Discrimination against fat people is so endemic, most of us don’t even realize its happening
The hostile environment that marginalized people find themselves in serves as a source of constant stress.
When we think of prejudice and discrimination, most of us tend to think of overt attacks, harassment, or discriminatory behavior. Blatant examples of prejudice do still occur with depressing frequency, but for most members of stigmatized groups, it is not these experiences that shape their daily lives. Rather, belonging to a socially stigmatized group means travelling through a world that is rife with multiple small, sometimes subtle or apparently inconsequential reminders of your devalued status, known as microaggressions.
As a weight stigma researcher, I focus on the experiences of fat people (many fat rights activists prefer the word “fat” and use it as a descriptive term and not as an insult) but microaggressions define the lived experience of all groups devalued by society. Microaggressions can come from anywhere at any time. For a fat person, this might be:
- When they get on a bus and the person sitting next to an empty seat scowls at them or pointedly places their bag on the seat;
- People watching them while they’re eating in a restaurant or checking out the contents of their trolley in the supermarket;
- A fat joke on TV or in a film;
- A slimmer friend asking if she “looks fat in this”;
- Hearing a group of children making fun of them;
- Or even wondering whether they will be taken seriously when they go to the doctor with a sprained ankle, or just told to go away and lose some weight.
If you’re not a member of a stigmatized group, you might think that most of these examples sound relatively minor and could be easily ignored. But while any individual incident may be minor, it is the totality of stigma that defines our existence.