketing, and create a hostile, unwelcoming atmosphere for fat folks if they’re permitted in at all. When in doubt, ask your fat friends if they’d feel comfortable at an event they’re considering– and if they say no, don’t go (and let the organizers know why).
- Be thoughtful about how you talk about your own weight. Straight-sized folks tend to get very defensive when their fat friends feel harmed by their negative weight talk about themselves. We get it– body image is complicated, and you want a place to talk about your struggles. But you can do that while being considerate. Label your weight-related posts with content warnings, or create filters that your friends can opt into. And remember that when you talk about your own fat as disgusting or bad, you’re still talking about ALL fat being disgusting or bad. While we’re at it, how about you stop talking about “feeling fat” when you mean “feeling bad about your body”, or bemoaning how that slice of birthday cake you ate is going to go right to your hips? Unpacking your own language around weight is one of the most important things you can do to be an ally.
- Call out comedians who tell fat jokes, in public forums. It’s not enough to not laugh at a fat joke (and many of you still do, let’s be honest). You need to tell standup comics, late-night hosts, and yes, even your friends and coworkers that their “joke” was punching down and simply not funny. Do it in tweets or comments or groups where others can see and hear your objections, and the joker has to answer for it. You might be thinking “it’s just a joke” but trust us, anti-fat humor does a level of psychological and emotional harm that is no laughing matter.
- Hire fat people. You may or may not be aware, but fat people are subject to lots of workplace discrimination– and there are no legal protections against it. Fat people are hired less, paid less, and promoted less. If you’re in a position to influence hiring at your workplace, make an effort to hire more fat people and challenge colleagues who are disparaging toward a qualified but fat candidate. If you’re not involved in hiring at work, hire fat people for other services– commission their art, buy their products, seek their services, read and share their books. Follow their social media. Support their careers. Pay fat people for the incredible work they do in the world.
- Take pictures of your fat friends– with their consent! Too often, fat folks avoid the camera, and may go whole decades where they’re invisible in the photographic memories of the events they shared with loved ones. Learn a few things about how to photograph fat people (yes, it requires some different things than photographing thin people!), and encourage your fat friends and family to get in the frame. Help them take pictures they feel great about, and celebrate them when they do. (Caveat: if this is a really deep trigger for dysmorphia or eating disorders or body image issues, don’t push it. But if they’re simply discouraged, make it clear that it’s important to you to have pictures of them that you and they will treasure.)
- Don’t shop at clothing stores that don’t have extended sizes– and tell those stores why you won’t. Did that give you a flare of panic that you won’t be able to shop at very many places? Welcome to the reality of fat life. The clothing industry needs to know that not only are they leaving fat dollars on the table, they’re also losing thinner folks’ money. That’s the only thing that will convince that industry to change.
Does some of this require effort? Yes. Will some of it be hard, or require some unpacking or big change on your part? Absolutely. But keep in mind that the challenges you face are still far less than the challenges and work that fat folks do every day without any way to escape.
And we promise– you will make a difference!
The Pincus Center embraces fat liberation and body affirmation among its core values, and everyone on the staff understands and endorses Health At Every Size principles. Check out our Body-Affirming Workshops to learn to better befriend your body and feel more comfortable in it!