At the beginning of July, I had the opportunity to present my BØWIE project around Sizeism at an event during Pride Week.
My plan was to start the presentation in a very direct and a little bit of a funny way, to get the attention from the audience, like this: “Let me guess what you’re thinking right now: Aww. She’s so fat, she should eat less, what a shame she lets herself go like this, she would have a such a pretty face...”
Arriving in my hotel room in Geneva before the event, I was shaking, exhausted and crying. I knew there was no way I was going to joke today, but no bully can silence me! After a shower, I felt a little better. I dressed and went to the Pride event venue. The atmosphere was warm and joyful. The Pride rules including “No fatphobia” helped me to feel safe and welcome.
So instead of my original plans, I started my presentation like this:
“I arrived here in Geneva shaken and exhausted. On the train, an elderly man started joking about my French and about my Fat body. The two young women next to me laughed about his jokes. Even after I asked them several times to stop, they continued. And no one spoke up for me. He is not the only one thinking or acting that way: It's called weight stigma, weight bias, Sizeism or fatphobia. It's everywhere. And that’s why we need to talk about it.
“I arrived here in Geneva shaken and exhausted. On the train, an elderly man started joking about my French and about my Fat body. The two young women next to me laughed about his jokes. Even after I asked them several times to stop, they continued. And no one spoke up for me.
Obviously, I'm fat and yes, I use the word fat – as a neutral descriptor for my body – like blue eyes.
In media, the fat body is most often shown headless, only belly and butt with headlines like “O*esity epidemic”.
Fat and food jokes in movies or comedy shows are common and the fat character is never the one with the amazing love and sex life.
In children movies and books, the figures in the bigger bodies are the outsiders or the mean characters.
Studies showed that already kids age three to five years old believe that kids in a bigger body are mean, stupid, ugly, unhappy, lazy and have fewer friends.
Also, parents of fat kids are biased against their own kids’ weight and negative comments are very common. Studies report that comments from close relatives have the most negative impact of all.
When I was around 8 years old, I was told for the first time that my body was not OK, that my belly is too big and that I should change. I still remember the feeling of shame flashing through my body. Many comments followed and a long history with a lot of crazy dieting and binge eating cycles started. My weight spiraled up and my self-esteem and my sense of self-worth were getting lower and lower.
Stigma and discrimination towards fat people have huge social, psychological and medical consequences:
- low self-esteem
- bad body image
- suicidal thoughts and acts
- increased physiological stress with a higher cortisol level and blood pressure
- eating disorders
- weight gain
- in the workplace, it leads to less hiring and promotions
- because of biased medical providers, fat people avoid or delay doctors’ visits, due to incidence of disrespect
- weight bullying and teasing in schools from peers
- the teachers’ stigma can lead to lower expectations and ratings
Maybe you think now: “I have bigger problems, like racism and LGBTIQ+ rights. Why should I care about fat people?”
When your activism leaves out all the fat people, it leaves out way too many. In an LGBTIQ+ National Teen Survey in the US with 9’838 participants, researchers found that across sexual identities, 44 to 70 percent of LGBTIQ+ teens reported weight-based teasing from family members and / or peers.
In an LGBTIQ+ National Teen Survey in the US with 9’838 participants, researchers found that across sexual identities, 44 to 70 percent of LGBTIQ+ teens reported weight-based teasing from family members and / or peers.
Incidence like today in the train, or the recent fatshaming article about Nike's new Mannequin show me, that all the fat shaming and concern trolling is not about health.
It's about hate, plain and simple.
My project here with BØWIE is to raise awareness for weight stigma and discrimination of fat people in Switzerland and to bring more people and institutions to have a zero-tolerance policy around weight stigma with the goal of body respect.
In September, I'm holding a Workshop in Berne where I share more about this topic and about the change we need in our society. (Yes2Bodies Workshop)
I'm also working on publishing a Homepage with resources.
What can you do now?
- Bring awareness and explore your own stigma towards fat people.
- Educate yourself. Explore the resources below and follow my Yes2Bodies Facebook page
- Include fat people in your social media feed. Like Lizzo, The Body is not an Apology, and Universal Standard – a US Brand with a size range from 00 to 40 and a good example for a diverse Instagram Feed.
Thank you for reading and helping to create a culture of Body Diversity and body respect in Switzerland!
- Jeff Iovannone’s article What is a “Pride Body”?
- ComfyFat Blog post: How fatphobia impacted my gender identity
- Fatshaming in left politics in the US: An article from Your Fat Friend: #MarALard*ss and the Left’s Fat Problem
- Linda Bacon: Fat is not the problem – Fat Stigma is
- Sonya Renee Taylor: BODIES AS RESISTANCE: Claiming the political act of being oneself