August is Fat Liberation Month! Though the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (or NAAFA) is more than 50 years old, we launched this month of celebration and action in 2021. The calendar is full of opportunities to fight diet culture (hello new year’s resolutions and summer “beach body” stories), but there are few opportunities to celebrate fat people and focus on our freedom.
But any time of the year is a great time to reflect on what you can do to support fat liberation. Because no matter what other issues you care about, if you care about civil rights, human rights—and simply the wellbeing of all people—you have an investment in the rights of fat people.
Notice that we are talking about fat rights and liberation, and not body positivity or self-love. The latter are wonderful things, but we can’t love ourselves out of discrimination at the office or on the operating table. Where much of the Insta-activism we see focuses on individual feelings, NAAFA’s work is focused on changing policies, conditions, and systems that affect people.
What is fat liberation? The slideshow from NAAFA explains it below:
The pervasiveness of anti-fatness
Anti-fatness is nothing new; it’s rooted in anti-Blackness and the effort to eradicate indigenous people, as well documented in books by Dr. Sabrina Strings and Da’shaun Harrison. But this is not just history. Today, anti-fatness shows up everywhere and still disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities. It is also compounded by other forms of oppression.
For example, we know that Black workers earn less than white workers, and Black women face the “double gap” of gender and race. Fat people also earn less than thinner people, are less likely to get promotions, and have hiring discrimination in many fields. Fat Black women face a “triple gap” as well as other workplace hurdles. So body size adds to the intersecting myriad of ways working people’s worth is devalued.
Anti-fatness compounds the impact of other forms of discrimination. And, since discriminating against fat people is legal in 49 states of the union (shout out Michigan!) this mistreatment can be legal and can be used to shield employers, doctors, educators, and even police from consequences for the harm of their actions.
Anti-fatness also harms folks in the LGBTQ+ community disproportionately. One of the most dramatic examples is when people are denied lifesaving interventions for gender dysphoria because of weight limits on surgeries and other medical procedures.
Anti-fatness also shows up in police brutality cases and can exacerbate cruel treatment within prisons. It’s everywhere, and we assure you it’s actively harming the people and communities you care about.
Working towards legal protections
NAAFA has always supported efforts to add height and weight to state and local anti-discrimination laws. We believe these laws will protect all people, especially those who experience multiple forms of oppression. We know all too well that better laws don’t end bad behavior, but we also know that most Americans support this change and that attitude changes often follow changes in law.
If you see potential for these changes in your community or would like to support what’s already happening, let us know.
But even while we work towards legal protections, there is a lot you can do right now in your work as a communicator by simply paying attention and making some adjustments to the content you create for your clients or organizations. Even just your word choices matter.
Here are six ways you can support fat liberation:
- Avoid the “O” words: We use the word fat because we believe fat should be a neutral descriptor, like tall or brunette or any other word that helps you understand someone’s physicality. We also recognize that it is a word that carries a lot of trauma for a lot of people so even people who want to be engaged in this work can be challenged by that word. We believe that the best way to destigmatize the word is to actually use the word as a neutral descriptor and as a powerful rejection of stigma. We often find that people use the words “overweight and obesity” because they think they’re the medical terminology that we’re supposed to use if we’re avoiding slurs or euphemisms. From the perspective of fat liberation, those words actually are slurs. Both “O” words assume some standard of “normal” or “healthy” size which we flatly reject. We are not necessarily sick and we are definitely not abnormal so please don’t use language that implies either. If you or your organization are not ready to go full on fat, feel free to use words like larger bodied, plus sized, higher weight, or some other suggestions you can find here.
- Don’t use weight as a marker of health. Examine your assumptions about health and weight, and ensure your communications work never conflates the two. The facts about how body size and health interact are more complicated than most people realize, and more importantly, no one’s rights and respect should depend on whether they are healthy or not.
- Include fat people in your lens. when you are thinking about the list of all of the ways that you want to make sure that people are well represented in your materials. No matter what issues you work on or communities you work in, there are fat people. Earlier this year, Google worked with us to create inclusive guidelines for their own marketing materials you can reference for ideas on how to do this respectfully.
- Accommodate our bodies. We need space, figuratively but also literally. We need wide, sturdy chairs that do not dig into our sides. We need passageways between chairs and tables that are ample for larger body sizes. We need bathroom stalls that are wider than the toilet. If you are designing or renting a space, or planning an event, keep us in mind. If you are arranging people’s travel, find out if they need an extra seat or a particular rental car. And don’t wait for folks to tell you. Fat people are taught our bodies are our problems and it can be hard to advocate for ourselves, so help us out by asking before we have to.
- Hire fat people. As we know from other areas of our work, it’s critical to include people impacted in every discussion of their lives. You serve fat people. Are they on your team? There are over 93 million fat people in the United States. If you don’t have a fat person on your team, please spend some time thinking about why.
- Listen to fat people. You’ve made a great start by reading this! Thanks for all that you do, and thank you for spending some time thinking about your impact on larger-bodied people.
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Tigress Osborn is the Chair of the Board of Directors of NAAFA and a DEI consultant.
Amanda Cooper is the Public Relations Director and Board Member of NAAFA and Senior Partner in the LightBox Collaborative.