I have been fat all of my life. I am also a Black, queer, nonbinary person who has had chronic illnesses — both physical and mental — all of my life. Due to this, I have always been hyperaware of how my body is expected to move, take up space, and exist differently than those who have thin and white bodies.

I am all too familiar with the systemic oppression fat people are forced to endure; especially those of us who exist as Black, gender-nonconforming, and disabled. Naturally, my curiosity about other fat people’s experiences led me to ask my Twitter followers to respond to a tweet describing an activity that, due to stigma associated with fatness, they are hyperaware of doing in public. For me, I am extremely cognizant of what, how and how much I eat in public. So often, thin and fit people make it clear through their body language, stares, and sometimes comments that fat people are not supposed to eat. The responses I received on Twitter were overwhelming and unexpected.

In public, we monitor our eating, if we eat at all.

We do not shop for clothes in clothing stores, and if we do, we do not try them on.

When we shop for groceries, we buy as little as possible or spend outside our means to pay for expensive “healthy” food.

When we overexert ourselves, we are careful to not pant heavily as to not feed into the stereotype that fat people are unhealthy, lazy, or otherwise ‘abnormal.’

We do not often go to parties, but when we do, we do not dance to avoid the risk of being recorded and publicly humiliated. We avoid sweating and gyms for this same reason.

We crack jokes on our size because we are already aware that it is what feels like to be the literal elephant in the room.

We do not travel often, but when we do, we buy two plane, bus, or train seats — even if we do not need a second — to avoid bearing the weight of a thin person’s obvious discomfort with being seated next to a fat person.

For those of us who are queer, we avoid Pride events and carefully manage our dating/hookup apps to escape the constant reminders that we are not desirable and that our bodies make us inhuman.

The list is endless, and it seems that the stares, the laughs, and the blatant discomfort are, too.

The very real insecurities and issues fat people face in our society are birthed from the systemic and societal oppression we experience from thin and straight-size people. The clear discomfort expressed by thin people when sitting beside a fat person on public transit, which they likely view as harmless, can oftentimes lead to the criminalization of said fat person — especially when that fat person is Black. The unwarranted fear expressed by white people when fat Black and brown men walk near them validates police forces’ heightened interaction with and brutality against “large” (read: fat) Black and brown men. When we assign language like “overweight” to bodies, we assume that there is a default, “normal” weight for bodies across the board. There is not.

In 2014, over 70 percent of Americans were considered to be “overweight” or “obese.” This does not account for the anti-Blackness and racism inherent to the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale. This is to suggest that if there were a default body, at least in America, it would be a fat body, as fat people are statistically the majority. When thin customers deem fat people’s calls for mainstream clothing lines to carry clothes in larger sizes “irrelevant” and “useless,” it justifies retail stores’ unwillingnessto stock clothes that fit fat people’s bodies. These may seem like minor issues to straight-size people, but each of them play a role in aiding in the systemic oppression of fat people.

People who are not required to think about how much space their body takes up, whether their body will keep them from experiencing romantic love, whether they will log onto social media to see that their fat body is the joke of the week, or whether they will even be able to find clothes that fit them, have few to no ties to these experiences. But anti-fatness — be it cultural, interpersonal, or systemic — is a pervasive problem that non-fat people should be focused on fighting against.

The blame for fat people’s insecurities and hardships does not rest on fat people; the onus is not on us to end the dehumanization and stigma around fatness and fat people’s bodies. Fat people are not required to apologize for our bodies, nor should we be expected to alter them for any reason. We should not be forced to deprive ourselves of basic human needs — like breathing and eating in public — and social lives for the sake of our safety and our wellbeing. This means that non-fat people have a responsibility to wrestle with their anti-fatness.

It is possible to eradicate anti-fatness in every way, and non-fat people can work to do so on many levels. If a fat person is being berated in public, step in and ask if they are okay. When someone makes a fat joke, stop them and tell them why those jokes are not funny. Don’t tokenize and fetishize your fat friends, and don’t force your fat friends to do something they don’t want to. Listen when fat people talk about our struggles, but don’t put the burden on us to be the only ones constantly speaking out against anti-fat oppression. Be mindful of the fact that anti-fatness is systemic and cultural: it is both the doctor denying fat people proper healthcare and the thin person making jokes about fat people. Don’t dichotomize fatness or place fat people in binaries. Fatness is a spectrum and no one fat body type is “better” than another.

Fat people continue to struggle in public and social settings on a daily basis. Non-fat people have the power, influence, and resources to combat anti-fatness — but they must be willing to interject and leverage the power they have to make sure that fat people everywhere are able to exist in a safer, more comfortable world. When you think you have done everything in your power to aid fat people in our fight against oppression, know that you haven’t. And when you have exhausted all other options, ask fat people how you can show up for them.





Originally penned for: them.