The Big, Fat Prejudices

As individuals on our own, many of us can’t end weight discrimination, cure eating disorders, or tackle sources of obesity. So what can we do? Our author leads us through the first step on a journey to embracing people as people, regardless of their weight.

by Polykum Redaktion

Fat stereotypes

While many people can confidently say that they are not explicitly biased against obese individuals, they may not be aware of their implicit biases. Fat stereotypes fall into patterns of associating fatness with a flaw or weakness in character. At the same time, they ignore other, non-weight-related problems the fat person may be experiencing. For example, obesity in minorities is correlated with their lack of financial stability, access to medical treatment or discrimination faced in medical settings. Assumptions and stereotypes reduce the person’s identity and struggles to only their body weight.

Speaking at an event by MeWell, a Zürich- based student organisation for mental health, Dr Dagmar Pauli clarified that this oppression starts early in childhood in the family and at school. Fat people are seen as lazy, slow, food obsessed, funny, yet unintelligent. These social biases are perpetuated through media, but more importantly through ourselves, and lead to oppression. Humans identify others by associating traits out of the brain’s pattern recognition, and it becomes an ugly story when assumptions are made from body to mind.

Due to these stereotypes, fat shaming isn’t just about the body. It labels an entire person with the negative traits mentioned above. A comment on fatness may hide a lot of implicit statements that one may not even consciously have thought about the person. These implicit biases are ingrained into all of us from socio-cultural stereotypes of fatness. Society has created an environment where fat individuals’ voices aren’t heard in conversations. Yes, they have heard that they are fat. Yes, they know it’s unhealthy. The conversation about a fat person is no longer one about them, but only about their body, lowering their self-esteem and severely impacting their mental health.

More than one’s health

A key point brought up in MeWell’s event is: you are more complex than your body or your mind. In our efforts to delimit what a person is, we fall into implicit and explicit biases that apply traits to fit an image. Too often we choose this option over letting ourselves be amazed at how human everyone is once we learn of their story.

For me, the first step to accepting people of all shapes and sizes is understanding that being different, no matter it being the body or the mind, is no reason to associate extra traits with the person through our bias. Being mentally or physically different is not a sign of anything else than just that, and a person isn’t bad because they also happen to be ill or vice versa.

“When you see someone in a hole, join them” is a lesson in empathy applicable everywhere. A human is so much more than just the body or the mind. A person is a subtle combination of both, and a full picture is needed before trying to bring the person out of the hole with you. It is possible to overcome our instincts and think, “What are they like on the inside?”, ask and start a wonderful discussion with individuals whose minds deserve to be heard, and no, it doesn’t have to be about their body.

by Ferris Wullschleger, 20, is currently studying biology at ETH. He is a plural artist working to let the world know him as just many more people in a trench coat.

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