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Welcome to week 2 of a 4-week Body Positive University special series on fatphobia. Last week we defined fatphobia and looked at data that counters current misunderstandings about large-bodied people. Here's an overview of what you can expect for the remaining weeks:
In today's article we're going to get into the widespread impact of fatphobia.
Fatphobia is a form of bigotry, as we discussed last week. Like all forms of bigotry or oppression, it manifests in complex ways - some obvious and some less so. It's important to understand that fatphobia is not merely comprised of observable instances of fat-shaming. Fatphobia weaves its way into how we see ourselves, how we interact with food and who we see as desirable.
Regardless of a person's body size, fatphobia impacts all of us in one way or another.
For some, this impact can be devastating. For example, fatphobia manifests in people with anorexia nervosa, who exhibit high levels of fear of being fat. Fatphobia also manifests in the ways that some doctors are less likely to offer preventive care to their large-bodied patients. These are vastly different manifestations of the same core issue, and yet both of them relate to long-term physical and/or mental health.
Here's a useful visual that might help you understand fatphobia's impact a little more clearly:
Fatphobia is always operating on all three of these levels. Let's break them down:
Level 1: Intrapersonal
This level impacts self-perception and body image. Think of this level as the relationship an individual has with their bedroom mirror. Regardless of someone's body size or shape, they can have very high levels of intrapersonal (or "internalized") fatphobia: fear of gaining weight, fear they that aren't the right size, and a sense of urgency that they have to control their shape or size.
Level 2: Interpersonal
This level impacts human-to-human interactions: how other people treat a person based on their size. Think of this level as the relationships and interactions an individual has with other individuals through things like dating, friendship, going to the grocery store, school, and professional networking. Because of fatphobia, 50% of all employers are less likely to hire a large-bodied candidate. In addition, we know many large-bodied children experience bullying that impacts their ability to focus in school.
Level 3: Societal (or Institutional)
This level impacts the ease with which a person can - or cannot - navigate the structures, spaces and institutions within the culture based on their size. This level is everything in between and around levels 1 and 2 - the physical spaces where human interactions happen (including work, leisure, family events, weddings, education), as well as the laws and norms that shape those interactions. This category includes things like seating in airplanes and restaurants, access to clothing that fits, and availability of medical supplies (like arm cuffs for blood pressure readings) developed with a large body in mind. Weight discrimination is legal in 49 states (all but Michigan), and this is also part of level 3.
This three-dimensional model helps us understand some of the nuance of this issue. For instance, a person with a thin body may have exceedingly high levels of intrapersonal fatphobia (Level 1) - perhaps to the point where they need to be hospitalized. This is an extremely stressful experience. However, they may not experience Level 2 - interpersonal fatphobia - at all. Conversely, a person with a large body may have very low levels of intrapersonal fatphobia, yet may experience considerable fatphobia on levels 2 and 3. Experiencing interpersonal and/or institutional fatphobia is also acutely stressful.
This model can help us make responsible decisions as we think of ways to combat fatphobia, understanding that successful interventions must address all three levels.
That's all for today. I promise we'll get deeper into how fatphobia manifests in future Body Positive University articles. For now...