In a study conducted by Glenn Gaesser, director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University, over half the females between the ages of 18 and 25 stated that they would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat. These shocking sentiments are far too common in contemporary culture — our society must change the way it views those who are overweight.
The simple Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the word “fat” is “having a lot of extra flesh on your body; having a full, rounded form.” However, most people in our society do not believe that the word “fat” is merely an adjective like “loud” or “soft.” We are taught that “fat” is synonymous with “lazy” and “ugly.”
We are not born harboring fatphobic sentiments. It is something learned through nurture, not nature. It’s in our magazines, our social media platforms and our TV shows and movies. Characters who are fat are portrayed in popular culture as the comic relief, the funny friend or the lazy one who won’t get off their friend’s couch and get a job.
Activist Lesley Kinzel describes the common but inaccurate stereotype: “Fat people are lazy, fat people eat too much. Fat people never, ever exercise, fat people are filled with self-loathing and fat people are desperate to be loved.”
The “fat” archetype is not only overused, it is also detrimental to our society. It’s truly mind-boggling that a simple adjective holds such immense power over people — so much power that it actually brings people to the point of fear. According to a PBS survey, 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
In another study conducted by Gaesser, college students stated that they would prefer to marry an embezzler, drug user or shoplifter to someone who is fat.
These alarming responses to the surveys mentioned before illustrate that fatphobia is running rampant in modern society. The fact that college students would rather spend their lives with someone who is a criminal than with someone who is fat speaks volumes about what we have been taught.
Some may argue that one not wanting to marry a fat person is merely subjective, but this interpretation ignores the strong cultural forces that go into shaping this perspective. It is true that attraction is completely subjective, but when an entire group of people with a certain physical characteristic is discounted from what is considered universally attractive, this is not simply preference. This is a form of prejudice, and we openly accept it because we as a society are undoubtedly fatphobic.
However, fatphobia does not only affect the way in which society views overweight people — it affects the way in which people view and criticize themselves. Eighty percent of women who responded to a survey in “People” magazine stated that images of women on television and in movies make them feel insecure. Additionally, the multibillion-dollar diet industry profits from people’s insecurities on a daily basis.
According to the Clinical Psychological Review, citizens of the United States spend $50 billion annually on diet products. This is not to say that dieting is negative; it can be a positive lifestyle change for many people who aim to lead healthier lives. With the rise of the obesity epidemic in the United States, many people certainly should aim to have healthier lifestyles. However, the motives for people buying into this multibillion-dollar industry are usually not based on health and well-being — they are based on an unrealistic image of what healthy is, along with the deeply ingrained fear of being fat.
Our society has an obsession with being skinny, which is seen as equivalent to being beautiful. The strong dichotomy between fat and skinny is present in almost every aspect of our culture. We must accept and understand that we possess internalized fatphobia, and learn that “fat” is merely an adjective — not a slur or a death sentence.
Emily Kaufman is a sophomore majoring in English.