Updated: Aug 13
This August marks the third celebration of Fat Liberation Month, organized by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA, 2023). So, what is Fat Liberation? It is the idea that individuals in larger bodies should be celebrated for their successes and uplifted despite society’s biases and prejudices. It is a time to open up conversation about the idea of allowing ourselves the freedom to imagine a world where diet culture and institutions that promote body hate for profit are irrelevant and body acceptance and freedom is the new norm.
Why is there a month dedicated to Fat Liberation?
Weight bias and stigma is ever present in the world today. We can see it in visual representations through movies and tv shows, (which are often portrayed through negative stereotypes). We can see it in discrimination in the workplace and biased attitudes from health care professionals. These experiences are stigmatizing and harmful through both immediate and long-term consequences (UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, n.d.).
Fat bias is often engrained from a very early age. A study by Duke University found that implicit weight bias in children ages 9-11 was as common as implicit racial bias among adults (New York Times, 2017). Along with societal messaging, weight bias can also be passed down unintentionally through messaging from well-meaning family members or friends. This could look like a parent looking in the mirror and making comments such as “I hate how big I look” or “I’m going on this diet so I can finally fit into these pants.” It could look like friends making comments about food, “I can’t eat that or I’ll gain even more weight” or “I hate how my stomach looks after I eat.” In these situations, what is the message that is given to the daughter/son/sibling/friend that is in the room with them? My body is not acceptable if it is not small. I should try and change my body if it is not a specific size.
These messages of anti-body acceptance that are passed down from society and those around us often become the foundation for a lifetime of engaging in diet cycles, compulsive exercise, not for the enjoyment of it, but for the end goal of changing the body, and can lead to disordered eating behaviors.
What Does Fat Liberation offer?
Freedom. Freedom from the rigidity and restriction of diets and the multi-billion dollar diet industry. Freedom from weight stigma messages that are engrained in so many facets of society. Freedom to rethink what our relationship with our bodies could look like. It is rewriting the negative connotations surrounding the word “fat” and taking a hard look at healthist standards placed on weight.
Many wonder about the pressure of wanting to lose weight “for health reasons” or writing off the health at every size narrative due to health concerns for people in larger bodies. It is important to remember that we cannot judge someone’s health simply by looking at them. It is impossible to look at someone and tell what benefits or risks their health habits or body size are presenting (Millner, n.d.). Further, we must consider what impact body comments and health concern comments can have on those they are directed towards, especially from those who are not medical professionals. And lastly, we should analyze where the concern for others health is coming from and if it relates to any of the ingrained messages that are often subconsciously apart of one’s view of people in larger bodies. There is a wealth of information about the disconnect between body size and health and taking time to do our research could benefit in many ways.
Fat Liberation and Eating Disorder Recovery
How does the idea of Fat Liberation relate to eating disorder recovery? Within eating disorder recovery, body image is an integral aspect to focus on for many individuals and is often a precipitating factor for an eating disorder to develop initially. The way people view their bodies and the relationship individuals have with their own bodies can influence how they interact with the world, within relationships, with food and exercise, and many other areas of life. By taking the focus away from messaging about everything that needs to be changed with one’s body and initiating conversation about body acceptance and body respect, healing can begin in the form of self-compassion and understanding.
Helpful reminders (Millner, n.d.):
• Weight is not an indicator of health
• You cannot tell if, or what kind, of eating disorder someone has based on the size of their body
• Pursuing health is not a moral obligation
• Weight stigma harms everyone
• Food does not have morality (“good” or “bad”)
• Body and food comments are never helpful
Milner, R. (n.d.) “Health at Every Size Weight Inclusive Care.” Rachel Millner Therapy. https://www.rachelmillnertherapy.com/HAES
NAAFA (2023). “History of Fat Liberation Month.” National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. https://naafa.org/2022-flm-history
New York Times (2017). “Fat Bias Starts Early and Takes a Toll.” New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/well/live/fat-bias-starts-early-and-takes-a-serious-toll.html
UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health (n.d.). “Weight Bias and Stigma.” University of Connecticut. https://uconnruddcenter.org/research/weight-bias-stigma/#:~:text=People%20face%20weight%20discrimination%20in,weight%20stigma%20in%20interpersonal%20relationships.