Fatness is 'fashionable and fit,' profs insist

A group of professors from the University of North Carolina recently argued that fatness is “fashionable and fit” in a peer-reviewed academic article.

Jennifer B. Webb, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, recently published the results of a study she led examining how fat people use Instagram, finding that “coming out as fat” and “flaunting fat” on Instagram are key ways that they reframe “culturally normative standards of beauty” and fight for “fat-acceptance.”

Instagram is a key place to study the fat-acceptance movement, Webb explains, because it is home to a growing community of “Fatosphere” photobloggers, who use Instagram as a  “vital method of coping with anti-fat bias” and as a means towards “affirming a stigmatized identity.”

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These obese Instagrammers, Webb writes, “resist the dominance of the thin ideal” by wearing revealing and skin-tight clothes in an effort to show the world that fat people can indeed be “fashionable” and express their “sexuality.”

To that end, Webb sought to further understand the Instagram “Fatosphere” by reviewing 250 images tagged with the #HealthAtEverySize hashtag and 250 images tagged with the #Fatspiration hashtag to explore which hashtag promoted fat-acceptance the most.

Not surprisingly, since the #Fatspiration hashtag is more closely associated with fat-acceptance,  55.5 percent of the photos tagged with #Fatspiration promoted fat-acceptance, whereas only 30 percent of the of the photos tagged with #HealthAtEverySize did.

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Reached for an interview by Campus Reform, Webb explained that her research lab was motivated to investigate fat-acceptance to add to the growing body of research on the issue “by taking a closer look at images disseminated in more size-inclusive, body positive social media communities.”

Asked about the claim that “fat is fashionable and fit,” Webb explained that “there is no one route to expressing a fat-accepting identity,” explaining that many fat people can be fashionable and express pride in their appearance, especially through Instagram.

Fighting for fat-acceptance is important, Webb adds, because “weight bias and internalized weight bias are linked to a variety of adverse health outcomes for higher weight individuals,” noting that these could include “depression” or “psychological stress.”

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Such adverse psychological effects can lead to “consuming more food as a way of coping,” thus “gaining more weight over time.” Because of this, she says that fat-acceptance, rather than telling fat people to lose weight, is key.

It is critical to “combat fat stigma on a number of levels”, Webb told Campus Reform. “It constitutes a major public health concern like the other ‘isms’ that create a toxic environment for members of culturally-diverse and other marginalized groups.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen