Image description: An abstract light blue watercolor background with the words, “Stop appropriating the experiences and oppression of people who are fatter than you.” Lindley’s logo is at the bottom.
Here’s one way you can help end weight stigma: Stop appropriating the experiences and oppression of people who are fatter than you.
If you live in a body that is of average size (the average American woman wears a size 14-18) or a bit larger (what some folks call “smallfat”), you do not have the same experiences as someone in a body larger than yours. You can shop at most mainstream stores. You can almost always fit into airplane seats, restaurant booths, theme park rides, and chairs with arms. Most of the time, you will not encounter blatant or extreme discrimination or hatred due to your body size.
Yes, you will occasionally encounter some nasty comments about your body, because that’s what living in a fatphobic society entails. Or you might rarely encounter some discrimination or other terrible experiences. But those experiences are not constant and sustained. “I once couldn’t find a bra I liked” is not equivalent to “bras are not commercially made in my size.” “My doctor once told me I could stand to lose a few pounds” is not equivalent to “I live in terrible pain because I’ve been denied joint surgery due to my body size.”
What this means is that it’s fine to speak about your experiences, but you must remember that they are not representative of the lived experience of fatter people. You are sitting on the tip of the iceberg, and people larger than you are trapped underneath.
Speaking as if your experience is universal erases larger fat folks, and honestly, it’s a really crappy thing to do. Taking opportunities and money to be The Voice of Fat People is even crappier. How can you speak of the iceberg when you’ve only experienced the slightest chill?
Give larger people the floor when there are discussions around size discrimination and oppression. Don’t take up public space and paid (or career-building) speaking opportunities when there’s a fatter person who could better speak to weight stigma. Continue to speak about your lived experiences in your own spaces, but do so with the awareness and stated recognition that your experiences are not the consistent and extreme hatred, stigma and bigotry that very fat people face.
I want to be clear, too, that I am not at the extreme end of the fatness spectrum. I identify as a largefat (or a superfat according to this chart), I wear a Lane Bryant size 28 and I have difficulty accessing or cannot access infrastructure like seating in many places, airplane seats, some medical equipment and others.
But I have many body privileges. I can still buy clothing online (though my selection is quite limited). I can fly if I buy two seats. My body is shaped in a way that is often interpreted by others as smaller and lighter than it actually is. It is on me to ensure that I also do not co-opt the experiences of people larger than I am, and elevate their voices and pass opportunities to them as often as possible.
Does this mean that I’m telling you to shut up? That you can’t talk about your experiences of oppression or body shame or diet culture or an eating disorder? Of course not. Next week we’ll be digging into whose voices are valuable and when it’s appropriate to speak (and when to listen).