Happiness What Is Fat Acceptance? By Nadra Nittle Nadra Nittle LinkedIn Twitter Nadra Nittle is a journalist who has written articles in publications including NBC News, The Guardian, Vox, and Civil Eats. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 20, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Margaret Seide, MD Medically reviewed by Margaret Seide, MD LinkedIn Margaret Seide, MS, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of depression, addiction, and eating disorders. Learn about our Medical Review Board Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Aaron Johnson Fact checked by Aaron Johnson Aaron Johnson is a fact checker and expert on qualitative research design and methodology. Learn about our editorial process Print Muslim Girl / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Defining Fat Acceptance History of Fat Acceptance Bonnie Cook v. Rhode Island Barriers Fat People Face Fat acceptance is the recognition that bodies of all shapes and sizes, particularly larger ones, are inherently worthy. Advocates of this movement work to improve quality of life for fat people and fight discrimination against them in industries such as healthcare, fashion, and employment. Fat acceptance activists have also been described as "fat rights" or "fat liberation" advocates. The history of fat acceptance dates back decades. Get a better understanding of this movement by reviewing its origins, legal challenges against fat discrimination, and the barriers fat people continue to face today. Defining Fat Acceptance An outgrowth of the political movements of the 1960s, fat acceptance is a form of activism that exposes and challenges the barriers fat people face in society. National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance Regarding fat acceptance, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) states, “We envision a culture where all fat people are free, celebrated, and liberated from every form of oppression." Just as people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, low-income people, and individuals with disabilities face institutional discrimination, so do fat people. In fact, it’s not uncommon for fat people who belong to these marginalized groups to experience overlapping forms of discrimination. NAAFA works to protect the rights of fat people, also called “people of size.” Although fat acceptance is often used synonymously with terms such as "body positivity", it is not the same. The political roots of the movement distinguish it from the body positivity movement, which does not explicitly fight against anti-fat bias in society. The body positivity movement strives to empower people to value and appreciate their bodies, but this includes bodies of all weights as well as concerns such as scars, cellulite, stretch marks, facial features, and height. Such characteristics are not necessarily linked to fatness.Moreover, body positivity has been overtly commercialized by fashion and beauty brands, with the hashtag #bopo often used on social media to reference the movement.In contrast, fat acceptance remains primarily a political movement that has seen activists mount legal challenges to combat anti-fat bias. Meanwhile, proponents of body neutrality focus on the function of the body rather than on its appearance. These individuals might express gratitude that their bodies have allowed them to move from one place to another, bear children, or survive a serious illness. Like body positivity, this movement does not share fat acceptance’s political roots. Body Positivity vs. Body Neutrality The History of Fat Acceptance In 1967, 500 people, some fat, some thin, gathered for a “fat-in” in New York City’s Central Park. They held signs proclaiming “Fat Power,“ “Think Fat,” and “Buddha Was Fat." The demonstrators also burned diet books and a photograph of Twiggy, a supermodel of the era known for her extreme thinness. The organizer of the event, local radio personality Steve Post, said that he’d weighed up to 250 pounds and stood at 5 feet and 11 inches. He noted that he had been shamed for his size. Instead of feeling shame, Post said, fat people should feel happy and proud of their bodies. This is in direct opposition to what society tells us to think about larger bodies. The following year, the fat acceptance movement got a boost when Llewelyn Louderback wrote an article urging people to oppose diet, or weight loss, culture. In 1969, Louderback and Bill Fabrey founded NAAFA, in part, because they had witnessed the size discrimination their wives faced. To advance the cause, Louderback wrote a book called Fat Power: Whatever You Weigh is Right (published in 1970). The group also spread its message in the news, schools, and workplaces. Some fat activists, however, wanted the movement to yield real-world results. So NAAFA members Judy Freespirit and Sarah Fishman developed a feminist effort known as the Fat Underground and began to challenge fatphobia in science, specifically in the healthcare industry. An examination of medical journals led these women to discover how prevalent anti-fat bias was in medicine. They also accused the medical establishment of failing to give appropriate healthcare to singer Cass Elliot, who died in 1974 from heart failure at the age of 32 amid a very public and long struggle with her weight. While the Fat Underground grew in popularity over the years, it dissolved by 1983. The efforts of its members and of NAAFA, which still exist today, have been credited for playing pivotal roles in the fat rights movement. Bonnie Cook v. Rhode Island In 1993, the fat acceptance movement celebrated a major legal victory after Bonnie Cook successfully won a weight discrimination lawsuit in the United States Court of Appeals. At 5 feet and 2 inches and 350 pounds, Cook said that she was denied a job at a state-run Rhode Island center for people with disabilities because of her weight. Cook had a proven track record in the industry, but the state of Rhode Island rejected her application based on the rationale that her weight would stop her from evacuating patients in an emergency and would make her more vulnerable to developing serious health problems. Cook claimed that she was being discriminated against because of a “handicap.” Ultimately, the judges who heard the case did not determine that obesity alone was a disability. However, they argued that the state discriminated against Cook because her obesity limited her activities in the workplace, or there was a perception that her weight was disabling, whether or not it actually was. Barriers Fat People Face When Bonnie Cook won her case, it was unclear if other people in similar situations would follow suit because of the likelihood that they would be humiliated about their weight in court. But in the 21st century, people of size are increasingly speaking up about the discrimination they endure, and scholars are steadily researching fatphobia. Fat women receive harsher criminal sentences than thinner women, earn lower salaries, and are less likely to be admitted to colleges. Fatphobia is a global problem in healthcare practice, with doctors withholding treatment from people with obesity. The assumption that fat people are simply too lazy or too indulgent prevails in healthcare settings, many of which also lack the proper furniture, tools, or machinery to give patients with larger bodies suitable care. Fat people also say that doctors routinely dismiss their legitimate health concerns, blaming any problem they have on their weight. These microaggressions can lead larger people to skip medical visits altogether until an emergency arises. Some health care providers and fat acceptance advocates encourage the medical industry to take a more nuanced approach to the impact of weight on a person’s health. They question the validity of the commonly used body mass index (BMI), which calculates weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared to determine if a person’s weight falls in the underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese categories. Critics say that BMI leads to flawed diagnoses from providers, as it doesn’t take into account muscle mass, ethnicity, and other factors. Moreover, they argue that having a BMI in the normal range does not mean that an individual is healthy. On the flip side, an individual may have an overweight BMI and still be healthy overall. The COVID-19 pandemic drew more attention to BMI, as reports circulated that people with obesity were more likely to die or suffer serious complications from the coronavirus. Fat activists argued that such findings were used to further stigmatize the bodies of fat people. Fat people also experience bias outside of the doctor’s office. They encounter discrimination while engaging in mundane activities such as trying to shop for clothes at mainstream retailers that carry apparel in limited size ranges. This requires fat people to patronize specialty plus-size retailers instead. Although the plus-size clothing market has grown in recent years, some stores have sparked controversy by charging customers more money for larger sizes than for smaller sizes. Critics say this constitutes a “fat tax." In addition to clothing stores, fat people have encountered this tax everywhere from nail salons to airplanes that require them to pay more money for services than thinner people do. More than 50 years after the fat acceptance movement began, fat people still face a number of barriers in society, a primary reason the movement lives on well into the 21st century. 15 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Afful AA, Ricciardelli R. Shaping the online fat acceptance movement: talking about body image and beauty standards. 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Body Image. 2018;25(1740-1445):139-147. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2018.03.001 Bacon L, Aphramor L. Body Respect : What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight. Benbella Books; 2014. Nittle N. Selling plus-size clothing isn’t only about pleasing shoppers. Hauff C, Greenleaf C. Exploring plus-size exercise apparel as a social justice issue; Understanding how all pants ARE NOT created equal. Sportswomen’s Apparel in the United States. 2020;1(2522-0349):129-151. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-45477-7_8 By Nadra Nittle Nadra Nittle is a Los Angeles-based journalist and author. She has covered a wide range of topics, including health, education, race, consumerism, food, and public policy, throughout her career. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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