Origins of Weight Stigma #2: Racism

Why do people hate and fear fat bodies?

Weight stigma β€” also known as fatphobia, fatmisia, anti-fatness and fat hatred β€” ties into threads of power and profit going back centuries. Let’s look at one of the primary factors: Racism.

As ably described in great depth in Sabrina Strings’ recent book Fearing the Black Body, racism and fatphobia have been closely intertwined for centuries. From Strings:

β€œRacial discourse was deployed by Europeans and white Americans to create social distinctions between themselves and so-called greedy and fat racial Others. Black people, as well as so-called degraded or hybrid whites (e.g., Celtic Irish, southern Italians, Russians), were primary targets of these arguments.

Elite white people also used Protestant discourse to claim a moral superiority over these same poor, immigrant, and racial Others.”

Strings traces, from the 1500s to the present, how powerful white men developed beauty standards for women that deliberately categorized Black women and Black features as inferior. These standards were then used to β€œprove” the inherent inferiority of Black and African peoples.

These beauty standards were also the point of origin for all the beauty standards we see enforced on people, especially women, today.

Thinness (and a very specific type of medium-bodied curviness) is desirable today because, hundreds of years ago, it was seen (often by white men who hadn’t ever physically seen a Black body) as an trait not possessed by Black bodies.

Read more about the origins of fatphobia:

I believe that people in large bodies deserve the same rights and dignity as every other human. In my weekly newsletter the Body Liberation Guide, we dive deeper into body image, power, oppression, the beauty of fat bodies, what health looks like at every size, and what you can do personally to help end weight stigma.

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Hi there! I'm Lindley. I create artwork that celebrates the unique beauty of bodies that fall outside conventional "beauty" standards at Body Liberation Photography. I'm also the creator of Body Liberation Stock and the Body Love Shop, a curated central resource for body-friendly artwork and products. Find all my work here at bodyliberationphotos.com.