I like to think of myself as an enlightened individual aware of, and working to mitigate, my prejudices.
Over the past few years, I have become increasingly aware of a prejudice that has been simmering away within me for years – fatphobia.
Like any prejudice, fatphobia is not innate or natural, it’s learned. Learned from people in my life, from the media, even from the government.
I already had it as a child. In an incident I’ve never previously disclosed to anyone, not even my parents, as an eight year old, I called a girl I went to school with fat. At a table of fellow eight and nine year olds, calling this girl fat was the rudest thing I could think to say.
I don’t think I really meant it to be insulting, it certainly wasn’t factually accurate, but this incident highlights that even as an eight year old, I had learned and truly believed that being fat was bad.
Thankfully, as a goody two shoes, this is probably the worst thing I ever did at school. For this reason, and increasingly as I come to recognise, acknowledge and work on my fatphobia, I remain intensely ashamed of this incident even today.
As a sixteen/seventeen year old, my fatphobia became bound up with an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa served more than one purpose for me, perhaps the most notable of which was providing me with a sense of control in a life which felt almost entirely out of control. But it also served to address the intense hatred I felt towards my own body, a body I had deemed fat (it wasn’t).
Just as a person who knows deep down they are gay may suppress this truth about themselves and come across as intensely homophobic, I worked to suppress my body’s true form and came across as intensely fatphobic in my speech, writing and, most overwhelmingly, thoughts.
While I have been almost completely recovered from my eating disorder for several years now, I have made slower progress in remedying the fatphobia it was bound up with.
I still have so many negative, judging thoughts about fat people, thoughts I know are unkind, uncalled for and untrue. Things like, and I feel bad even writing these and sharing them, but I also want to be honest about where I’m at, “that person is so unhealthy,” “that person has no self-control,” “that person must eat so much bad food” and, in my worst moments, “that person is a bad person”.
I’m particularly conscious of these thoughts when I see someone fat eating, especially if they are eating “unhealthy” food and seated, mirroring the visuals you see on media reports about the “obesity epidemic”.
All this, despite the fact that I know that body shape and/or weight are far from a reliable indicators of a person’s health and certainly not reliable indicators of a person’s worth or morality.
All this, despite the fact that, in my opinion, the way a person looks, particularly their body shape, is one of the least interesting and least important things about them. I’m much more interested in their beliefs and values, their life story, their passions and what they’ve been reading.
And yet, we are bombarded constantly with messaging that reinforces the unkind, uncalled for and untrue thoughts I listed above, such that these thoughts continue to come to me apace.
As a result, I have to continuously catch myself, challenge my fatphobic thoughts and remind myself of what is true, namely that:
- body shape and/or weight are far from a reliable indicators of a person’s health and certainly not reliable indicators of a person’s worth or morality; and
- the way a person looks, particularly their body shape, is one of the least interesting and least important things about them.
I’m keen to explore and probe my fatphobia in greater detail when I next see my new Hobart-based psychologist. I’m also a bit scared – talking about this makes me uncomfortable, revealing a less enlightened, prejudiced part of me. But, as they say, the only way out is through.
The other tactic I have at my disposal is to continue to expose myself to the counter-messaging to what comes through the mainstream media, to reinforce the positive thoughts and counter the fatphobic ones. For example, the amazing Instagram of my colleague, friend and fat fashion advocate Katie Parrott.
Hopefully another post updating you on my progress, including my conversation with my psychologist, will be coming soon.
Love, hope and peace from Emma.