Why thin women should care about fat activism


Isabel Foxen Duke


Photo: Kirstin Sinclair

Why should thin women should care about fat activism? I would like to think the answer to this question is obvious -- that someone's weight, or even health status, should never be justification for shaming or discrimination, and that we as human citizens are all responsible for protecting the rights of our fellow people.

I further wish it was obvious that someone's weight is not necessarily "their fault," but often something we are brought to by the universe of which we are not in control.

I wish everyone knew that weight is not an accurate measurement or determinant of a person's health status.

But further, that a person's health status is not an acceptable defense for discrimination in the first place.


I wish these reasons were obvious and case enough for all women of all sizes to stand up and fight for those who face prejudice on the basis of size from our medical, governmental, and professional authorities -- not to mention social acquaintances, friends or even loving family members.

I would hope these things were obvious.

But in case you are unconvinced, today, I give thin women everywhere one more reason to fight with and for fat positive activists and take a stand to end weight stigma and the unending emotional and physical harm that it creates:

You -- the "thin" woman -- are also a victim of fat discrimination.

Remember that time you didn't want to have sex with the lights on?

The unending roller coaster you've been on with food since 7th grade?

The desperate fear of being fat, and endless chase of "thinness" to no end?

The painful binge-eating that seems to follow every "diet fail," and the subsequent self-loathing that follows?

Yeah, that's YOU being a victim of fat discrimination. That's YOU living in fear of being judged on the basis of size and weight.

"Fat" and "thin" women are often separated by fat activists into two distinct groups: largely those "affected" and "not affected." Thin women often see themselves as "removed" from the issue of fat activism and fat women often see thin women as untouched or unaffected. Neither of these are true.

While "thin" women enjoy privileges that women who are "fat" do not, and "fat" women incur challenges that women who are "thin" do not, thin women nonetheless suffer endlessly due to cultural fatphobia -- largely to the extent to which they fear being perceived as "fat," and battle their weight endlessly in an attempt to avoid it or to desperately grasp for the perceived rewards of being even thinner.

So let's talk about some of the internal consequences of poor body image that are shared equally by thin and fat women as a result of "fatphobia:"

We diet: We start to ignore our bodies' needs in favor of foods and amounts that other people tell us are okay. This leads to...

Physical and emotional deprivation: Dieting almost always leads to some kind of deprivation, whether that be physical deprivation and nutrient deficiency OR emotional and mental deprivation, which leads to...

BINGE-EATING (for most of us anyway)! We've all heard the statistics: 90-something-percent of diets (depending on the report) end up in weight gain in the long run. That's because your body and mind compensate by wanting to eat everything that isn't nailed down. Yeah, it's a thing. Which leads to...

A world in which how we get to feel about ourselves is determined by what we weigh, or what we ate that day, regardless of how we are perceived by the outside world.

Interestingly enough, binge-eating and emotional eating are behaviors that are almost exclusively experienced by people with a history of dieting or restriction around food, which is a direct response to "fearing" the discrimination experienced by fat women.

In other words, many "thin" women who struggle with their relationship with food -- both under-eating, overeating, or some combination of the two -- are doing so in proportion to the degree to which "fat" women are being discriminated against. This may seem obvious, but I see too much separation of the issues of these two groups not to remind women that fat discrimination affects women all along the weight spectrum, and there may be no end in sight to the "food issues" that thin and fat women face, until fat discrimination is brought to justice.

When we fight for "fat acceptance," we fight for our sanity around food and weight, regardless of whether or not we "qualify" as "fat." If YOU are a woman struggling with your relationship with food or your own body image -- regardless of where you exist on the weight spectrum -- social activism around body politics can be incredibly healing. You may also want to check out this guide to overcoming shame-eating and the diet-binge cycle.

Isabel Foxen Duke is a certified health coach and emotional eating expert. 

Read more Isabel Foxen Duke here.


This story was first published on Huffington Post, republished with permission. 


  • How about if instead of everytime we talk about people being overweight we focus on the health aspect than on changing the discussion and calling it "fat shaming". If you're overweight and especially if you are obse then there are likely to be a lot of serious health problems down the track, that's the reality of it. Pretending that people are innocent victims with no control over their weight is kidding ourselves. Yes, it is a lot easier for some people to be slim (although not necessarily healthier) than others but that doesn't mean it is impossible. If we actually take responsibility for our own health and as part of that our weight instead of just blaming bad genes (despite the fact very few of us have any idea what our genetic predisposition is) then maybe we will make some headway on our obesity and health epidemic.

    Date and time
    February 03, 2014, 11:52AM
    • You're right Hurrow, the HAES movement has a lot to answer for. Yes, you might be okay now, but in the future you won't be and it's because of the weight in many cases.

      I also am not comfortable with the premise that all women are subject to fat discrimination. I have never felt the way the article seems to suggest all women feel. I am lucky to be thin and have been this way all my life, I am empathetic to women who aren't though.

      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 12:55PM
    • I take it that you have the relevant qualifications in medicine, nutrition, endocrinology, genetics, physiology and psychology to make those claims so confidently and conclusively?

      Red Pony
      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 1:08PM
    • "I take it that you have the relevant qualifications in medicine, nutrition, endocrinology, genetics, physiology and psychology to make those claims so confidently and conclusively?"

      Which part? I mean, the part about obese and people being at higher risk of a wide variety of health issues isn't exactly in doubt. It's been established, tested and demonstrated hundreds of thousands of times by the medical establishment over the last century or so. Individuals may themselves be over the 'average' weight due to natural body type and at no real higher risk, but overall it's a strong statistical indicator for heart disease, diabetes and cancer risk, among a variety of others.

      The health impacts are an entirely different area than the social judgement or criticism. The former is medical fact and won't change, the latter is a social issue.

      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 1:39PM
    • So we're going to need degrees in whatever we want to comment on now Red Pony? Wow, it's going to get pretty quiet around here! Actually both my undergrad and post grad degrees are in finance so yes you are correct in saying that I don't have qualifications on the topic (or topics) at hand, I'm willing to bet that very few others who comment on it will either. And in fact the author of the piece has a bachelor degree in sociology, and then a "certification" from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition which has a one year online course for "people who are passionate about health and wellness". So I guess by your criteria she probably shouldn't have written the article either?

      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 1:40PM
    • Red Pony 63% of Australians are overweight or obese according to the ABS. I assume you're not disputing that fact? I don't think I've ever read any studies (or summaries of studies) which suggest that more than 5-10% of obesity is caused by genetics, here's two examples in which one of the authors of a paper in Science says genetic mutations account for less than 5% of obesity in our society. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/genes-and-obesity/ http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/19/news-genes-idd-in-obesity-how-much-of-weight-is-genetic/ If you have counter examples please feel free to cite them here.

      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 1:53PM
    • Hurrow, actually, yes in this case. There is so much disinformation and misguided messages out there that people are really confused, myself included. My husband has gone on a diet to lose some weight for health reasons and I'm trying to help and encourage him but I've got so many conflicting messages that it's really hard. It's the generalisations and assumptions that really get to me that don't seem to be based on anything other than a victim mentality.

      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 2:18PM
    • I've said for years we should focus on health and not size. Fat Activism? I'm starting to feel a bit exhausted.

      It might be this line that's the issue:
      'Pretending that people are innocent victims with no control over their weight is kidding ourselves'
      I live in Western Sydney and just like a lot of low socio-economic areas obesity is major problem. When you're in a supermarket or store and you see that it's cheaper to buy over-processed food than to cook something fresh you can understand why. I see stores that give you the option of salad or chips but the salad costs extra so which one do you think people will take? The lack of good facilities is another problem. It does seem like excuses to the outsider but these are real issues. What do you think will happen to the current batch of 'Biggest Loser' once the instructors have left? Are they planning on helping the entire town for the long term? Pffft, doubt it.

      For me that grew up on good home-cooked meals, where everyone had to do at least one year of home economics, have a basic understanding of nutrition and a good income I don't have any excuse for not being able to manage my weight. For others it isn't that easy.

      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 2:28PM
    • Ripley I agree that it isn't necessarily easy, but as you say there is often an option of salad or other more nutritious food on offer. It is up to us to make that extra effort to become healthier. Likewise with lack of knowledge about what is healthy. I have no idea whether eating kale or goji berries is better for me but it is pretty common knowledge that eating lots of fruit and vegies and not too much fried, fatty or sugary stuff is a good idea. You don't need to have an advanced degree to know these things, most people don't do them though. I don't see our obesity epidemic as being about a lack of knowledge or options although those do have some blame, it is to a large degree about a lack of willpower.

      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 3:09PM
    • Come off it, Red Pony. Hurrow is right. Obesity is a major and growing health industry. Making sufferers 'feel good about their bodies' is just avoidance. We should let them pretend unhealthy weight is the new normal and the health aspects don't matter, is the message here. And now people without this health issue are to be co-opted to help the avoiders out? Shameful.

      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 4:01PM

More comments

Comments are now closed