- Holiday conversations about wellness often include misinformation that directly harm fat people.
- But you don’t need to be an expert to do something about it, according to writer and podcaster Aubrey Gordon.
- Small steps, like speaking up to your loved ones or reflecting on your own biases, can help shift stereotypes.
The holidays can be a fraught time for diet culture conversations, from the family dinner table to New Year’s Resolutions.
But you don’t have to sit back and let your uncle offer unsolicited workout advice, or critique what’s on your cousin’s plate, according to Aubrey Gordon, co-host of the podcast “Maintenance Phase” and author of the column “Your Fat Friend” in SELF.
Her new book, “You Just Need To Lose Weight” (to be published January 10, 2023) tackles popular myths behind anti-fat bias.
Gordon told Insider that the book was written, in part, as a response to many fan emails asking how to navigate instances of weight bias they encounter in their own lives, often from loved ones.
While the book debunks misinformation about weight, Gordon said she’s learned from her previous community organizing work that evidence alone often isn’t enough to prompt people to change harmful behaviors.
“Mythbusting is common, but we know facts and figures are not what changes people’s minds,” she said.
The book offers actionable steps you can take to help push back against weight bias in your own life, particularly if you’re witnessing it as someone with a smaller body.
“Think about it as an exercise to make people feel secure enough to show up for people in their lives and defend fat people,” Gordon said.
While weight bias can negatively affect people of all sizes, Gordon argues that people in larger bodies are the most at risk of harm, including serious health consequences of stigma (she dedicates a whole chapter to the myth that “skinny shaming is just as bad as fat shaming”).
From speaking up against harmful misconceptions, to reflecting on when you might be perpetuating them yourself, here are some strategies to push back on anti-fat bias over the holiday season and year-round.
Be honest about your own potential biases
One of the first places to start in combating weight bias is noticing how you might be unintentionally contributing to it.
“I think there are a lot of people who haven’t been invited to think critically about their own role,” Gordon said.
Some opportunities for reflection include how you talk about your own body (like saying “I feel fat”) or how you respond to the bodies of people around you.
One example is when people compliment weight loss, and conspicuously don’t mention how a larger friend looks, according to Gordon.
“I absolutely pick up on when people can’t pay a compliment to fat people. That says a lot about what’s worth celebrating,” she said.
Fatphobia is often disguised as wellness
Despite growing awareness of ideas such as body positivity, weight stigma is alive and well in media and marketing. But in place of more explicit types of fat shaming, insistence on weight loss is frequently hidden under the euphemism of “wellness,” according to Gordon.
“We’re having a kaleidoscope moment where we think we’re looking at something different, but it’s the same thing,” she said.
Starting to unravel fatphobia means recognizing when wellness really means “thinness” and when faux concern about health is really a pretext for the same old stigma.
Start a conversation with loved ones
While it can be tempting to want to call out fatphobia in society at large, often the most productive conversations can start in your own life, with family and friends.
When someone you know says or does something that’s harmful to people with larger bodies, it can be an opportunity to intervene by asking questions about where they got the information or idea, pointing out some evidence to the contrary.
For instance, when someone encourages weight loss to make someone “healthier,” you might point to evidence that long term weight loss is notoriously difficult to sustain, and the frequent weight regain associated with dieting has major side effects.
Make a habit of pushing back on stereotypes and misinformation
Finally, it’s a common misconception that just reading a book or article, or understanding that fatphobia is bad, can enough to fix the problem, according to Gordon.
“I think it’s easy for people to confuse learning with action. You can have the right position, but if you don’t back that up with action, you don’t actually make anything better,” she said.
The book is intended to be a starting point for people to unravel weight bias, but making real change requires a continued commitment pushing back against anti-fat bias.
“The idea was to make action steps that many people could do. You don’t have to be a doctor or HR director to make fat people’s lives better,” she said. “The end point isn’t learning or taking action, it’s getting into the rhythm of taking actions.”