What Is Internalized Fatphobia?

internalized fatphobiaIn my piece about weight stigma and airlines I mentioned internalized fatphobia. On Instagram, @samolotus asked “could you expound upon what internalized fatphobia is?” Yes. Yes I can.

Internalized fatphobia is a form of internalized oppression, which is basically when oppressed people buy into the message of their oppressors. In terms of fatphobia, it happens when fat people don’t believe that they deserve the same things or same treatment that thin people get.

Internalized fatphobia can sound something like “If I take up more than one seat on a plane then of course I should pay for two seats!” Often this is a (conscious or subconscious) way to gain a modicum of approval from oppressors – the hope being that they think “well, she may be fat, but at least she has the decency to be self-loathing,” and that this attitude will lead them to better treatment than these fatties who are willing to fight for their right not to be second class citizens.

We live in a culture that rolls out fatshaming messages to us from infancy, so the fact that fat people suffer from internalized fatphobia isn’t exactly a galloping shock. It’s not our fault, it’s about discovering the ways in which we have internalized the stigmatizing and oppressive messages we’ve heard, and then rethinking them, and then deciding what to do about what we actually deserve. (For example, realizing that what is considered “a seat” by the airline is arbitrary, that we deserve to be transported from point a to point b for the same prices as the thin person beside us, and then maybe getting involved in some activism around that.)

I want to be clear that there are people who would argue that it isn’t internalized fatphobia, that they simply believe that, as fat people, they should be treated as second class citizens. Often their justification are that being fat is their fault, and/or that they could be thin if they wanted to, and/or that fat people existing is an inconvenience to thin people (and, for some reason, they believe that thin people’s feelings and desires should be centered and accommodated but it definitely isn’t because they’ve bought into a fatphobic society, because that would mean that they are dealing with internalized fatphobia…)

Regardless, I have no need to argue with fat people who think like this, they are allowed to believe whatever they want. What’s important to remember is that, first of all, their belief that they deserve to be oppressed is NOT a justification for oppressing other fat people. I’m happy for these people to have the option to pay twice as much for the same plane ride, but by no means does that mean that any other fat person should be required to. Moreover, if they are trying to visit their ideas on other fat people (ie: insisting that we don’t deserve space on a plane, or healthcare facilities that accommodate us, etc.) then we’re no longer talking about internalized fatphobia. At that point its just the same old, regular, garden variety, fatphobia that is harming others and should be fought.

As long as we live in a fatphobic society, there will be people who deal with internalized fatphobia, and some of those people will argue vehemently for their continued poor treatment. But you don’t have to be in that group, you can insist that you deserve to be treated with equality and respect. Because you do.

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4 thoughts on “What Is Internalized Fatphobia?

  1. For some of us it’s that nasty little voice in our heads that oozes around the edges of righteous anger, hard won acceptance and self-affirmation and says…maybe so, maybe so but still, if you just lost the weight you wouldn’t have to deal with all this. Those bad days that make you wonder why you couldn’t just be thin. You know, one of those ‘normal people’ you see walking around and why are their lives and bodies so different from mine ( if they are)?

    How different would your life be if you lived somewhere where (place-time) being thin/skinny/small was the social taboo? Being on the other side of the giggly: Oh we weren’t laughing at you, when are you gonna fix yourself, you could if you really wanted to, DID YOU THINK, WE WERE GONNA TREAT YOU LIKE US? fiasco you walk through daily. Gah, what if YOU had the ideal body, or the close enough to be O.K. body, moving about the world seen but not scrutinized. Admired or ignored, yet never standing out under the spotlight glare of accusation and fear: “What did you do, God I’m glad I’m not you!”?

    I have no idea. I have never known. I have been the ‘other’ since I was seven years old. I have never been O.K., average, one of us, let alone, seen but not observed, welcomed, accepted like there was nothing to be accepted for.

    Would I trade, give up me to be this societies version of success/good/O.K./acceptable, not questioned for breathing at all? Not right now, but ask me on a bad day, a sore day, a having trouble reaching day. A singled out and invisible day ( W. Charise Goodman). A snarky teenager on the bus day. A too many diet and weight loss ads before noon day. An unhelpful comment from friends, family or total strangers day. Junior high school. Giggling little girls. Reading a new book, getting into the story and BAM, a black and white reminder you are not welcome here either. The first day of group, when your well meaning therapist can offer protections for everyone but you: “No political talk, no sexism, racism, homophobia, gender shaming, ageism, religious bigotry…” Yes, don’t shame anybody…except the one group we are encouraged to shame day after day after day. For their own good.

    That is what internalized fat-phobia is.

    When going swimming, buying nice clothes, looking for love, or eating feels like a revolutionary act. God, it gets tiring having to live like the very act of being alive is a revolution. That takes a lot of energy. It must be nice to never have to think about it. To just be allowed to be. If you would do anything to obtain that, even at the cost of your life, that is internalized fat-phobia. The scary thing is, they will applaud you for it. The circle is complete.

    Step out of the circle, no matter what they say it isn’t worth it. Don’t let the world around you gaslight you into oblivion.

  2. It’s that crap-ass voice that tells me that if only I were thin and pretty, I wouldn’t be broke and alone, I’d have someone to love and treasure me. Oh yeah, and I never would have gotten diabetes, because no thin person gets diabetes, like, ever. Also, that I deserve to suffer because I couldn’t just bite the bullet and lose weight. And so on and so on.
    Even after all I’ve learned in the past eight years, this garbage voice is still there. I would kill it with fire if I could, believe me.

    1. I’m afraid it might be like Mad-Cow disease, fire won’t kill it.

      Feelings and facts really don’t share company. I have a friend who is thin, broke and can’t get a decent guy in her life. My nephew is two and was born with type two diabetes. His mom is thin and has celiac disease. Mostly she is worried about getting fat…like yeah. The funny bit is her husband is young thin and omnivorous like a carnivorous elephant, can and does eat Everything, huge portions drinks whole milk…Nothing. The food morality squad is pathologically deluded…but, when you need to believe something… Turkeys fly, the world is flat, we breath vinegar and all thin happy successful people…earned it. PAhahahahaaa!

  3. Sorry to be an Uninvited Internet Editor but this bit of sentence is jamming me up:
    “…and that this attitude will lead them to better treatment to these fatties who are willing to fight for their right to be second class citizens.”
    Was that meant to be:
    “…and that this attitude will lead them to better treatment [than] these fatties who are willing to fight for their right to [NOT] be second class citizens.”

    Otherwise this is an excellent post, and one I fully intend to share with some of my friends who are still absorbed in diet culture. Thank you~

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