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Confronting Fat Phobia

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

This article is available for listen via our podcast on Spotify!

We are a disability education and advocacy company that focuses on service dogs and the ADA but we want to also make sure we’re offering education on all important topics like being inclusive in the workplace, anti racism and confronting fat phobia.

On July 28th, Kaydin, owner and founder of Hamilton at your Service, LLC virtually sat down with Karli Miller and Marc Castañeda to chat on Instagram Live. The topic was ‘Conquering Fat Phobia.’ Karli Miller (they/them) is a plus-size body positivity and disability/chronic illness advocate. They identify as nonbinary and agender. They often struggle with public acceptance of their size, noting that “people are always giving me unsolicited advice as if dieting and losing weight has anything to do with why I use a wheelchair.”

Marc Castañeda (he/him) is NYC resident knitting enthusiast and radical self acceptance advocate. He identifies as an openly queer man. He has been “every size you could think of, from small to extra large, back and forth, all around,” and has struggled with his weight and body image frequently, especially navigating the NYC dating scene.

The hour-long chat began with the question, “What does the word ‘fat’ mean to you?” Karli began the discussion, noting that the word is “just another body descriptor,” like tall, short, big, or small. “Those aren’t bad words, so describing people as thin or skinny or chubby or fat shouldn’t be negative. I can’t change the way that people perceive the words, but I can change how I perceive them.”

“I am fat, and I’m okay with that,” Marc chimed in. “My body type doesn’t bother me. If it bothers [someone else], that’s something [they] need to work on. I call it ‘radical self acceptance’ instead of body positivity since [that] community is still focused on smaller bodies and losing weight.”

The conversation then transitioned into discussing discrimination in the medical field. “I’m pretty vocal,” Marc said in regards to his recent diagnostic process. “I’ve had a lot of joint and bone pain and I knew something was wrong. I wouldn’t say I’ve received poor healthcare, it just always circles back to my weight. [Doctors] don’t bring it up kindly and they don’t ask you if you even want to have those conversations.”

“There are ways to search for doctors with certain specialties, but not with fat-friendly practices or offices,” Karli noted. “If every doctor was fat friendly, we wouldn’t need to worry about things like [ill-fitting or] uncomfortable chairs.” Karli also echoed Marc’s earlier sentiment. “If you go to a doctor for an earache, the doctor hands you a MyPlate pamphlet, and you’re like, wait, I’m just here for an earache! I went to my doctor, who I no longer see, and she said to lose weight and all your problems will go away. She told me if I wanted to pursue getting a wheelchair, I’d have to ‘break my legs and come back’ for her to take me seriously. We definitely should have a database for health-at-every-size providers.”

Kaydin echoed that weight discrimination is not only present for fat people. “My A1C was abnormally high and I was at risk for diabetes,” they said. “When I go to the doctor now, I ask if they can check and they go ‘oh, you don’t need to worry about that,’ and I have to advocate for myself because size doesn’t equate to health.”

Marc nodded in agreement. “People see my weight and automatically assume that if you’re fat, you’re unhealthy. If anything, I’m actually undereating. I see small people eating cheeseburgers everyday or other things they assume fat people are eating all the time, but [people] don’t talk to them about their weight because of their size.”

Kaydin steered the conversation towards the question, “What does being a fat person mean to you?” Karli began by saying, “People can’t see me as anything other than a fat person. It’s intertwined with everything. A fat person that’s in a wheelchair can get a date or a job but we don’t see fat people as worthy [of those things]. It’s not the core of my identity, but it’s definitely at the forefront.”

“I can’t hide who I am physically, just like with my skin color,” Marc added. “[My fatness] has definitely shaped my perception of how the world treats fat people. People say things like, ‘Do you think losing weight will help you find a date?’ but it shouldn’t matter. It’s important that people understand that being fat is okay and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

Kaydin then asked the participants to reflect on the topic of microaggressions, which is generally a statement or action that unintentionally discriminates against a member or members of marginalized groups. When asked about which are the most harmful to hear as a fat person, Marc noted how he often faces the most judgement in his dating life. “People accuse me of catfishing them if they see a picture of my face but not a full body photo that shows my size.”

“When you’re fat,” Karli chimed in, “people judge you no matter what. If you eat a salad, they’ll say ‘who is that person kidding?’ If you eat fried food, they’ll say ‘well that’s how they gained so much weight.’”

Kaydin then asked, “What have been some of the most hurtful microaggressions?”

“My mom, God rest her soul,” Marc began, “she found a picture of me from [my biking and dancing] days and said how she missed me being that size because I was so cute. I know she didn’t mean it, but even those well-meaning comments can hurt someone’s feelings.”

“I used to think ‘fat’ was a bad word,” Kaydin admitted. “I always used to say, ‘you’re not fat, you’re beautiful,’ and [now I know] we need to work on using words like ‘fat’ and ‘disabled’ as neutral descriptors instead of negative.”

“The most common one I hear is, ‘Are you sure you want to eat that?’” Karli began. “Not only do you not know what or if I’ve eaten that day, but I have severe [gastrointestinal] issues and the safe foods I can eat change from day to day. People don’t realize what comments stick with you. People [also] say, ‘Oh, you’re so brave, I could never wear that.’ [Of course they] can, [they] just don’t feel like [they] can. I wear bikinis so I don’t have to worry about [using the bathroom] like I would if I was wearing a one-piece suit.”

“I got my background in kinesiology,” Marc joined in. “I took a lot of classes about exercising and nutrition. For some reason, people feel the need to give their two cents about what I’m eating. I went for a run one time and someone called me a fatass. I was running! It’s a double-edged sword with people being critical, suddenly turning into experts around fat people. In reality they don’t know about my health or what my body needs.”

The interview ended shortly after, Kaydin thanking the viewers for their time and Marc and Karli for participating. Throughout the interview, the point comes up time and time again that people should think twice before talking to someone. It’s important we ask ourselves, ‘Will this person truly benefit from my comment or suggestion?’ and ‘Would I want someone else to speak to me the same way?’ before we insert ourselves into other people’s circumstances, be them a fat person, a person of color, family member or stranger, friend or neighbor, etc.

Marc Castañeda can be found on Instagram and TikTok @marcsteven32. Karli Miller is on Instagram @chronicallykarli and on Instagram and TikTok @thatwheelchairmermaid. Follow @hamiltonatyourservice on Instagram to stay up to date on many other interviews and educational opportunities, along with a few good laughs!

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