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What's the fat acceptance movement, and what are fat activists trying to achieve?

"I'm sorry, but I don't treat fat people," a fertility specialist told Jen. "I know weight can impact fertility, but fertility issues can also impact weight. And that one comment just hit hard during an already painful time." Sylvia suffered from joint pain, but her concerns were dismissed with "it will get better when you lose weight — let's talk again when you do that". She asked herself why the specialist didn't consider the possibility that she would have done that already, if it were that easy. Or the possibility that the joint pain was the very thing preventing her from moving more.

Having medical professionals attribute all health issues they face to being overweight is a very real issue for fat people, and Jen and Sylvia are not alone by any means. Not being taken seriously by doctors can be dangerous, and even life-threatening in some cases. Why is it that fat people face this type of discrimination at the doctor's office?

Is it really because all all the diseases fat people get are caused by being fat? Of course not — discrimination in healthcare is simply a very ugly and risky result of a fat phobic society. It is the top of a pyramid that has fat shaming as its foundation. 

Sabita's mother told her she looked like a Michelin man when she was a kid. Jan's aunt told her "wow, you're even fatter than last time I saw you." Later on, when she was a grown up, the same aunt constantly asked Jan if she was pregnant, "because she sure looked it". Hana's friend's are "open-minded"; they tell her she totally rocks at being fat and always looks so self-confident. Ada's husband has never, ever said anything negative about her weight in the 13 years since they got married, but he laughs at "fat jokes" on TV and makes snide comments about fat people in the media — and Ada is so scared to find out what he really thinks about her weight that she never called him out on it.

"People assume that you are stupid and lazy," said Catherine. "I often get spoken to like a child."

Fat stigma sucks. Unfortunately, fat shaming is all too pervasive. Here's why it should stop, and why fat phobia has become such an issue that a whole movement — the fat acceptance movement — has emerged to put a stop to it. 

Why 'Fat'?

The word "fat" is, let's face it, used as a slur all the time. So why am I using it here? Fat activists have been reclaiming the word and are seeking to transform it into a simple descriptive adjective, just like "short", "brown-haired", or "freckled" — proudly, without stigma. Reclaiming the word "fat" is a no different to the reclaiming of other slurs, such as "geek" or "queer". Fat activists see the word as less loaded than other words, words like "big", "fluffy", or "chubby". Medical terms like "overweight" and "obese" are rejected by people in the fat acceptance movement because they imply that fat people weigh too much or are diseased. Fat activists disagree with this notion.

At the same time, it is important to note that some people strongly dislike the word "fat". Fat activists don't want to force others to use this word: its use is meant to be empowering, and if it doesn't empower you, there's no point in claiming it. They do challenge others to examine why they have negative feelings about the word fat. Is it perhaps because you feel that it implies stereotypes connected to the word apply to you? The fat acceptance movement is trying to fight exactly that — "fat" should no longer be associated with words like "lazy", "undisciplined", "eating all the time", "ugly", "sedentary", "unhealthy", and even "stupid".

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