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The fat acceptance movement promotes the equality of fat people in society. The movement embraces fat people, draws awareness to size discrimination, and fights to eliminate it.

What Is the Fat Acceptance Movement?

The fat acceptance movement began in the 1960s; the first political event was a Central Park sit-in to protest size discrimination. The movement was formed to counter anti-fat discrimination as well as problematic societal ideals around beauty, dieting, and health.

In 1969, activists created The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. The organization is “dedicated to protecting the rights and improving the quality of life for fat people,” as their website states. This includes lobbying for change in politics, business, and the media.

Fat individuals can face discrimination in education, hiring, work compensation, medical care, the legal system, and other domains. For example, they contend with misdiagnoses because doctors may only prescribe weight loss or incorrectly attribute health concerns to the patient’s weight. Stigma during medical visits can also lead people to avoid appointments altogether, which can exacerbate health problems or lead to medical emergencies.

Size discrimination affects many people, 30 percent of American adults are overweight and 42 percent are obese, according to 2018 data from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Around the world, more than 1.9 billion adults are overweight and over 650 million are obese as of 2016, according to the World Health Organization.

What is the body positivity movement?

Body positivity is a movement to accept bodies of all sizes and types, rather than those that conform to societal ideals of beauty. It emphasizes self-acceptance, inner worth, and appreciation for a body’s abilities. The body positivity movement focuses more on individual attitudes while the fat acceptance movement focuses more on political and legal equality.

For more, see Body Positivity.

Are people biased against fat individuals?

Many people make snap judgments when they encounter someone who is fat; they may dismiss that person as “weak” or “lazy.” The fact that “fat jokes” often appear in television shows, movies, or comedy shows demonstrate the public’s bias against the fat population to the point of ridicule and mockery. Research supports these trends: One study found that thinner individuals are judged as more competent, while heavier individuals are judged as warmer.

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The Psychology of Body Image and Acceptance

Size discrimination can take a tremendous psychological toll.

“I’ve been considered overweight since I was 8, and unfortunately I was surrounded by people who encouraged me to lose weight to gain dignity and respect. The idea that I was worth less because of the size of my body seeped into every area of my life,” writes Evette Dionne in Yes!

Facing stigma around body size and cultivating a healthy body image are complex processes. Understanding the causes and effects of social stigma can be a starting point.

What are the psychological effects of body shaming?

Shaming and bullying can harm people’s well-being and confidence; these can also lead to social isolation. Research suggests that high school students who believed themselves to be overweight were more likely than their classmates to suffer from depression or attempt suicide.

Weight discrimination can also contribute to mental illnesses such as substance use disorders, suicidality, and disordered eating. For example, all bodies are not alike, and an unrealistic and unhealthy ideal of what one should look like can give rise to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. 

Not only is body shaming psychologically painful, but it also backfires; research shows that weight stigma leads to weight gain and less healthy behaviors.

Is weight genetic?

For most people, genetics are the strongest predictor of weight, shape, and size. Most bodies have a kind of “set point” that they tend to return to, and this point is usually a stronger predictor of weight than exercise and diet. Heritability estimates for weight vary, but some researchers have found that 70 percent of the differences in people’s weight can be attributed to genetics.

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