SELF Magazine on ‘Fatphobia’: BMI Has a Racist History, Anti-Fat Bias Keeps Larger Bodies Out of Gyms

An overweight woman walks at the 61st Montgomery County Agricultural Fair on August 19, 2009 in Gaithersburg, Maryland. At USD 150 billion, the US medical system spends around twice as much treating preventable health conditions caused by obesity than it does on cancer, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. Two-thirds of …
TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images

“Anti-fatness” and “fatphobia” restrict accessibility of fitness endeavors for fat people, according to a column published in SELF magazine on Tuesday entitled “The Relentless Reality of Anti-Fatness in Fitness” by Kelsey Miller.

As part of a special edition of SELF entitled “The Future of Fitness Issue,” Miller’s editorial claims the widespread existence of social discrimination against”fat bodies.” Such alleged prejudice, she holds, prevents those with “larger bodies” from engaging in exercise and fitness endeavors. She writes:

Fitness is already a practice of the privileged; it requires time, money, and access that many people don’t have. Fat people have to jump those hurdles and more just to get to the gym. And when they do, they’re often met with judgment, discrimination, and calorie lectures they didn’t ask for. The problem keeping fat people out of the gym is not their fatness. The problem is fatphobia.

Miller links what she claims is popular “anti-fatness” to racial prejudice, writing, “anti-fat bias has been a part of white America for centuries.” The body mass index — a simple metric comparing height and weight for the purpose of inferring one’s total body fat — has a “racist history,” she adds.

“There’s a growing stack of studies indicating that fatphobia is damaging fat people’s health and actually preventing them from engaging in exercise,” Miller holds.

She claims that “weight stigma” can have “overt” manifestations, including bullying, stereotyping, [and] being patronized by fitness professionals trying to explain the concept of a calorie. Prioritization of “weight loss” over physical performance across the fitness industry, she adds, further disheartens overweight people from exercise. Miller charges:

Many modern fitness environments are inherently hostile to fat bodies, treating them as ‘before’ photos. Having absorbed these biases from the earliest age (researchers have studied fatphobia in children as young as three) it’s much harder for a fat person to look past those side-eyes and walk into the gym, or even believe they can exercise.

Miller’s column focuses on supposedly existing social phenomena as obstacles preventing fat people from having opportunities to undertake fitness endeavors. She does not acknowledge weight loss for overweight people as a desirable pursuit contributing to overall wellness and longevity, while she highlights “body positivity” as a constructive viewpoint.

She considers, “If anti-fatness rather than fatness itself were deemed shameful and ignorant, the fitness industry would very likely be a different place—one accessible and beneficial to many more people than it is today.”

Her analysis fits into a broader left-wing framework deriding physical standards, tacit or stated, as excessively arbitrary and inherently oppressive of those outside their parameters.

SELF is owned by Condé Nast, a media company owning several other left-wing digital and print outlets including the New Yorker, Teen Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Wired.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.