Fatphobia | The Affirmative Couch

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Helping Queer and Trans Clients Navigate Fatphobia During the Holidays

Posted: 11-27-19 | Megan Tucker

Collage with Happy Holidays, Food, and a person's hands bound by measuring tape

As we approach winter and prepare for “hibernation,” diet culture often kicks into high gear.  Family meals, holiday parties, and New Year’s resolutions surround us, regardless of whether we celebrate, and become fertile ground for fat shaming. The “holiday season” is already hard enough for many LGBTQIA+ folx*. It can also be an exceptionally dangerous time of year for fat folx, as well as those who experience disordered eating. (Note: See my previous article, At The Intersection of Fat & Trans, for further descriptions of fatphobia and weight stigma).

*Folx is an alternative spelling of folks, meant to represent inclusivity in a way similar to terms such as womxn and latinx.

Did she just say fat? 

Yes, you read that correctly. “Fat” is not a bad word, though it’s often wrapped in a framework of shame. How often do those with larger bodies get unsolicited weight management or weight loss advice? When a person says, “Ugh, I’m so fat,” how quickly do we jump in to dismiss their experience and try to make them feel “better”? Our response to a friend who has lost a significant amount of weight (e.g., “wow, you look great!”) differs  significantly from the response to a friend who has gained weight (e.g., “I’m concerned about your health”). The messages we get from diet culture, the media, and most other humans is that fat=lazy, bad, ugly, and unhealthy, versus thin=fit, good, desirable/attractive, and healthy. 

But surely queer and trans communities are more accepting?

Unfortunately, members of LGBTQIA+ communities have not quite embraced fat liberation yet. Many activists and theorists have spoken to fatness as a queer and feminist issue, as well as discussing fatphobia in the queer and trans community (e.g., Mollow, 2013). For example, consider trans and nonbinary folx who feel pressure to shrink their bodies to avoid being misgendered, gay men who indicate “no fats, no femmes” on their dating profiles (Conte, 2018), and queer women who are called fat bitches or fat dykes when they turn down someone’s advances. As in most intersectional social justice work, the impact is often worse for people of color (Strings, 2019). For further reading, please see Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings (2019).  Mollow writes, “Anti-racist, feminist, and queer activists must make fat liberation central to our work; we need to explicitly and unequivocally reject the notion that body size is a ‘lifestyle choice’ that can or should be changed” (for further reading, please see The Bizarre and Racist History of the BMI; Your Fat Friend, 2019).

What should I keep in mind for my clinical work? 

During the holidays, people are bombarded with messages on how to avoid weight gain, ways to “eat smart” during holiday meals, and what workouts are most effective to keep one’s body at its “best” (read: smallest). If all else fails, resolution season arrives with plenty of reduced-fee gym memberships, exercise programs, and diet plans. Many gatherings with family and friends are centered around food. Unfortunately, those in our immediate circles often believe our food intake and how our bodies have changed since they last saw us are fair game for dinner conversation. This behavior is almost always a wolf in sheep’s clothing–fat shaming and food policing thinly veiled by “I care about your health.” It also often connects to the commenter’s insecurity and their own internalized fatphobia or beliefs about what their body should look like, what they should be eating, etc. While these experiences happen to people of all shapes and sizes, this kind of commentary is more frequent and insidious for fat folx, as most people are conditioned to believe that we are less worthy if we are fat or at risk of becoming fat. LGBTQIA+ people, who already approach the holidays feeling worried about various family dynamics, lack of acceptance, and/or outright homophobia/transphobia, might need support to develop a game plan. (Note: Please also check out earlier pieces written about this topic by Chastain, 2014a; 2014b; Mollow, 2013; Murphy, unknown; Raven, 2018; and Rutledge & Hunani, 2018.)

Here are some possible topics to bring up with your clients:

 1) Make a choice about attending, if optional. With my LGBTQIA+ clients, we first consider whether going to visit certain family members and/or attending various holiday events is physically and emotionally safe. If not, could they spend the holiday with chosen family? If there is no ideal alternative or the person is sure they want to go, I empower their decision and encourage them to approach the situation with a grounded sense of self, giving themselves permission to step back and engage in self-care as needed; see #6 below.

2) Define boundaries and potential consequences. This part is crucial. Boundaries are as simple as what is okay and what is not okay. Help your client identify their boundaries and the potential consequences if those boundaries are crossed. Make sure they feel comfortable following through with these (e.g., don’t threaten to leave if it’s not a feasible option). For example, “What I’m eating is fine. Please stop commenting on my food choices. If it happens again, I’m going to excuse myself from the table.” Encourage them to practice the boundary setting in advance, preparing for best versus worst case scenario with particularly difficult individuals. Finding the humor, even if they’re the only one in on the joke, can sometimes help. You might check out Oh, Boundaries (Oh, Christmas Tree) Song Adaptation (Chastain, 2016).

3) Pregame conversations. Once the client knows what their boundaries are, they might consider reaching out to trusted family, friends, or the event host in advance. For example, they could send a text or blind copy email that says, “Hi family, just a reminder that I am working on loving my body at all sizes and practicing intuitive eating. My body has also changed slightly since I started taking hormones, so please do not make any comments about my food choices, my body, or my weight when I am home next week. Appreciate your understanding – see you soon!” This gives those individuals an opportunity to prepare and learn more rather than responding defensively in the moment. If this approach may not be well received by everyone in attendance, could the client identify one or two trusted folx who will have their back if the conversation turns to weight and body talk? 

4) Address internalized fatphobia. One of the toughest parts of resisting fatphobia and diet culture is our cultural internalized stigma and belief that fat is bad. Help your clients see the roots of fatphobia in racism, misogyny, and oppression (that is, while remaining attentive and attuned to their experiences of internalized body shame). Remind your clients that no one has the right to comment on their body or food choices. If they struggle to comfort and care for themselves, you might ask them to imagine those external comments and internal shame narratives impacting a close friend or a young sibling. Food is not good or bad. Being fat is not bad, and body size is not a determinant of health, worth, or desirability. We can feel uncomfortable with certain parts and features of our body (hello, dysphoria) without harming or hating the parts of our body that help us to survive. Bodies experience natural fluctuations in weight throughout the year. People can make whatever choices they want about their bodies and food. That includes making decisions for themselves about whether to engage in diet behavior or body modification, as well as whether to embrace fat liberation, health at every size, and intuitive eating philosophies. It also might include examining their social media consumption to critically examine which accounts activate internalized self-judgment and shame while shifting toward those that engage in transformational and affirming conversations about bodies, fashion, and food.

5) Prepare ways to respond.  Helping our clients advocate for themselves is an important component of recovering from diet culture and internalized fatphobia. LGBTQIA+ people have often been expected to perform in certain placating ways when interacting with hurtful others. “Too often we get the message that as [LGBTQIA+ people], it’s our responsibility to always be ‘on’–to always advocate for the cause, or to behave ‘properly,’ or to keep the peace. We’re told that it’s our job to endure demonizing sermons and degrading misgendering in the name of ‘dialogue’ or whatever. But we don’t have to.” (Murphy, unknown).

 Therefore, when responding to fatphobic comments and questions such as, “Should you really have a second serving?” each person needs to think about what might work best for them depending on whether they’d like to shut the conversation down or potentially open it up for further dialogue. Here are some examples: 

  •        Short & sweet, then continue to eat (e.g., “Yes, I should.”)
  •       Humor & sarcasm (e.g., “If I want to talk to the food police, I’ll call Pie-1-1”; Chastain, 2014)
  •       Firm boundaries (e.g., “I get to make my own food choices – it’s not okay for you to comment on them. Please stop, or I will leave the table.”) 
  •       Authentic curiosity (e.g., “What made you decide to comment on what I eat?”)
  •       Reflect on diet culture (e.g., “Isn’t it interesting how shaming it is when we comment on others’ bodies and food choices?”)
  •       Self-reflection (e.g., “Those types of comments are really hurtful, and I know there are times I’ve commented on your food choices as well–I’d like us to stop doing that.”) 
  •       Reframe and shift (e.g., “I wonder if you think those types of comments come from a place of caring. They actually make me feel shame and the desire to pull away from you. Let’s focus on catching up and enjoying our time together.”)
  •       Ignore and move through discomfort – It is always an option to decide not to respond, not to speak up, and to instead move through and take care of yourself in other ways. Sometimes this is the safest option emotionally and/or physically.
  •       A potential dilemma – It can be hard to meet family and friends where they are, especially when the conversations are painful. Making the decision to educate someone is always optional, as the other person should take responsibility for educating themselves (and this goes for various other social justice matters, such as racism). At some point, many of us have made value judgments and comments about others’ food choices or body size based on our internalized shame around diet culture and fatphobia. It can take some time and energy to adjust those patterns of thinking. Bottom line: there is a difference between healthy, respectful, and curious discourse versus harmful and fatphobic comments, questions, and behaviors. Hence, the need for boundaries.Queer fat activist Ragen Chastain (2014a) writes, “Loving your body is an act of sheer courage and revolution in this culture. My body is not a representation of my failures, sins, or mistakes. My body is not a sign that I am in poor health, or that I am not physically fit, neither of which is your business regardless. My body is not up for public discussion, debate or judgment. My body is not a signal that I need your help or input to make decisions about my health or life.  My body is the constant companion that helps me do every single thing that I do every second of every day and it deserves respect and admiration. If you are incapable of appreciating my body that is your deficiency, not mine, and I do not care. Nor am I interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter so, if you want to be around me, you are 100% responsible for doing whatever it takes to keep those thoughts to yourself. If you are incapable of doing that I will leave and spend my time with people who can treat me appropriately.  Please pass the green beans.”

6) Have an exit strategy (i.e. self-care plan). In many cases, setting a firm boundary and following through with the consequence should be quite effective. However, sometimes these responses may do little or nothing to stop others from perpetrating harmful microaggressions and fatphobic judgments. In those cases, it is good for your client to have a plan for self-care, considering the following:

  •       Permission giving – If things don’t feel good, can they give themselves permission to be prepared to leave if necessary?
  •       Take space – go for a walk, play with the kids or pets, watch a movie, listen to music, etc.
  •       Get support – Does the client have a friend who “gets it” and can be available to call or text? Or can the client log onto social media and check out some of the dietitians, bloggers, clinicians, and influencers who focus on fat liberation and intuitive eating (see resource list at the end of this article)? 
  •       Practice validation & self-compassion:
  •       Duality: It’s okay to care about someone while also being disappointed or hurt by their behaviors and comments. 
  •       Remember: Setting boundaries is a healthy way to show our expectations of love and respect for people who matter. 
  •       Forgive themselves: It makes sense that they are tempted to go along with the comments–it is hard to speak up against diet culture and fatphobia.
  •       Validation: Many LGBTQIA+ people struggle around this time of year with difficult family interactions; they are not alone. 
  •       Self-nurturance: Clients can use affirmations such as, “I am worthy. I am enough. My body is worthy at all sizes. I deserve to be treated with respect and common human dignity. It’s okay to protect myself from fatphobic comments.” 

How can I continue to learn about fat liberation and radical self-love to support my clients? 

  •       Practice radical body love and fat acceptance–for yourself and others! It doesn’t mean you will successfully love all parts of your body all the time, but it sure will help. 
  •       Consider anti-diet and intuitive eating practices all year round–they can be life changing. 
  •       Actively reduce and aim to eliminate diet talk, which often serves to shame people and essentially teaches us to avoid at all costs becoming a “bad fat person.” 
  •       Rather than praising bodies that have thin privilege or seem to have lost weight, consider finding other ways to let people know we appreciate them. 
  •       Instead of using descriptors that are pathologizing (“overweight” suggests there is a lower weight that is normal/better/good), stick with actual descriptors that help us to understand (such as “fat”). When possible, check in with others about the descriptors that work for them and what words they prefer.
  •       Surround yourself with social media and images of fat people of all races and abilities, appreciating the beauty and diversity of the human body. 
  •       “If previously you have ruled out fat people as potential sexual partners, rule them back in, and rule out ‘fatphobes’ instead” (Mollow, 2013).
  •       Make choices for your body that feel good for you, and only you. Give your body size permission to vary with time, hormones, and many other factors. 
  •       Be mindful of where your clients are in terms of their readiness for discussions related to diet culture and internalized fatphobia; as with any other intervention, gauge helpfulness as well as observing their body language as you move through.

A final note for those of you who are already anti-diet and practicing fat acceptance: It takes so much courage to move through these conversations with our clients, friends, and family members who don’t quite understand (yet!). Keep doing this work, because it matters. You matter. You are worthy. You are enough. Thank you for persisting. 

Suggested Resources:

Online & Social Media (Note: @ = Instagram handle):

@ragenchastain & https://danceswithfat.org/blog; @chr1styharrison & Food Psych podcast; @yrfatfriend; @recipesforselflove & book; @bodyposipanda; @mynameisjessamyn; @jazzmynejay; @livinginthisqueerbody; @mermaidqueenjude; @ihartericka; @thefatsextherapist; @decolonizingtherapy

 NOLOSE – Originally the National Organization for Lesbians of Size – later expanded to include all genders. Has a queer fat-positive ideology. http://nolose.org  

 Strings, S. (2019). Fearing the black body: The racial origins of fat phobia. New York University Press. New York, NY.

 Taylor, S. R. (2018). The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc: Oakland, CA.

Your Fat Friend. (2019). The bizarre and racist history of the BMI. Medium – Elemental. Retrieved from: https://elemental.medium.com/the-bizarre-and-racist-history-of-the-bmi-7d8dc2aa33bb

 References

 Baker, Jes. (2015). How to stay body positive during the holidays: Master list. The Militant Baker. Retrieved from:http://www.themilitantbaker.com/2015/12/the-how-to-stay-body-positive-during.html 

 Conte, M. T. (2018). More fats, more femmes: A critical examination of fatphobia and femmephobia on Grindr. Feral Feminisms: Queer Feminine Affinities, 7.https://feralfeminisms.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/3-Matthew-Conte.pdf 

 Chastain, R. Blog – Dances with fat: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are for all sizes

 McKelle, E. (2014). Cutting fatphobic language out of your life. Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from:https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/04/cutting-fatphobic-language/ 

 Mollow, A. (2013). Why fat is a queer and feminist issue. Bitch Media. Retrieved from:https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/sized-up-fat-feminist-queer-disability 

 Murphy, B. (unknown). 8 queer tips to get through the holidays. Queer Theology. Retrieved from: https://www.queertheology.com/queer-holiday-tips/ 

 Raven, R. (2018). 6 ways to deal with fat-shaming during the holidays, from someone who knows what it’s like. Hello Giggles. Retrieved from:https://hellogiggles.com/lifestyle/health-fitness/6-ways-to-deal-fat-shaming-during-holidays/ 

 Rutledge, L., & Hunani, N. (2018). Take it from dietitians: Holiday diet advice shouldn’t be fatphobic. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lisa-rutledge/holiday-diet-advice-weight-loss_a_23621979/ 

 Tucker, M. (2019). At the intersection of fat and trans. The Affirmative Couch Out on the Couch. https://affirmativecouch.com/at-the-intersection-of-fat-trans/  

 

About The Author

Megan Tucker

I'm a licensed psychologist with a small private practice, in addition to full-time work at a university counseling center. My specialty is working with queer, trans, and gender non-binary people, focusing on topics such as relationships, sex, trauma, oppression, anxiety, and helping many folks to access gender affirming care.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/megan-tucker-somerville-ma/280796

At the Intersection of Fat & Trans

Posted: 6-19-19 | Megan Tucker

fatphobia

By Megan Tucker, PsyD

Keywords: Transgender

I am a fat, queer, able-bodied, neurotypical, white, and cisgender femme person (note: cisgender = my gender is congruent with the gender I was socially assigned). I’m well aware of societal expectations for the way my body should look, to express my gender consistent with white womanhood, and to engage in romantic and sexual relationships in a certain way. I also know that the bar for being seen, respected, and accepted for who I am would be sky high if I was a fat, autistic, disabled, polyamorous, transgender feminine person of color.

Most of the research conducted with people who are fat and/or trans has been with white, able-bodied humans, so any negative impact I discuss related to fat trans folks is likely even more detrimental for people of color and for those with chronic illness and/or disabilities. I write this as a person with privilege who aims to learn more, and educate others about systems of oppression and power, while also advocating for human rights and dignity. I am personally familiar with experiences of fatphobia and sexism, and I have a specialty in counseling trans and gender nonbinary (TGNB) people.

Weight Stigma, Fatphobia, & Microaggressions:

When you see a slim person jogging down the road, do you think, “good for them!?” When a slim person walks along the beach in a bikini, do you think, “ugh, they shouldn’t be wearing that!?” When you notice that a slim friend has gained weight, do you say, “oh wow, you’ve gained weight? What are you doing?” I’m guessing most of us don’t, so why would it be OK for us to judge or comment on fat bodies? The short answer: it’s not OK. Basically never. Just like it’s never OK for us to comment on trans and gender non-conforming bodies.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA, 2018) defines weight stigma as discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight (also referred to as sizeism). Weight stigma is known to increase body dissatisfaction, which is a leading risk factor for disordered eating. NEDA clearly states, “the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness.” Many people who struggle with body image and disordered eating got messages along the way that shamed their bodies and/or food choices, suggesting they weren’t good enough just the way they were.

Fatphobia, the fear and/or hatred of fat bodies, is an extension of sizeism. Many of us have learned not only that thin is the ideal, but that being fat is to be avoided like the plague. We are constantly exposed to messages that thin = good and fat = bad (e.g., TV and movies, comments from our parents, health & wellness marketing, conversations with our friends, and health insurance companies offering wellness discounts). Brené Brown’s research found that a) appearance and body image and b) being stereotyped and labeled are two of the 12 most common triggers for shame (Brown, 2007). This hatred and fear of fatness becomes internalized and spreads like wildfire in the ways we talk about ourselves, evaluate ourselves compared to others, and judge others’ bodies and food choices.  Three questions you might ask yourself to examine your weight bias are: 1) Do I engage in negative body talk? 2) How do I feel about bodies of different sizes? and 3) How do I feel about the concept of weight gain for myself? (Chastain, 2018).

We can’t talk about stigma and fatphobia without also talking about microaggressions, which Sue (2010) defined as “commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative insults to a target person or group.” The very nature of microaggressions is that they are often unintentional and unacknowledged slights, leaving the recipient to process those thousands of tiny moments that invalidate that person’s very existence.

For example, when someone says to a friend who has lost weight, “wow, you look great,” it is thinly veiled as a compliment that covers up the deeper diet culture judgment, “your body is more desirable now that it is thinner.” When someone watching you eat X food says, “I don’t eat X – it’s bad for you,” what it really suggests is, “be careful eating that food – you wouldn’t want to become fat and/or unhealthy. In fact, the conflation of weight with health and “concern for health” is one of the more common ways that people (especially health providers) justify weight-related microaggressions. Sadly, what often gets in the way of health for fat folks is the very structural oppression they face by those who believe people are unhealthy because they are fat (Lee & Pausé, 2016).  

At the Intersection of Fat & Trans

When we talk about the above concepts in relation to fatness, they also hold true for other identities that experience oppression, e.g., race, gender, ability, sexuality, etc. TGNB folks experience transphobia, cissexism, cis-heteronormative expectations, and pressures to fit into (white) binary understandings of gender, i.e., what it supposedly means to be a man or a woman. Because TGNB people are often valued based on how well their bodies “fit in” to these expectations, it follows that they would also be held to standards of body size, shape, and weight. Adding weight stigma to the other pressures that a TGNB person experiences along with their own struggles with their body is like a shaken soda bottle of oppression waiting to explode.

Here are several ways that a TGNB person might experience the cumulative and harmful effects of sizeism and fatphobia in the context of their transness:

  • A trans masculine person eats as little as possible to shrink his body and appear more androgynous by reducing the width of his hips & the size of his chest
  • A nonbinary person hesitates to go to the gynecologist for worsening pelvic pain, because when they initially brought it up, the doctor said the pain was weight-related.
  • A transfeminine person fears going out on a date, because she can’t blend enough with her large belly.
  • An agender person has to search endlessly for affordable clothing that both fits their large body and also feels congruent with their gender.
  • A genderqueer person wants to fly without drawing attention to themself, but they face ridicule when going through the security body scanners and then are looked at with disgust while walking down the airplane aisle due to their body size.
  • A trans woman’s doctor does not refer her to get treatment for her Anorexia, because he reasons that restriction might help her to lose weight.
  • A trans adolescent is extremely uncomfortable in their body due to the compounded effects of going through puberty as a fat person.
  • A pregnant trans man gets mistaken for being fat and doesn’t get the emergency medical care he needs (note: an article was recently published about this exact situation at usatoday.com).
  • A trans person arrives for their consultation appointment for gender affirming surgery, but the armchairs in the waiting room are too small for them to fit, the exam room table cannot hold their weight, and they soon find out that the surgeon has a maximum BMI requirement.
  • A trans college student gets the courage to go to the gym and build muscle for his upcoming top surgery, but then is fat shamed by other students at the fitness center.

It is so crucial to be mindful of the ways in which weight stigma and fatphobia intersect with the policing of trans and nonbinary bodies. Don’t trans folks already have enough to worry about with their internal struggles to find peace and affirmation with their bodies? Why do we pile on societal constructions of what they should and shouldn’t look like, that they should and shouldn’t eat, and pressures to modify their bodies to be more feminine (i.e., thin and curvy in the “right” places) or masculine (i.e., thin and muscular)? Why do we expect TBNB people to not only modify their bodies to societal standards, but to do it without developing an eating disorder or increasing hatred toward themselves? We need to do better in making space for TGNB folks of ALL sizes, shapes, expressions, and food preferences. Everybody and every body is worthy of respect and human dignity.

The Greater Impact

The impact of sizeism and fatphobia are pervasive and insidious. For example, adolescents who are teased for their weight are 2-3x more likely to consider and attempt suicide (Eisenburg et al. 2003). TGNB folks, especially transfeminine people and people of color, are significantly impacted by the pressure to fit into gender appearance ideals (i.e., white, light skinned, thin, & young with straight hair; Patton, 2006) that reflect the binary norms of femininity or masculinity.

Here are some ways that TGNB people are impacted by these pressures compared to cisgender people:  

  • Increased body dissatisfaction and frequent body checking
  • Risk of dissociation from or hatred of certain parts of their bodies
  • Increase in disordered eating or weight and shape control behaviors, including binge eating, fasting, vomiting, and laxative use
  • Weight loss to suppress secondary sex characteristics and/or
    • For transfeminine people, to achieve the thin ideal
    • For transmasculine people, to slow or stop the menstrual cycle
  • For TGNB people with a high BMI, even greater rates of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating
  • For transfeminine people, increased experiences of sexual objectification
  • Greater risk of mental health struggles due to the stigma of being trans and/or fat
    • e.g., desire for weight change increases reported history of suicide attempts and self-injury
  • Risk of negative social consequences, stigma, and safety concerns when physical features are not in line with societal expectations for their gender

(Algers et al., 2010, Algars et al., 2012; Diemer et al., 2015, Gordon et al., 2016, Hepp & Milos, 2002; Jones et al., 2016; McGuire et al., 2016, Peterson et al., 2017; Sevelius, 2013; Vocks et al., 2009; & Witcomb et al., 2015)

It’s not  surprising that trans folks are afraid to seek medical care from providers who often invalidate them while also imposing guidelines and hoops for them to jump through in order to seek some semblance of gender affirmation/congruence. When you’re fat, that fear increases. And don’t get me started on providers who recommend weight loss as a treatment for anything, regardless of gender. Would you pay to participate in a treatment program that had a 95-98% failure rate and led to most people going back to pre-treatment symptoms within 3-5 years? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you have ever joined a weight loss program or gone on a fancy diet to lose weight, that’s exactly what you’ve done.

Though many TGNB people experience disconnect and dissatisfaction with their bodies, some reconnect with themselves and improve body satisfaction by altering their body, for example, through gender affirming surgery and hormones, body art/tattoos, and/or exercise. Gender affirming treatment, increased body satisfaction, and perceived social support from family, school, and friends help to reduce the risk of disordered eating (McGuire et al., 2016; Testa et al., 2017; Watson et al., 2017). Some find ways to reject the cultural ideals by creating their own unique gender expression, and those who have a more integrated gender identity are more likely to report social awareness, social acceptance, and body satisfaction (McGuire et al., 2017).

So What Can I Do?

Munro (2017) explains, “we live in a world that resists the notion of fatness as a facet of body diversity; as such, fat bodies are rarely represented in a positive light. Fatness is labeled as a disease and the treatment is eradication.” Social change movements for fat acceptance and body liberation are working to challenge and change this cultural mindset, but the journey is long and difficult – like transness, many are afraid of those who are different, those who do not fit the social norms, and those whose bodies challenge our internalized beliefs and fears.

Here are some ways I believe we can work to support our fat TGNB friends and fellow humans:

  1. Don’t comment on someone’s body parts, body size, food choices, or changes in weight. Ever. Check in when you’re thinking of complimenting someone – is there any chance that the compliment is a veiled microaggression?
  2. Practice empathy and compassion for others. Many TGNB and fat folks may struggle to love and accept their bodies, which can be a source of significant pain. “Empathy is the antidote to shame.” (Brown, 2007).
  3. While you’re at it, why not practice self-compassion and be mindful of the way you talk to yourself? “The act of giving yourself some grace is the practice of loving the you that does not like your body.” (Taylor, 2018, p. 114)
  4. Don’t assume that a TGNB person wants their body to be in line with binary constructions of femininity & masculinity. People have every right to exist in their bodies in whatever way works (or doesn’t work) for them.
  5. Dig into fat positive movements and literature (note: while there are some body positive (bopo) spaces that address fatphobia, not all bopo spaces are as fat accepting as they should be). Recommendations include:
    1. Ragen Chastain, https://danceswithfat.org/ blog
    2. Sonya Renee Taylor, The Body is Not an Apology book
    3. Rachel Wiley, Nothing is Okay book
    4. Christy Harrison, Food Psych podcast
    5. Alison Rachel, Recipes for Self-Love book & instagram
    6. Some awesome humans on social media: bodyposipanda; mynameisjessamyn; jazzmynejay; alokvmenon; ihartericka; po.rodil; ashleighthelion, and tessholliday.
  6. Be critical of the way that mass media portrays TGNB people, fat people, and TGNB fat people. Then, “dump the junk” (Taylor, 2018).
  7. Read up on intersections of transness with various identities, including size, health, race, ability, spirituality, sexuality, etc. so that your TGNB friends don’t need to teach you about their experiences.
  8. Check the privilege you carry in the world, whether you are cis, white, straight, able-bodied, healthy, wealthy, Christian, slim, etc. or any of the various intersections of these.
  9. Seek out medical and mental health providers who are fat positive and work from a Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size (HAES) perspective (Bacon, 2008; Chastain, 2012).

A Final Note

To those who are trans and fat, I see you. You are worthy, even when society doesn’t always communicate that to you. Everyone deserves to have love and compassion for the vessel that gets them through this world, even when you don’t like all parts of that vessel. You deserve to dress and express in ways that make you feel good about yourself and in clothes that fit your body, no matter what size you are. You deserve to access gender affirming care from providers who view fatness as a descriptor rather than an epidemic. You deserve to be gentle to yourself on good days, on bad days, and on in between days. There are people out there who will love and accept you at all sizes, in all gender presentations, and for all of the beautiful intersections that make up your identity. You are worthy.

References

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About The Author

Megan Tucker

I'm a licensed psychologist with a small private practice, in addition to full-time work at a university counseling center. My specialty is working with queer, trans, and gender non-binary people, focusing on topics such as relationships, sex, trauma, oppression, anxiety, and helping many folks to access gender affirming care.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/megan-tucker-somerville-ma/280796