Obese people find a voice in the Fatosphere

Kath Read, a member of the Fatosphere

Kath Read, a member of the Fatosphere

Obese people have found a voice in the fat-acceptance blogging community, the Fatosphere - a safe space of acceptance where individuals can counter, respond to, and resist dominant and stigmatising obesity discourses.

Whilst the fat-acceptance movement has often been criticised for promoting obesity and encouraging individuals to give up on weight loss, a study by researchers from Monash University published this week in Qualitative Health Research found that individuals who belong to a fat-acceptance community reported that they had improved mental health and wellbeing, and felt supported to engage in healthy activity.

Dr Samantha Thomas, senior researcher in the Department of Marketing said that for many fat individuals, their whole life is focused on not being good enough.

“They feel their bodies are something that they should be deeply ashamed of; that they should expect to be treated negatively by others,” Dr Thomas said.

“Individuals in this study were constantly told by friends, family members, and health professionals, that their bodies were unacceptable.

“They described an overwhelming hatred of their bodies from an early age, and expressed a sense of frustration and personal failure at their inability to conform to a thin ideal.

“This led to numerous and increasingly extreme weight-loss attempts as they tried to take responsibility for their fatness and weight gain. They also described how self-hatred, shame, and embarrassment led them to disengage from everyday life activities.

Many individuals in the study internalised the weight-related stigma they received from others and believed that they deserved the fat hatred directed at them from friends, family members, and the broader community. Many believed that becoming thin was the only way of improving the stigma and critical judgment they experienced.

“For most of them, weight loss and restrictive eating were actively promoted as the only way they would ever be valued in society by conforming to an aesthetic and medical ideal of thinness,” Dr Thomas said.

Far from promoting unhealthy lifestyles, the research revealed that discovering and participating in fat acceptance actually helped to empower individuals over their health, social interactions, and their bodies, and in particular the stigma they experience in the broader community.

“There are very few places in society where fat individuals feel that they can share their experiences without being told that they should lose weight, that they should change who they are. The Fatosphere provided a place of support, acceptance, and empowerment,” Dr Thomas said.

“One man explained to the researchers, the most important thing is a sense of community, a validation that he was not alone.”

In most instances participants perceived that involvement in the Fatosphere had improved their physical and mental well-being.

“Although the Fatosphere might not be suitable for all fat individuals, it provides an important alternative for some, who might have had extremely negative experiences associated with their fatness,” Dr Thomas said.

“It also might be important in helping to reframe the ‘blame’ rhetoric associated with the personal responsibility framework of the obesity epidemic, toward more constructive and supportive ways to think about weight and health.”