10 Potential Strategies For Addressing Size, Weight and Shape Discrimination by Jill Andrew

Posted on August 8, 2013

Weight Descrimination 607x341 10 Potential Strategies For Addressing Size, Weight and Shape Discrimination by Jill Andrew

Fat in the City’s JILL ANDREW responds to Tuesday’s online  Globe & Mail article on Size Discrimination 

In the Toronto based daily newspaper, Craig and Mark Keilburger tackle Size Discrimination and ask for strategies for change
 Howdy everyone! I’d like to propose 10 potential strategies (not necessarily in the order presented) for addressing size, weight and shape discrimination. The number 10 just happens to be a lucky number of mine  but by no means is this list exhaustive.  Let’s face it strategies are much more complex than a quick fix list and often with lists once it’s done and we check it off we think we’ve conquered it. As we know with appearance-based discrimination the solutions are more systemic and internal than that. After my 10 strategies I’d also like to take the opportunity to respond to the specific quotes from two of the experts the Kielburger’s tapped for their insight: Miriam Berg and Karyn Johnson.
1. We’ve got to check our language.  There is immense power in words. The words we select to use to describe ourselves and others can perpetuate size, weight and shape discrimination.  Words like “overweight” “obese” etc. from the onset criminalize fat as bad and “deadly”. Facts that are not as black and white as some might have us think (esp. the diet drug pharmaceutical companies that collaborate quietly with our medical experts to sell us the thin dream as the healthy dream. It’s a money-making business folks!).  Over weight? Over whose weight? These words also set up thin or slim as ‘normal’ and the standard-bearer. Not everyone is predisposed to be thin therefore not everyone’s size should be measured from a standard of thinness.

2. We’ve got to nip ‘fat talk’ in the bud. No more apologizing for eating a meal regardless of your size. No more casual anti-fat, thin praise whining with friends or quite frankly strangers at the store masquerading as harmless banter. No more stylists on talk shows applauding fat women in one breath for having ‘courage’ to show curves but then in the next breath telling us about the best ‘foundation garments’ to flatter our curves. No matter how ‘friendly’ or non-threatening it sounds…all of this ‘fat talk’ reinforces and encourages a social climate of fat-shaming, fat-bashing and frankly fat-hate.  Before you know it we don’t see people anymore we just see FAT. When you can’t or WON’T see the person it becomes easier to dehumanize and target people for discrimination.

3. We’ve got to promote size and self-acceptance through the words and practices of the Health at Every Size (HAES) framework. Thin does not equal healthy any more than fat equates unhealthy. The more we acknowledge a diversity of bodies the more we can begin to promote programming that supports every-body type. Shaming the fat persons at work into some ridiculous ‘weight loss’ challenge or having fat students at school participate in BMI or “healthy eating” contests doesn’t encourage success or determination. Again it reinforces difference by stigmatizing weight. Weight discrimination must be seen as HUMAN RIGHTS discrimination.  As an aside: check out Dr. Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size (book) and also do your own research on BMI and its promotion of sexist and racist ideals. It’s all out there in cyberspaceJ

4. Create Body Equity Checklists (there goes me and those checklists againJ) for the workplace, schools, public transit, hospitals, stores etc. Is your space accessible? Are there chairs without arms in your waiting/fitting/dining etc rooms so everyone’s comfortable? What types of magazines are in the space? Only those that celebrate thinness as successful, sexy and are overflowing with diet ads? What kids are on the walls in our schools? Is there body diversity there?  Returning to Canada at Pearson Airport you are greeted by this amazingly cute jumbo size ad with about 6 kids of different racial and sex backgrounds all saying “welcome” to Canada in different languages. Only one thing was missing~ body diversity. They were all thin and able-bodied kids. Check out: Drs. Carla Rice & Vanessa Russell’s EmBODYing Equity: Body Image as an Equity Issue (book)

5. Have open conversations about size discrimination~ like this one courtesy of the G&M article.  It’s not enough to only hear from doctors and dieticians on weight issues because all too often many of them are in bed (either as paid consultants, researchers or otherwise ‘connected’ to weight-loss drug companies; pricey weight-loss surgery brokers etc.). It’s important to hear from (warning: I’m going to say two F words here) FAT activists and FEMINIST (women, men, trans etc.) educators who are able to discuss weight discrimination in relation to other histories of discrimination. Dare I say we aren’t as blatant (and I mean verbal folks! I know racism and homophobia remain VERY current!) with racist and homophobic language  but throwing around fat hate is not only celebrated ~ its expected.

6. Body Equity Training for employees in every organization from the frontline to the CEO’s. This bleeds into some of my other points I reckon. Can’t stress the golden opportunity as we go through our workplace and human rights training to ensure size, weight and shape discrimination is included. It is also necessary to have transparent and concrete procedures in place for consequencing those who fail to uphold the company (or school, store etc.) expectations. If it’s just a document hanging on the wall or in some 300-page employee binder then it’s just lip service. Note: MEDIA professionals need this training!  Doing a story on fat and simultaneously showing clips of unsuspecting fat people’s buttocks in B-roll is dehumanizing and voyeuristic and encourages fat-jokes and fat-blaming. Check out: Dr. Charlotte Cooper’s Obesity Timebomb for more on the media and fat folk!

7. More public stories of size, weight and shape discrimination but also more POSITIVE media representation of diverse body sizes etc.  It’s all great to talk about fat bodies, show them on TV or write about them in newspapers in relation to size discrimination. This must continue! But the truth is fat bodies aren’t always wrapped up in discrimination or ‘doom and gloom’. Many of us are out living life, loving it, achieving, facing challenges, getting laid etc. like everyone else! Shifting away from fat-hate also includes having fat bodies present when they aren’t being seen as the charity cases, the ‘victims’ the ‘targets’ or the ‘experts’ on fat issues but are simply just another type of body on air or in the visuals used in magazines or newspapers.

8. Professor David Doorey is spot on!  Societal attitudes and un-learning stereotypes can be assisted by the strategies I’ve posted here and this does not happen overnight. But while societies minds are changing the laws need to be in place! It is a fact that fat people on a whole make less money than not fat people. Reason: Not because we are illiterate or unambitious but because of the assumptions many employers make about fat at the moment of the job interview! Having laws in place for size diversity PERIOD (not “obese” persons only) is critical to help ensure someone’s ability to live and generate income for themselves and their families. It’s not an ‘accommodation’ folks it’s a rightJ

9. We can’t be enablers. We’ve got to be the so-called “Debbie Downers” in the room. Yes I know we’re not superheroes but every time we ignore fat-hate speech and actions we are in fact worse than the person committing the fat-hate speech and action. Yes Yes I get it…it’s tiring work to be educating ignorant folks. You are rightJ but I always believe it’s not the ignorant person you’re educating…it’s sometimes the person next to them…in ear-shot who might take away the lesson (think by-stander culture!)

10. Love yourself! (Yah right—that’s BS) Sure we must love ourselves but this also somehow seductively places both blame and responsibility on fat persons to simply ‘love themselves’ out of fat discrimination. That’s part of that neo-liberal, pull yourself up from your own bootstraps (even if you don’t have boots!) agenda. We’ve got to realize fat discrimination isn’t something ‘out there.’ WE all contribute to it…we all work in the institutions that support and endorse it. Therefore we must continue to work in our communities and our institutions of power to address it through policy, words and our everyday actions. It’s only then that we can begin to witness holistic shifts in size, weight and shape discrimination.

Thanks folks for reading some of my strategies ~ only 10 of a collective many!

Addressing Miriam Berg’s quote: Hey Miriam! I’m thrilled to see you in this conversation! To add an additional perspective to your quote though: emphasizing the ‘difference’ of fat also aids the project or normalizing thin/ness. The real goal I would argue is to emphasize diversity, a continuum of body shapes and sizes and to normalize all these diversities AS “normal.” Furthermore when we encourage the fat kid (or the racialized or the gay kid) to “get out there and show people that you are strong, capable and loving” while this can be effective it most certainly places a lot of accountability on the shoulders of that “different” kid (or adult).  The key is to have this kid (or adult) be in an environment where everyone around them is also working on the project of illustrating how everyone is strong, loving and capable and should be judged by that~ not their weight (I guess that goes back to the need for systemic intervention not just the personal strength of one).

Addressing Karyn Johnson’s quote: Hey Karyn! I enjoy your blog! Good for blogging recently on BREAKING through fashion rules! To hell with the fashion rules, right! Speak on!  Considering my strategy #1 I really think we need to problematize this word “overweight.” There is an entire body of literature in fat studies & scholarship and even within the few medical circles that have gone against the ‘fat-hate gravy train’ towards more of a HAES doctrine on this. You might enjoy it and may come out with new(er) language for describing size than ‘overweight.’ And while you are right about owning the word fat, I also think we’ve got to own up as a society to the devaluation we’ve placed on the word. Because own it or not the bigger picture for the most part equates it with worthlessness, laziness, asexuality, ugliness, victimhood etc. so sometimes even when you ‘own it’ and don’t want to be ‘consumed by negative comments’ the berating can still hurt if not us the next target.

Jill Andrew, PhD (c.) is the founder/director of BITE ME! Toronto Int’l Body Image Film & Arts Festival and co-founder of the fat “plus fashion” blog Fatinthecity.com. Her areas include size, weight & shape discrimination, fat activism, race, representation and the skin-bleaching debate, equity education in schools and more. Jill recently spoke on plus-fashion blogging and the fat female consumer at the 2013 NAAFA convention in Los Vegas and has been invited back by Windsor University as a Distinguished Visitor in Women’s Studies to speak further on related issues in October 2013. Andrew has received the Michele Landbserg Media Activism Award and the Soroptimist Foundation of Canada Grant award among others. http://soroptimistfoundation.ca/grantwinners.html#jill | http://www.blog.thehypemagazine.com/2013/07/jill-andrew-to-speak-on-plus-size.html   www.BiteMeFilmFest.com

Author’s note: please excuse any typos


Posted in Body Image, Fat shame

  • http://www.bodyshapestyle.com/ Lisa

    Great article Jill, and it’s so great to be having these conversations. I particularly like the discussion re overweight and it’s helped me pinpoint what exactly bothers me about that word.

    • jillandrew

      Thank you so much for your support Lisa! I tell you…the power of words! Especially those meant to exclude, oppress and discredit others (like “overweight” and “obese”) If you’d like you should definitely check out the book I mentioned by Dr. Linda Bacon~ it really does open your eyes on the debate about “obesity.” Furthermore other great books include Dr. Kathleen LeBesco’s Revolting Bodies? The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity and Dr. Abigail C. Saguy’s What’s Wrong with Fat. Beond this…please also sign up to Dr. Charlotte Cooper’s “Obesity Timebomb” another gem of a resource! Big hugs and thanks again!

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