Sizeism is defined as prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s size. Though sizeism typically focuses on those bigger in size, the term can include anyone of an “abnormal” body size. The issue manifests itself in media, public spaces, stores and even at the University of Georgia.
“Across campus, when we look at sorority or fraternity life, most of those people fit a certain image,” said Bernard Green, a second-year doctoral student in the College Student Affairs and Administration program, from Tifton, Georgia. “It can be something as simple as attire for a certain organization. Uniforms might only go up to a certain size or depending on your body type, it might be very uncomfortable for you.”
Similar to how people experience racism, sexism or any other oppression, fat-bodied people (Green’s term) are punished for simply being the way they are. Like Green said, fat-bodied people are not afforded the opportunities that slim people have.
In the classroom or in many other spaces across campus, fat-bodied people are not provided seating and/or spaces that accommodate their size. Though this issue is mostly seen in older buildings across campus, it is still a justifiable concern.
There is also the issue of representation of fat-bodied people across campus.
“If you look at the website for Ramsey, which is the wellness facility here on campus, and if you look at their social media, they don’t have anybody that is fat-bodied.”
Lack of representation can also be seen in the type of student leaders who are prominent on campus and people that hold positions of power on campus.
Fat-bodied people are not only discriminated against when it comes to accessibility in society, but also in terms of employment. Fat-bodied people can be viewed as lazy or less competent in the workplace and this can result in lower pay and/or lack of promotion, according to the National Institute of Health.
Many people also like to make the argument that being fat is unhealthy, but this not always the case. While there is often a correlation between being overweight and unhealthy, there are many other factors that can contribute to a person’s disease risk including family history. Therefore, being overweight does not necessarily mean being unhealthy.
While media is starting to include people of all sizes, the trend for "fat acceptance" had lead to people bashing those who are skinny. Skinny-shaming is still a form of body-shaming, even though being fit is considered beautiful.
Sizeism, like many other forms of oppression, presents intersectionalities. Green details how fat discrimination is present in his intersecting identity as a gay black man.
“Fat oppression is probably as big of an issue in the gay community as racism – Maybe more so with gay men. You have to be a certain size to be seen as attractive. Even in the media when we talk about gay men, most gay men are very [traditionally] attractive and represent a higher social class which is not indicative of all gay men. So that hits home with me.”
Sizeism can be tied to many identities. The only problem is that sizeism is a silent identity – an identity that is not typically recognized. Though fat-bodied people are seen as fat-bodied, the discrimination they face because of their identity is not often discussed.
To prevent sizeism from becoming an institutionalized oppression as we move through a more image-based society, we should have more laws to protect people of all sizes, since sizeism can dictate whether or not a person gets a job, a promotion or is paid what they deserve.
Just as the Disability Act of 1990 protected those with disabilities, new legislation should be introduced to protect people of sizes. Sizeism should have no bearing on public accessibility.
If the issue of sizeism is seen more as a direct discrimination, rather than just simple body-shaming, we will see a shift in the favor of fat-bodied people. Though the issue can be seen as trivial, its effects on those who hold the identity can be very limiting.
As we navigate sizeism in our society, we must re-educate the public about health as it pertains to fat-bodied people. Being of a larger size does not always mean you are unhealthy, and the misconception and others contributes to sizeism. We must not let incorrect facts dictate our society and dictate the lives of fat-bodied people.