Why the Word “Ob*sity” is Fatphobic

August 15, 2023

CW: Mentions of “ob*sity” – While we absolutely do not support the use of weight stigmatizing language, the terms “ob*sity” and “ob*se” are used below. Please take care of yourself!

If you search for the word “ob*sity” in Google on any given day, the search will return millions of results. At the time of writing this article, 752 million to be exact. Search results ranging from articles on “symptoms,” and “causes,” to “weight loss promises,” to seemingly endless fatphobic articles about the topic of “ob*sity.”

The pervasiveness of the word “ob*sity” underlines the fact that the damage of weight stigma is a greater risk to public health than living at a larger body weight. (1) In this article, we will discuss why “ob*sity” is a fatphobic term and how to address fatphobia.

What is fatphobia?

In simple terms, fatphobia is an abnormal and irrational fear of being fat or being around fat people. Fatphobia embodies the negative attitudes and stereotypes attached to larger bodies, or weight stigma. An example of this is the misperception that those with larger bodies are automatically lazy, unfit, and unintelligent. This can have a devastating impact on physiological and psychological health.

Fatphobia is more prevalent in western cultures, where thinner body types are considered the ideal and “more attractive.” Weight stigma is fundamentally linked to misogyny, sexism, racism, classism, and many other forms of oppression. (2)

Like other forms of discrimination, fatphobia causes harm in a number of ways, such as negatively affecting earning potential, trouble forming relationships, and increased risk of developing anxiety and depression. (1)

Perhaps most significantly, fatphobia can contribute to individuals receiving inadequate healthcare. This is due to the stigma that fat people cannot be healthy, the lack of experience in treating diverse body sizes, and weight-related structural barriers, such as size of blood pressure cuffs and scale limits. (2)

How “ob*sity” is fatphobic

The terms “ob*se” and “ob*sity” carry negative and demeaning social implications in our culture. “Ob*sity” especially has negative connotations when used by healthcare providers to discuss a person’s weight. With such stigma surrounding the term, those with larger bodies dislike the term “ob*sity.” (3)

And rightly so. Because the problem is not just the negative connotations “ob*sity” carries. The problem is with the word itself, the medical community classifying it as a disease, and the incorrect assumption that weight is entirely within an individual’s control and can be managed by diet and exercise.

All this stigmatizes and pathologizes fat people and is simply not true.

Weight is an arbitrary, inaccurate measure of health. Weight alone does not cause health problems or increase mortality. (5) Many factors can affect body weight. And those that have the most influence are not within an individual’s control, contrary to popular belief about diet and exercise. These include genetics, race, ethnicity, environment, income, and socioeconomic status. (5)

What using the word “ob*sity,” labeling people as “ob*se,” and claiming “ob*sity” as a disease does do is stigmatize fat people. This is what causes serious harm and leads to the very health complications the healthcare community blames on weight–including eating disorders, which do have a very high mortality rate. (6)

And it must stop.

But how?

Addressing internalized fatphobia

It starts with examining your own internalized beliefs about weight and fat. Educating yourself about weight stigma and fatphobia. Questioning the ideals our society has about bodies, food, and health. Changing the language you use to describe fat people, food, and health. And challenging others when they express fatphobic views and use stigmatizing words.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Stop using the words “ob*se” and “ob*sity” and acknowledge how harmful they are.
  • Use respectful, neutral language when talking about body size and shape, including your own. You can say the word fat, too. Using it as a neutral descriptor normalizes it and removes the negative connotation people assign to it.
  • Challenge the idea that well-being is only possible at a lower weight. Remember, a person’s body size tells you nothing about their health.
  • Think well-being, not weight. Show appreciation for your body and all it does for you. Your body is amazing, and your value is not attached to a number on a scale.
  • Practice positive affirmations. Instead of thinking about your body in terms of size, consider the power your body has and all the things it can do, with affirmations such as: “my body is strong,” “my body is full of love,” or “my body is a miracle.”
  • Compliment others freely. When you’re kind to others, it opens you up to being kinder to yourself. The more you practice complimenting others, the more you’ll be able to embrace yourself. Try to take the focus off appearance and comment on other aspects or actions.

Final thoughts

As long as society and medical professionals perpetuate the idea that being at a larger body weight is “bad, unhealthy, and undesirable,” people will continue to psychologically and physically damage others with these fatphobic views. It’s on every single person to educate themselves on the ways fatphobia shows up in their lives and make conscious changes, such as removing the word “ob*sity” from your vocabulary. We can all do better.

If you’re struggling with a negative body image or fear you have developed disordered eating behaviors, please get in touch with the experienced care team at Within Health for help. Their team of eating disorder specialists treat clients from a place of compassion, with radical self-love, and body-neutral care.