There’s A Fatness Spectrum, And This Is Why That Matters
I’m fat. I feel very comfortable with that descriptor, and I am very confident that there is nobody who would see my body and disagree with my assessment. When it comes to the fatness spectrum, I am objectively fat. Not just curvy. Not a little thick.
I’m not complaining about being fat, or asking for opinions about my body. I’m not looking for validation. I don’t need a stranger on the internet to call me pretty; I have a mirror. You don’t need to remind me that my body is good. That knowledge lives in the very fibers of my being, and it has since I decided to stop hating myself a few years ago and put the work in to fall in love with me.
You don’t have to tell me to be confident — nothing you can say to me would change the fact that I already am.
I’m not promoting or glorifying fatness by existing as I am. The only thing I am actively promoting is making peace with the body you inhabit, however it looks. You won’t see me encouraging anyone else who is not already fat to try it out. I’ll never ask you to join me in fatness.
I will also never accept your pity about my size. Fuck that. I have a life I would envy if it wasn’t mine. Pitying me is absurd.
But I do think it’s valuable for people who are fat to speak plainly about fatness.
There are some things that people in smaller bodies will never experience, and in order to better understand one another, we should talk about the different ways we experience the world.
Even among fat people, our experiences vary by a whole lot. We all live in different communities and families, and our roads are as different as we are.
One thing that can have a huge impact on the way a fat person experiences the world is exactly how fat they actually are, also known as where they fall on the Fatness Spectrum.
All sizes of fat people are equally valuable, but not all sizes of fat people live the same experiences. There are different levels of fatness, and that matters.
To fully understand how anti-fat bias affects different people differently, you’d have to read a lot more than one quick article. But we can still talk about the basic idea for a minute. Just being aware of the concept of a fatness spectrum could be enough to inspire people to be more kind and empathetic.
Ash, of the Fat Lip Podcast, created a handy chart about the Fatness Spectrum, and coined the phrase “infinifat.” It’s a good place to start when you’re trying to understand where you might fit into the fat community.
People on the lower end of the fatness spectrum are sometimes called “small fats.”
Is this you? If so, don’t get defensive. I am not telling you that you don’t belong in fat positive spaces or that your experiences of discrimination or bullying are not valid. I know how hard it is to accept your body when so many messages tell you that you shouldn’t. But if you’re on the smallest end of the plus-size spectrum, there are some things you should be aware of.
At your size, it is likely that some people will use words other than fat to describe you. You may get a “pass” because it is generally acceptable in most places to be “thick.” If your body is an hourglass shape with a flat-ish tummy, this is even more likely. (Most plus-size models fall in this range.)
It’s likely that you can find a wide variety of stores that stock your size, and that there is always the option to size up if you’d prefer more room in a certain garment. When you see the doctor, they might mention your size, but generally, you are pretty likely to be heard. Your actual ailment will be addressed.
You rarely to never come across a space that was clearly not designed to accommodate you. You might even perpetuate anti-fatness by thinking or saying things like, “At least I’m not as fat as her!” when you see someone larger than you.
As bonkers as it might sound to you, you are actually benefiting from thin privilege. That doesn’t mean you’re thin and it doesn’t mean you never suffer. It just means you live in a world that was made for people your size, and your body isn’t always a social hurdle for you.
Your feelings about your body are valid and you deserve to be heard, but it’s important for you to also understand that you don’t know how it feels to live in a world not meant for your body size. Complaining about your body to someone who lives in a much larger body feels very much the same to them as when your small, fit friend complains about her body to you. Be mindful of that.
Some people are Mid Fats.
This is where I fall on the fatness spectrum. I shop in plus-size stores and plus-size sections of department stores, but I can very occasionally find something in a straight-size store that works for me.
I don’t often come across a space where I truly can’t fit, but once in a while a restaurant booth will be too narrow, or a turnstile will make me nervous. Planes aren’t the most comfortable places for me, but I can pack myself into a single seat with a seatbelt extender.
I am fat enough that I cannot look thin in photos, even with creative angles. My body type is not hourglass, and I don’t get praise for my shape. Everyone who is being honest would describe me as a fat person.
I hear a lot of cruel comments because of my work online, but my size mainly impacts where I can shop and how people perceive me. Sometimes, I have trouble finding doctors who will take me seriously.
People of any size may experience mobility issues, but most often mid fats do not. I personally do not have any conditions that limit how I can move my body and move through the world. My experiences are valid, but like small-fats, I can’t understand how it feels to live in a body larger than mine, and I should be careful not to speak over people who have a different experience.
People on the larger end of the fatness spectrum are sometimes called Superfat and Infinifat.
These are two different groups, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to address them at the same time.
Superfat people usually wear the largest labeled sizes in any plus-size clothing line. Some people who are superfat might be able to shop in stores, but many will have to buy their clothing online only.
Infinifat people are unlikely to be able to purchase a numbered size; they often have to purchase sizes like 6x (the measurements of which can vary wildly from brand to brand) and just hope they fit. People who are infinifat are unlikely to ever find clothing in stores.
The medical community will almost always recommend weight loss and weight loss surgery to this group before addressing their medical complaints, even if they aren’t weight or pain related.
People in these size ranges may have weight or size-related mobility differences that make some activities impossible or unenjoyable for them.
Superfats and Infinifats are the most likely face cruel treatment. They are also likely to face size discrimination in the workplace, whether that means missing out on employment opportunities or missing out on raises and advancement.
Even people who claim to be fat positive often exclude superfat and infinifat people from their narrative. This can be intentional or accidental, but it happens pretty frequently.
Why is this important to think about?
It’s a great idea to continually examine your areas of privilege and acknowledge how you can be a better support to people who face discrimination or difficulties that you do not personally face. This is true in a lot of areas, and size is just one of them. If you want to make the world better for small fats and mid fats, but you hold a lot of negative opinions of superfats and infinifats, you’re not any different than the the diet culture enthusiasts that have shamed you.
There is so much work to do in the area of fat activism.
That doesn’t mean fat people want you to tell us how hot we are. I’m so sick of men telling me they don’t want to fuck me, as if I would ever give a shit about that. I don’t need weirdo strangers to validate my attractiveness or lack thereof. I’m getting boned on the reg by a man who has loved me for eighteen years. I’m good.
I mostly just want people to shut the hell up.
What fat people actually want is to live in peace without constantly defending our bodies. Fat activism seeks to change the glorification of perceived health and the pathologizing of every fat body. It’s about dismantling a culture that has taught every one of us things about fatness that simply are not true.
We can’t fix it all overnight. And not everyone is cut out to be an activist.
But every single one of us is capable of compassion, listening, learning and growth. If you are truly interested in making the world kinder for bodies of all sizes, acknowledging that fat people exist on a fatness spectrum is a good start.