If we could opt out of oppression, would we still “deserve” it?

Three fat women sit outside under trees in summer dresses and eat ice cream cones.

Image description: Three fat women sit outside under trees in summer dresses and eat ice cream cones. End image description. This photograph is available as a stock photo at Body Liberation Stock.

A troll told me recently that by using a word that ends in -phobia — fatphobia — I was comparing the way fat people are treated to the way that LGBT+ people are treated, and how very dare I.

I want to note, right here at the beginning, that I am very careful not to compare oppressions. Living in a fat body is indeed not like living in a body that is marginalized for any other reason (and of course there are many people who are part of two or more oppressed populations). I do not experience the same kind of oppression that people in Black bodies do, or people who use mobility aids, or people who are LGBTQIAP+. It’s not a competition.

The point my darling troll is making that I want to address here is another, very common one: that even saying fat people are oppressed — that saying fatphobia exists — is somehow cheapening the very oppression of people who exist in other marginalized groups. Why? Because fat people aren’t oppressed at all, and if they are, they deserve it because of their aberrant behavior (because, of course, aberrant behavior is what causes people to be fat).

It’s astonishing to me, both as a very fat person and a person who lives in the world, that people still think that fat folks aren’t oppressed (subject to prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control, by the dictionary definition).

All you have to do is look around you to see how despised fat people are. We’re deliberately excluded from public physical infrastructure and public life. We’re discriminated against in employment and we’re paid less than thin people. Healthcare is an ongoing horror show for most fat people. And the fatter you are, the worse it gets.

As my troll quite correctly pointed out, I don’t know what it’s like to live in fear of my life when going outside for a walk. But I do know what it’s like to live in fear of needing surgeries that will be denied to me based solely on my body size. I know what it’s like to live in fear of being stared and scoffed at wherever I go.

I know personally what it’s like to be prescribed medications I don’t need and be lied to about it, based purely on my body size. I know what it’s like to make it to a final job interview, only to see the interviewer’s face fall when I walk into the room.

I know very personally what it’s like to live in fear that someone will show up at my house because someone else was so incensed at my daring to suggest that fat people are equally worthy that they released my personal information to a forum built around and devoted to hating people like me.

Even if fat folks could go for a run and eat fewer donuts and magically opt out of oppression by becoming thin — which, we know from actual science, doesn’t work, because intentional weight loss fails in 95-100% of cases, and 2/3 of the people who attempt it regain even more than they lose — it wouldn’t mean that fat people who didn’t do so would deserve oppression.

It is not okay to oppress, exclude and humiliate people, even if they could theoretically change themselves enough to prove themselves worthy of *not* being subject to torment. *Even if* I could choose to make myself thin, I would still deserve to be treated as a full human being who is worthy of respect in a fat body.

We are allowed to talk about our oppression without it inherently being some kind of insult to other oppressions. If you consider fat people unworthy of being treated equally, you are an oppressor and you need to unpack that and work through it now, no matter what other marginalizations you may be subject to.

Post boundary: I’m aware that there are other terms I could be using, from weight stigma to fatmisia. This is not the time or place for that discussion, thanks. This is also not the place to compare being fat to any other marginalization, including race and gender.

Let’s dig deep.

Every Monday, I send out my Body Liberation Guide, a thoughtful email jam-packed with resources for changing the way you see your own body and the bodies you see around you. And it’s free. Let’s change the world together.

Hi there! I'm Lindley (she/her, pronounced LIN-lee). I create artwork that celebrates the unique beauty of bodies that fall outside conventional "beauty" standards at Body Liberation Photography. I'm also the creator of Body Liberation Stock, which provides body-positive stock photos for commercial use, and the Body Love Shop, a curated central resource for body-friendly artwork and products. Find all my work at http://www.bodyliberationphotos.com.