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Society Taught Me to be Fatphobic

Writing by Sarah Louise // photograph by Karolina Jackowska

Ashamed, confused, and angry — that sums it up nicely. That is how I feel admitting that I am fatphobic.

Please reader, hear me out. You must know the context in which I use this worn out and oversimplified phrase. I am, by absolutely no means, fearful of fat people. I live everyday trying to treat people with equality and respect. However, I am fearful of my own, human potential, to become fat.

When I look at my loved ones, I see their compassion, wit, intelligence, and quirks. When I look at myself, I focus on the bulge that sits so unapologetically on my hip.

I remember a boy calling me fat in Year 4 of primary school. I remember making self-deprecating jokes about my tummy because it made my family laugh. I remember being the token ‘cute and squishy’ girl in my ballet class, as I despised wearing my skin-tight leotard.

Later I grew out of my chubby phase, into a young woman, wrapping my head around all the lumps and bumps that come with it. In Year 10, a boy asked me out on a date over Snapchat. After I’d said yes, I received a snap from him that was meant for his mates’ eyes only. “Fuck yes! Going on a date with Sarah Wilkes! Big tits and big ass!”.

Reader, you’ll be disappointed to know that I still went on a date with him, and be to be frank, I wasn’t offended by his comment. Why? I had always felt like the chubby girl. And being the curvy girl felt better than being the chubby girl.

These words are etched into my skin, and these experiences glued into my mind. They have caused anguish, so I naturally have a fear of confronting them again.

I have had it easy compared to some. I do not stand here as a victim of bullying or as a sufferer of the illnesses that tread ruthlessly behind body image. But there are many others that have suffered a far more sinister battle.

All I can offer is my own experiences, reflection, and hunger for change.

It is easy to say, “oh stop – you need to be kinder to yourself!”. Yes reader, that’s true. However, this fear – that I carry from my own trauma – has consequences that go beyond me. In feeling this way, and by having these thoughts, I must consider how I contribute to the society that taught me to be fatphobic.

No matter how ‘good’ I am towards others, do these personal ideals precariously seep into the world around me?

Have you ever had that friend say “Ew, I look so shit tonight!” when looking in the mirror of a dingy bar bathroom? You simply cannot fathom how she could belittle herself like that – she’s gorgeous. If she thinks she looks unattractive, then what does that make me? 

If I wouldn’t want my best friend to be fearful of putting on some weight, then why should I be?

I must take accountability. And you, reader, as a victim of this society, might be in the same boat.

Sarah Louise

Sarah is an emerging writer based in Melbourne/Naarm. When she isn’t hustling to complete her university degree, Sarah immerses herself in the world of fashion, beauty and Melbourne nightlife.

One Comment

  • Kimmie says:

    I am enormous. I am 6’2, I weigh 150kg, and I also passed the age of 25 quite a while ago now. I have never had any problems finding joy in life — I have had no shortage of solid relationships, fantastic jobs, unexpected opportunities, good friends, amazing experiences and all sorts of positive exchanges with random strangers in unexpected places. I mention the latter because there is an enormous difference between talking to a colleague who is acting as though they were thinking something along the lines of, “ah! The giant woman! I must be polite and respectful towards her to overcome my internalised fatphobia, I’m sure she won’t notice that I’m suddenly acting strange!” and someone who just… doesn’t care. Who is totally open and present and in the moment without any weirdness.

    The shocking truth is that there is absolutely no shortage of people like that. In fact, it is normal. I have had normal, open, totally non-weird conversations with people from all walks of life. Most of them are far too busy to judge me on my body, and if they did, so what? What difference would it make to me or my life, really, if the person who served me coffee every day was thinking something horrible about me while making me an iced latte? ABSOLUTELY ZERO difference, that’s what. I ask for coffee, they make coffee, they hand me coffee, I drink coffee. Nothing they think has any impact whatsoever on what is happening to me. Moreover, if I’m not worrying about whether some random stranger thinks I’m fat, I’ll be present enough to ask how their day is going and whether that troublesome customer is back and how much I like their new tattoo. Then they will think, “oh that’s really nice, I’m so glad they come in here.” Even if they think, “she’s really nice even though she’s so fat,” well that would be a pretty messed up mindset, but what difference would it make to me?

    Body image disorders perpetuate because we think that something really bad is going to happen if (when?) we stop being young, slim and beautiful. But what would happen if you actually wrote out all of those fears? I bet your list would be full of things like, “if I was fat then my boss wouldn’t respect me and I wouldn’t get promoted and then I’d get fired and be destitute and end up working in Walmart” or “if I was fat then my partner wouldn’t like me any more and would leave me for Totally Hot Awesome Chick and no-one would date me and I’d be all alone and my life would be over and I’d spend every night in my apartment eating ice-cream and feeding my 400 cats.”

    Slim people also miss promotions and live alone with their cats. Slim people also end up unhappy. No-one is guaranteed a positive outcome — or a negative one. Societal misogyny works so well that we so often think we have to ‘beat’ the system by being smart enough, pretty enough, kind enough, perfect enough. If we’re perfect enough then none of the bad things will happen to us, right? No — bad things happen anyway, and are 100% unrelated to your underwear size.

    Write the list. See what’s on it. What are you really afraid is going to happen if you gained 5lbs, or 50, or 200? Can you find examples where it isn’t true, like where a larger person hasn’t had that bad outcome or a slimmer person has? Would it change how you feel at all?

    Remember you don’t have to weigh 300lbs to be body positive. You can be body positive at any weight, whether underweight, slender, athletic, curvy or highly obese. It doesn’t matter. Body positivity is about accepting your body as it is. Being body positive isn’t the ‘opposite’ of fatphobia. It is radically stating that every body is positive, no matter what.

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