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Anti-Oppression: Anti-Fatphobia

The word “fat” is not inherently bad... It is a benign descriptor of size. The only negativity the word carries is that which has been socially constructed around it; our aversion is completely learned.



What does fatphobia look like?

Support Resources for Fat People

Informational Resources for Allies

A note on the scope of this guide:

This guide is intended to provide general information about anti-oppression, diversity, and inclusion as well as information and resources for the social justice issues key to current dialogues within the Chicago School community. This guide is by no means an exhaustive list of anti-oppressive initiatives nor does it capture all of the many facets of the larger conversations about the issues listed here. This guide serves as an introduction to these issues and as a starting place for finding information from a variety of sources.


Fatphobia (also called Fatmisia or Sizeismis prejudice plus power; anyone of any weight or body type can have/exhibit size-based prejudice, but in North America and across the globe, thin people have the institutional power, therefore Fatphobia is a systematized discrimination or antagonism directed against fat bodies/people based on the belief that thinness is superior.

Fatphobia stems from three incorrect cultural assumptions:

  1. There is, with minimal physical divergence, a "right" or "normal" body type and it is a thin one.
  2. There is an automatic correlation between thinness and physical health (and in turn, that health is an indicator of value).
  3. Fatness or a fat body type is "abnormal" and therefore a (social) disadvantage and/or a health risk.

Fat folks can be agents of fatphobia as well (particularly when acting as representatives of fatphobic systems, such as higher education or the healthcare systemby perpetuating the notion of thin superiority and using it to discriminate against other fat people. For example, a plus-size nurse pracitioner may repeatedly recommend that a fat patient lose weight rather than addressing the patient's actual health concerns.

Anti-Fatphobia/ Anti-Fatmisia is strategies, theories, actions, and practices that challenge and counter fatmisia, inequalities, prejudices, and discrimination based on size.


What does fatmisia look like?

Fatphobic Microaggressions are commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults in relation to size or fatness. They are structurally based and invoke oppressive systems of size hierarchy. Fatphobic MicroinvalidationsMicroinsultsMicroassaults are specific types of microaggressions.

Note: The prefix “micro” is used because these are invocations of racial hierarchy at the individual level (person to person), where as the "macro" level refers to aggressions committed by structures as a whole (e.g. an organizational policy). "Micro" in no way minimalizes or otherwise evaluates the impact or seriousness of the aggressions.

Further Reading: 


White woman wearing glasses and Ghostbusters t-shirt has a beam of wood running straight through her. Beside her, a white male doctor looking down at his clipboard. Woman: "Doctor! I've been impaled!" Doctor: "Well maybe you'll feel better if you lose some weight."

Body Policing or specifically the policing of fat bodies is a pervasive and often normalized method of controlling bodies that do not conform to the social hierarchy, and it often involves or overlaps with fat-shaming. Body policing as a practice can range from making negative comments ("She's too big to wear a crop top") to humiliating or penalizing fatness (plus-size folks are often required to purchase two seats on an airplane). Even our healthcare systems police fat people's bodies and regularly risks fat people’s health by constantly recommending weight loss no matter a fat patient's actual health concerns. No matter how it occurs, body policing amounts to discrimination and intolerance of bodies deemed inappropriate or unacceptable by a power structure rooted in misogyny and racism that values thinness as both status quo and a pinnacle of health. 

Further reading: 

Support Resources for Fat People

Community Education & Support

National Support Organizations

Informational Resources for Allies

Thin Privilege

Post from @yrfatfriend "Thing privilege isn't contingent on 'feeling thin.'"

Thin privilege refers to the unearned benefits that American society and many other societies and cultures accord to thin people. This privilege is rooted in three cultural beliefs: 1) that a "normal" body type is a thin one with some variation but no significant physical divergence, 2) that thinness automatically correlates to physical health (and in turn, that health is an indicator of value), and 3) that fatness or a fat body type is "abnormal" and therefore a (social) disadvantage and health risk. These beliefs or societal models mean that many cultures, including the US, have set up social expectations, structures, cultural mores, and institutions to accommodate thin people by default and that dismiss and/or marginalize the needs and experiences of fat people. 

Thin Fragility

Thin fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of privilege stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as tears, argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate thin-normative equilibrium. (adapted from "White Fragility")

The dominant association between "normal" or "health" with "thinness" allows most thin people to live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from challenging encounters with fatness, fat positivity perspectives, or body types that differ from their own. Within this dominant social environment, thin people come to expect social comfort and a sense of belonging and that their perspective of "normal" is correct by default. When this comfort is disrupted, thin people are often at a loss because they have not had to build skills for constructive engagement with empowered fat people and their social perspectives. They may become defensive, positioning themselves as victims of anti-fatmisic work and co-opting the rhetoric of violence to describe their experiences of being challenged on thin privilege. (adapted from "Christian Fragility")



So...what's "misia"?

You may be wondering why "misia" is used sometimes instead of the suffix "phobia." If you've not encountered "misia" language before, you may also be wondering what it means. Well never fear! We are more than happy to explain this relatively new shift in language.

The suffix "phobia" comes from the Greek word for "fear of," and so it denotes an intense aversion to the part of the word that precedes it (e.g. arachnophobia is a fear of spiders). Words like "homophobia" or "Islamophobia" are pretty recognizable, and most folks understand them to mean a position or perspective that is prejudicial and discriminatory against LGBTQIA+ identities and the religion of Islam respectively. 

The problem with using "phobia" terms as labels for prejudice is that there are folks who actually have phobias (real anxiety disorders in which someone experiences intense anxiety or fear that they're unable to control—Claustrophobia, for instance). So when we use terms like "homophobia," we are equating bigotry with a mental health disorder, which does several problematic things:

  • It relies on and reinforces the harmful stigma against mental illness (see the Anti-Ableism and Anti-Sanism tabs to learn more);
  • It inaccurately attributes oppression and oppressive attitudes to fear rather than to hate and bigotry;
  • It removes the accountability of an oppressive person by implying their actions and attitudes are outside their control.

So since labeling oppression with "phobia" suffixes is harmful, many folks are exchanging them for "misia" suffixes instead. Misia (pronounced "miz-eeya") comes from the Greek word for hate or hatred, so similar to how Fatphobia means "fear of fat," while Fatmisia ia means "hatred of Fat."

For these reasons, you'll sometimes see "misia" language in place of "phobia" in an effort to be as accurate, clear, and inclusive as possible.

Books @ TCS & Subject Headings


In an effort at full disclosure, it should be noted that the collaborators on this guide occupy some of the oppressed identities outlined here, but not all of them. We have attempted to bring together quality, relevant resources for the anti-oppression issues in this guide, but we are not immune from the limits and hidden biases of our own privileges and perspectives as allies.

We welcome and greatly appreciate any feedback and suggestions for the guide, particularly from the perspectives and experiences of the marginalized groups listed and not listed here.