If you are a fat person in the UK today, you know what discrimination feels like. This discrimination is not always obvious if you don’t know what to look for. It is the looks you get as a fat person eating anything that isn’t explicitly ‘healthy’. It’s the difficulty you face finding fashionable plus-sized clothing, the comments from friends who are dieting because they are “so fat” when they are skinnier than you, the concern from family that you would look “so much nicer” if you lost a few pounds. This is fatphobia, defined as the fear and hatred of fat bodies.
When fat people discuss fatphobia, they are often met with the awkward silence of disbelief or protest from the person you’re challenging; they don’t hate fat people, they’re just “concerned about your health”. However, there is a rising focus on fatphobia on platforms such as Instagram, Tik-Tok and even Twitter, as people share their experiences and show how fatphobia manifests in ways which are often overlooked, from structural design and architecture to rampant diet culture.
There is very limited research on fatphobia and its effect on young people. This may be, in part, because research on the topic very rarely looks at specific experiences, and because young people rarely lead on social research. But young people are typically more vulnerable to discrimination such as fatphobia, and this is something that we as a research group knew well. These factors motivated us to take on this topic while training as Kickstart peer researchers at The Young Foundation.
Having witnessed and experienced fatphobia, we wanted to use our platform to show that the issues fat people face in society today are very real and affect them for the rest of their lives.
Through our own research and experiences, we developed a survey that touched on a few areas of society in which fatphobia can manifest. We gathered 36 respondents aged between 16 and 25. Most participants identified as female, with non-binary people making up the second-largest gender identity in our data. Male came third, and genderqueer making up our least represented gender identity.
Participants highlighted that fatphobia begins to manifest early on in life. Comments from family members about weight resulted in participants viewing themselves negatively. One respondent said:
“My family commented on my weight before I was even fat. They gave me a complex about my weight […] and it gave me an unhealthy relationship with food and with my body.”
Respondents also shared their negative experiences of healthcare, with 69% of participants saying they had encountered medical fatphobia, and many saying they were denied further investigations due to their size.
The deeply ingrained nature of fatphobia within society has resulted in many individuals viewing their bodies negatively due to their weight. One respondent reported that:
“I’ve been made to feel like I am not a good person and not worthy of love, attention or understanding because of my weight.”
The findings give an insight into young people’s experiences of fatphobia. And as young people ourselves, we were able to undertake a research project that is important, even if it isn’t the most popular or easily understood. We have been able to shine a light on discrimination and offer young people a platform to share their experiences – as well as providing an opportunity to think about how fatphobia manifests and what can be done to tackle it.
This article and the accompanying report were written, devised and directed by Amelia Clayton, Elly McDade, Tyler Cunniffe, Miraal Azhar and Maddie Dunlop-Black, a group of Kickstart peer researchers recruited and supported by The Young Foundation. The Kickstart Scheme provided opportunities and training for young people deemed at risk of unemployment.