Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

April Herndon, Ph.D.
April M. Herndon Ph.D.

Glorifying Fatness, Really?

Why writing about fatness can be downright difficult

What does it mean to glorify fatness? To promote obesity? Charges of glorifying fatness and/or promoting obesity are regularly leveled at Fat Studies scholars and activists—even at healthcare providers like those in the Health at Every Size movement. Apparently, glorifying fatness and promoting obesity means talking about fatness or fat people in any way that isn’t discriminatory, denigrating, or hurtful. Glorifying fatness also seems to mean talking about the lives of fat people in ways that are honest, genuine, and realistic—even when the details of those lives may be anything but glorious.

Take, for example, Dianne Sylvan’s “Ten Rules for Fat Girls.” Her ten rules include everything from useful advice about properly cleaning rolls of flesh to more philosophical advice about not hating oneself. At some level, her rules are survival tips. They explain how to get by in a world with a particular kind of body and the particular challenges a larger body may pose. There’s nothing glorious about explaining the importance of “fat hygiene” and avoiding rashes and infections by advising, “Wash your fat. More importantly, dry it. When you get out of the shower make sure you’re dry under your fat rolls and between your legs and breasts.” She also advises fat women to stop hating themselves, to stop being afraid to touch their own bodies during activities like yoga, and to stand up for themselves when they’re being treated unfairly. Sylvan has basically told the world a set of harsh truths about being a fat woman in contemporary society. It’s not easy, but women can and do survive being fat; many even find joy and comfort in their bodies. But let’s face it: this is not good advertising material for making fatness seem glorious. Sylvan has no future career as a promoter of obesity. Yet, you’d never know that from reading some of the comments left on Sylvan’s post, where she is—in ways that are all too common—accused of glorifying fatness.

How can giving people what are essentially tips for surviving in a cruel world with a body that is stigmatized (and may also need some particular attention) be legitimately seen as glorifying anything? The charges of glorifying fatness and promoting obesity are themselves evidence of fatphobia and for the need of articles like Sylvan’s and Fat Studies and activism in general. Her “Rules” remind us all that many kinds of bodies have different needs and that hating oneself isn’t healthy. She also reminds us that—even when living in a culture that values a kind of body very few of us have—people can still be happy. It seems fair to say that this is the closest Sylvan comes to glorifying fatness. Still, her advice there, about treating oneself with kindness, seems to be good advice for everyone. Yet, somehow when such commonsense advice is in any way, shape, or form related to obesity, there is a backlash.

Imagine if the article were written as “Ten Rules” for another group that faces discrimination or whose bodies might need a bit of extra or different care. Would, for example, people argue that an article about how a person using a wheelchair best avoid getting pressure sores on his or her legs is promoting disability? Would an article encouraging young women to embrace and love themselves in spite of a world full of misogyny be touted as an example of promoting femininity? Would anyone suggest that an article for male cyclists about how to avoid getting scrotal rash be seen as glorifying that sport and encouraging people to join a cycling team? I suspect not, mostly because those accusations sound ridiculous. Unless these folks also happened to be fat, in which case, critics might say that such advice promotes obesity and the real advice ought to be to lose weight.

It also sounds ridiculous to claim that being daring (and caring) enough to suggest that fat people deserve to be treated fairly and have joy in their lives glorifies fatness and promotes obesity. Many different people face challenges, and most people’s bodies require some kind of specialized care. I can’t, for the life of me, conceive of how speaking honestly about the challenges and needs of fat people does anything but promote a better understanding of people’s lives and better self-care and overall health.

About the Author
April Herndon, Ph.D.

Dr. April M. Herndon has a Ph.D. in American Studies and is an Associate Professor of English at Winona State University.

More from Psychology Today

More from April M. Herndon Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today