October 21, 2021

It’s time to drop the moral panic about fatness


Arms up for those who’ve ever felt judged, or stared at, whereas consuming out in public.

What about feeling nervous about visiting the physician out of worry the dialog will flip again to your weight – it doesn’t matter what motive you go in for. 

Disgrace and prejudice about physique dimension can observe fats folks round in all points of their life. 

These criticisms can usually be hidden in the guise of concern for one’s well being (somebody wanting to ‘assist’), condescending weight reduction slogans (like ‘inside each fats particular person is a skinny particular person ready to come out’), and even refined, however pointed, feedback about somebody’s personal meals consumption (‘No thanks, I’m being good’ or ‘Ugh, I really feel so fats at this time’).

At different occasions, the stigma will be deliberately merciless or outright discrimination.

“Lots of people have such a visceral response to fats our bodies,” says sociologist Deborah Lupton, a UNSW SHARP professor and creator of the e book Fat

“Fatphobia is what individuals are demonstrating once they’re treating fats folks with disrespect, bullying and disgust. Fats stigma is the discrimination, marginalisation and shaming in the direction of folks with fatter our bodies than the norm.”

Tonight, Prof. Lupton will probably be talking about fatness on a brand new SBS documentary, What Do Australians Actually Suppose About… Weight problems, hosted by Casey Donovan. 

The episode, which airs at 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand, makes use of a nationwide survey of round 2000 folks to discover how stigma and prejudice affect the lives of larger Australians. 

Alarmingly, the survey discovered that 42 per cent of overweight folks have skilled harassment due to their weight.


Learn extra: Weight stigma a daily experience for obese people


“Physique shaming, discrimination and stigmatisation usually has actual results on folks’s lives,” says Prof. Lupton, who relies at UNSW’s Centre for Social Analysis in Well being, the Social Coverage Analysis Centre, and heads the Vitalities Lab.

Plus size man smiling in an office setting

Lacking out on job alternatives is only one of the methods weight stigma and discrimination impacts folks’s every day lives. Picture: Unsplash.

“There’s a variety of analysis now to present that if different folks see you as too fats, then you definately miss out on alternatives, like jobs. That sort of discrimination and shaming simply goes on all through folks’s lives.

“It even impacts medical care. Fats folks report that once they see their GP, their physique dimension will usually be introduced up by the physician, even when the well being downside is totally unrelated.”

The time period fats has been reclaimed by fats activists, a lot of which desire the phrase to phrases like ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’, which medicalise an individual’s physique. ‘Fats’ is seen as merely one other bodily descriptor, similar to inexperienced eyes, quick or brunette. 


Learn extra: Don’t call me obese


However for an extended time, social and cultural norms have given moral worth to an individual’s weight: to be skinny is seen to present self-discipline and self-control, to be fats reveals weak spot and self-indulgence. 

To make this stigma worse, phrases like ‘weight problems disaster’ and ‘weight problems epidemic’ can lead to a moral panic, encouraging worry and prejudice about fatness. However is that this panic doing us any favours?

First, let’s take a better have a look at what ‘overweight’ even means.

Woman dancing in apartment

The connection between weight and well being is nowhere close to as simple as the BMI appears to recommend. Picture: Shutterstock.

What’s ‘too fats’, anyway? 

The usual manner to categorise an individual’s physique weight as obese or overweight is by utilizing the Physique Mass Index, or BMI. This index makes use of an individual’s weight and peak to inform if they’re in the wholesome weight vary. 

However regardless of the measurement’s widespread use and acceptance, it has some main limitations.

“The BMI was devised again in the 1830s by a mathematician as a easy manner of figuring out whether or not somebody is a ‘wholesome’ weight. It has no medical foundation,” says Prof. Lupton.

“There’s been a variety of dispute over how correct the BMI is and whether or not it’s a good marker of whether or not you might be liable to any well being points. For one factor, BMI does not measure the stage of fats in your physique. It simply measures your weight versus your peak, so it’s a really crude marker.”

A really match, muscular particular person – for instance, an elite soccer participant – could possibly be positioned in the obese class, in the event that they’re on the shorter facet.

On the different hand, a really unfit one who often smokes, drinks and has a poor weight-reduction plan might have a BMI in the wholesome vary.

“BMI did a lot to disgrace folks,” says Prof. Lupton. “It is extremely doable to be a skinny particular person, and even a median dimension particular person, and nonetheless be a really unhealthy particular person – the relationship between weight and well being is nowhere close to as simple as the BMI appears to point out.”

In Australia, two out of three individuals are thought-about obese or overweight in accordance to the BMI.

Happy couple cooking in the kitchen

Consuming effectively and being bodily energetic are ways in which each particular person – irrespective of their form or dimension – can enhance their well being. Picture: Unsplash.

The ‘weight problems epidemic’

The turning level in the newest anti-obesity discourse occurred throughout the late Nineties and early 2000s, says Prof. Lupton. 

Peak well being our bodies like the World Well being Group began noticing rising ranges of weight problems primarily based on BMI measurements. This sparked an onslaught of public well being campaigns and information protection in Australia and plenty of different rich nations round the world. 

“There have been plenty of stories protection about the so-called ‘weight problems disaster’ and ‘weight problems epidemic’,” says Prof. Lupton.

“They despatched the message of, ‘Until all of us drop pounds, we’re going to be a burden on the well being care system, get illnesses like most cancers and diabetes, and die early’.”

These information tales usually included visuals of fats our bodies with their heads cropped off, dubbed the ‘headless fatty’. These visuals will be dehumanising, rendering an individual to nothing greater than their physique form.

Many public well being campaigns aimed for the shock-factor, making fats tissue – and by extension, fats folks – appear like a illness. 

“These messages goal to make folks really feel disgusted and ashamed about their very own our bodies, which I imagine is a extremely unethical strategy,” says Prof. Lupton, who has beforehand critiqued the ‘yuck factor’ in anti-obesity campaigns.

Many of those campaigns reinforce the concept that fats is at all times dangerous, and ought to be prevented in any respect prices.

Group of friends laughing and chatting at an outdoor pub

Being conscious of your biases, recognising that well being appears totally different for each particular person, and discovering fats activists to observe are some methods you’ll be able to keep away from or cut back fats stigma. Picture: Unsplash.

Fixing the message

In accordance to Prof. Lupton, a key manner to deal with fats stigma begins with these public well being campaigns. 

“Public well being campaigns want to take a extra optimistic strategy that avoids fats shaming and fats stigma,” she says. 

“It’s a matter of giving optimistic messages about how everybody of any dimension can stay a more healthy life, with out specializing in weight reduction.”


Learn extra: Measuring up: this year, aim for fitness over fat loss for long-term success


Ideas for avoiding fats stigma:

  • Discover fats activists and help teams to observe

Fats activists have gone a good distance in the direction of addressing fats stigma, says Prof. Lupton. Since the ‘weight problems epidemic’ messaging began in the late 90s, fats activists have been contributing to public discourse and selling physique positivity.

“Fats activism and fats help networks will be actually optimistic for folks on the lookout for that sort of peer help,” she says.

  • Recognise that well being appears totally different for each form and dimension

Fairly than focusing purely on weight as the key to good well being, Prof. Lupton recommends actions like Health at Every Size Australia for folks trying to enhance their well being.

“Well being at Each Measurement offers extra optimistic and fewer excessive messages about how everybody can enhance their well being,” she says.

“Individuals of any physique dimension will be making a optimistic contribution to their well being in the event that they’re bodily energetic or maintaining a healthy diet meals.” 

  • Pay attention to your individual biases

Fats stigma will be refined, and many individuals can reinforce stereotypes with out that means to. A simple manner to cut back that is by paying extra consideration to the message being despatched out when saying issues like ‘I really feel fats at this time’ or ‘I’m having a cheat day’.

And importantly, folks of all sizes might help cut back weight stigma by not making judgements about different folks primarily based on their our bodies. 

“You’ll be able to’t inform from an individual’s outdoors look how they really feel about their our bodies,” says Prof. Lupton. 

“Whether or not they’re fats, normatively skinny, or in between, you simply do not know the struggles that individuals have had over their consuming and their physique weight.”

What Do Australians Actually Suppose About… Weight problems airs at 8:30pm tonight on SBS and SBS On Demand.

If this text has raised points for you, or for those who’re involved about somebody you recognize, yow will discover help by way of Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.



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