Several weeks ago, I happened to see the speech Brendan Fraser gave after winning an Academy Award for his latest film, The Whale. Having heard some concerning reports about the film itself, I’d decided against seeing it, but even Fraser’s acceptance speech was peppered with whale references. I was outraged, and as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one: Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat tweeted that “Brendan Fraser making whale metaphors (jokes, really) while accepting an Oscar for cosplaying a fatter person in a film written and directed by thin people that rests on grotesque weight stigma, ableism, homophobia, and stereotypes is the end of my support for him.” Regardless of your feelings about the actor himself, there’s little doubt that The Whale leans on a stereotypical – and incredibly harmful – trope: that fat is the worst thing a person can be.

It is, of course, entirely possible for a person to exist in a fat body and still experience love, happiness, joy, fulfillment, health, and connection. Yet, looking at movies like The Whale, is it any wonder that so few people realize this is true? Representation of fat folks, particularly those on the larger end of the spectrum, is almost always limited to narratives like this, with fat people being portrayed as sad stories, wells of unrealized potential, or cautionary tales. Where are the movies about fat people experiencing elation, being promoted, falling in love, or living long and happy lives? 

This lack of representation only feeds into the idea that fatness is inherently bad–a paradigm which drives body dysmorphia and harmful patterns of disordered eating. For all the patients I’ve been able to help in my practice, there are others who make the choice to cease treatment, due solely to a fear of their body becoming larger as a result of recovery. These are people who are fully aware that their eating disorder is on the path to killing them, and do not pursue healing out of a fear of becoming fat. And yet their fear is real and their feared consequences are a reality. These moments are heartbreaking. There is pain in their voices: deep sadness, utter weariness. They know the decision they are making, the position they are putting their health in, and the dangerous consequences. But oppressive systems are insidious and oh-so-strong, and fatphobia is no exception. Patients tell me time and time again that our eating disorders clinic is the only space that supports their right for food liberation and nourishment and a weight restored body.

We won’t see an end, or even a reduction, in disordered eating behaviors until we, as a society, stop demonizing and dehumanizing fat people. In many ways, fatphobic discrimination and weight bias are still entirely socially accepted, even in a culture which is (far too slowly) moving toward curbing discrimination for other marginalized groups. For example, it is legal in 49 states to fire a person for being fat. Despite the very real consequences of, and casualties resulting from, fatphobia and weight stigma, body size is not considered a protected class, the way race, gender, and sexual orientation are, to name a few. The very fact that this is the case points to how socially, and even legally, sanctioned fatphobia is–and why so many people are so afraid of gaining weight.

The movement toward fat liberation is full of incredible people offering a wealth of resources for unpacking and untangling our own internalized fatphobia. Check out the following folks for (much, much) more information! 

Da’Shaun Harrison

Aubrey Gordon

Sonya Renee Taylor

Ragen Chastain

Lindley Ashline

Sonalee Rashatwar

Asher Larmie

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