emotional wellbeing

Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Hannah Fuhlendorf M.A, LPC


Understanding Fatphobia and Anti-Fat Bias

PUBLISHED Oct 15th, 2021 & UPDATED ON Nov 14th, 2022

You’ve probably heard it all before, especially if you’re a fat person. “Fat people can’t be fit. They can’t be healthy. They aren’t taking care of themselves. Fat people need to change their diet and lifestyle. If a fat person’s body can’t fit into a brand’s clothes or certain seats in public places, they should just lose weight and deal with it.”

Fuck all of those damaging attitudes!! They aren’t helpful to fat people, promote the extremely harmful beast that is diet culture, and assume that every fat person’s food intake, activity level, and embodied experiences are the same. The cultural idea that being fat is wrong, bad, and shameful is part of a long history of fatphobia and anti-fat bias.


Understand what systemic anti-fat bias is with DiveThru


You can be fat and healthy and happy, and there are way too many misconceptions around fat bodies. Let’s DiveThru fatphobia, anti-fat bias, and talk about how to have a positive (or neutral!) body image, no matter your shape or size.

What Is Fatphobia?

Fatphobia is defined as a cultural weight stigma against fat people. Much like how homophobia doesn’t refer to a literal fear of gay people, fatphobia is a term to describe the hatred and discrimination towards fat people. You can also use fatmisia (hatred towards fat people), and sizeism (prejudice against someone’s weight). So many terms!

What Is Anti-Fat Bias?

Anti-fat bias has a similar definition, but some fat activists prefer it, as it doesn’t have the -phobia bit at the end that suggests that it’s a fear, or dismisses the effects of debilitating phobias on someone’s mental health. Instead, using a term like “systemic anti-fat bias” can open up the conversation to the societal anti-fat biases that fat people face everyday.

How Does Fatphobia Affect Fat People?

Well, it’s not good. Obviously. But how bad is it?

Anti-fat bias affects fat people’s physical health and no, we’re not referring to weight loss or gain. A 2016 study looked at the chronic health affects of weight discrimination on fat people. The researchers found that people were more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions even when activity level, economic status, and BMI were factored out. That basically means that fat people may be getting sick based on the psychological experience of living in a fat body, and the stress that comes along with it. Mental health affects your physical health, people!!


Being fat can absolutely affect your access to employment. A qualitative review of the effects of fat stigma in the workplace found that obese people (note: this is a term used in the study but not a term we recommend using) made up to 6% less for the same job, with women being affected the most, and particularly women of colour. So your weight can affect your wage, regardless of how competent you are at your job. 


Then there’s the issue of healthcare. There are plenty of stories of fat people receiving inadequate healthcare based on their weight. A 2012 study found that there was a strong implicit anti-fat bias among medical professionals that were surveyed. This kind of bias, and the judgement that comes with it, can affect whether or not a fat person feels comfortable seeking medical help. Anti-fat bias can often affect the provider’s willingness to provide quality care or sometimes any care at all. This type of bias also shows up when patients go to the doctor and are told they need to lose weight, no matter the issue that they wanted help with. This contributes to the shame they may already associate with their bodies. 


Here’s the real juicy part: in a 2012 study on weight and health, it was found that a change in lifestyle habits resulted in a significant decrease in mortality rates, regardless of BMI. As therapist Hannah Fuhlendorf describes in her TikTok on the study, it examined around 11,000 people over the span of 170 months, which is a huge sample size and long period of time for a study like this. When participants adopted the four lifestyle changes (5+ fruits and veggies a day, regular exercise, minimal alcohol consumption, and no smoking), their health risks decreased regardless of their starting weight and whether or not they lost weight. 

Let me just repeat that: those four lifestyle changes led the subjects to have lower mortality rates REGARDLESS OF WEIGHT. Kind of a big deal. Go watch Hannah’s video if you want more deets.

If you’re looking for some more info on systemic and interpersonal fatphobia, you can watch Hannah’s free course, “What Is Anti-Fat Bias?” in the DiveThu app. The course also has some excellent journaling prompts to get you thinking about your self-image and your relationship with your body. Check it out! Or finish this article and then check it out. You do you.

Body Positivity, Body Neutrality, and Self-Image

Anti-fat bias can deeply affect a fat person’s sense of self-worth, to the point that it can actually make them sick. Fat people deal with fat-shaming and discrimination from all angles, including from friends, family, and even strangers. The thin ideal is SO pervasive that it can worm its way into your self-image and not wanna come out. It can be challenging to rebuild your self-image in a society that is always telling you you’re bad or broken. So what are some ways that you can build up your self-image as a fat person?

Body Positivity

You can try for body positivity. One great way of connecting to your own thoughts on your body and building self-love is through journaling. We have some great journaling prompts to help guide your journaling to a place of self-love. There’s also some amazing body positive social media accounts that you can follow if you want to curate your feed into something that makes you feel great. You are amazing, your body is amazing, and you should know it!

Body Neutrality

But some days, you don’t know it, and saying “I love myself!” would feel like a lie. We get that. When positivity feels wrong, body neutrality is a fantastic way of thinking. Rather than saying you love your body, or love how it looks, body neutrality focuses on what your body does for you. Your body allows you to wake up everyday, read a book, move in whatever way works for you, hug your bestie, and do lots of other awesome things! From a body neutral perspective, how your body looks is way less important than what it lets you do.  

Fat Activism

You can also get involved in fat activism! The fat liberation movement started in the 1960s and is alive and well today. This community of activists wants fat voices to be heard about healthcare, anti-fat bias, toxic diet culture, and systemic issues surrounding fat bodies. Also known as the fat acceptance movement, they’ve taken legal action to protect the rights of fat people. 

Fat bodies are worthy, valued, and important. Always remember that. And now that you know a bit more about anti-fat bias and fat activism, you’ve got the know-how to be critical of those fatphobic folks and systems around you. Go out there and fight anti-fat bias!



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